One of Matt Abdoo’s warmest childhood memories is of his mother popping popcorn in a giant stovetop pot. Two or three times each week, she would make the special treat for her four boys and any friends who might have been hanging out at the house. It was an ideal snack: quick, easy, delicious, inexpensive, and filling.
“We didn’t have a lot growing up as kids, and now that I’m a parent, my mom is my absolute hero knowing that she was able to feed and clothe and take care of all of us without losing her absolute sanity,’ Abdoo says.
Now the Executive Chef and Partner of Pig Beach BBQ in New York City and proud father of a preschooler, Abdoo has incorporated popcorn into professional and family life. When looking for a unique snack to give away to restaurant guests waiting in line for plates of brisket and pulled pork, Abdoo put a twist on his childhood favorite by tossing kettle corn with the signature dry rub he uses to season most of the meat he smokes at Pig Beach.
“The really interesting thing about barbecue rub and what makes it so magical is that it basically hits every single flavor profile of things people like,” says Abdoo. “It’s sweet. It’s salty. It usually has a citrusy acidic element. It starts making you salivate and crave more of it.”
People were craving the popcorn so much that Pig Beach BBQ started bagging it up in giant carnival-style sleeves for customers to purchase. And because it’s only available every other day, it’s one of the first things customers ask about when they arrive at the restaurant.
But perhaps the most resounding endorsement comes from Abdoo’s 4-year-old son Luke. Like many kids his age, he’s a picky eater. But BBQ popcorn, which is featured in the Pig Beach BBQ Cookbook: Smoked, Grilled, Roasted, and Sauced (out May 17) co-authored by Abdoo and partner Shane McBride, is one of his favorite snacks, even though he can be standoffish about some of the other things his dad makes.
“He’s not really into the pulled pork or the rib and brisket game just yet, even though I try every single time he’s at the restaurant,” says Abdoo. “But the first time he scarfed this down I was like “thank god this kid does have a little bit of me in him.”
Whether fresh or popped ahead to eat later, here’s how you can make this fan-favorite popcorn.
Pig Beach Barbecue Kettle Corn
¼ cup vegetable oil
½ cup popcorn kernels¼ cup All-Purpose Barbecue Seasoning (see below)1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Place the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven.
- Add the popcorn kernels, cover, and set over medium-high heat. Cook, shaking the pot occasionally, until you hear popping sounds, then continue shaking the pot until the popping begins to slow down; popping will become very rapid and then slow down over the course of 5 to 8 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat. Do not uncover. Set aside for a minute or two to allow the popping to completely stop.
- Transfer the popped corn to a large serving bowl and immediately sprinkle with the barbecue seasoning and salt. Toss to coat well. Serve immediately, or transfer to a food-safe container with a lid or large resealable plastic bag, cover (or seal the bag), and store at room temperature for up to 1 week.
All-Purpose Barbecue Seasoning
Makes 1 cup.
¼ cup granulated sugar¼ cup sweet paprika3 tablespoons dark brown sugar2½ tablespoons coarse salt1 tablespoon ground black pepper1 tablespoon granulated garlic1 tablespoon granulated onion2 teaspoons Hatch red chile powder (see note below)½ teaspoon dried oregano½ teaspoon ground cumin¼ teaspoon dried thyme⅛ teaspoon ground fennel seed
- Combine the granulated sugar, paprika, brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic, onion, chile powder, oregano, cumin, thyme, and fennel in a medium bowl and stir to combine completely.
- Transfer to a spice grinder or food processor and process to a coarse blend. Transfer to a glass container, cover, and store in a cool, dark spot for up to 6 weeks.