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Let’s Get Cooking Pitmaster David’s Guide to Barbecue
It’s summer, and if you’re like me, you have plans to host, or at least attend, a few outdoor barbecues in the next few months. There’s no better way to celebrate Fourth of July than by throwing some burgers and hot dogs on the grill. But while this food is delicious, it’s not technically barbecue. “True” barbecue is about cooking meat slowly over woodsmoke, which means the red-hot metal grate and coals are out. But beyond the woodsmoke, exactly what barbecue “should” look like varies by region. Here in the South, the spiritual homeland of barbecue, you’ll find pitmasters and eaters arguing over the merits of beef versus pork, vinegar versus tomato, and many other characteristics. Before your next summer get-together, familiarize yourself with a few of the major schools of barbecue. North Carolina Perhaps the most stringent school of barbecue is found in eastern North Carolina. Here, barbecue does not so much describe a style of cooking as it does one particular item: a slow-smoked, chopped whole hog, seasoned with a sauce of vinegar and pepper. The pork here is not pulled, and it contains none of the sweeter, tomato-based sauces you’ll find on grocery store shelves. The traditional side is a finely chopped coleslaw. Texas In the Lone Star State, on the other hand, beef predominates over pork, and brisket is the most iconic cut. Central Texas
barbecue is primal and unabashedly smoky. It owes its heritage in part to German meat markets of the 1800s, but it’s a creation all its own. Sauce is often frowned upon here, as it obscures the flavor of the smoke. Dry rub is the only addition to the potent mixture of fire, wood, smoke, and meat. As the rub caramelizes, it creates a crust, known as bark, around the meat. Tennessee Memphis-style is the closest representation of what most people think of as barbecue. Pork ribs and pulled pork are the stars here. Memphis is also the birthplace of the tomato-based barbecue sauces most people are familiar with. That sauce covers pulled pork shoulder and is also slathered on “wet” ribs. “Dry” ribs, as you might expect, feature only a dry rub of salt, sugar, and spices. Georgia In the 19th century, some unknown soul claimed, “The barbecue is to Georgia what the clambake is to Rhode Island, what a … canvasback duck (dinner) is to a Marylander, what a Saturday night pork- and-beans supper is to a Bostonian.” They were right on the money. Here in Georgia, barbecue is more than food; it’s culture. Early pitmasters in Georgia were heavily influenced by the state’s surrounding neighbors, but they created a tradition wholly their own. Chicken and ribs are common sights, but chopped pork is a favorite, with shoulders and hams cooked over oak and hickory. And any Georgian
barbecue worth its salt is sure to serve the juicy pork with a rick, red-tomato based sauce that can vary in thickness, heat, and sweetness depending on the tastes of the pitmaster. At its heart, barbecue reflects the nation that created it. It’s diverse, creative, and above all else, delicious. No matter which style you believe reigns supreme, barbecue is the perfect food for summer.
Is anyone else getting hungry?
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