Alan Horne describes his love of smoking and barbecuing meat as “much more than a hobby.” They’re passions sparked by a childhood of cooking, fanned by his love of the process, then shared as his own form of community service.
“Growing up our biggest family time was around meals that we would prepare, whether it was a fish fry or a barbeque,” Horne said. “That was the big bonding time. Like a lot of southern families, life revolved around that dinner table. We took it a step further and we all cooked very young, and things went from there for me.”
He loves cooking in general, but slow-cooking meat is his favorite.
“It’s a stress relief and decompression activity for me,” Horne said. “Smoking and barbequing is a longer process and you can really dive into it. I especially enjoy the traditional way of cooking with wood where you’re managing your fire and managing your temperatures for a long time. It’s always a challenge, and there’s something about the satisfaction of a product that takes 16 hours or a few days that I love.”
His favorite cut of meat, and the one he considers the most difficult to prepare, is brisket. He loves the challenge it poses, a temperamental cut with a tight window for getting it right. You either nail it, or it’s terrible.
“It takes a really long time and there’s not a lot of tolerance for temperatures and how they fluctuate,” he said. “It can get tough really quick. The piece of meat is so big you can never tell how much fat is in it and how it’s going to cook. Most everything else you can time out well based on weight and they have a bigger margin for error. Other things that are considered overcooked might still be okay, just a different texture. Brisket isn’t like that.”
After brisket, ribs are his choice and usually get a better response because they’re palatable to a wider audience.
Horne has several smokers at home, two from Deep South Smokers in Cumming. One is gravity fed, which he does the bulk of his cooking on because it maintains a steady temperature where he can walk away for periods of time. The other is a vertical barrel smoker for smaller, shorter cooks.
“But probably my favorite one of the bunch is a reverse-flow smoker where your fuel source is 100 percent wood,” he said. “You have to be there, maintain your fire to keep the same temperature all the time and know when to add wood.”
If you wait for the temp to come down, you’ve got to play catch up. Too much wood, your temperature could be way too high in an hour. He called the reverse-flow more of a “true barbeque.”
“In my opinion the best tasting food can come out of that, but it’s also a lot of work,” he said.
Horne does cook at home for himself and his fiancé, but doesn’t shy away from big cooks for large groups of people. He’s made a name for himself locally as someone who supports groups with his cooking.
“When I moved here 10 years ago I didn’t know anyone,” he said. “I started reaching out to people locally through food. My parents were in public service and they were always on the go. I grew up in that lifestyle, so I started reaching out to the fire and police department, the state patrol and the sheriff here in town. I’d smoke a butt or two and bring buns and drinks, and we’d hang out. Even though I didn’t know these people I knew them, because I grew up that way.”
He doesn’t do much paid catering; cooking and donating his food is something he enjoys and views as a community service. Over time the events grew from 50, to 100, into several hundred people at a time. The biggest one so far was for the high school football banquet where he fed 600, which took 28 butts to pull off. He also cooks for JeepFest volunteers, everything from pulled pork to burgers and dogs, and other events and groups he wants to let know that their work isn’t going unnoticed.
“Food is getting more expensive, but is an efficient way to show a group of people you appreciate them, and I love doing it,” he said.