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The Future of Barbecue...

posted Jan 21, 2012, 4:50 PM by C Compton
I just read an interesting article about the future of barbecue-- you can read it here.  One guy says that beef prices will continue to rise since the drought in Texas is likely to continue.  Makes sense.  There are other astute observations and some that I think are just... well... waste from the cow whose price is about to go up.The one I really want to talk about is from John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed.  I've never heard of them before nor have I heard of their cook book.  I will stipulate for this discussion that they know of what they speak and since I like the opinion they expressed I might go buy the book.  That decision will be based on the likelihood of my divorce should I come home with another barbecue cookbook! :)  Just kidding... the CFO is very supportive of my tasty addiction.  Here is thier prognostication...

John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed, co-authors of “Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue. “So much to denounce, so little space…One, would-be barbecue places turning to what Hank Hill calls “energy-efficient clean-burning propane” to produce what we call roast pork. Two, the spread of the insidious Kansas City heresy that barbecue is about doctored-ketchup sauce. Three, the metastasizing International House of Barbecue style, with a mix-and-match menu of meats and sauces that’s fine for traditionless places like Washington but should be outlawed in Raleigh and Memphis. Four, the rise of ‘concept’ barbecue establishments with $12 pulled-pork sandwiches and valet parking. Real barbecue is an endangered cuisine. Eat it while you can.”

They are spot on.  Barbecuers et al have debated the concept of barbecue for probably ever.  I have listened to podcasts of otherwise respected chefs/pitmaster/cooks/authors tell me if it goes on a grill its barbecue or words to that effect.  I suppose if we looked at the origin of the word, barbacoa, and said since that was the native Taino people cooking meat on sticks high over a wood burning fire then anything involving meat and wood fire would be barbecue.  Yes... I went there... I defined barbecue!  OK, so that means that gas grills and ovens cant make barbecue. Yes... I said that too... I love my gas oven and my gas stove, but they do not make barbecue even if you set them in the backyard.  Before you committed gassers get all huffy and puffy... you do not make barbecue on any gas grill.  Period.  So save all the BS about flavorizer bars and smoke boxes.  I will agree it is easy grilled food perfect for when the kids are screaming and the day has already been to long, but it isn't barbecue and it never will be.  

Real Southern Barbecue is a very specific thing.  There are still shrines across the south that make true barbecue the way their grandfathers did and this is being lost one place at a time.  Most of it is a simple combination of meat, smoke, and spice.  Louis Mueller's in Taylor Texas has made brisket for decades and people eat it faster than they can make it.  It involves, salt and pepper, brisket, oak, and time.  That's true barbecue.  I talked to a guy that cooked "competitions" last year and he told me he made the best brisket in town.  He soaked it overnight in a marinade involving soy sauce, cooked it on a pellet-pooper at 350 and then foiled it with some kind of dark beer.  I guess he thinks that since it is tender brisket it's barbecue.  I like pastrami, it's tender, brisket, smoked, and typically served with a sauce, but I would never call it barbecue.

I guess what this rant is about is that our traditions in general are being diluted.  Barbecue is no different.  We can argue sauce all day long-- vinegar, mustard, or ketchup based-- but the root of meat cooked low and slow in the presence of wood smoke persists in true barbecue.  I, and I would imagine others, wouldn't mind if you smoke tofu, or braise brisket in root beer on a gas grill, just please do not call it barbecue.  Heck, you can poor that bottle of sauce on a pork butt in a crock pot, cook it all day long, pull it apart into shreds, mix it back into the sauce, get a puffy white bun, throw a big slice of onion on it, plop it down on some butcher paper, next to some slaw & beans, pop the top on a brewski, and enjoy the tastiest Faux-B-Que sandwich ever.  Still isn't barbecue.  And lastly, if after eating at that new "barbecue" place, the best compliment you can give them is "your sauce is good" then it probably isn't real barbecue either.