LOUDONVILLE — Pete Hurst, whose part-time barbecue operation, Backyard Smokin' has become very well known in the Mohican area the past five years, admits his affinity and love of cooking came from his mother.
"My mom, Mary Alice Hurst, was a great cook, and while she never actually taught me how to cook, I watched her do it a great deal," Hurst said last week, shortly after completing service of his biggest formal catering operation, to the Junior ROTC Military Ball in Mount Vernon Feb. 10."
"She was a home-style cook, and in addition was an outstanding baker," Hurst continued. "I remember her making a seven-tier wedding cake, preparing and serving church suppers, and, around Christmas, baking hundreds of cookies for holiday parties. She never taught me, but I paid attention to what she was doing as she cooked."
After graduating in 1989 from Galion High School, Hurst went to work as a heavy equipment operator, and today still works full time at Elite Excavating in Ontario.
"Fortunately, I work four 10-hour days, "giving me Friday, Saturday and Sunday to barbecue," he said.
His route to become a very busy cook for catering gigs and special occasions was gradual.
"As soon as my wife Sheila and I married in 1993, I started cooking around the house, and learned, through doing, that I loved to cook over fire," he said. "I never got a gas grill, and never used charcoal, instead preferring to cook with wood, usually oak or cherry, in part because it is plentiful around here. I would prepare meals over a fire pit."
About five years ago, he built his first barbecue smoker after long considering one, with the idea of cooking for groups.
"My first barbecue gig, and also my biggest, was for a huge Amish family gathering in the Five Points-Ganges area, near Shiloh, where I prepared meat only for a gathering of 820 people," he remembered. "That was a private gathering. Not long after that, I obtained my food service license and started preparing public meals, first doing so at the urging of Carl Ayers, who asked me to set up a barbecue at the Presbyterian Church Farmers Market, held on Saturdays during the summer in Loudonville."
That was in 2013. The following winter, he built his larger, and current, smoker, which he named Mary Alice, after his mother. "This is our fourth season with it," he said.
Unlike his mother's "home-style" cooking, Hurst does what he calls "heavy cooking, barbecue of meats, beef, pork and chicken. That first gig for the Amish, I prepared 320 pounds of chuck roast, and 650 pieces of chicken. We worked for 17 hours straight."
His specialties are pulled pork, chicken, ribs and brisket. "At weddings, we usually serve chicken and pork, while at events like fairs, we serve ribs and brisket.
"We are also doing a lot of prime rib now, which was scary for me at first because it was so expensive. However, with the advice of a lot of people, I have come up with an old style prime rib recipe, cooking it first at 500 degrees for an hour and a half, and then lowering the temperature, to 350, for the second hour and a half. The results have been fantastic."
Wife Sheila's favorite is Pete's brisket, which he slow cooks, "at 225-235 degrees for nine or 10 hours" he said.
Shiela also said her husband is constantly experimenting with new dishes, and ways of cooking, "gathering a community of family members as taste testers."
The Hursts' daughters, Haley, who now lives in Marion where she works at the Andersen Window factory, with her fiancé Tyler, and Emily, a Loudonville High School senior, work with him with virtually all of his cooking jobs, along with Sheila, who for 14 years has worked full time as a radiologist (CAT scan specialist) at the University Hospitals Samaritan Regional Health System.
Hurst called the recent catering job for the JROTC in Mount Vernon "our biggest job because we served a full meal, with 175 table settings for guests dressed in full military dress uniform, and the ladies dressed to the nines, and we did virtually everything for it, including washing the dishes."
He has also done several catering jobs for the Red Horse unit of the Air National Guard in Mansfield.
"I really enjoy doing meals for military groups," he said. "I did not have a chance to serve, and I really appreciate those who do."
He will also for the second year do a barbecue in Loudonville's Central Park for the Loudonville High Band in April. And he's cooked breakfasts, and will do so again, for the Redbird football team during their preseason practices.
"Last year I scrambled 12 dozen eggs for them in a huge skillet," he remembered.
People may check out Backyard Smokin' on Hurst's web page, backyardsmokin.com, or call him for information at 419-651-3094. He noted, however, "that we are already almost three-quarters booked for 2018."
The Hursts work almost every weekend, taking just two off in 2017.
Being that busy can cause complications.
"I'm a cook, not the secretarial type," he admitted. "We ran into a crisis before Christmas when I lost my appointment book, and suddenly had no way to tell when I had booked jobs. So I went to Facebook and asked people who had booked with me to remind me. Fortunately, daughter Emily saved me by finding the appointment book."
"All of us are much more attentive of when we book appointments now," Sheila said.
The Hursts recently moved from their longtime home in Perrysville to a rural property on Township Road 905 southwest of Hayesville, "in part," Hurst explained, "so we would have more room. My dad, Bob Hurst, 86, moved in with us this fall."