It’s brazen, to be sure, maybe even downright foolhardy. But there’s no talking Jarrod Cofrancesco out of it. Next year this Italian lawyer from north Jersey is going to the barbecue capital of the world to beat the South at its own game.
Sure, he’s been behind a barbecue pit for only two years. And yes, he’ll be up against more than 90,000 pitmasters from around the world to whom the Memphis in May festival is akin to a pilgrimage to Mecca. But next spring, Cofrancesco is determined to become the biggest name in barbecue.
“People wouldn’t expect someone from New Jersey to be able to barbecue well,” says the Laddey, Clark & Ryan attorney. “But, hey, I have a pit and I have wood and I have meat. I can do just what they can do, if not better.”
It’s this attitude that has led to success in all areas of his life: the law, where he has a thriving corporate and business practice; horses, where he and his family have won the most world championships of any other family; and now barbecue.
In addition to his practice, Cofrancesco’s legal know-how comes in handy at the Homestead Restaurant, the Western-themed steakhouse his parents opened in 1989 in a field across from the family farm. The Homestead is a great place to take the family for a burger or steak, but don’t come looking for barbecue. That’s Cofrancesco’s project in the works.
Within a few years, Sparta will be home to the one barbecue-only restaurant in all of Sussex County. Even though there’s not much of a barbecue subculture in New Jersey, Cofrancesco is convinced that barbecue fever will make its way to the Northeast.
“I’m thinking hard and trying to come up with what could be New Jersey’s barbecue specialty,” he says. “Hopefully I’ll come up with something that New Jersey can call its own.”
Cofrancesco’s barbecuing technique is a “three-day event” that starts with meticulously rubbing just the right combination of spices — salt, pepper, sugar, paprika, cumin, mustard powder, oregano, and whatever else he’s in the mood for that day — into the meat. Then he fires up his “monstrosity” of a grill pit — a 10-by-20-foot setup that can hold 20 pork shoulders, 50 slabs of ribs and 20 chicken halves at one time. The secret is to cook “slow and low” at 225 degrees, keeping close watch for upwards of 20 hours. Every hour he sprays the meat with apple cider vinegar to keep it moist, and at the end, he applies a homemade ketchup-and-vinegar-based sauce blend.
With this combination, Cofrancesco has smoked the competition at the Sussex County Champion of the Grill competition for the past two years. He tries not to get too worked up about winning, but admits that the competitive juices start flowing once an event begins.
“Sometimes a family member will look at me and laugh, and I laugh too, in the days leading up to a competition,” he says. “But it never fails — when you get there, your tendencies take over and you want to win.”
Watch out, Memphis.