Porky’s Pulpit: Ozersky’s “New Barbecue”

If you’d like to read a truly idiotic piece of barbecue writing, and for some reason this blog isn’t meeting your needs, check out Josh Ozersky‘s recent piece in the Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323716304578482970210059326.html?mod=itp

The thesis of Ozersky’s article is that barbecue has “become stagnant and so dogmatic that many pit masters haven’t changed their recipes or routines in decades.”  This premise reveals a startling lack of understanding of what barbecue is and what makes it great–tradition, family recipes refined over generations, simple techniques that render (literally) exquisite meat, distinct regionalism, and so on.

One barbecue luminary dropped me a note pondering whether Ozersky’s piece might be satire.  If so, Jonathan Swift himself would be proud, but I don’t think Ozersky is that, uh, swift.  I could go on about the article but I don’t want to waste my virtual breath.  As Daniel Vaughn (@BBQSnob) put it in a tweet to Ozersky (@OzerskyTV), “You say stagnant and dogmatic, while I say traditional and reverent.”  That sums it up.

General Betray-us and the BBQ Mistress

Finally, an angle to the David Petraeus affair story that has caught my interest: North Carolina barbecue.  See the vinegary details here.  As the old Tar Heel State saying goes, “When Jon Stewart sweats through his t-shirt, it’s hard for a four-star general to resist an attractive woman who eats barbecue.”  Once true, always true.

Guns, Gardens and Monks

Nice, brief feature on the legendary Wayne Monk of Lexington Barbecue on Garden & Gun’s website.

Bob Garner Moderates Down Home Foodies

From the Durham County library, this looks like a good one, even though it doesn’t feature any BBQ pitmasters…

Southern Cooking (Durham Reads Together)
Sunday, September 23, 3 p.m.
Southwest Regional Library, 3605 Shannon Rd.

Food plays an important part in the culture of the South and in Maron’s novels. InUp Jumps the Devil, Deborah Knott says, “My family will drop every other subject to discuss food.” Join Bob Garner, television personality and food author, as he moderates a panel of leading proponents of Southern cooking, including Chefs Ben Barker of Magnolia Grill, Billy Cotter of Toast, Amy Tornquist of Watts Street Grocery and Iron Chef Walter Royal of the Angus Barn as they discuss Southern food cultures.

Waste Not, Want Not

Thanks to the illustrious J.S. Reed for sending along the below image of a World War II British propaganda poster. The poster begs the question as to whether loyal citizens should save pork scraps should to feed the hogs.  Yes would be my guess, as the way that fat pig is winking and grinning, it looks like he’s been eating barbecue.

 

Now in Bookstores

Christmas has come early for the BBQ Jew, in the form of a new Bob Garner tome. 

Bob is already a cultural icon in NC and his latest work should add to his legend.  So far I have just thumbed through, but Bob Garner’s Book of Barbecue has already earned the coveted BBQ Jew seal of approval as shown below.  Buy a copy today at Amazon.com or your local bookstore if you still have one…

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BBQ&A: Bob Garner, North Carolina Barbecue Legend

For many Tar Heels Bob Garner‘s name and face are synonomous with North Carolina barbecue.  Garner is a beloved public television personality, restaurant reviewer, writer and barbecue guide book author, and all-around ambassador for our state’s food culture.  Whether writing or cozying up to a TV camera, Garner’s kind and authentic southern gentleman’s personality shines through.  His ability to connect with his audience and his legions of fans make him our state’s version of Al Roker or, perhaps more accurately, fellow Carolinian Charles Kuralt.

In addition to hosting and contributing to a string of popular WUNC-TV shows, Garner has appeared nationwide on the Food Network’s Paula’s Home Cookin’, featuring Paula Deen, and Food Nation with Bobby Flay; The Travel Channel’s Road Trip; and ABC’s Good Morning America.  Among his writing credits are as author of North Carolina Barbecue: Flavored by Time and Bob Garner’s Guide to North Carolina Barbecue, two indispensible books for both barbecue enthusiasts and casual fans of the divine swine.  Garner has also written for Our State magazine, including a terrific multi-part series on traditional southern foods like collards, fried chicken, livermush and fish stew.

Over the past year or so, a leaner but no meaner Bob Garner somehow managed to increase his already sizable presence in North Carolina’s culinary scene.  He now has to his name a nicely done website (bobgarnerbbq.com), leads culinary tours across all corners of the state, is working on a new book, and recently accepted a job as a host-cultural interpreter at The Pit restaurant in Raleigh.  Recently BBQJew.com caught up with the prolific Garner about his past adventures and present exploits in the world of barbecue.

 

BBQJew: Describe a couple of memorable food-related experiences from your childhood. Did you grow up on barbecue or come to it later in life?
Bob Garner: I got interested in food while learning to cook over a fire in the Boy Scouts (and not being willing for the wilderness to defeat me!). I remember the first time I cooked wild game: I shot a squirrel, figured out how to clean and skin it, but then had no idea how to cook it properly. I threw it in the oven, under the broiler, and cooked it for about ten minutes, until it was brown. It was tough as shoe leather! But I eventually became a fair campfire cook, continued to cook in college and have stayed with it ever since.
Barbecue came later, when I married a farm girl from Northeastern North Carolina, whose bothers taught me to cook whole pigs. We did used to go to Bob Melton’s barbecue in Rocky Mount while I was growing up and when we visited a favorite aunt in Rocky Mount. I remember Mr. Melton hanging around the place, with that big cigar hanging out of a corner of his mouth.
BBQJew: Can you trace your love for barbecue to the experience at Melton’s or did the romance happen more subtly over time?
BG: Learning to cook those whole pigs (as a 20-something young married guy), being exposed to the incomparable aroma of the juices dripping onto the coals and being able to “pick” a pig for the first time was a life-changing revelation!
BBQJew: Your first book on barbecue, North Carolina Barbecue: Flavored by Time, was released in 1996.  You were about 50 years old at the time.  How come it took 50 years to work up to such a book?  Had the idea been floating around your head for awhile or did it materialize quickly?
BG: It materialized quickly when I began to do some research on NC barbecue for my work in public television and realized no one had ever pulled history and background about North Carolina barbecue together into a book. (Several others have done it since my books came out.)
BBQJew: How did you first decide to pursue barbecue writing and barbecue reporting on television as part of your career?
BG: Purely by happenstance, when I was given an assignment to do some feature stories on famous North Carolina barbecue restaurants for the program North Carolina Now, which is still running each weeknight on UNC-TV.
BBQJew: There’s some debate among self-proclaimed purists (I confess to considering myself one, at least most days of the week) about how much of the pork cooked/gassed/electrocuted in North Carolina without wood coals can really be considered “barbecue.”  What’s your definition of North Carolina barbecue?
BG: Pork that is cooked slowly, with low heat, and which is served tender, juicy and properly sauced and seasoned, particularly if it is to be served Continue reading

Greatest Hits: BBQ&A with Jim Early, NC Barbecue Society Founder

[Note: This is a re-post of an interview originally posted in April 2010. Follow this link--Early BBQ&A--for an easier to read .pdf version of the interview.]

Jim Early is a good old fashioned barbecue renaissance man.  A native of Henderson, NC, Early graduated from Wake Forest University law school and practiced as an attorney for many years.  His bio notes that, “In addition to being an avid and accomplished hunter, fisherman, and gourmet cook, he also rides and brokers Tennessee walking horses, breeds and trains English Setters and Pointers, flies with his friends in hot air balloons and WWII war birds, restores British cars and classic Chris Craft mahogany speed boats, paints, writes, plays in bands and loves to dance.”

While the above hobbies and accomplishments are interesting in their own right, most relevant to this website is the fact that Early founded the North Carolina Barbecue Society (NCBS).  In 2007, he left his law practice to focus solely on NCBS, which has a mission “to preserve North Carolina’s barbecue history and culture and to secure North Carolina’s rightful place as the Barbecue Capital of the World.”

In addition to founding NCBS, Early authored The Best Tar Heel Barbecue: Manteo to Murphy, which remains the most comprehensive guidebook of NC barbecue joints (and retains a prime spot in my car’s glove box).  He has also authored a cookbook, leads business retreats, and makes presentations on work-life balance and stress reduction.  Recently we added to Early’s stress by asking him a book’s worth of questions, which he was kind enough to answer.

BBQ Jew: In researching The Best Tar Heel Barbecue: Manteo to Murphy, you visited all 100 counties in North Carolina and ate at 228 restaurants.  How long did this field research take and what did you learn from the experience?
Jim Early: How I went about doing the field research for The Best Tar Heel Barbecue: Manteo to Murphy is described on pages 17-20 of the book.  I wanted the research to be current and I pushed myself as hard as I possibly could to practice law 14-15 hours a day Monday through Thursday and drive to the area I was going to work and work 18 hour days Friday and Saturday in the field.  Sunday morning I ate my first meal since Thursday and drove home to do 6-7 hours dictation and crash.  This was my life for 6 months plus in 2001.  Then I wrote the book and went through all the publishing hoops, distribution hoops, etc.  The whole process was about 4,000 hours, 22,000+ miles, 2,000+ people, 100 counties and 228 BBQ places.  To my knowledge no one else has done a BBQ guide book that is this complete, this  well  researched  and invested the time that I invested to complete the project.  I learned that that there was a reason no one else had done such a project.  The price is higher than most people are willing to pay.  I have written several cook books and numerous magazine articles since I wrote The Best Tar Heel Barbecue, but they have been a walk in the park compared to the efforts I put into that book.

Some of the things I learned from the field research are that there are, to my knowledge, less than 30 old fashioned family owned BBQ places in NC that cook over pits fueled with live wood coals or charcoal and Continue reading

BBQ&A: Joe Kwon, Musician and (Food) Groupie

Joe Kwon is the high octane cellist (eat your heart out, Yo-Yo Ma) for the Avett Brothers, a North Carolina-based band that has steadily grown its reputation and commercial success over the past few years.  It is perhaps no coincidence that the Avetts reached new levels of success following Kwon joining the band in 2007 for a tour and album called Emotionalism.  When he is not on stage, you’ll find Kwon settling in at restaurant tables across the United States, a foodie hobby he chronicles on his well-written and even better photographed blog, Taste on Tour.  A resident of Durham, Kwon agreed to an interview with me after I saw an article in the Independent Weekly about him eating barbecue at nearby restaurant, The Pig.  Read on to see Kwon discuss why kimchi would pair well with a BBQ sandwich, life on the road with the Avett Brothers, and the importance of supporting local agriculture. If you’d prefer to download a .pdf of this interview, click here.

 BBQJew:  Tell me about your upbringing. Where did you grow up and what brought you to North Carolina?
Joe Kwon: I was born in Inchon, South Korea and moved to Archdale, NC back in 1981. Archdale, NC is practically in the middle of nowhere but it was near my extended family, in particular my aunt. It was her convincing that brought my family to the states. Growing up, we had weekly family dinners with over 20 extended family members eating traditional Korean food and just playing around with other family members. I had several cousins near my age and this was a time for all of us to get together and be close. Those family dinners were definitely the starting point of my love for food.

BBQJew:  What specific role did food play in your childhood? What about music? Do you see any parallels between the two
JK: As I mentioned above about the role of food, it was always around for family dinners. We ate so much food at these dinners because they were almost always potluck style and each family would bring at least two dishes. It was almost as if you knew who had the best of each dish as well. I remember one of my aunts always making the egg rolls and the tonkatsu (fried pork cutlets) and my mom making all sorts of kimchis and sweet and sour pork (Korean style). There was always a plethora of food to be eaten and sampled.

My parents were both musicians. My sisters both played piano, and I was going to play music no matter what. I really didn’t have a choice in the matter. When I was 3 my mom tried to teach me piano. I probably was too ADD to sit still at that age because she didn’t press it hard enough for me to continue playing. When I turned 9 though I showed up at my first cello lesson and it’s all history from there.

I guess the biggest parallel is that music soothes the soul just the same way food does. As a classical musician you work really hard to get a piece Continue reading

BBQ&A: Sam Suchoff, The Pig Chef-Owner

Sam Suchoff is not your typical pit boss.  But then The Pig is not your typical barbecue joint. Indeed, Suchoff has a damn near disturbing range of culinary experience for a barbecue cook.  More to the point, much of the fare he serves at The Pig veers away from North Carolina barbecue tradition with menu items like brisket, tamales, kielbasa and, yes, even country fried tofu. 

Veering away from tradition is not necessarily a bad thing because many traditional North Carolina barbecue joints offer little on their menus worth sampling beyond the holy trinity of barbecue, slaw and hushpuppies (which, to be fair, is not necessarily a bad thing either).  Suchoff offers a wide-ranging, pork-centric menu, but he respects the tradition of whole hog barbecue and that reverence is evident along with his creativity. 

In a recent interview, Suchoff was kind enough to share with me the reasons he cooks with an electric smoker, why barbecue is the dish he’s most proud of cooking despite all the variety on his menu, and why vegetarianism is an easy way to get girls (at least in L.A.).  Follow this link to read the interview.

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