The City Magazine Since 1975

Bringing the Heat

August 2018
Bringing the Heat
PHOTOGRAPHER: 

John Lewis of Lewis Barbecue and Juan Luis adds his signature chiles to grilled pork chops and cheesy creamed corn for an up-tempo summer feast

Inside his Southwest-meets-modern Elliotborough home, John Lewis seasons center-cut pork chops while sipping on a Topo Chico cocktail.

Hanging out in his Elliotborough abode, with the south-of-the-border mariachi sounds of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass drifting through his kitchen and an icy Topo Chico-and-tequila cocktail in hand, John Lewis can easily close his eyes and imagine he’s right back in his hometown of El Paso, Texas.

Since moving here three years ago, the pitmaster has served up Texas-style meats and sides at Lewis Barbecue, as well as Tex-Mex—or technically, “New Mex”—cuisine at his Juan Luis food stall in Workshop. “We call it Tex-Mex, but in reality the food is El Paso-style Mexican, similar to what’s found in New Mexico,” explains Lewis, whose recipes were inspired by boyhood summers spent on his great-grandparents’ green chile farm in Hatch, New Mexico. “Green chiles are comfort food for me,” he notes.

The smoky peppers are hard to find around here—they have a brief harvest window and grow primarily in the Southwest—but they can be ordered online from Zia Green Chile Company when in season. On September 29, you can try them in person at Lewis Barbecue’s annual chile roast.

During the late-summer harvest, Lewis roasts two full bushels (about 40 pounds) of Hatch green chiles to use throughout the year, adding the peppers to a seasonal side dish of creamed yellow corn with nutty Fontina cheese. To balance the heat at dinnertime, he also serves bright, sautéed summer squash. Created by Lewis Barbecue general manager Ben Garbee, the recipe features buttery ribbons of yellow straight-neck squash and zucchini cooked al dente over the stovetop and tossed with cilantro, lemon, and garlic.

In order not to raise the indoor temps with a hot oven, Lewis relies on his PK grill for a direct-indirect cooking approach for center-cut, bone-in pork chops. He piles hot coals to one side of the flat-bottomed grill and sears the meat, then flips the chops onto the opposite side, away from the coals, for a gentle finish.

“When you’re cooking 50 chops a day, five days a week, you can tell by touch when they’re medium-done,” says Lewis, but for casual grillers, he recommends investing in an instant-read thermometer and pulling the meat off when it reaches 135 degrees. While the pork chops rest for 10 minutes—an essential step, “or all that juiciness will float into the air and not your mouth,” the chef notes—he dollops them with a pat of chile-lime butter, made using freshly toasted and ground ancho chiles.

For one last cool nod to the season, Lewis dishes up grilled peach panna cotta that he prepped and popped in the refrigerator the night prior. The creamy yet light dessert is held together with unflavored gelatin rather than egg yolks, and while this version features juicy peach slices, the treat can be made with any fresh, in-season fruit.

In the Kitchen with John Lewis

Lives: In Elliotborough
Works: As owner/pitmaster of Lewis Barbecue and Juan Luis
Food for Thought: “My favorite way to unwind is to read cookbooks that I’ve collected while traveling. Hardcore Carnivore by Jess Pryles has a bunch of great grilling stuff,” he says.