Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Barbecue is at Home at Home

Pork butt rubbed and ready for an 18-20 hour soak in pecan wood. 

Barbecue is the anti-sushi. What I mean by that is, you should never try to make sushi at home. Sure you can purchase bamboo mats, headbands, special rice, and have a roll your own party that would make Bob Marley jealous, but you will never be able to match the sublime expertise of a great sushi house. Barbecue on the other hand is almost always better at home than in a restaurant.

That is not to say one cannot have a transcendent dining experience in a barbecue restaurant. My first exposure to real barbecue occurred on a sports trip to Huntsville where on the way we pulled into that hilltop mecca in Tuscaloosa, Dreamland. The thing that still sticks out in my mind about Dreamland was the salty, vinegar punch of the sauce. Later Dreamland sauce would show up in a college roommates care packages transformed into a late-night snack with just some white bread. Barbecue in Eastern Virginia meant whole hog cooked for half a week and chopped into a hash of pork fat and smoke and piled onto soft hamburger buns.

Travels to Texas revealed brisket and bulging sausages to be the way to go, but always my heart comes back to pork as the greatest expression of the barbecue arts. Locally, the brief, bright flame that was Smokin Buddha BBQieux was the best in town. It closed, but Rob Bechtold still plies his wares at the Avenue Pub on Sundays and Mondays. I'm due for a visit. Ubon's BBQ in Yazoo City lured us in with their pulled pork, but it was the inky blackberry cobbler that made us fall in love. (Ed. note: More on Ubon's and the rest of the Delta tomorrow.)

But all of those experiences only serve as inspiration to go home and fire up the smoker. Lately, my tinkerings have involved adding fennel seed to the rub and toasting the rub before applying. Fennel and pork are natural buddies and the toasting makes the spice rub robust enough to get a job at Nola.com. Of course next summer it may be all about lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Or maybe paprika and mustard powder. Just means it is time to get on the road and do some research.

And one last thing, this debate over the difference between grilling and barbecuing is stupid. Last weekend I slow roasted a leg of lamb, smeared with oregano, garlic, thyme, and rosemary for about three hours before blasting it over high heat to crisp the exterior. The meat was delicious. But both sides of that dumb argument would claim I violated some unwritten rule of outdoor cooking. Just get out there and cook.


Anonymous said...

You''d think barbecue would be a natural for New Orleans, it's so slow, smoky and spicy. And pork, always pork, please, but somehow it never happens here. The neighborhood backyard smoker can sometimes manage it over a good weekend but you can't find it for sale in this fair city.

I love everything about New Orleans but you have to travel up the river quite a ways, nearly to Memphis or, for the best, go to Memphis. They do barbecue the right way. Just thinking about it makes me homesick. Beans, potato salad, cole slaw, maybe this time of year a little corn on the cob. Delta food.

Brian C said...

I sure would like to see what happened at the end of that shoulders career.

Rene said...

Just deleted the photo off my fun. But I am happy to make another one.


Have to be honest, made a bbq pilgrimage around Memphis few months ago, and found it to be not up to par.

Anonymous said...

Don't let the Yankees fool you - barbecue is not a verb. Pork is good, Eastern NC barbecue is good, Louisiana is good, your blog is good........