Last weekend, brightly-colored rides and parts of the ferris wheel began to appear on the Agricultural Society field in preparation for the annual fair starting this Thursday, August 16. Also on Saturday morning in Vineyard Haven, Tim Laursen put the finishing touches on another piece of fair-bound machinery: his hand-welded pig smoker.
This is Mr. Laursen’s and friend Everett Whiting’s third year at the fair doing business as Local Smoke, serving up pulled pork sandwiches from their Island-raised pigs.
Their newly created wood-fired smoker — an old propane tank welded with tube steel — lets the pigs cook low and slow for 12 to 14 hours. The air-dried oak burns in a lower chamber, allowing ample time for the smoke to slowly snake through the pipes and give the moist meat an earthy, woodsy flavor.
The guys take a good look at the shiny, pristine smoker that is soon to be charred and blackened. Mr. Laursen spent about 150 hours building the smoker with his metal band saw and a MIG welder. Together, the two men will put in nearly the same amount of hours working at the fair.
“The fair is where we put everything in. You have to be prepared to feed 3,000 people in four days,” said Mr. Whiting.
With two smokers, twenty pigs and fifty chickens, the guys are ready to roll.
Although he grew up on the Vineyard, Mr. Laursen now lives in Brooklyn during the winter. And so it was just the other day that he enjoyed his first taste of Mr. Whiting’s paprika-based dry rub.
“It’s like this rub is the essence of summer barbeque to me. I never even understood dry rubs before because I’d never had one like Everett’s,” said Mr. Laursen. “When I come back for the summer, when I first taste it, it just brings back a flood of past barbecues I’ve been to.” In fact, the first pig roast he ever went to was for Mr. Whiting’s 21st birthday party eight years ago. Mr. Whiting, on the other hand, grew up on his family’s farm in West Tisbury where his uncle would often roast a pig on a spit for get-togethers.
“When I was in my late teens I started borrowing the spit and roasting, too,” said Mr. Whiting. “I have been a cook in many different settings for a long time. Food is something that has always intrigued me and has come naturally.”
Both men have been coming to the fair every year.
“I’ve missed one fair my whole life,” said Mr. Whiting.
“And it was the saddest, darkest summer,” joked Mr. Laursen.
Mr. Whiting’s great-great-grandfather, Henry Laurens Whiting, was one of the founding fathers of the Agricultural Society. And for many decades, Everett’s grandmother Jane Whiting served as “head honcho of the fair,” helping to turn it into the event it is today.
“She brought the carnies here and made it more than just a display of flowers and stuff,” he said. “She helped make it more of an attraction for the whole Island as opposed to some up-Islanders playing with their tractors and chickens.”
“It used to be a time to do some casual business and make a couple of deals for hay that winter,” added Mr. Laursen. “Now we have competition barbecue and axe throwing.”
On Wednesday evening Mr. Laursen and Mr. Whiting will fire up the smoker and keep it stoked all the way through to Sunday night, taking turns sleeping by the smoker’s side.
“One of us will be there feeding the fire; we cook all night,” said Mr. Laursen. “And then we have people nonstop picking up food from noon to eight.”
“Yea, Monday is a good rest,” said Mr. Whiting with a smile.
After the fair Mr. Whiting will continue his weekly Sunday pig roasts at Right Fork Diner in Katama, and he hopes to book more catering jobs now that Local Smoke is a licensed and insured catering company. Mr. Laursen will work with him when he is on the Island as well as continuing his life in Brooklyn where he is a sculptor, currently focusing on a musical robot band. Recently, he dried out the pig skulls from last year’s fair and added them to one of the robot characters.
“Now the pigs you ate last year are part of a robot that has traveled from New York to Boston to Martha’s Vineyard,” said Mr. Laursen. “It’s way more abstract than a 3,000 pound smoker with pigs in them.”
“But I think these two smokers are some of the most beautiful, functional art I have ever seen,” said Mr. Whiting.
From raising pigs to building smokers and manning the fire all night long, the Local Smokers hope their work pays off.
“It might be the hardest year turning a profit and feeling successful afterwards,” said Mr. Whiting, due to the new smoker’s material costs. “But if we have a line and we have hundreds of happy customers, we really are successful. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Mr. Laursen added: “It’s one of the most fun weekends of the year for me. You’ve put a lot of work into it and people are just really enjoying the food. The smokers are all hot and cooking and sizzling. I walk around the fair with one of our iced teas, munching on a pulled pork sandwich, and I’m just on top of the world. I feel like a little kid again.”
For more information on booking Local Smoke, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call Tim Laursen at 508-560-2084.