“Yep, the pig-roasters look gruesome. But they’re the biggest sellers by far.” In the market for manly cooking, the hog roaster is huge says Chef Bruce Frankel, referring to the SpitJack P150 Whole Hog Rotisserie nicknamed, “The Beast.”
Such is the language and equipment in the market for what Frankel calls, “manly cooking.” And it’s a market that Frankel caters to, some might even say cornered, with SpitJack - his website and brick-and-mortar cooking supply store. The slogan says it all: “For Men Who Cook… Tools for Fire and Food.” The store is named after a gizmo that skewers meat and turns a rotisserie.
While some cooking companies market specific products to men, like barbecues and outdoor grills, Frankel’s entire Shrewsbury, Massachusetts store is dedicated to men who like to cook with fire. He started it all with equipment designed to be used inside the home, in the fireplace. Why freeze outdoors grilling in the winter, he asks, when you can both sit in front of a nice warm fire and cook your food in it?
“When guys sit and look at a fire they think, ‘cook.’ Women don’t think that when they see a fire. They think other things. Men, we want to put something in it and cook it,” Frankel says. So he started searching for equipment and SpitJack was born.
Frankel’s line of fireplace grills and small animal rotisseries are for use in the privacy of your own fireplace. Other than a fleeting thought about sparks igniting your rugs, a more serious safety consideration is a ‘flare-up’. Household chimneys aren’t designed for greasy smoke. Flare-ups and happen when flames touch food and fat drips. Frankel’s products employ hot embers to cook food, not open-flames. Using a drip pan and cooking with less fat are mandatory steps. Of course, he recommends having a fire extinguisher handy, just in case.
Personally, Frankel prefers the small animal rotisseries to the grills. “Nothing better than your fireplace for that because you’re using radiant heat,” he explains. “Low temperatures and a long cooking time produce the juiciest and most tender meat.” The fat self-bastes the meat, leaves little residue in the drip pan, and there’s hardly any smoke.
Another plus, fireplace cooking is fairly odor-free. Don’t worry about your wife not liking the way the living room smells after dinner. “It’s hard to stink up the house. The draft from the chimney sucks everything up. No stink at all.”
Frankel started SpitJack about four years ago with Italian hearth grills and soon added the small rotisseries before working up to the $995 P150. Rated for hogs up to 200 pounds, it’s strictly for outdoor use - unless you have a fireplace you can comfortably stand in. As the company grew, Frankel added a full-line of outdoor hog, lamb and goat rotisseries, as well as smokers to meet the carnivorous needs of his clientele.
Men want their cooking equipment heavier, stronger, sharper, bigger and badder he notes. “We want trucks, not sedans. I got a 500-pound smoker, looks like a locomotive. When I talk to guys or when they come here they go, ‘Oh my God, this is heaven! Thank you.’ Where else, he asks, can a man go who’s serious about cooking like a man?
Cro-Magnon cooking is a far cry from Frankel’s beginnings, as a French-trained chef preparing nouvelle cuisine at the acclaimed Panache in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the 70s and early 80s. Later, he opened The Colony, which celebrated classic New England cuisine using only local and regional ingredients.
While critically hailed as being ahead of its time, The Colony didn’t flourish. Frankel says he should have stuck with French cuisine. “Sure, I was ahead of my time. But no one wanted to be in ‘my time.’ They said, ‘Hey, thanks we’ll just stay in our time eating French food.’” He had no idea what a huge movement cooking with local ingredients would eventually become.
Feeling he had done all he wanted in front of a stove, he doffed his toque, becoming a restaurant consultant and ultimately, a successful web-designer. The manly-cooking-indoors-with-fire concept was a fluke.
On a visit to Plymouth Plantation, Frankel became fascinated with the fireplace kitchens and equipment the pilgrims used. Years later his girlfriend gave him William Rubel’s “The Magic of Fire: One Hundred Recipes for the Fireplace or Campfire” and he had an epiphany: an untapped market for men who want to cook in their fireplaces. So far, he’s proven himself right.
The big roasters are the top sellers. Other popular items include the Magnum Meat Injector, a modified industrial injector originally used by veterinarians for horses, which inject marinades through tough, roasting pigskin. The Whole Hog Bags keep your hog clean as you prepare it for roasting. The Long-Handled Chestnut Roaster does well near the holidays and his log-splitter sells year-round.
“When people say, ‘How do I cook like a guy?’ I say, ‘Go chop down a tree.’ I sell what they need.”
Frankel may have been ahead of his time earlier in his career, but it looks as if his old fashioned passion for fire is successful in the here and now. Whatever happens, Frankel’s business is going whole hog.