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Writing About Barbecue

Like almost everyone else in America, I'm very vested in how I want this election to come out. Like almost everyone else in America, there is nothing I can do to speed up the rate at which Nevada, Georgia, North Carolina, or Pennsylvania release a vote count. Unlike almost everyone else in America, I've decided I don't want to talk about the election. I stopped posting about it on social media yesterday at around ten. I have been doing my level best to avoid comments on serious election-related blog posts, and have been trying to think about other things. So I'm blogging about barbecue. I came about the topic because of the states we're waiting on. North Carolina and Georgia both have pretty distinctive and specific barbecue traditions (though, full disclosure, neither of which are my favorite class of barbecue). But there is something else about barbecue, it's easy to love, it's unifying, mostly, and it's something that, even insofar as it's devisive (i.e. "You're into Texas Barbecue, what's wrong with you?!?") it's not the sort of thing that's likely to lead to the sort of knock-down drag-outs that are happening right now over the election (for understandable reasons).

 

Properly smoked salmon will never be sold in a store because it doesn't ship or transport well

 

Everyone has to begin somewhere, so let me begin with a definition of terms. What barbecuing is and isn't. Many people think of barbecue as anything they cook at a barbecue, when, in fact, most stuff they cook at a barbecue isn't barbecue at all. Barbecue requires that a food be cooked low and slow (though not always for a long time) by indirect heat and flavored by smoke. This means that smoked ribs are barbecue, but your grilled burgers aren't. Almost every region of the country has barbecue traditions and things they barbecue, and the aspects of those regions are different, differences include the cuts commonly cooked and the sauces commonly used.


As a general rule, I think the following is the hierarchy of the most commonly smoked barbecued foods, prepared in America, when optimally prepared: Burnt ends > brisket > ribs > salmon > pulled pork > links > corn > chicken. I know placing salmon that far up is controversial, but there are a few things to note: Lox, while called "smoked salmon" is not smoked. It is cured. when I say smoked salmon, I mean actually smoked salmon, which you may have had purchased at a store with a texture not unlike a chunk of delicious drywall. That stuff is hot boiled garbage. Properly smoked salmon will never be sold in a store because it doesn't ship or transport well, you smoke it for 20 minutes or so and serve it still slightly pink in the center. The fat absorbs the smoke beautifully and the meat takes on a creamy almost buttery texture. It is one of life's great pleasures, and the only reason I don't rate it higher is that it is almost too decadent to consume regularly.

 

Barbacoa is a Mexican marinated barbecued beef which is actually available in most states these days.

 

I will admit there are a few meats that seem oddly excluded: I love lamb, but it's relatively uncommon in the US, being mostly a Moroccan or Greek thing. I dig goat, but also uncommon in the US. I love tri-tip, but it's uncommon outside of California (on the hierarchy it can be basically substituted for brisket in my opinion, it cooks and prepares similarly once you learn how to handle it correctly). A friend pointed out that Barbacoa isn't on here. Barbacoa is a Mexican marinated barbecued beef which is actually available in most states these days, because Mexican food is pretty common, but not all Mexican restaurants serve it. I know a lot of white people who've never had the stuff, and it's relatively uncommon for people not of Latin American descent to cook it. So, I'm excluding it. But if you want to know: Just below burnt ends.

Next: We need to discuss sauce and rubs: First--Most people really need to start either investing in better dry rubs or learn to make better dry rubs. I make my own, but there are a number of good ones out there. If you don't want to make your own. I recommend The Slabs. Their stuff is great. Before I started making my own, I bought a lot of theirs. You can order their stuff at http://www.theslabs.com.

 

If you're going to use black pepper, use fresh ground--The pre-ground stuff is always stale at best and rancid at worst.

 

If you're going to make your own, start simple, salt, pepper, sugar, heat, and one or two other flavors. Add from there after you've tried that. A common mistake beginners make is to overdo it early on. I will tell you that my secret ingredient is that I don't use salt, I've found something else that has multiple flavors that I think adds more depth. From steak seasoning to seasoning salt to something crazy, there are a million powders that might work for you, find yours. If you're going to use black pepper, use fresh ground--The pre-ground stuff is always stale at best and rancid at worst.


As for sauce, there are more barbecue sauces on the market than I can count, and I can count pretty high. The Slabs are from KC, so they're a Kansas City Barbecue sauce, which is what most Americans think of when they think of barbecue sauce, sweet, red, etc. Barbecue potato chips are based on that flavor. You can like or dislike it, but it's what most of America thinks of when they think of Barbecue, and you can disagree with the KC Masterpiece ads, but it's basically a souped up ketchup. Texas sauce tends to be thinner, and usually hotter. South Carolina is vinegar and mustard based.


I make my own, and it's somewhere between a Texas and a KC. I don't keep ketchup in my house, so I usually start with tomato paste, vinegar, and brown sugar or honey. I then add molasses, spices, alcohol (sometimes another acid if I'm hard up), and stone ground mustard. If I'm at someone's house who has ketchup, I'll skip the first three ingredients and use ketchup.

 

I hate when I go to a restaurant and pay upwards of thirty bucks for ribs that I can't taste through a deluge of sauce.

 

I usually apply mine halfway through cooking thinly with a a brush so that it cooks on and forms a good "bark." I rarely use any while eating the stuff. The vast majority of barbecue is oversauced and you can't taste the meat. I hate when I go to a restaurant and pay upwards of thirty bucks for ribs that I can't taste through a deluge of sauce. Good barbecue shouldn't need much sauce if any.


I volunteer at a non-profit and do periodic barbecues for the staff, or, at least, I did before the world ended. They make good morale builders and gave everyone a chance to see one of the board members work for them, which I thought was a good thing. My usual menu was vegan hot dogs cooked on foil in olive oil for the vegetarians; tri-tip for people who preferred beef; and salmon for everyone who wanted a third option. I'd buy hoagie rolls at Costco for people who wanted a bread option, and my rule was, I bring three kinds of meat and bread. If you want condiments or anything else, you bring it. It worked pretty well, people would bring sides, or beer, or their preferred barbecue sauce, etc. and a social scene would develop.


And it meant the the non-profit wasn't providing drinks or encouraging drinking. We were merely permitting it, which we felt was a better side of that line to be on.


If you have questions about how to plan your staff appreciation events, or just want tips on barbecue, feel free to call us, though, given our hourly rates, if all you want is the latter, you're probably better off buying a cook-book.


We hope this helped you take your mind off of what is surely a stressful time, for other entertaining posts, you should look for our occasional series about drunken explanations of case law.





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