bbq title

Q as in Barbeque: Buck Sappenfield is a Texan
who has learned to appreciate true Q as in his version of brisket - beef brisket.
He travels as much as Willie Nelson and rates Q throughout the USA.
Herein he remembered this Q gem.

There are two food groups: Barbeque and everything else.
    I have moved from Chattanooga where I have survived for the last two years exiled from barbeque or at least the way God intended for man to eat barbeque.

    In Chattanooga there are advertisements for “barbecue” and “barbecue stands” as thick as the flies on said “barbecue.” However, if you grew up in Sherman, Texas, you are hard pressed to find true barbeque.

chasing pigs Buck, with brothers Clem and Dim, chase their dinner
    It's because the constituents of Chattanooga slaughter pigs by the truck full, throw their dead carcass on a grill, hack the meat up into tiny little pieces, pour some sweet goo, laced with sweet pickles, all over it until is a thick paste. Then they spread this peanut butter-like consistency on a day-old slice of white bread. You cannot find a piece of smoked beef in Chattanooga and I am pretty sure in the entire state of Tennessee.

    I am talking about a brisket of beef, rubbed with spices and slowly smoked for about 18 hours in a temperature not in excess of 200 degrees. When you slice into it, its natural juices over flow. It is coal black on the outside and tender, falling off the fork, wonderful on the inside.

    For some reason they will not smoke beef in Chattanooga and they slaughter so many pigs, I would be surprised to see a live one in all Hamilton County. If I did not know there were thousands and thousands of Baptists in Chattanooga, I would have assumed they worshiped cows since they refuse to smoke them. They do know how to fry chicken, shrimp, ham, and sausage. Actually, they do fry about everything including the rare piece of beef that makes its way to the kitchen.

    But I couldn't take it anymore. I left town and have now moved to what I consider the Big Q capital of the world - Pittsburgh, Pa.

    Well, it may not be a barbeque mecca, but they do have a sandwich that's pretty good. They call it a “Pittsburgh grill,” a well-charred piece of beef that is rare on the inside. I'm told that back in the steel mill days the workers would bring a slab of beef from home and at lunchtime they would throw it on a hot furnace to cook. The result was charred and rare.

    An interesting taste, but I am still recovering from too much 'Nooga pork. Any piece of beef tastes good. I intend to haunt this city until I find acceptable barbeque. Or, as I did in 'Nooga, invite the neighbors in. kill and smoke the fatted calf.

    Remember the Alamo.


Barbeque Worth its Sauce

Nick Thomas is a securities lawyer residing Raleigh, N.C.
He is a food columnist for the Raleigh News & Observer.

(This column appeared April 19, 2002)

    Having lived in North Carolina for nearly 10 years now, and being in the second year of writing this column, I suppose it is finally time to address the central pillar of North Carolina cuisine - barbecue.

    If it's prepared lovingly from good ingredients, there are very few foods in the world I do not enjoy. But to crib from the thirsty poet, in Raleigh it seems there's barbecue everywhere, but not a bite to eat.

    That's not to say I can't face a plate of free propane-fired pork doused in vinegar and sugar at some catered event (especially after a few free drafts). But given the calories involved, and the abundance of other good things to eat, I rarely pay for the privilege to eat anywhere they serve banana pudding.

    To me and to most of the pork-eating world, barbecue is not barbecue unless you start with hours of wood smoke. Whether it's the pimento trees of Jamaica, the citrus trees of my native Florida, the mesquite of Texas or the ubiquitous hickory, it you're not smelling wood smoke (a lot of it) while you chew, you're not eating barbecue.

    As for sauces, I'm no snob. The world is full of great approaches -  the mustard-based sauces of South Carolina and Georgia, the dry rubs of the West, the hoi sin of China, the tomato-based sauces of Kansas (some say Memphis) that has conquered most of the barbecue-eating world- but straight vinegar is not one of them.

    So what do I do when the need for real barbecue hits, and I'm 200 miles from the nearest Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q, the Florida-based restaurant chain where I cut my barbecue teeth?

    Naturally, I cook it myself.

    The only thing you need to cook great barbecue is one of those $35 smokers that look like R2D2 painted black. The smoker has three basic parts, all housed under a tightly closed dome. The lowest holds the hot coals and wood chips; the central basin is for the water to keep the moisture high and the heat of the coals regulated; and the top rack contains the meat in question.

pig sitting     When I prepare to fire up the smoker, I follow a few basic rules. First, I start right after breakfast. Second, I use real charcoal as opposed to briquettes you see in national ads (the real stuff makes a big difference, especially when you consider that the meat will be exposed to the coals all day long). Third, I use real wood chips (not pressed wood pellets), and I soak them in water for a good hour. Fourth, I buy the best quality Boston butts (pork shoulder), ribs, whole chickens, beef briskets and turkey breasts that I can find, and I buy enough for several meals (basically enough to fill the smoker tray completely).

    Then, as the day goes by, I hover around, enjoying the smoke in the air and replenishing the coals and wood chips as needed.

    At the end of the day, the meat has a tightened, burnished exterior. And when you cut into it, you see that the first quarter inch or so of the meat has a reddish hue. Those are the visual clues to well-cooked barbecue.

    As for the texture, you'll notice that the meat is nice and firm. A good barbecued rib should fight back a little when you eat it (with the exception of braising, I've never understood the allure of “meat falling off the bone”). Hack your chickens into serving-sized pieces, and slice your beef and pork thinly. (I've never trusted store-or restaurant-bought chopped barbecue. I always suspect the cook is chopping in more fat than I care to eat.)

    Finally, when it comes to sauce, I often make my own from one of the recipes I have handy in my cookbooks. But there are also some good commercial brands. My favorite is Thomas Sauce (no relation), a very good tomato-based sauce made in Greensboro.

    Eat this good barbecue along with some baked beans and you'll be surprised if you have any room left over for banana pudding.


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