"Barbecue is the third rail of North Carolina politics." - John Shelton Reed
"Southern barbecue is the closest thing we have in the U.S. to Europe's wines or cheeses; drive a hundred miles and the barbecue changes." - John Shelton Reed
Who's up for some barbecue? I know I am. I always am. But what kind? Well, there's the rub....
(I know--some day I'm going to literary hell, to hear Vogon poetry read for the rest of eternity, for puns like that)
It struck me the other day how iconic barbecue, as a way of preparing meat to be eaten, is of a way of life and a region. There's Kansas City-style barbecue, for example, which is what most people think of when they think of BBQ: meat, smoked if possible, grilled and/or boiled in sauce if not, with thick, sweet, tomato-based sauce covering it, permeating all the way through it with tasty, gloppy goodness. Mmm, there's nothing like diving into a plate of KC ribs and needing an entire bathroom towel set to clean the sauce out of your beard afterwards. The messier, the betterer!
Then there's the barbecue of the southern part of the nation's Eastern coast, commonly referred to as Carolina-style. It's delicious, too, but the sauce is different. Instead of sweet and thick, Carolina style sauce is thin and tangy, using a combination of vinegar and tomato as the base. Down farther south sometimes a mustard is used instead of a vinegar, but the idea is the same--tangy sauce for the plucky East Coast folks. Some slow-cooked pulled pork with Carolina-style BBQ sauce drizzled over--add some cole slaw on the side--and TOSK is one happy author.
Start naming anything for regions and, of course, Texas has to jump in. Being a fan of the spicy result, though, I can't complain. Granted, a lot of what makes Texas barbecue different is the type(s) of meat and the way it's cooked rather than the sauce, if sauce is used at all. West ("Cowboy") Texas style, ferinstance, is often cooked over direct mesquite-fired heat. Matter of fact, Texas is such a big place (you knew it was a big place already, right?) that "Texas style BBQ" is often subdivided into three or even four sub-categories, each with its own foodie goodness about it. Gotta love Texas!
No discussion of barbecue, of course, would be complete without mentioning Memphis. In part, that's because it was where I sat when the iconic nature of barbecue struck me--right there, bellied up to the bar in the famous original Corky's restaurant, downing what I must admit is my personal favorite style, Memphis dry rub ribs. See, in Memphis barbecue it's less about the sauce and more about the rub. The dry rub, a combination of salt and spices that goes onto the meat for flavor well before any sauce is allowed to touch it, is what makes the style both iconic and delicious. With all due respect to my friends (and their respective meats) in Texas, the Carolinas, and Kansas City, there is nothing else that gets my lips smacking as much as a spice-encrusted slow-roasted chunk of rib meat that pretty much dissolves in your mouth, leaving the complex and enhanced flavors tickling the taste buds. And what a complexity of flavors! The salt is just the base; add to that all sorts of herbal nuances along with garlic, onion, and so on. It's--well, it's good. It's really, really good.
Okay, now that I wiped the drool off of my keyboard and quit thinking about that beautiful rack of ribs that melted in my mouth....
Okay, okay, I'm not thinking about that any more. Having wiped my keyboard off twice now, I must remind my fellow Americans that though (as far as I know) we're the only place on the planet that makes a Nascar-level competition out of BBQ'ing, we're certainly not the only place that makes barbecue. Two well-known styles are Korean and Mongolian, but if look it up on Wikipedia you'll find that American BBQ styles only take up a very small portion of a rather diverse (and awfully yummy) field. Going to Jamaica to experience a true Jamaican Jerk is on my bucket list, to be certain. And there are more--so, so, so many more.
I was going to draw a connection from barbecue styles to varieties of books within certain genres, but right now I'm so hungry I really can't recall what I was going to say. Life is to be lived, not over-analyzed, right? So get some barbecue, and enjoy!