From oil & gas to wood & charcoal: SG’s female pitmaster leaves full-time job to smoke meat

Fishing hat, baggy tee, pink Crocs (with lots of charms), and a longboard tucked under her arm. Could this really be the famed SG Brisket Lady who smokes meat? It sure is.

Jayce Ho is one of the most smiley, down-to-earth and unassuming people I have ever met despite her rapid rise to island-wide fame as one of the first female pitmasters in Singapore.

brisket lady

The time is 7:30 a.m., making it the earliest interview I have done in this role. We are meeting at the new professional kitchen of SG Brisket Kitchen, into which she moved just this week. It’s been quite a journey.

Jayce spent 15 years in the oil and gas industry and has taken a step into the unknown with smoked meats. “From oil and gas to wood and charcoal,” she quips. “Smoking meat was just a weekend hobby 18 months ago. Now, I am self-employed and have a commercial kitchen licence.”

It’s quite a transition and she does seem slightly nervous about the future.

When I ask if she has a target market, the answer is a definite ‘no’ and Jayce explains that she wants to cast her net as wide as possible. “My customers include expatriates born and bred in Texas as well as Singaporeans who have never had Texan-style smoked brisket before.”

smoking meat

Much has been made about the peculiarity of a female pitmaster. Rather than respond with the usual ‘women can do anything’ tropes that trailblazers often settle into, Jayce surprises me.

“The role is physically intense and demanding for a female because it’s labour intensive,” she explains, “I have to lift large slabs of meat and even chop my own wood— something that I enjoy— but they’re not easy.”

She also acknowledges that the process has made her more patient.

“I have always been rather impatient and impulsive but you have to leave those feelings at the kitchen door. Opening the smoker prematurely will spoil the flavour. I am learning things in the kitchen and trying to apply the lessons to my personal life.”

Another angle regularly mentioned in the media coverage is how she sleeps at the kitchen.

smoker equipment

“Smoking is an all-day affair. Every piece of meat is different and one batch can take between 18 and 24 hours to smoke. Because I smoke in the authentic Texas style, I have to use a wood smoker. It’s not like a gas stove where you can just turn a knob for time and temperature. Everything has to be monitored and adjusted manually throughout the process.”

cutitng into beef slab

inside of beef brisket

“That is why I resigned from my job— it was just not possible to put the right amount of effort into this when I was doing it part-time, but now I can!”

Jayce smokes at least 90 kg of meat every week, usually from Friday to Sunday. A foldable bed and her trusty longboard keep her company at the ulu location as she waits. The palpable passion for smoking meat notwithstanding, I ask what makes her product different.

“I buy only grain-fed USDA brisket because I believe that the only way to get high-quality smoked meat is to start with high-quality raw meat. For the smoke, I use US wood— hickory and post-oak— and I’ve bought an offset smoker for the right intensity.”

The real surprise of the day for me is Jayce’s revelation that she only uses salt and pepper to season the meat! I ask how she learned to do it this way.

“I first used wood to cook in the Girl Guides. Later, I became the go-to person in my family when it came to barbeques. In Singapore, it’s usually just chicken wings and prawns and I got bored. Looking online, I found the BBQ with Franklin series by the ‘God of brisket’ Aaron Franklin. That set off my interest in smoking meat.”

smiling with beef

Jayce booked tickets to visit Texas but that plan was upended when the pandemic hit. As restrictions are easing, she plans to make her trip in 2022.

beef steak
Credit – Jayce Ho
short ribs
Credit – Jayce Ho
short ribs
Credit – Jayce Ho

In the meantime, Jayce’s creative mind has also come up with Hot Smoked Salmon with Osmanthus & Oolong tea, Smoked Pulled Brisket with Jalapenos and Chickpeas, Smoked Prime Grade Beef Short-Ribs aka Dino Ribs, Smoked Beef Cheeks with Cabernet Sauvignon, and Smoked Angus Prime Ribeye Steak with pecan wood smoked butter.

She also makes delicious Smoked Beans and Chickpeas (S$8/200g) and Umami Mashed Potato (S$14/500g) sides, and the latter is especially light because it contains no butter or milk. Rounding up dessert is her Almond Tart with Raw Organic Honey (S$14 for 20cm x 10cm).

packing meat

vacuum sealing

Her meat products are vacuum packed and sealed. To warm it up, you just slide the pack into a steamer or bath. Ingenious, yes, but Jayce giggles and admits it is all about less cleaning up.

beef brisket

close up of beef brisket

Now, the end of the interview and my favourite bit— tasting of the beef brisket she had smoked 18 hours just for me! Juicy and flavourful, I still couldn’t believe the only seasoning used was salt and pepper. The beef was oh-so-tender and made the perfect filling for a sandwich.

sandwich

Jayce was so sweet to have prepared slices of wholemeal bread for me to have with the brisket. I would never think to have this much meat for brekkie, but I just couldn’t stop; I’ve never tasted such delicious brisket outside of the US. I can safely say that she smokes with love.

A great dish to bring to a party, I can definitely see myself placing orders with Jayce in the near future. As for now, I’m off to have some of the beef cheek and mashed potato she’s sent over!

You can check out her full menu and prices here.

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