B is for BBQ
BBQ. Three tiny little letters that represent enormously fierce fightin’ words south of the M/D line.
BBQ, barbecue (barbeque if you’re prissy, a chef or a Yankee) or ‘cue (if you’re likely to be wearing a trucker hat at this moment), is more than grilled meat. It’s a war between states, religions and generations over what it is exactly, who makes it best and how to get baked bean stains out of a white shirt.
It’s regional divides harking back to the Civil War over sauce (Memphis, North Carolina, North Alabama White. Tomato-based. Mustard-based. Vinegar-based. My apologies to you lovely people in the Heartlands, but Kansas City does not have a dog in this hunt), cooking times, ways to cook (dare I even utter, “Big Green Egg, sotto voce?”), coals (hickory, applewood, oak, mesquite) plus the whole whiny dichotomy of noun verses verb.
BBQ can be a simple pork sandwich slopped with Daddy’s sauce. And again, I say simple: entire families have split asunder over over this gastronomical delicacy. What kinda meat? Is it pork? If so, chops, loin, babybacks, butt or the whole hawg? “Inside” meat, moist and juicy or “outside” meat, slightly charred? Is it beef brisket (Texas style, the way my Mom makes it) or even chicken, smothered in “red” or “white”?
What’s it on? A hamburger bun, thick-sliced and lightly toasted homemade bread, a Kaiser roll, a split chunk of cornbread or just a piece of Wonderbread straight off the loaf, served on the side to soak up the juice?
Sauce. Yeah, I mentioned it before in passing but let’s not even touch on what style of sauce. That’s just a bit too personal, like your walk with the Lord or whether or not you got drawers on under them jeans. I mean how is your meat sauced? Is it slathered on top? Marinaded or dry rubbed? All smoked and chopped and stirred up first in a pot with some extra spicy before loadin’ on the bread?
Pickles? Go ahead, put ’em on, but be prepared for folks to start mutterin’ about the “slippery slope.”
Coleslaw? That’s different. Sure, you can serve it on the side, with the baked beans, corn on the cob and Brunswick stew, but you can also pile it high on top of the sandwich, right under the bun. It’s so good that way! And if you do a slaw stack (and your granny’s not flipping in her grave), is it Mayo-based (Duke’s of course, there is no other) or a vinegar-based cabbage salad?
My heavens, as a good Southerner, are you even allowed to eat those divinely yummy (but slightly heretical) pork BBQ Sundays? That’s “nouvelle” cuisine at its most controversial.
But BBQ doesn’t stop there, oh no, no, no. We’re just scratchin’ that pig on its ears.
BBQ also means to grill: pork, beef, chicken, shrimp, sticks of veggies, Spanish mackerel…umm tuna steak? Never tofu. Really. Otherwise, if you can skewer it up or keep it from slippin’ through the grates, you can set a fire about it.
And a BBQ, “the BBQ” is also the instrument of the flames. The pit. The grill. The Webber.
“Burton McNeely Hallsworth the third, you and your daddy fire up that there barbecue – we’ve got folks comin’ over and we need to smoke up a mess o’ ribs.”
The mechanism that delivers the meaty manna can range from a $9.99 K-mart Hibachi to a re-purposed oil drum. Some are built-in brick fire pits that take up half the back yard. Some of them are so huge you can tow ’em behind the truck on a trailer.
Honestly, in the Deep South, gas grills are considered by many to be a little “sissy,” but that doesn’t stop good ol’ boys (and gals) from investing tens of thousands of dollars in some chrome monstrosity with multiple levels, warming drawers and a steam tray. Personally, I always feel those fellas are overcompensatin’ a mite but I’ll leave it at that. In my family, they use a charcoal grill complete with an aluminum chimney to nurse the coals to the proper color and ash before spreading them with a practiced flourish to the exact micro-density required to perfectly cook the protein du jour.
But before I forget, there’s another BBQ entirely.
Creole BBQ. It’s got nothing to do with grills or tomato-based sauces. Creole BBQ is a heady blend of salt, black pepper and spices (rosemary, thyme, paprika) pan sauteed with fresh shrimp still with the heads, tails and shells, at least a pound of sweet butter, diced green chilies, minced garlic, a squeeze of lemon and a hearty dash of Tabasco, served in a bowl with a hunk of French bread for soppin.’
Despite the galaxy’s vast reaches of technology and ideology imbuing this culinary zeitgiest, in my mind (arguably) the best inventions to come along in the entire history of barbecue?
– Gwyneth Paltrow