On the surface, barbecue pit master and Gulfport resident Chris Sussman, with his casual demeanor and various body piercings, seems like a laid-back guy – but his culinary passion is a force to be reckoned with. Dubbed The BBQ Buddha, Chris has won national recognition for his grilled masterpieces and mad smoking skills. Don’t let his Buddhist sleeve tattoos and worn Birkenstocks throw you off – Sussman knows about cooking meat in intimate detail, making magic happen before your eyes over an open flame.
Sussman’s love affair with the grill ignited at an early age in Virginia when he and his father would nosh on pulled pork sandwiches and frosty bottles of Dr. Pepper at the local Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que. Sussman found enlightenment once he began cooking on his bullet-style Webber Smokey Mountain grill, recreating the pulled pork memories of his childhood. It wasn’t long until he was cooking competitively with the Dizzy Pig team and then sponsored by Big Green Egg.
His winning dish? The hand-crafted Korean bulgogi sauce that glazes his fall-off-the-bone wings and ribs.
Recently, I had the pleasure of partnering with him to see The BBQ Buddha’s magic for myself.
For our cooking collaboration, he went all out with a locally caught red snapper (thanks to his boat captain neighbor) as well as American wagyu flank steaks, courtesy of sponsor Snake River Farms out of Boise, Idaho. American Wagyu comes from the crossbreeding of purebred Japanese wagyu bulls with American cow breeds. The result is a luscious, marbled meat that finishes with a rich, buttery mouthfeel.
The day before grilling, Sussman takes out his protein of choice and lets it air dry in the fridge for 24 hours. Two hours before grilling, he tempers the steaks by letting them rest at room temperature, to ensure its maximum juiciness. The night he and his wife Debbie hosted me, he preheated his ceramic Big Green Egg (BGE) for a live fire of 400 degrees. Seasoning his grill grates with avocado oil and lemon, Sussman explained that the iconic BGE is the ideal structure for cooking in all weather elements. Due to the oblong egg structure and the ceramic mold, the Egg allows the griller to cook in any environment without the Florida elements – mainly humidity – interfering with the cooking process. Like any legit culinarian, Sussman appreciates the Maillard reaction – the chemical reaction between reducing sugars and protein under high heat (AKA: “crust”) – and for our American wagyu, the sweet spot is searing for four minutes on either side and letting the meat rest for a solid 10 before slicing.
Once the steaks are resting, the Dizzy Pig dry-rub-dusted red snapper cooks in minutes.
We sat down at a gorgeous, heavy wood table, serenaded by bossa nova music and faint snorts from the Sussman’s French bulldogs, Yoda and Obi, in the background. My steak was cooked to the pristine medium rare temp and oozed with the herbaceous compound butter I brought that night for “garnish.” Chris tells me how he “helps people find the path to barbecue nirvana” by explaining his basic fundamentals of grilling, all while paraphrasing some of the tips in tricks from his newly published cookbook, “The Four Fundamentals of Smoking.”
We talked about wood chip flavors, dry and wet heat cooking methods, pellet versus live fire grills and how to get that “thin blue smoke” combustion for the ideal smoke rings in grilled meat. As we exchanged stories about how we all came to Gulfport, Chris left me with the most satisfying bite of all: “I’ve never felt more at home living in Gulfport… I’m so glad we found it.”
Scratch-Made Compound Butter
Makes 10 ounces
3 cups heavy cream (high fat content)
5 Tbsp ice water
¾ oz lemon juice
1 oz chopped fresh herbs (tarragon, chervil, sorrel, parsley, oregano, etc.)
1 ¼ tsp salt
White pepper (optional)
Parchment paper or plastic wrap
Measure water and put in freezer. Pour cold cream into food processor or stand mixer and whip until it separates into buttery solids and cloudy liquid (approximately four to six minutes). Once mixture begins to separate, add water to further increase separation. Using a sieve, pour mixture through cheesecloth and reserve the liquid (this is the buttermilk). Squeeze the butter solids so no buttermilk remains. Beat butter in stand mixer on low until creamy. Add lemon juice, fresh herbs salt and pepper. Roll butter into cylinder about one inch thick in plastic wrap or parchment paper and freeze. To serve, cut ¼” thick slices. Best on top of grilled or broiled meat, added right before service.