Barbecue Sauce Contest

Taking a page from the Democratic National Committee’s barbecue sauce contest (which I was invited to help judge but unfortunately could not participate), the Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer are seeking the best amateur sauce recipe in the state.

The Great N.C. Barbecue Sauce Contest offers a cash prize ($100) and “bragging rights” (pricelessworthless) to the winner.  The contest is open to residents of North or South Carolina who are at least 18 years old. Makers of commercially sold sauces are not eligible.  Enter by 5 p.m. on April 27th at charlotteobserver.com/food or nando.com/saucecontest

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

1,001 Best Grilling (and Barbecuing) Recipes by Rick Browne

When I received a copy of Rick Browne’s new cookbook, 1,001 Best Grilling Recipes, I had a few concerns.

First, 1,001 recipes? Really, is there a need for that many recipes? I figure slow cooked pork butt, pork shoulder or whole hog pretty much covers it and saves 998 recipes.  Second, the books cover features a quote from Regis Philbin: “Rick Browne is one of America’s leading barbecue experts.” Until proven otherwise, I would assume Regis Philbin knows about as much about barbecue as Al Roker knows about 13th century Italian poetry.  Third, and most important, I noticed the word “grilling” in the title and the word “barbecue” used in Philbin’s quote.

In my opinion, grilling and barbecue are two different things, like sauteing and pan-frying: related techniques but not the same.  Whereas grilling is cooking for a relatively short time over high heat, barbecuing is cooking for a relatively long time over lower heat.  Plus, real barbecuing requires wood or charcoal, whereas you can grill over gas, electric or anything else you can dream up.  Browne takes on my holier-than-thou attitude before he even gets to page one.

In his Introduction, Browne writes, “This book is a collection of recipes I’ve gathered over ten years of roaming… an endless pursuit of the world’s best barbecue and grilling recipes–terms, by the way, that I use interchangeably, much to the chagrin of some barbecue purists.  But to me, if you cook food outdoors using wood, charcoal, natural gas, propane or just about any other combustible materials, you’re barbecuing.”  Well, I won’t concede this point, especially knowing that Browne is a Canadian by birth and therefore should be viewed with suspicion, but I give Browne credit for addressing it right off the bat.  Plus, the man knows more about barbecue (and grilling) than most anyone on the planet.

Rick Browne’s TV show, “Barbecue America”, aired on PBS for seven years.  He has published several cookbooks, including The Best Barbecue on Earth, The Barbecue America Cookbook, and Barbecue America: A Pilgrimage in Search of America’s Best Barbecue.  He has traveled to dozens of Continue reading

A Break from BBQ: Two New North Carolina Cookbooks

As the summer heat cranks up, things get interesting in North Carolina.  For one thing, Porky LeSwine starts to speak about himself in the third person and craves food beyond just barbecue.  While man could live just fine on the holy trinity of swine, slaw and hush puppies, sometimes a taste of something else is good for the soul (and the aorta).  Luckily, there are two new cookbooks from North Carolina that allow folks like Porky to get a taste of the good life beyond pork.

Andrea Reusing, newly minted James Beard award winning chef at Chapel Hill’s Lantern Restaurant has released her first cookbook, Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal RecipesReusing is best known for the Asian-inspired, locally sourced, carefully prepared fare she and her team serve at the Lantern, but Cooking in the Moment features few Asian recipes.  Instead, it is full of fairly simple, eclectic recipes that are organized by season, well explained, beautifully photographed and, judging from the few dishes I’ve made thus far, delicious.

Cooking in the Moment is particularly enjoyable for anyone who lives in or near Durham and Orange Counties, as it includes many stories involving local farmers many of us recognize from the area’s several farmer’s markets.  But don’t get me wrong, this is a hell of a cookbook and will appeal to people who live anywhere and love good food.  So, we can forgive Ms. Reusing that she fails to include any recipes for barbecue.  Die hard pigavores will have to suffice with cider-braised pork shoulder, carnitas and the like.
Another cookbook with a similar theme and Chapel Hill ties, this one published by The University of North Carolina Press, is The New Southern Garden Cookbook by Sheri Castle.   The title hints at what is inside: over 300 recipes organized alphabetically by vegetable/fruit ingredient–apples to zucchini, and a whole lot in between.

Rest assured that ham and plenty of other pig parts make their way into The New Southern Garden Cookbook’s recipes.  This is the “new south” but it is still the south.  I should confess that I’ve yet to read this cookbook–my copy is in the mail–but it sounds like a winner from all I’ve heard.  I’ll report back once I get a chance to test drive the recipes. Until then, happy cooking… and don’t forget to take an occasional break from all the produce for some barbecue.  It’s important to stay in shape, after all.

Shylock’s Simple Collard Greens

Collard greens are a common side dish at barbecue joints in Eastern North Carolina, and winter is prime collard green season.  Cooking collards is surprisingly easy so stay away from the nasty canned stuff at the grocery store and cook ‘em up yourself. It takes a little more than an hour start to finish, but most of that time is spent waiting while the greens cook–in that time, you should make some cornbread and drink a beer.  Here’s my collards recipe, but please feel free to submit your own in the comments section or just tell me why my recipe is inferior to your’s.

2 pounds collard greens (about 2 bunches)
3 cups of warm/hot water
1 cup of chopped/diced pork of some sort (anything from leftover cooked ham to a pork chop to raw bacon will work)
2 tablespoons basic oil (no EVOO, for god’s sake) unless you are using uncooked bacon or other pork that provides its own fat
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)
Vinegar for seasoning at table

Thoroughly clean collards and remove stems, then chop into roughly 1″ pieces or smaller. Heat oil in large stock pot and cook the pork for 5 minutes if cooked already or until cooked if raw. Add warm/hot water (cold water and a hot pan gets a bit dicey and takes longer to heat to a simmer) and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove pork and set aside. Add collards, salt and optional Worcestershire sauce. Bring to boil, then turn to low and cook for 60 minutes or so (depending how tender you like the greens, you may want to taste at 45 mins).  Add the pork back in a few minutes before you finish cooking. Add water to keep the collards moist during cooking if needed, but it shouldn’t be if you cook at a low temperature.

Be sure to make use of the soupy liquid in the pot, aka “pot likker” or “pot liquor”, either to serve with the greens or dip cornbread in.  Also, add some vinegar to the collards at the table if you are into such things; hot pepper vinegar is best but plain old cider vinegar or Texas Pete will suffice.  Recipe makes ~ 6 servings.

Pork Alchemy: Transforming Christmas Ham into Barbecue

As much as I enjoy a good spiral cut Christmas ham, it’s not as good as barbecue.  I decided to perform a little pork alchemy and attempt to turn my leftover ham into barbecue. My secret recipe follows:

1. Dice the ham to make it somewhat resemble barbecue.

2. Sauce the ham liberally with barbecue sauce (in this case from the North Carolina Barbecue Company).

3. Eat.

Although the end product bears little resemblance to NC barbecue in appearance, taste or texture, it does taste pretty decent in its own right. Gratuitous before, during and after pictures follow.

Hanukkah Coming Soon: Still Time to Buy a Pork Cookbook

Fellow BBQ Jews, need I remind you that Hanukkah comes early in the year 5771? (That’s 2010 for you genteel gentile readers.)  Indeed, the Jewish Festival of Lights begins less than one month from today, as you can likely tell from all the Hanukkah tunes polluting the radio (my local station has “Latkes Roasting on an Open Fire” in predictably heavy rotation).  Though time is slipping away, rest assured it’s not too late to find the perfect Hanukkah gift for the ones you love. 

In case this website sells out of BBQ Jew Merch again, as it has in many past Hanukkah shopping seasons, then consider buying The White Book instead.  As implied by the awkward title (awkward at least for those of us in America, where “white” suggests a mayonnaise-loving racial group more so than a type of meat), The White Book is a pork cookbook.  It was written for Israeli Jews by an Israeli Jew.  Former cardiologist, current author and likely future hate mail recipient Dr. Eli Landau is a not too serious man after my own heart (as The New York Times article puts it, “ANY author has to deal with bad reviews, but how about the wrath of God?”).  He waxes poetic about the other white meat, telling the Times, “Pork meat is to a cook like canvas to a painter.”  He also goes on record suggesting that Israeli Jews will abandon their pork-scorning behavior in a couple of decades; a bold assertion for a people awash in thousands of years of tradition and religious teachings but time will tell. 

Alas, the Mediterranean focus of Landau’s cookbook seems to exclude North Carolina style barbecue pork from the list of recipes, but no matter.  Assuming The White Book manages to break down the thousands of years old wall of anti-pork (and pro-boiled chicken) sentiment among my Jewish brethren then no doubt whole hog barbecue will soon sweep the Promised Land quicker than Moses parted the Red Sea.  Until then, at least you’ll have a nice cookbook to get you through the holiday season if you get sick of latkes.

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