Wednesday, June 4, 2014

HICKORY DICKORY


We’ll be away for a few days, and since I’m inching up onto that 1000th post, instead of using up several spaces, I’m gonna just throw a big ole hunk of wood on the fire all at once, kind of fitting because I’m talkin’ about grilling and BARBECUE.
 
 
 
 

We’re wavering on the Cusp of Summer, inching up on it in leaps and bounds, and the Voice of the Turtle has nothing for harbinger on the scent of hickory smoke rising like praise to Heaven.

There’s grill-cooking, and the charcoal aroma can whet your tastebuds to a frenzy as you wait for that chicken to come off the grill:
 
 
 
 

Or the Ribs---these Country-Style cuts, like heavy pork chops:
 

 
 

But for the REAL THING, a ten-hour languish on a pit over hickory is the recipe.   Like music for contented cows, the clink of Budweiser cans and the rowdy talk and laughter of a buncha Good Ole boys hunkered down for the night to pit-watch brings out the best in everything.
 
 

Lay that gorgeous meat out on a board, take two forks, and pull apart those tender chunks and strands and nuggets---toss and tousle it around and get right into it.    Then pile a mound on a bun, top with a good ladle of sauce and a little mountain of slaw, and it’s Summer On A Plate.  (And all down your front if you’re not careful, but that’s one of the built-in joys).

This is such a long post, I feel as if I might need a “Chapter One:  I am born.” Or a “Call me Ishmael” to start things off, but the subject speaks for itself. 

BARBECUE:
 

Barbacue is the usual pronunciation, BBQ the abbreviation, and 'cue is a word I've seen only in novels and restaurant reviews by folks from OFF who are trying hard to adopt the local vernacular to impress OTHER folks from off with their new-found language skills. I've certainly never heard a real-live person call it that.

We spent a few days with the children and grandchildren in Georgia not long ago, and the evening we arrived, driving our oldest Granddaughter home, we three stopped and had dinner with DS#3. He recommended a place he liked, way out on the Interstate, and we had some really good ribs, some excellent potato salad, with ordinary beans and slaw, forty-weight sweet tea, and two bites of a ketchup-sauced, pulled-to-threads sandwich, which came pre-made, wrapped in that foil-backed paper so beloved of middle-school cafeterias. Opening that wrapper was nostalgia, déjà vu and flashback all in one.

DS had Brunswick and “Lion Ribs,” which looked just like the ones we were having---I have no idea what the difference is. I recounted our evening to an Internet friend, and she said she might as well have been opening the South China Post and trying to comprehend the cricket scores, as all the terms and dishes I spoke of.

And so I reassured her:

Any and everything I could clear up for you, I'll be glad to translate. Southern Barbecue is a thing unto itself, a long-cooked, Heaven-scented, fall-apart bit of Glory here on Earth. Any shape or size or amount of pork, parked on the rungs of a long-used pit, and given the time and attention of a master Pit-Man---that's entirely a food group on its own.

From the first rub, be it dry with salt and ground pepper and whatever other spices and dried herbs please the cook (and whose esoteric, exacting combination of special flavors has probably been in the family for a LONG time) or wet, with a rag-on-a-stick mop dipped into vinegar-oil-lemon-juice-garlic and any of myriad combinations (but never sauce---not 'til the end; tomato and/or sugar, the basic components of any Deep South sauce, will burn black from the get-go, giving even the smoke a tang of bitter regret at the travesty).

It makes me shudder to see even Miss Ina, champion cook that she is, douse raw chicken parts entirely in a whole bowl of red stuff, then slap it on the grill. It just t'aint fittin', and they smile and eat it, either 'cause they're on TV, they don't know better, or because, well, INA.

And the wood---that's a debate amongst barbecue lovers all over the world. Most swear by a bit of hickory, some by apple or mesquite---but always wood, for the best. We drove up to a much-touted barbecue place in Kentucky a couple of years ago, and got into a quite-considerable line a-waiting. I stepped around the corner toward the scent, and walked between four-foot walls made entirely of bags of Kingsford. Then I knew. It was OK---but it wasn't Barbecue.

With a REAL Pit-Man, the meat goes onto those pit-rungs with the care and placement of a ritual sacrifice, and I suppose it's as close as it comes in the modern scheme of things---meat sizzle and the perfume of good smoke rising to Heaven. The time, the covering and uncovering, the shovel-shuffling of the coals and the wood and the blaze into the proper proportions and temperature---all these go into making up a good batch of barbecue. You can be invited over to a neighbor's house for "a barbecue" and be served burgers straight off the charcoal, the unholy aura of starter-fluid tainting each mouthful---THAT'S not a Barbecue---that's a cookout, and a bad one, at that.

Real Barbecue comes from a real pit; night-long tending for a whole pig that will be served WAY up in the day to follow; conversation and sandwiches and beer and hoopcheese and crackers, beer and more beer, maybe some cans of Vy-eenies or sardines---those are proper sustenance for the pit-folk and their avid followers--age-old tastes for the REAL taste of home.

The meat is turned, turned again, moved to a better spot over the coals, with a sissssss of water through the rungs now and then when the coals rage too hot; a sussssshhh of the bellows to re-kindle the red when need be.

Ribs are either dry-rubbed to start, then sometimes rubbed again, the seasonings gilding onto the surfaces like brazen armor, or they are swabbed at the last, with the red sauce of choice, then left just long enough for the deep burgundy glaze to meld to the meat in a shiny shellac like the paint-job on a well-loved Camaro.

The butt-or-shoulder-meat comes from the pit naked as it went on, the only change the night-long tenderness and the perfection of that smoke-cloak all through. It can be shaken from the bone, which slips out like fingers from a glove. The great chunks of steaming fragrance are then pulled (my favorite---the long, tender strands separating with the grain, one of the few times true tenderness is achieved that way) or chopped, which means just what it says---sometimes two-handed cleaver-chopping worthy of a skilled Asian Master.

Meat is piled onto grilled or toasted buns, anointed with sauce, with a little haystack of good crisp, vinegary coleslaw shreds atop. Top on, little salute from greasy grill spatula, and a miracle is born.

Brunswick is Brunswick Stew---a conglomeration of lots of kinds of meat (originally mostly game, but could include terrapin, shrimp, beef, pork, or chicken), with too many finely-chopped vegetables to name. It's a hunting-camp dish, sometimes made over an open fire, the boiling mass in the big black pot stirred with a boat paddle. It was usually done well before the meat came off the grill, and bowls were passed around to the hungry bystanders to quell the uprising until the pork was done.

Slaw is just the Southern word for coleslaw, of which there are several camps, the main two being mayonnaise or vinegar. It's a shredded or chopped head of cabbage, with any additions customary to the locale---green onions or peppers or grated carrot; fancy-dancy folks have been known to add chopped apple or a little can of crushed pineapple or even sunflower seeds. I like both kinds of dressing, and I like my slaw "ON" which means a spoonful actually ON the sandwich, as well as some for fork-bites alongside.

Baked Beans are most usually started with a sizzle of onion and chopped bell pepper, then any amount of barbecue sauce and brown sugar that pleases the cook. Beans of choice where I'm from are cans of Showboat Pork 'n' Beans, drained of their extra liquid, and divested of that clammy little white waxy bit of "pork" which they sport in deference to their name. All this is stirred together in the skillet, then poured into a baking dish; top that with a nice lattice of bacon strips, stick it in a 350 oven for about 45 minutes, and you've got the perfect Southern Side for anything from burgers to barbecue to fried catfish. Nirvana is reached when some of the crispins and messy meat from the pulled or chopped pork are stirred in before baking.

Potato Salad---that's a hard subject to discuss, especially if there's more than one Southern cook in the conversation. Talk gets hot and heavy, always including, "Well, the way I make MYE Potato Salad. . ." and ranging on to pickles, dill or sweet; onion, yea or nay, and if Miracle Whip ever rears its ugly head, the WAR is on.

It's usually just nicely boiled small potatoes, skins on or off, cut up warm into a bowl, salted, and left to sit a few minutes while you chop a bit of sweet onion, some sweet pickles, a hard-boiled egg or two, and a bit of cold crisp bell pepper. A big clop of Duke's mayo, a squirt of French's mustard, a little handful of celery seeds, and serve when you want---right now, warm, or cover and chill.

And Sauce---I won't get into the sauce debate. Every section of the country has their own tradition, and I'm from the darrrrrrk-red, brown sugar section of the country, though I DID have some beef ribs in a place on the Riverwalk in San Antonio that still haunt---dry ribs though they were. They were at the perfect moment---rich, long-cooked meat which clung to the bone enough to rip apart, with small ragged ridges you could feel with your tongue before you greedily chewed that heavenly mouthful.

And I just now saw Bourdain watching a South Carolina pit-man take off the pork, break it apart with his hands, and pour on what looked like a pint of yellow mustard. My tongue is curling just thinking about it.


I was raised on Mississippi sauce, with delighted forays into the big-city refinements of Memphis pits like Leonard’s---remembered with an avaricious covetousness unknown since Midas' downfall. And Mississippi has been a RED state since LONG before CNN tacked up that map. We mostly like it deep burgundy/red, slightly sweet with the depth of brown sugar or molasses cooked thick as ready-to-set fudge.

And I have NO idea what "Lion Ribs" are---that was in Atlanta, two states removed from my raising, so I don't know what-all they do over there.

And I'd like to hear what sauce is the norm/favorite/old standby in other areas of the country. I've always been of the comforting thought that there's barbecue EVERYWHERE. There MUST BE.

14 comments:

Chesapeake said...

YUM!

racheld said...

Chesapeake, Dear,

About two months from right now, we can arrange to have some of those out on the patio under the big tree, while the guys insult and one-up each other and we girls smile fondly and go on with our chat.

Looking forward to your visit!!

me

donna baker said...

Head Country BBQ sauce is made in OK and seems to be a favorite around here. It all looks good though. Just don't put sugar in cornbread in the south.

racheld said...

Donna,

I know you live in Barbecue Country, and hope to try some of the famous KC-Style someday. I'll look for Head Country sauce.

I was raised on Memphis-style, and have tried St. Louis, Texas, and even Chicago, with jaunts into out-of-the-way joints all over the South, just following my nose to the smoke. Red Hot and Blue in Virginia is a great place, as well. My all-time favorite is still Leonard's in Memphis (William and Harry don't KNOW what they missed).

Always nice to have you drop in!

r

Justabeachkat said...

Now girlfriend, you've got me craving barbecue and it's time for bed! LOL

Enjoy your beach trip.

Big hugs,
Kat

Curtains in My Tree said...


Oh I like the dry rubs on my ribs and pork
You are making me hungry now for some BBQ meat
I live close to Kansas City Missouri however I still like dry rib meat they smother it in wet sauce
My kids are going to Memphis for the week end ,maybe they will go Leonards

racheld said...

OH, Kat!

It's always lovely to see your light pop on, and so nice when you visit!

So glad you've had such a nice busy Spring full of good things. Tell, Tell.

rachel

racheld said...

OH, Janice,

I hope they DO!! You just get of I-240 at Exit 16 (Mt. Moriah) and go South.

Take a right on Fox Plaza Drive. It's at 5465 Fox Plaza---just follow your nose. And have a

Pulled Pork Sandwich, slaw on
Beans with crispins
potato salad and more slaw

And you can ask for the ribs "Plain"

I SO envy them right now, and if I weren't packing for a trip to the beach with the GRANDS, I'd just be pea-green.

rachel

racheld said...

OFF 240 onto Mt. Moriah

racheld said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
steelersandstartrek said...

As I sit here with one eye on your blog and the other on the thermostat on the backyard smoker, you have succeeded in making me even more teenager-impatient for my pork butts to be ready! Another 12 or 13 hours at the current 235 degrees....... I wish I could eat your words!

I have 17.5 pounds of butt (precook pre-trim weight) getting ready for the church picnic tomorrow. Hickory and apple wood supplying the airborne marinade. The rub is a bit of an experiment, as they all are I guess. I am hoping it works out 'cause there is no going back. And this time I am surrendering the reins on the sauce creation to My Bride. Now THAT is faith. But I have been less than satisfied with my own sauce efforts recently, and she of course got the lifetime achievement award for her work as Kitchen Goddess. So the odds are in our favor!

Enjoy your trip, milady. Bearhugs to all of yours from us.

Jess said...

I was just about to type, "I have to tell Dad to look at this entry," only to see he's already commented!

Martha said...

I was raised in KC on KC BBQ! Yours looks zoo good!

Kim S. said...

‘Cue’ is Twitspeak. So is ‘rents’ for parents and ‘za’ for pizza. No one really talks like that. If they do, slap ‘em. I can think of no one better to translate BBQ for the deprived folks of the world. I’m so hungry after reading this that I’m ready to kidnap Mike and find some BBQ. What an incredible post.

I grew up on a NC hybrid BBQ. My grandparents lived in Reidsville NC – pretty much smack dab in the middle of the state and just across the line from VA. NC BBQ is geographical – either Eastern style or Western (or Lexington) style. Eastern tends to be whole-hog chopped or minced smoked meat with just a teency tiny tad bit of a vinegar/pepper sauce added to the pork at the table. Western style is butts sliced, chopped or minced with a vinegar based sauce to which some ketchup and maybe some sugar is added. Reidsville BBQ (from the only BBQ restaurant in town – Short Sugar’s) was always butts – sliced, chopped or minced and they douse it with a completely different and ambrosial sauce. Not a clue what it is – sweeter than a vinegar based sauce (though it may have some vinegar in it), as thin as Worcestershire and as dark as soy. It is a puzzlement and I’d give someone a LOT of money to reverse engineer the recipe for me. I live in fear that they will change the recipe and come home from every NC trip lugging gallons of the stuff!

Most folks seem to think that regional BBQ is in competition with other BBQs. I disagree. I adore the pork BBQ that I grew up with, but I love TX brisket and KC ribs and Memphis pulled pork. I can’t wait to try that mayo based sauce from Alabama. And I know that I’d love MS sweet sauce. I hear that they smoke mutton in KY and I’d love to try that. If you smoke it, I will come.

Well, I didn’t mean to run away with your blog, Miss Rachel, but you DID ask!