Brian Jupiter's whole smoked alligator at Frontier (Courtesy of Frontier )
Chef Brian Jupiter has earned a reputation for cooking the gamiest of game meats at Noble Square bar Frontier (1072 N. Milwaukee Ave.). When we heard that he recently added a smoked alligator to his lineup of whole animals, we called him up to hear more about the cooking process—and find out if gator-eating parties might just become the new pig roast.
Why’d you want to start offering whole smoked alligator?
Well, I’m from New Orleans, so I’ve been eating alligator all my life. We’re always looking for ways to change the game up. We have alligator ribs added to the menu already, and we wanted to have something different and unique for that whole animal section [of our menu]. The alligator was definitely something that I knew would make people go crazy, for one, and alligator intimidates a lot of people as well. The first one, we brought it out and people literally got out of their seats and started taking pictures and stuff. I always want to make them think, “What is he going to do next?”
What’s the smoking process like, from start to finish?
Well right now we’re still getting farm gators, so they’re smaller, because alligators are very temperamental in the sense that they don’t eat when it’s cold, or [when] the temperatures drop at all, they go basically into a hibernation type of thing. The gators that we’re getting now are still small, but in July, the wild season opens. So we’re going to get larger alligators in July. We’ll probably be looking at something around 6 feet in July. We’re not going to go over that size because alligators, the bigger they get, the more fatty they get, and the fat is not a pleasant taste. So, we’re taking these little gators, we’re stuffing the bellies with chicken, you know, just seasoned with some Cajun spice and salt and pepper, and we sew the belly shut. We rub the alligator itself with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and Cajun [spices], and we wrap it in foil for the first hour [of the smoking process.] After that, we remove the foil and, with a spray bottle, we baste it, spray it down, spray it down, about every 30 minutes or so. We [baste with] a mixture of olive oil and garlic powder, some salt a little bit of water, ’cause the alligator’s very lean, so we have to keep it moist to keep it from drying out. The main process is making sure you baste it, baste it, and … we have apple and cherry wood for the smoker. We’re looking at probably about a 3-4 hour cook time.
Is the smoked alligator destined to be the next pig roast?
The pigs and the boars are always going to dominate, because it’s hard to get large groups to eat a whole alligator. So the pigs and the boars are the easiest sells from the customer standpoint, but people that are adventurous are definitely going to try out alligator for sure. We’re getting calls like crazy about it. I actually did a whole gator yesterday at the Chefs on the Grill event, and the people were taking pcitures like crazy.
How much will this alligator run you?
We’re still trying to nail that part down. I’ll know a little bit better once these wild gators come in and I see where they’re come in at as far as size and price. ‘Cause honestly, right now they’re only about 11-12 pounds each. [Pricing will be] based off the size and what I’m paying for them, and right now, it’s really high. Like that farm stuff is coming in about $19 a pound right now. We’ve only done one so far and we did that one at $575, and we actually gave them two smaller gators, just because they weren’t up to the size we wanted them to be yet. So yeah, I’m thinking minimum $575. If I get 6-footers, the price would go up to but won’t exceed $700. [That serves] 10-12 people. With the sides for that … we’re doing a house-made duck andouille sausage, chicken jambalaya, and the rest of the sides are the same [as with our pig roasts], we’re still doing the Caesar salad with the polenta croutons and the succotash and the johnny cakes. I would like to get five days [advanced notice]. Sometimes I can make it work in three. Five would give me the guarantee that I can get ‘em in time.