Where there's smoke, there's flavor when Matthew Nahnsen is cooking.
Whether this self-taught pit master is fixing dinner at home or competing in a barbecue contest, smoking the perfect pork loin or rack of ribs is all about low and slow.
"I love food and barbecue," said Nahnsen, 44, of Harcourt, who credits his friends with encouraging him to try competition cooking.
-Messenger photo by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby
Matthew Nahnsen, of Harcourt, participated in the cookout contest at the 2013 Webster County Fair. He earned second-place honors and will compete in the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s cookout contest at Iowa State Fair on Aug. 13.
Many of his friends stopped at his grill during the cookout contest at the 2013 Webster County Fair in Fort Dodge on July 13 to see what Nahnsen was fixing on his Char-Griller Smoker.
It was hard to resist the tempting aroma of succulent pork ribs and beef roast as Nahnsen lifted the lid periodically to mist the meat with apple juice.
"I enjoy the social aspect of cooking contests," said Nahnsen, who earned second-place honors at the county fair and will compete in the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation's cookout contest at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 13.
"I meet a lot of new people, and we enjoy swapping cooking tips."
Nahnsen, who purchases his meat from Fareway and Sawyer's Meats of Iowa Inc. in Fort Dodge, doesn't mind sharing his recipe for Big Dog Daddy's BBQ Rub, which he created to season meat.
He said he also enjoys connecting with the community. He has smoked meat for local fundraisers and has served his smoked pork loin during the prom dinner at Southeast Webster Grand High School-his alma mater.
"I like small town Iowa, because people care about each other and help each other," said Nahnsen, who spent 18 years of his career working for restaurants in Iowa, North Dakota and Minnesota before returning to Harcourt in 2009, where he manages Engquist Lumber.
Nahnsen serves as the town's fire chief and is spearheading efforts to help Harcourt build a new fire station.
On Aug. 3, the Harcourt Volunteer Fire Department is hosting a barbecue contest in conjunction with Harcourt Appreciation Days.
Thanks to the generosity of local sponsors, he said, contestants will compete for $1,500 in cash prizes, while money raised from the people's choice voting event will be donated to the fire department's building fund.
For more information, log onto harcourtbbqcontest.webstarts.com/application.html.
For Nahnsen, it's all in a day's work.
"I love taking care of people, and cooking is a great way to do this," he said.
Big Dog Daddy's BBQ Rub
5 cups brown sugar
3 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons black pepper
2 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons garlic
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon cumin
Mix all ingredients together and store in a plastic container.
To season ribs, select a meaty cut like St. Louis-style ribs, and remove the membrane on the back of the rack of ribs.
Cut a row of diagonal cuts both ways on the both sides of the ribs. Massage the spice rub into both sides of the ribs.
Place the rack of ribs, bone side down, and slowly smoke the ribs on low heat for three to four hours, until the meat falls off the bone.
Spritz the ribs every 15 to 30 minutes with apple juice.
Add your favorite barbecue sauce at the end and cook for a few minutes more to allow the sauce to caramelize for extra flavor.
If using an oven instead of a smoker, set the oven to 250 degrees. Season the ribs with this rub.
Pour a couple of cans of beer into the pan before adding the ribs, and cook until the meat reaches the desired tenderness.
Loose meat beef burgers
10 pounds ground beef
7 onions, chopped
18 beef bouillon cubes
4 cups water
1 tablespoon ground pepper
7 tablespoons steak sauce
4 tablespoons soy sauce
7 tablespoons ketchup
Saute onions until almost clear. Add the beef. Cook, drain and return to pan. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes.
John Nahnsen's world-famous brownies
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups flour
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
2 squares baker's chocolate
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Combine butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla.
In a separate bowl combine salt, baking powder, flour and cocoa powder. Combine butter mixture with flour mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Top with enough miniature marshmallows to cover the top of the brownies.
Bake brownies for 3 more minutes until the marshmallows turn brown.
To make the frosting, combine brown sugar, water, baker's chocolate and butter in a saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil.
Remove from heat and add vanilla and powdered sugar.
Beat mixture and drizzle frosting on top of brownies.