Food & Drink | September 9, 2022 6:38 am

This One-Time Pro Racecar Driver Made a Very Weird, Delicious Pivot

Out of one kind of pit, and into another

Anthony Nicolosi at BBQ & Craft Company
Anthony Nicolosi at BBQ & Craft Company
Anthony Nicolosi

It may seem like an unlikely pivot: In 2012, Anthony Nicolosi retired from his career as a professional racecar driver to don the apron of a pitmaster. To hear him tell it, though, his time on the racing circuit perfectly primed him for slow-cooking pork, beef and even alligator, thanks in large part to the cultivation of a skill he says is tantamount to success in both ventures — patience.

“The patience in racing is you don’t want to get all frustrated,” he says. “Because then you start to overdrive the car, and you actually slow down. The patience in barbecue is you don’t want to keep throwing wood on the fire, wood on the fire, and rushing things. You’ve gotta be patient, and it’s gonna take you a little more time than maybe you think.”

Nicolosi was not necessarily destined to become a pitmaster — and not just because he spent his formative years behind a wheel rather than a smoker. A native New Yorker, he admits that he grew up “not knowing what real barbecue is.” It was, in fact, thanks to the racing circuit — and to tailgates organized by fans across the country — that he discovered the art of slow-cooking meat to tender perfection.

“There were always certain groups of people that would really take pride in their cuisine or the way that they smoked meats and handled their barbecue,” he says. While at first he thought it was “crazy that you would wait 10 hours for a piece of meat,” he soon came around. 

“When I would actually eat the food that would come off the smokers, I was like, ‘This is unbelievable,’” he says. “I’d never tasted chicken or beef or pork like this in my life.”

Tailgating cooks were more than happy to share their tricks with Nicolosi, and over time, he decided to try it himself.

“It’s kind of like anything else you love to do in life, whether it’s playing golf or racing cars or just knitting a blanket or something,” he says. “You just fall in love with something and get hooked on it, and that’s what happened with me and barbecue.”

It was in 2011 that he bought his first smoker, just in time for his impending retirement. In 2012, Nicolosi left racing behind in order to accompany his sons on jiu jitsu competitions across the country. Soon enough, he was also judging competitions of a totally different kind.

“Barbecue competitors are the best barbecue people in the country,” he says of the pros whose wares he sampled as a certified judge for the Florida BBQ Association. “So I was able to try all of their products and actually judge them, and then put it all together into what I like, and then serve that to you all.”

Ten years later, armed with knowledge gleaned from fans, award-winners and time spent learning from pros like Lang BBQ Smokers’ award-winning pitmaster Darryl Strickland and five-time world barbecue champion Myron Mixon, Nicolosi was ready to open his own restaurant — and there seemed no better place for his BBQ & Craft Company than Miami.

His choice of destination wasn’t solely due to the fact that, like many former New Yorkers, Nicolosi “basically calls [himself] a Floridian now.” He had noticed a dearth of good American barbecue in Miami, and with no real regional allegiance, he decided to deliver a bit of everything.

“Being a judge, I was able to taste all of the different regions and really dictate to Miami what I think the best is,” he says.

On his menu, the beef, of course, is Texas-style. The chicken comes with Alabama white sauce; the ribs have the sweet-and-savory flair of Memphis. The pork, meanwhile, is a bit “up in the air,” according to Nicolosi.

“I’ve learned from the best in Georgia,” he says, citing Mixon and Strickland, “and I think Georgia pork is the best, but I like the vinegar base of the Carolinas.”

The resulting pulled pork sandwich, he says, is “Georgia-based with a Carolina flair.”

Blending regional influences isn’t the only way Nicolosi allows himself certain breaks from barbecue tradition.

“Pitmasters out of Texas don’t wrap meats,” he says. “I’m a very big guy on wrapping my meats. I think there’s only a certain amount of smoke that you want to put on something.”

And despite competition regulations, he cooks his ribs until they’re fall-off-the-bone tender.

“In competition, if you bite into a rib, and it stays on the bone, but you get a good bite mark, most people don’t understand that that’s actually a perfect rib,” he says. “If my ribs went to a competition, I’d actually fail, but most people love it that way.”

He also lends a bit of gourmet flair to his menu, thanks to input from executive chef Jeremy Kermisch.

“He’s the guy in the Vans hat with the big long beard,” says Nicolosi of the chef formerly of Silverlake Bistro. “He’s come in and he’s revamped all of my sides, my appetizers, changed a couple of my sauces around, and just literally made them even better.”

The ribs are served with a crumble made from cornbread and Parmesan; the sweet-and-savory crumbs also top the mac and cheese, made with a three-cheese blend of gruyere, gouda and white cheddar. 

“So it’s all those little things that a general barbecue guy like me doesn’t do that’s getting done at my restaurant,” he says. “Because of my chef.”

With his breadth of knowledge and barbecue experience, Nicolosi was more than happy to share what he really believes is the best of the best with InsideHook.

Best BBQ Region

“I would pick Texas. I’m more of a beef guy, and the best beef comes from Texas. There’s usually not much sweet coming out of Texas, and I’m a sweet guy, but I would still give up the sweetness just for the salt and pepper of Texas.”

Best Thing on His Menu

“The dinosaur beef rib. That’s my favorite! It’s like brisket on steroids. You could pull it apart; it melts in your mouth even better than brisket does — like butter.”

One Tip for Home Pitmasters

“Using a quality piece of meat! Don’t buy cheap meat. Quality meat is something I’ve always done and still do.”