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We're in Knoxville, Tennessee creating an epic dish with a very small bird, and taking a trip into the Smoky Mountains to visit Alan Benton — creator of the world's finest bacon.
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- Hey, I'm Jax, and welcome to The Grill Iron. We're heading to the best college football tailgates across the country and drafting amazing local chefs to step into our Taste Made kitchen at the Hyundai Field House and redefine the art of tailgating. While the teams fight it out on the grid iron, our chefs turn up the heat on the grill iron. Tucked into the Smoky Mountains is a unique American way of life. The Appalachian custom of self-sustenance and hand crafting were born out of necessity, but live on out of reverence for the past. The Tennessee volunteers are named after the very act of caring, sharing, and selflessness, and that's what game day really is all about. It's about hugs and high-fives and your heart and soul on a plate. On a campus where, at the root of everything, is kindness, an overwhelming Tennessee charm radiates through the crisp game-day air, on fans' smiling faces, and on piping-hot grills. And keeping with the school spirit, we are giving the best of what we've got and the best of what we've got is a true southern gentlemen. A hometown boy who is primed to be Knoxville's first rock star chef. - Hi, I'm Matt Gallaher. I'm the chef of Knox Mason in Knoxville, Tennessee. My philosophy when we first opened was let's source as much as we can locally and then build on that. Let's foster new relationships and let's get to know new farmers and new farms. It's been an amazing experience for me as a chef, because the farmer's market allows us to be really creative because we're sensitive to what's available in the market. At Knox Mason, we strive to feature local and regional artisans. Up to 70% of our food dollars are going to Tennessee farms. Most of our needs are sourced regionally. All of our farm eggs are sourced locally. I think it's made me a better chef to be able to do that. The flexibility of not being locked in to a certain way of doing things, and so we have a small menu, but it changes regularly. We can change a dish at a moment's notice if we want to, if we need to, depending on availability. I'm very gratified that the community in Knoxville has responded to that. I grew up in the foothills of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One of the amazing things about cooking in Tennessee, we have this strong tradition of Appalachian cuisines, so everything's artisanal products that people had to use a century ago, carving their living off the land. Those are cornerstones we're representing and we're proud to feature those on our menu. It's really about making people feel comfortable and feel welcome and being hospitable, and I think our city does that. I think this area of the country does that very well. We try to reflect that in service at Knox Mason. Football is a religion in Knoxville. The energy surrounding the stadium on game day is unlike any place I've ever been in my life. It's a competition to see how many people you can get at your tailgate, how many people you can feed, how many people you can take care of. It's a great source of pride. That's something we do, and something we do very well. It's pretty special. - [Jax] It's said, 'round these parts, that the world's nicest man also makes the world's best bacon. This is Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Madisonville, Tennessee. - So we're here at Allan Benton's Smokehouse to get the best bacon in the world. The reason I wanted you to see this place is because the Appalachian traditions that Allan employs are very true to this region and the history of this region. - I can't believe I'm here, because every chef I have ever worked with across the country raves about this place. - You must be disappointed to see what a hole-in-the-wall business you've come to today. - This is exactly what I was hoping for. - I still use my original family recipe on this bacon, and I've tweaked and played with that recipe for 41 years. I'm excited to have you here and I'm excited to show you. Come on back. - [Jax] And with that, Allan so generously invited us into his world. Everywhere you look in this building there's just ham hanging, curing, aging, taking on that flavor that makes it the best. Every room smells better than the next. - Those packing houses make bacon within 24 hours. This is a time-honored process that has been done in Europe for centuries before it was ever done on this continent. Get your hands dirty and let's see what he can do, shall we? It's just a mixture of salt and brown sugar, and a few little pepper flakes maybe. - This has got to be really cool for you, chef. - This is amazing. I've known Allan for about 11 years, and I've seen this box before. - My father and I built this old salt box about 41 years ago. It's seen a few pieces of meat go through it in that length of time. - This box could be in the food Smithsonian. - I'm getting my hands in here, touching this beautiful belly, and it's really special, so thank you very much for this. - [Jax] Once the rub has been massaged into the pork belly, it's ready for Benton's time-tested ritual, 30 unhurried days of curing and aging. - I was once asked why I didn't smoke my bacon with pecan or mesquite or something else, because we don't have pecan or mesquite here in East Tennessee, we have hickory. - What I feel like gives Benton's bacon its singular flavor is this wood. From the smokehouse to the pan, that flavor carries through. - Oh man, now I know why he chose hickory. That is phenomenal. - We keep the fire going seven days a week. First thing I do before I have my morning coffee on Sunday is come out and put wood on the fire. - This man comes here on Sundays to keep his fire going. - This is the final process. It's been in the smokehouse for three days of intense smoke. Let's open these doors and see what the bacon looks like. - Oh, man, that smells unreal. I'm in awe, I'm in awe right now. It's caramelized, it's glistening, you can see all the flavor running through it, it's just perfect. - You know, I get to smell it, I get to see it, but this, to have it warm on my hands, is pretty special. - When I touch it, I know from touching it, after this many years, that it's there. This is perfectly smoked. It's ready to slice and package and hopefully, it will make it easier for somebody to get out of bed in the morning if they smell this cooking. [Laughter] - [Jax] Allan's still warm, perfectly-cured bacon is destined for the greatness it deserves. Chef Matt's capable hands and an early morning volunteer game day. We have already fallen in love with chef's food, and today he's taking the best of the season and the best of Tennessee and just fusing it into a glorious fall feast. - This time of year, a lot of people start thinking turkey. So, for a tailgate, I wanted to do something of a smaller format, so I decided to have quail in stead. - Look at these, they're like little individualized turkeys. - We are going to stuff the quail inside the cavity of the bird. We're starting with a smoked sausage from Allan Benton. With that, we have Saltworks beer bread. This is a homemade beer bread made from beer from a local brewery here in Knoxville. So, we're going to season with a little bit of sage and thyme, a little bit of sauteed onion and celery, and salt and that's it. Formed our little sausage stuffing football, go right into the bird. - Look at that. It's like mini-Thanksgiving. - And then, as it cooks, we're rendering out some of that qual fat, some of that sausage fat, so you're going to get the pork and the smoke and the quail and the herbs, just a great combination of flavors. - Oh, and you flip and they're golden, they've got the grill marks, you can see the crisp on the skin. It smells as good as it looks, and it looks damn near perfect. That is just so many flavors packed into one tiny little perfect quail. Look at that, it just falls off. Still piping hot, golden, crispy, mmm, oh my god. This is the juiciest piece of fowl I've ever had. I mean, this is like one tenth the size of a chicken leg with one thousand times the flavor. I gotta point out that this, right here, is pretty unanimously voted the best bacon in the country by some of our nation's top chefs. How are we going to honor this beautiful bacon? - I'm going to dice this bacon up. Cut it into some more manageable pieces. - When you have bacon this amazing, there's no way to cut it but thick. I mean, look at that. - In goes the Benton's bacon. [bacon sizzles] - Oh, that's the sound I love. - And let that beautiful, smoky fat start to render. - There's so much juice coming off that bacon. It is a heavenly smell of sweet and smoky. - So, the bacon is beautifully rendered. Now, I'm going to add some light brown sugar. - Oh, nice. - And start to build a little caramel in the pan. - The bacon grease is just drinking up all of that sugar. - So, the next ingredient is going to be apples. As delicious as a pan of caramel and bacon might be, I think a little local apple is going to introduce a little sweetness, actually, a little tartness too, and also a little bit of crunch. - Yeah, perfect time of year for this too. Oh my god, it's dripping with sugar and bacon grease. - No tailgate is complete without the, uh, the flask, so, - What is in there? - This is Belle Meade Tennessee Bourbon, giving it some of that vanilla, charred oak, aged bourbon barrel kind of component to it. - I mean, that really added a whole new level. It's caramelly, it's burnt, it's sweet from the apples, you can bite into it, there's so much good crunch. That's insane. - So, taking it to the plate, first component is going to be this beautiful sweet potato puree. Sweet, tangy, a little spice, I love it. - And a great base for our quail. - That's right. We're going to lovingly place this beautiful bird right on top. The final component, these beautiful caramelized local apples, and that bourbon caramel and bacon fat just, - This is just beautiful. It's autumnal glory. It's Tennessee at the best time of the year. Thanksgiving was my favorite day of the year. Today's my new favorite day of the year. Thank you. In the spirit of the volunteers, who wants some beautiful food? [applause] That volunteer spirit, caring and sharing. - I'm really proud to be from Tennessee. I'm really glad to have the volunteer spirit. It's amazing; it's infectious. I'm so glad to be a part of it, and, in my own way, represent what's great about Tennessee. [chanting] - Go Big Orange! If you love this food as much as I love these people and this state, then let it be known, click "like," share the love in the comments, because at the end of these crazy delicious 13 weeks, we're rounding up our favorite chefs. We're bringing them back to our Taste Made kitchen in Los Angeles and they're having a cook-off extravaganza.