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Old 03-01-2005, 09:00 PM   #1
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Join Date: 07-18-04
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The Joys Of Barbecue Part 1: The Meat
J. Scott Wilson , Food Editor

Barbecue, to the carnivore, is one of the truly great joys in life. Be it pork, beef, chicken or something more exotic (Gulf Coast crabs, anyone?), barbecue is perhaps the perfect melding of cooking method and seasoning, with tastes as varied as the people who make it.

Before we talk about it, though, we need to get our terminology straight. Barbecuing is NOT done on your barbecue grill, unless you've truly become one with it to the extent that you can manage low-temperature indirect cooking in that confined a space ... for up to four days.

Part of this is the fault of marketers. They sell "barbecue grills," when true 'cue cookers know that name is an oxymoron. Grilling is not barbecuing, and vice versa. Barbecuing is cooking a hunk of meat, the cheaper the better, with smoke (NO direct heat) slowly over a long period of time. The idea is to give the connective tissues time to melt down into gelatin and give the meat that tenderness so prized by diners.

And what KIND of barbecue should you make? Well, that's a topic of much polite, reasoned debate ... and lots of shouting done by guys in smeared aprons with smoke-impregnated clothes. In my home state of Texas, beef barbecue is king. In fact, you'll have to do some searching to find pork 'cue. The height of beef achievement is the barbecue brisket, a cut of meat that is tough and nigh on to inedible if cooked by any conventional method. It's cheap, generally less than a dollar a pound. However, the connective tissue that makes a brisket so tough to chew under conventional cooking is precisely what makes it ideal fodder for the savvy barbecuer.

Now I'm living in North Carolina, smack in the middle of the region most famous for pork barbecue. And may the Texas gods forgive me, I love it so. It's actually an affair that began in Houston, when I was out with friends one weekend and stopped by a Carolina barbecue joint on the northwest side. That spicy vinegar sauce, that pulled pork ... I was in heaven from the first bite. The idea of using vinegar as the base for a barbecue sauce was at the time foreign to me, but I soon came to the conclusion that it was the only way to go. But we'll talk more about sauce next week.

Most barbecue purists maintain that the meat is where the true soul of barbecue lies, and in my opinion, they're right. If you don't start with the proper cut of meat, seasoned properly and smoked to perfection, all the sauce in the world is not going to fix it. Conversely, a poor sauce can be offset by those rare morsels that have transcended mere cookery and become something heavenly ... something that defies mere culinary definition.

Of course, you've got to pick your own seasonings for your meat. Some people even like to marinade their meat, especially beef ribs or brisket. I prefer a dry rub, myself, with enough chili powder or other heat to get my attention, but enough brown sugar to give that sweet finish so prized by barbecue aficionados.

If you want to have a little fun, go to a barbecue cookoff and ask a few of the cooks for their dry rub recipes. Of course here I'm defining "fun" as "having heavy or sharp objects hurled directly at your head in a manner intended to injure you severely." There are rub recipes out there older than the trees providing the wood. For starters, you might want to try a commercially made meat rub. Try four or five, and then start to figure out what spices you prefer.

Then there's another matter, one that establishes the entire atmosphere of your 'cue: The wood you use. Just as with spices, every cook has his or her own favorites. But there is one hard and fast rule: You MUST use hardwoods. Try to smoke with pine, and you'll be enjoying the lovely flavor of turpentine.

Personally, I like an even mix of oak and pecan, well dried and chopped small enough to burn well, but large enough to smolder for a while. Some cooks like to use sawdust or wood chips to add a smoke "burst" at points during the cooking, but I haven't yet experimented with such.

Whatever wood you choose, it's critical to keep an eye on the heat. You want a steady stream of smoke to come off the wood, without a lot of open flame. The idea is to let the smoke have the maximum amount of time to penetrate the meat. Your patience will be well-rewarded. I've used hunks of well-smoked brisket to pay court fines and bribe the cable guy to hook me up with the full package.

Truth to tell, it's actually been a good while since I did some smoking. My last smoker, bought at a garage sale from a man who make them out of oil drums, went to that Big Cookoff In The Sky when the firebox welds gave way. I buried it with full honors.

I will replace it soon, and when I do I'll again begin to climb the ladder of barbecue greatness. But I take solace in the knowledge that even bad 'cue, if you make it yourself, is still a darned good meal.

Someday, I plan to make a pilgrimage to some of the "big" barbecue cookoffs, such as Memphis In May or the Big Pig Jig, but for now I'll settle for getting my own smoker set up and throwing a few pork butts in to see what happens. Of course I'll have to name my smoker. My buddy Moose, who smokes pork butts in the East Texas woods, where the 'cue police won't find him, calls his smoker Red Porktober. I'm thinking of something more in a Klingon vein myself. I can see a smoker named Koloth The Pigroaster.

Next week: The Sauce
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Old 03-02-2005, 07:22 AM   #2
is one Smokin' Farker
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Where did you find this article at, Brooklyn?
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Old 03-02-2005, 09:59 AM   #3
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Don't remembr Big Belly. I thought I left the lnik in the article. J. Scot Wilson who wrote it is a food editor for some west coast media and writes the diary of a fat man.
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Old 03-02-2005, 10:55 AM   #4
somebody shut me the fark up.
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Great article man!

I found a local OKC link.
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Old 03-02-2005, 11:50 AM   #5
somebody shut me the fark up.
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Join Date: 08-13-03
Location: St. Peters MO

Good article. His email address is at the end of the article in Arlin's link should some want to enlist him. BTW the spicey vinegar sauce sounds good. Maybe we should also ask for the recipe?
Dr. Mark (STL)
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Old 03-02-2005, 12:00 PM   #6
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He says he's looking to visit some of the big contests - maybe one of our teams near him could have him hook up with them and get the team a bunch of publicity
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