A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to Sips and Vittles of the Modern South: B is for BBQ #AtoZChallenge

healthy living-1

B

B is for BBQ

[bahr-bi-kyoo]

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.

flames

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?

sandwich with sauce

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.

sundae

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.

grill

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.

shrimp

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?

wetwipetums

I try to avoid barbecue potato chips. They’re my weakness.

 – Gwyneth Paltrow

Mama-Rama, BBQ and Derby Day

A couple of weeks ago, we did the big pilgrimage to Augusta to see David’s parents for Mother’s Day. Although he’s been to Birmingham on several occasions to meet my folks, I had yet to meet his; and to be honest, although I was really excited to finally meet them, I was a little nervous, too. Not that I had any concerns about them being awesome – his mom and I were already FB friends, so I’d interacted with her a lot to this point and found her to be incredibly sharp, funny and sweet. My biggest worry was in making a good impression on them, after all, I hadn’t met anyone’s parents since oh, say, the Reagan administration, so my parental etiquette skills had to have some serious rust. David is very close to his family, so I felt there was a lot riding on this.

Me and Max!

Of course, my fears were groundless (or they covered well), and because they were so truly warm and welcoming, I got over my angst pretty fast and had a marvelous time.

We arrived around 5 p.m. that Saturday, just in time for the TV airing of the Kentucky Derby. David’s parents were quick to get into the spirit, grabbing an assortment of hats (de rigeur for Derby watching) while I mixed up some Mint Juleps for the guys.

We had a blast watching the Derby (yay, Animal Kingdom! Congrats on your win!), but even more fun trying on the Strohman’s vast collection of chapeaus and head gear and taking a bunch of goofy pics. Wow, did I ever luck out! My boyfriend is not only wonderful, but his parents are fantastic as well; and hey, they like to dress up too! Truly, a match made in heaven (or somewhere in a tropical climate with boat drinks, since I hear heaven may be booked up after this weekend.)

Kentucky Derby Hat Fest


Mint Julep

    1 scant ounce minted simple syrup
    2 cups crushed ice
    2 ounces bourbon (such as Woodford Reserve)
    Fresh mint sprig, for garnish

Mint Julep

To highball glass or silver Julep cup, add minted simple syrup, then 1 cup crushed ice, bourbon, and splash of water. Add enough of remaining ice to almost fill glass. Stir well and garnish with mint sprig.

Naturally, David had a special dinner planned for us; so after the races, he got to work on the grill, building the coals and whipping up all the ingredients for his famous Grilled Leg of Lamb with Chimichurri, something he learned to make during his many travels to Buenos Aires. I’m not a big lamb fan, as a rule, but there was so much hype around this, I put on my big girl pants and braved up for yet another culinary adventure.

Grilled Leg of Lamb

    4-6 lb leg of lamb – boned and butter flied
    kosher salt
    black pepper
    olive oil
    red wine vinegar
    2-3 med garlic cloves

Let lamb come to room temperature. Open flat with inside facing up.
Sprinkle liberally with kosher salt. Let stand until meat absorbs salt and
it begins to ‘sweat’. Drizzle with olive oil (enough to cover surface with
a thin layer of oil). Liberally coat with course cracked pepper corns.
Drizzle with 1 Tbls red wine vinegar. Thinly slice garlic cloves and add to
lamb spread evenly.

Roll up leg of lamb and tie with kitchen string. Sprinkle out side of lamb
with kosher salt. Let stand at room temp until coals are ready on grill

Light charcoal in chimney starter. When coals are white pour into grill in
an even pile along back of grill. Add olive wood or oak wood chips. Close
grill cover to allow head to build up. When wood chips become smoldering
and a full bed of coals has formed, grill ready. Place leg of lamb on rack
over and near parallel with coals but not directly on top of entire mound.
Partially close grill lid so it remains half open. Let lamb slow roast for
30-40 min. Turn over and let roast for additional 30-40 min or until
internal temp reads 130 degrees.

Remove lamb from grill and let rest for 10-15 before slicing. Slice and
serve. Drizzle with chimichurri sauce if desired

Finessing the flames


Chimichurri
1/4 C hot water
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/13 C loosely packed flat-leaf parsley
2/3 C loosely packed cilantro
6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed (about 2 TBLS)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 C red wine vinegar
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

Can make the chimichurri up to 3 days in advance.
Combine hot water, oregano and salt in small bowl; let stand 5 min to soften
oregano. Pulse parsley, cilantro, garlic and red pepper flakes in food
processor until coarsely chopped, about 10 1-sec pulses. Add water mixture
and vinegar to med bowl and slowly whisk in oil until incorporated and
mixture is emulsified. Cover and let stand in room temp for at least an
hour before serving. If preparing in advance refrigerate and bring to room
temp before using.

Chimichurri

Wow, the lamb was spectacular! None of the gamey taste I always associate with lamb, and perfectly cooked with a nice char on the edges, contrasting perfectly with the cool, vinegary chimichurri sauce. Delicious. Will definitely be on my request list for future grilling (Note to David: Lamb is noms).

After dinner, the Strohmans entertained me with several original productions (read: family flicks) featuring David as a teen-aged movie star, which were, of course, not only massively enjoyable to watch (heh), but gave me some wicked amo for future boyfriend mental abuse. I even got to meet one of his sisters, Vicky, who came by the next morning with her family for Mother’s Day breakfast. What a bunch of really gorgeous, incredibly well-mannered kids! We sat out on the patio enjoying the sun, while the young’uns dashed around chasing bugs and playing with Max, the Golden Retriever, who kept jumping in the pool to attack the cleaning robot. Pretty funny stuff, but you’d probably have had to have been there. David and I even managed to cut out for a few minutes and walk down to the neighborhood lake, before heading back to the house to pack up.

Me and David at the Lake


When 4 p.m. rolled around, I was truly sad to leave. The Strohmans were so incredibly kind and hospitable, and I had such a great time, but we both had busy Mondays and needed to get back to town. I definitely look forward to visiting again! (and of course, I’ll bring my hat collection next time–Woot!)