|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
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.
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.
|Barbeque Worth its Sauce|
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.
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.