Defining the Styles

“People who would put ketchup in the sauce they feed to innocent children are capable of most anything… [W]e, the Eastern North Carolina purveyors of pure barbecue, will not be roadkill for our western kin.” – Former Raleigh News & Observer columnist Dennis Rogers reflecting on a legislative proposal to make Lexington’s Barbecue Festival the state’s official celebration of BBQ (see more quotables here).

Back when he wrote for the N&O, Rogers carried on a funny, long-lasting intrastate feud with fellow journalist Jerry Bledsoe, who used to write for the now-defunct Greensboro Daily News.  Bledsoe took every opportunity to extoll the virtues of the Lexington-style barbecue served in towns like Greensboro, Salisbury, Lexington (of course) and other parts of the Piedmont.  Rogers, on the other hand, denigrated Lexington-style ‘cue any chance he got, instead singing the praises of the Eastern-style ‘cue served in Wilson, Greenville, Goldsboro and other towns east of Raleigh. 

But is the chasm between Eastern- and Lexington-style ‘cue really that large?  Although I will make neither side of the state happy by saying this, I think not.   I can claim to be fairly neutral on the debate, having grown up on the edge of the tectonic BBQ plate where Eastern- and Lexington-styles collide.  Now perhaps that just makes me totally unqualified to judge, but nonetheless below is a short summary of the two styles.  You’ll note that the differences are pretty minor outside of the cut of meat used.  Furthermore, it is not uncommon for joints to incorporate elements of both styles (e.g., Allen & Son in Chapel Hill cooks shoulders but serves them with a quintessential Eastern-style sauce).

Geography Burlington and west Raleigh and east
Origin of style Circa 1910s Colonial times
Meat Pork shoulders chopped, sliced, coarse-chopped Whole hog chopped
The Sauce/Dip “Dip” made w/ vinegar, hot pepper, salt, other spices, a bit of ketchup “Sauce” made w/ vinegar, hot pepper, salt, other spices, NO ketchup
Cooking Method Traditionally, slow-cooked over hickory/oak coals. This method is dying off but is more prevalent than down east. Traditionally, slow-cooked over hickory/oak coals. Gas and electric cookers are all too common, but a proud few still cook over wood.
Typical Sides Hush puppies or rolls, red slaw, fries. Hush puppies or corn bread, white slaw, boiled potatoes, Brunswick stew, greens, more.
Beverage Iced tea (sweet, of course) Iced tea (sweet, of course)
Best Virtue Orders of “outside brown” are divine Whole hog is the original American BBQ
Famous Joints Hursey’s, Lexington #1, Stamey’s B’s, Skylight Inn, Wilber’s

Big Apple Pig

Check out this cartoon from a recent issue of The New Yorker.  It’s probably not worth the $445 price they are asking for a deluxe print, but is easily worth the couple of seconds it’ll take you to click the link.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, readers.  In honor of the holiday, I’d like take a few minutes to consider all the things for which I am thankful this year.  Here’s my list, which I present in no particular order yet numbered to give the appearance that significant time went into preparing it.

  1. I give thanks that swine flu is not transmitted via barbecue.
  2. I am thankful there are still a few dozen barbecue joints in NC that cook the traditional way over wood coals (alas, there are many hundreds more that do not).
  3. I give thanks that a couple of the wood-cooked barbecue joints are run by young guys who I hope will be in business for a long time.
  4. I am thankful that, after tasting barbecue all over North Carolina, I still think my local joint ranks among the state’s best.
  5. I am thankful that there are people out there–like you–who think reading about barbecue is interesting (at least relative to preparing TPS reports, or whatever you are supposed to be doing when you visit this website).
  6. I give thanks that The Rib Rabbi’s family will be joining my family for Thanksgiving.
  7. I am thankful that the out of town guests joining us for Thanksgiving have requested that barbecue be served alongside the turkey (though this may indicate nothing more than a distrust of our ability to cook turkey).
  8. I am thankful that Steve Raichlen’s Up in Smoke newsletter this month featured a recipe for barbecuing turkey.
  9. I am thankful that my wife is willing to let me risk ruining Thanksgiving by barbecuing a turkey for the first time.
  10. I give thanks that my 2-year old daughter is not old enough to physically restrain me from eating two barbecue lunches in one day.
  11. I am thankful that the makers of Tofurkey, still reeling from the soy flu epidemic, have yet to produce soy barbecue. 

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful Thanksgiving, whether your meal features turkey, tofu, or barbecue.

BBQ Jew’s View: Clyde Cooper’s Barbeque

109 E. Davie Street, Raleigh, NC
Hours: Mon-Sat 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C-
Porky Says: “Cooper’s is past retirement age.”

Urban Barbecue
Given the modest piece of real estate it occupies in the shadows of some of downtown Raleigh’s sparkling new office towers, Clyde Cooper’s BBQ’s continued existence is noteworthy.  And the location in the heart of downtown gives Cooper’s a better excuse for not cooking over wood coals than most joints have.  Between Cooper’s location and history–the joint has existed since 1938, and founder Clyde Cooper lived from 1899 to 1998–I really want to like it.  Yet I have eaten there several times over the years and found it mediocre at best.  Because new owners took over Cooper’s late last year, I decided to give it another try.

The good news is that the current owners wisely kept Cooper’s old time atmosphere, thick and authentic, intact.  (The NC license plate on the wall that reads “Soieee!” is a nice, I think new, touch).  The bad news is the current owners kept the mediocre barbecue intact too. 

Still hanging on after 71 years.

Like many joints, both urban and rural, Cooper’s used to cook with wood but the days when grease-laced hickory smoke wafted out of the back of the joint are long since gone.  Alas, I suspect it has been that long since Cooper’s has served a good plate of barbecue.  The fact that Cooper’s, though an Eastern-style joint in terms of its menu and sauce, cooks hams and shoulders rather than whole hog barbecue, doesn’t help my opinion of it either.     

The Food: Not Yuppicue, Just Not Good
I respect the fact that Cooper’s has stayed true to its roots in terms of the feel of the restaurant and the type of menu it offers.  It might have been tempting to turn Cooper’s into a sort of barbecue showplace/museum that caters to convention center visitors and other barbetourists.  (As an aside, can we organize ourselves as a state and create a barbecue museum already?!) Yet the menu remains simple, the presentation plain and the price fair.  That’s Continue reading

Barbecue Breather

We BBQ Jews take few barbecue breaks. So when we do, you can be damn sure it’ll be to talk about something like…bacon. And not just anything about bacon, but something amazingly cool like:

This bacon board game!

Yup, that’s right, Mr. Bacon’s Big Adventure. Or, as I like to call it, item #1 on my Hanukkah list.

The goal of the game is to maneuver your bacon-piece through the perils of Meatland (the wiener wasteland, the mustard marsh) to reach the frying pan. It’s quite similar to my weekend mornings, minus the wheel spinning and obstacles.

Ignoring the whole cannibalism thing, I particularly like the bacon family pictured here playing the game. Dad with his argyle sweater and junior with his ‘B’ cap. If strips of bacon have this much fun playing the game, surely you will, too.

Not only does the game look entertaining, it just might be the answer to your very own holiday gift prayers (in addition the BBQ Jew stuff, natch). And if board games aren’t your thing, the game maker’s site has a range of porcine present ideas, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Porky’s Pulpit: Barbecue Ten Commandments

We all know that barbecue is akin to religion in North Carolina.  Because of this fact, it dawned on me that perhaps there are some ‘cue-related lessons to glean from religion. Today’s post focuses on barbecue-specific teachings of the ten commandments. (If I don’t get too many “burn in hell” comments from this attempt at humor, perhaps I will return to the subject another time.)

“I am the LORD your God.”  Lesson: If you’re having a whole hog pig pickin’, give Him first dibs on the ribs and tenderloin.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Lesson: To get the best parts of the pig, He must be first in line.

“Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.”  Lesson: Don’t be the guy who asks for unsweetened tea.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Lesson: Eat no barbecue on Sundays.

“Honor thy father and thy mother.” Lesson:  When they visit, show some respect and take them to a joint that still cooks over wood.

“Thou shalt not kill.” Lesson: No killing unless it’s a hog; mere mortals gotta eat.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Lesson: At least pretend your spouse’s barbecue sauce recipe is the best.

“Thou shalt not steal.”  Lesson:  Pay at the counter like everyone else.

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Lesson:  Don’t make unfounded allegations about the quality of your neighbor’s barbecue, but if he’s cooking on a gas grill then the truth shall set him free.

“Thou shalt not covet…” Lesson: You can covet your neighbor’s barbecue, just don’t drool on his wife while standing in line for seconds.

Three-Legged Pig Joke

I heard a version of the below joke from my father-in-law recently and figured it would make for a good post.  So, here goes (feel free to substitue “Rabbi” for “preacher” if that’s more your speed)…
A preacher was walking down a country road when he saw the strangest thing; a pig walking around on three legs.  The preacher stopped at the farmhouse and asked the farmer, “My son, why does your pig only have three legs?”
“Well,” said the farmer, “that there pig is special. One time my wife stepped out of the kitchen for a moment while cooking and a fire started. The pig came running inside with a pail of water and saved me, my wife, and our kids.” 
“That’s amazing sir but why does that pig only have three legs?” said the man. 
“Oh,” said the preacher, “it sounds like a smart pig, but what about its missing leg?”
“Well,” the farmer replied to the preacher ignoring his question, “just 2 months ago, I was working on my tractor and the jack fell and the tractor was crushing me. I yelled for help and the pig rushed to my rescue, dug me out and pulled me out of harm’s way.”
“Wow,” said the preacher, “that’s one brave pig but its leg,  it is missing its… .”
“Like I said preacher,”  the farmer interjected, “this pig is very special to my family.  We just can’t bring ourselves to eat it all at once.”

Barbecue Fever

In case you missed it, this weekend’s Saturday Night Live had a fake ad for Carter ‘N Sons BBQ. In it, the restaurant uses a slogan that’s…um…regrettable, in light of the H1N1 virus.

Hint: I’ve got a fever and the only prescription is more swine.

That’s right, I’ve got Swiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine Fever!

While I got a chuckle out of the sketch, I was more interested in seeing what kind of ‘cue comes to mind for a bunch of comedy writers when they think  about BBQ. Apparently, it’s Texas-style barbecue.  The music, outfits and, yes,  the Texas flag give away their leanings.

Toward the end, though, there’s definitely a barbecue sandwich, as North Carolinians know it. But it kinda looks like a Texas or New York interpretation of chopped barbecue.

After spending a few minutes pondering what this sandwich would taste like, I decided I had too much time on my hands. Then again, maybe I just have Swiiiiiiiiiiiiine Fever!

Porky’s Pulpit: BBQ in my DNA

According to a recent story on NPR (National Piglet Radio?), the DNA of the domesticated pig has been sequenced.  The NPR report notes that, “The sequence comes from a single pig, formally known as UIUC 2-14, although she’s also called TJ Tabasco.”  Texas Pete would have been a far more respectable name for a pig, but the research is impressive nevertheless. 

Of surprise to the researchers, but not to anyone who has ever fallen in love with a perfectly prepared BBQ tray,  was the finding that the pig’s genome structure and sequence is very similar to that of a human.  Besides bothering folks who don’t believe in evolution (and opening the door to various Jesse Helms jokes), this finding is causing me some anxiety as I ponder the technical definition of cannibalism…

Famous BBQ Quotes

Ah, the power of the Internet and its ability to make you realize there is nothing new under the sun.  I was planning a spoof post on famous quotes about BBQ, but someone beat me to it–a Yankee no less (damn, fast talking Yankees and their witty thoughts!).  Anyway, give “Great BBQ Quotes Throughout History” a look-see here.  Some of my favorites are:

“It’s no sin to get sauce on your chin.” – Bishop Tutu

“It is better to have burnt and lost, then never to have barbecued at all.” – William Shakespeare

“Strong the sauce in this one truly is.” – Yoda

One quote not featured in the article, but which I’ll add to the historical record because it rings so true, is:

“Let them eat pork!” – Marie Antoinette

Any others we missed?