Texas’ BBQ Jew?

It looks like Porky LeSwine may have a new best friend, or perhaps arch-enemy.  The Editor of Texas Monthly Magazine is one Jake Silverstein (a Jewish name if there ever was one), and the latest issue of his magazine is all about barbecue.  Texas barbecue, that is.
http://www.myfoxaustin.com/video/videoplayer.swf?dppversion=11212

Texas Monthly’s Barbecue Issue: MyFoxAUSTIN.com

Tender Beef or Flaccid Pork?

A new barbecue joint in Tulsa, Oklahoma is getting attention for its saucy name: Action Erection Beer & BBQ.  According to an article under the clever headline “‘Action Erection’ Restaurant Raising Eyebrows,” the new BBQ place is named after the owner’s like-named construction company.  No word yet on whether the barbecue is worth getting excited about.

(To bring this story closer to home for my fellow North Carolinians, note that an interesting but recently retired Durham blog took its inspiration from a double entendre flaunting construction company: Seegar’s Fence Company, whose motto was once “Dependable Erection Since 1949″.)

Boners BBQ Blunder

Some say the customer is always right.  Others say the customer is a “bitch.”  At least that was the case recently for the Atlanta barbecue restaurant with the inauspicious name Boners (and with a solidly sexist website to boot).  A dissatisfied customer’s negative Yelp.com review led to a tirade from the restaurants owner that has been well documented by mainstream media and bloggers alike, including right here.

I guess Boners’ owner (rhyme intended) will find out whether it is true that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  If so, then he may have stumbled into a new, classless way to drum up business–cuss out your customers.  Remember, Atlantans, it’s not that long a drive to North Carolina…

Barbecue Lover’s Guide to Austin

It’s sacrilege for me to write what I’m about to write, but sometimes sacrilege is inevitable on a site called BBQJew.com.  So please don’t hate me for admitting that, if there is such a thing as reincarnation ( and I’m waiting on BBQHindu.com for the answer to that question), I hope to be reincarnated as a Texas pitmaster.  Or at least a Texan.

North Carolina whole hog cooking is the nation’s original barbecue and when done right is probably the most perfect food anywhere, but even I must admit that present day Texas is the superior barbecue state.  Whereas wood cooking is all but extinct in North Carolina, with only a few dozen traditional pit-cookers still in existence, in Texas traditional cooking methods remain commonplace.  Perhaps because barbecue is part of Texans’ sometimes over-the-top self-identity, traditional cooking techniques and recipes remain important to Texas culture in a way that is not matched in the Tar Heel state.  For every terrific traditional wood-burning pit in North Caroina, Texas can claim several.  For every whole hog or pork shoulder pit-cooked in Carolina today, Texans probably smoked 50 times that much meat.  Lucky for us Carolinians, Texas’ rich barbecue culture is documented efficiently, if sometimes formulaicly, in Gloria Corral’s Barbecue Lover’s Guide to Austin.

Corral admits upfront that she is a newcomer to Texas, but she approaches her new state of residence with wide-eyed enthusiasm and a giant appetite (after all, everything is bigger in Texas).  Sometimes it takes an outsider–free of long-established biases–to fairly judge barbecue with an open mind and an eager stomach.

Through her guide book, Corral sets out to find barbecue anywhere and everywhere she can in Austin and the surrounding Hill Country, an area that is chock full of deservedly famous barbecue joints.  As Corral writes in her introduction, “The Austin area is known as the Central Texas Barbecue Belt.  It became clear to me that this food needed more than casual investigation, so I signed up for an Austin public library card and dug in.”

Thankfully, Corral also dug into her work beyond the confines of the library, diligently eating her way through the brisket, ribs, sausage and other smoked delicacies of the Hill Country.  In total, the Barbecue Lover’s Guide to Austin details Corral’s visits to about 75 Austin-area barbecue joints, including some that most barbecue fanatics have heard of and many that are more obscure.  She does a fine, workman-like job of describing the atmosphere and food of each joint, in the process heaping praise on her favorite joints while refraining from badmouthing those joints that are less than sublime.

This is Corral’s first book and its prose is not as polished as that of more seasoned writers.  Still, the Barbecue Lover’s Guide to Austin does a good job of fulfilling its promise: it serves as a succinct, practical guide to many of the barbecue joints of the Hill Country.   The fact that I salivate every time I crack open the book is evidence enough that her book is worth buying for your next trip to the area.  I am certainly eager to travel to Austin and test out the guide for myself; hopefully prior to discovering whether reincarnation exists.

Let Them Eat… Pork?: Barbecue French-Style

France has likely the world’s most revered culinary tradition.  It is country where just about everyone appreciates quality food and where bakeries, bistros and fine restaurants abound.  Thus, it must have come as a bit of a surprise when Lewisville, North Carolina resident Cap Anderson stumbled upon the following scene during a recent visit to Villeneuve de Formigueres in the French Pyrenees near the border with Spain.
According to Anderson, “The village was having a medieval festival featuring, you guessed it…pig.”  As shown above pork was cooked on a spit over coals laid right on the ground.  Not too dissimilar for early American barbecue.   And what was the side dish offered with the pork?  A stew of “potatoes, beans, onions, tomatoes from what I could see,” reports Anderson.  How do you say “Brunswick stew” en francais?

Sorry, Virginia, Brunswick stew was invented in France.

Back to the pig.  After it was cooked, the pork was pulled and sliced and placed on small grills to finish.  See more of Cap Anderson’s photos below.  And for any of you Freedom Fry-Focuses Francophobes, it looks like you need to give the French another chance!  Plus, French cooks have long been known for their use of virtually every part of the animals they cook, so perhaps there is a natural kinship between North Carolina’s whole hog barbecue traditions and those of the French.  Vive la France indeed.
You might be wondering how France’s take on Carolina barbecue tasted.  “We did not arrive in time to purchase tickets for the meal,” offers Anderson rather unhelpfully.  Oh well, I guess I’ll just need to check out French BBQ for myself…

The Devil Went Down to Georgia

Today’s post comes to us via a FOBJ (Friend of Barbecue Jew), a rare breed indeed.  Bennett Brown of LowCountry Barbecue in Atlanta wrote in to ask if I was willing to run a guest post from him.  Far be it from me to refuse a fellow barbecue traveler’s generous offer.  So, like God before me, I am resting (though not on the 7th day) and allowing my humble servants to work.  Without further ado, here’s Mr. Brown’s introduction to Georgia barbecue along with a simple Georgia-style sauce recipe that shouldn’t look too foreign to devotees of North Carolina’s Lexington-style dip.

Barbecuin’ It in Georgia

As many of you probably already know, barbecue is not just a food but a cooking method that takes place all over the world.  And just like the spelling, which is spelled a handful of ways (BBQ, Bar-b-que, barbeque, etc.), barbecue can be prepared a dozen different ways.

In England, barbecuing is done over direct high heat; however, grilling done under a direct heat source is known in America as broiling.  In Hong Kong, everyone gathers around the fire and cooks their own meat on long forks or skewers like cooking hotdogs at a campfire.  In America, barbecuing is done over an indirect heat source referred to as “low and slow.”  And in Georgia, we do it “low and slow” over a pit.

Pit cooking originated from early settlers who then adopted the grilling and smoking methods from Native Americans.  The pit can either be dug in the ground or built up with cinder blocks.  If cooking a whole hog, it is usually laid flat, butterflied-style on a grate, placed over the pit, and then usually covered with a piece of tin or sheet metal in order to keep heat from escaping.

While the heat can be generated with coals or charcoal, Georgians traditionally use wood.  Pecan or apple tree wood are believed to give flavor to the meat.  While whole hogs are very popular, whole chickens, ribs and hams are common as well.  Closer to the coast, you will find fish, oysters, and shrimp being barbecued as well.  No matter what is roasting over the pit, barbecuing is an essential part of many Georgia gatherings including the annual Georgia General Assembly’s whole hog supper before the legislative session begins.

While barbecue is different all over the world, the act of bringing family and friends together to celebrate and converse is the common link.  Even in Georgia, the best sides and ways to cook are debated constantly.  At the end of the day, an event bringing an intimacy only a few meals can accomplish is commended.

Almost as important as the meat itself – the sauce that accompanies it.  Georgia gets its influence of barbecue sauce from all around the region including the Carolinas, Tennessee, and even Texas and melds the best of all of them into a glorious vinegar, ketchup and mustard based sauce, sometimes with a little heat and sometimes with tang from a little lemon slices.  As you can tell, Georgians are pretty open when it comes to barbecue sauce as long as we have some!

Below is a recipe that uses most of the classic ingredients you would find in a Georgia vinegar sauce but with a little twist (of lemon that is!): Continue reading

KC Masterpiece Ain’t Kosher

Yet another reason to avoid KC Masterpiece and other store-bought mega brands: a kashrut alert from the Orthodox Union.

KASHRUTH ALERT

August 5, 2011 KC Masterpiece – Buffalo Marinade
Brand: KC Masterpiece
Product: Buffalo Marinade
Company: HV Food Products – Oakland, CA
Issue: Not certified
This product bears an unauthorized OU symbol.  It is not certified by the Orthodox Union and contains dairy.  Corrective measures are being implemented.

I am intrigued by the “corrective measures… being implemented.” I am picturing Orthodox ninjas crashing through the ceiling at KC Masterpiece’s headquarters in Kansas City… er… Oakland, California… to put a bloody end to the tainted marinade.  Whatever the punishment, it is yet another reason to avoid products made in California that have Kansas City in the name.  So, BBQ Jews, keep your sauce local and you can be assured your pork will be kosher and your conscience clear.

Carolina Barbecue in Northeast Ohio?

When I think of northeast Ohio, my first thought is not, “the Carolina BBQ capital of the rust belt.”  Rather, it is, “there’s a northeast Ohio?”  Indeed, apparently there is a northeast Ohio and it may very well be the Carolina BBQ capital of the rust belt.  The Old Carolina Barbecue Company has four locations in northeast Ohio–Akron, Canton (2), Massillon–and a fifth location is set to open soon.  I have frequently wondered about the lack of Carolina-style barbecue joints across the country compared to places serving brisket, ribs and the like.  Thus, it is particularly amazing that a restaurant in a part of the country known primarily for Goodyear tires and the Pro Football Hall of Fame would be a hotbed for Carolina barbecue.

The owners of the Old Carolina Barbecue Company seems serious about their commitment to Carolina traditions.  According to their website, “Traveling across the country opened our eyes to a great style of food not widely represented in our home state. While Texas, Kansas City and Memphis all have their own claim to the best barbecue, it was the “True Q” of the Carolinas that we appreciated the most.”  Old Carolina claims to cook their ‘cue “over hickory wood” (presumably on an electronic cooker with hickory added, but I’ll check into that).  They say they also serve brisket and chicken, “to keep the yankees happy,” but their focus is pork.

The pork is served unadorned with sauce, a good sign for a BBQ restaurant, and comes with five sauce choices for seasoning at the table.  While NC BBQ fundamentalists (and I am one in most cases) would shudder at the thought of serving more than one sauce, this is Ohio so I recognize it is probably a wise business decision. Vinegar and hot pepper aren’t for everyone.  Put another way, not everyone is sophisticated enough to appreciate the vinegar and hot pepper aesthetic.  Among the sauces offered are variations on Lexington- and Eastern-style sauces, as well as South Carolina mustard-based sauce and a couple of sauces that pander to non-Carolinians.

The rest of Old Carolina’s menu is pretty typical for a BBQ joint inside or outside of the Carolinas, except that it serves brisket, chicken, ribs, and turkey as well as “pulled pork.”  Sides include hush puppies, Brunswick stew, slaw (creamy mayo and vinegar variations offered, notably), french fries and more.  Banana pudding is offered for dessert, and sweet tea is available alongside yankee tea.  Did I mention they offer Cheerwine too?  Huzzah!

If I ever make it to northeast Ohio, I will definitely check this place out. Honestly, I fear that it aspires to be the next Dickey’s, given that franchise opportunities available and they have a virtual stack of slick marketing materials online, but I am holding out hope that it is simply a humble business with an appreciation for Carolina barbecue.  Until I make it to the greater Akron/Canton area (a destination that wasn’t previously on my bucket list), I’ll have to rely on reports from loyal readers.  I will also be in touch with the owners to see if they are available for a BBQ&A… stay tuned.

Only in New York: Kosher Pork

A tip of the snout to alert reader and longtime BBQ buddy Ike Walker*, who alerted me to a story in the New Yorker about pork that was mistakenly labeled Kosher in a Queens supermarket. Although pork is by definition not Kosher (or treyf, if you want to show off), few things could be more Kosher than reading an article in the New Yorker about pork.  And it’s a pretty interesting story too.

Among several gems in the story: “In this era of budget cuts, [New York] state has laid off all eight of its  Kosher-enforcement inspectors, leaving Rabbi Weiss as a one-man department… .” State-funded Kosher inspectors?  Really? Better yet, I am pleased by the discovery of the Orthodox Union, which according to the article, has a “voice-mail recording [that] describes it as “the global leader in Kosher supervision and the world’s largest Jewish resource.”  The Orthodox Union, among many other things, certifies products as Kosher and offers a “Kosher Alerts” RSS feed.  A recent alert:

“Brands: West Coast Select
Products: Maple Nuggets Smoked Sockeye
Company: Sundance Seafood LTD., Surrey British Columbia
Issue: Unauthorized OU
West Coast Select Maple Nuggets Smoked Sockeye bear an unauthorized OU symbol.  This product is not certified by the Orthodox Union, and it is being withdrawn from the marketplace. “

I am thinking about trying to get OU certification for my favorite local BBQ joint, Allen & Son’s, so I can dine completely guilt-free.  Until then, the BBQ Jew certifies all pork as Kosher.  Keep on swinin’ and dinin’.

*Notably, Mr. Walker is also the man whose family introduced me to pig pickin’s way back when.

Imminent Disaster in Washington, D.C.

If you’ve paid any attention to the news lately, you are aware that a major crisis looms for our nation.  Indeed, I witnessed the crisis in person when visiting Washington, D.C. recently.  In addition to the proliferation of BBQ sub sandwiches in and around our nation’s capital, our federal government faces an imminent disaster of its own creation.

Dinosaur meat?

Yes, I am referring to the faux ‘cue that has made its way into the very heart of our nation’s capital.  A trip to the Atrium Cafe* at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History revealed a menu with a few barbecue choices, including “Carolina style pulled pork.” At a steep $12.95 for a plate with two sides, I nearly skipped this meal but my thirst for knowledge hunger for pork prevailed.

While the museum’s large collection of prehistoric fossils and other remnants of America’s natural history may be authentic, the Carolina style barbecue is not.  Indeed, if I curated a barbecue museum I wouldn’t let the soggy, slow cooker-style swine pictured at left into my building, let alone feature it in my cafeteria.  From the taste (no smoke and a half-hearted imitation of NC sauce) to the texture (pulled rather than chopped, as well as soggy), the Atrium Cafe’s barbecue is not fit for inclusion in a hallowed Smithsonian institution.

I dare say that pigs are a more relevant part of America’s natural history than dinosaur bones and other dusty old relics.  I wish our nation’s leaders would take action to force the Museum of Natural History to address the current cafeteria situation before it becomes a crisis. I am setting an August 2nd deadline for Congress to take action.  If not, I will refuse to eat pork at a federal museum until true Carolina barbecue is served.  Better yet, each federally funded cafeteria should serve both Eastern- and Lexington-style barbecue.  This would be a true “balanced solution” to the present problem.  Please contact your elected officials and urge them to take action.

*Editor’s note: We have heard reports that the Atrium Cafe will soon be renamed the Debt Ceiling and will have its hours cut dramatically.

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