Thursday, November 5, 2009


Hickory-smoked pork ribs with a barbeque sauce glaze
The term “barbecue” is used pretty loosely around these parts. Most often it refers to an outdoor grill, but I have also had “barbecued” items in restaurants that haven't been anywhere near an outdoor grill. In fact, these items, usually ribs or pulled-pork, have been braised or even stewed in an acidic solution called "barbecue sauce"

True barbecue is pork that has smoked at low temperature for several hours. The home of true barbecue is the American south, notably the Carolinas and Tennessee. When I say "true", I'm not arguing about the origin of the word or the antiquity of the practices, although I suspect that Southern barbecue would win on those fronts, too. I mean that the quality of the resulting product is infinitely superior with true barbecue. It is unlike any meat I have had before: it is transcendent.

The difference in taste is obvious. Complex, aromatic smoke is the base. Barbecue sauce is added towards the end of cooking, for a little acidity and sweetness. The real surprise was the texture. Food that is stewed in barbecue sauce is touted as "tender", but is actually just mushy. Food cooked low and slow and dry are tender, but they still have texture and bite.

In the southern states, there are barbecue restaurants. They have smokehouses where they cook pork ribs and beef briskets for eight hours. People line up to eat at these places. They literally go through tons of meat every day. They sell out of product every night. Occasionally one of these places will be featured on a Food Network show like Diners, Drive-In, and Dives. To my knowledge they just don't exist in Canada. Luckily you can do it at home.

Over the past two weeks I have barbecued twice. The first was with pork shoulder from Trowlesworthy Farms. The second was today, with grocery store side ribs, in the photo above.
Required Reading:
  • Jeffrey Steingarten's essay "Going Whole Hog", from The Man Who Ate Everything. Does a good job describing the mania for barbecue in the southern states.
  • Michael Ruhlman's recipes for Pulled Pork and Carolina Barbecue Sauce in his book Charcuterie.

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