Where’s Porky?

Forget Waldo, leave a comment to guess where Porky was when he took the below picture. Hint: it’s a tiny barbecue joint named after a tiny town (hamlet?) down east.

A true barbecue shack if there ever was one.

Unhinged Ramblings from a Real New Yorker, Part II

Below is a message I recently received from New Yorker Aaron Weiss, wanna be BBQ expert and all around good sport.


Hello Mr. LeSwine,

You may remember me from my Durham-area trip report from last spring. In fact, you posted it (with editorial comment!) on your web site. [Editor’s note: indeed I do remember you, with editorial comment.] I owe you a follow up, but I am afraid it may it ruffle your pig feathers. (Flying pigs have feathers, little known fact.)

This past January we drove home up north after a winter holiday in Florida [Editor’s note: typical for a New Yorker!]. On the way toward an overnight stop in Winston-Salem [Editor’s note: atypical for a New Yorker], I realized that we would be driving through Lexington. I know from reading your site and other ‘cue blogs that Lexington is considered a holy ground, but had not had a chance to visit before. Sadly, I do not yet own a smart phone, and I wanted to do the smart thing by referring to BBQ Jew before wandering into Lexington naked and clueless. So I stopped at a McDonald’s to take a ride on their free wifi, grabbed my netbook
from the trunk, and loaded up bbqjew.com [Editor’s note: and ordered a delicious McRib sandwich?].

We pulled into Lexington and stopped at, of course, Lexington #1. We ordered two “large” pork platters, one in the standard chop style and one in a “coarse” chop. Now, before I speak the words of heresy, let me be clear that we enjoyed our meals. I mean, come on — NC barbecue pork!  But…I have a few buts.

Portions were a little skimpy for the price. Maybe I am just the “pig” here, but a little more pork for the money would have seemed more fair. Likewise, we felt a little shorted on the vinegar sauce [Editor’s note: next time just ask for more, this is North Carolina, we’re friendly like that]. The Lexington-style cole slaw wasn’t quite to my taste, especially compared to Allen & Son, although my partner liked it more.

In sum, we enjoyed our meal but didn’t walk away feeling like we were on barbecue cloud nine, like we did at Allen & Son (and, before it went under, Barbecue Joint). I realize that this reaction is not quite in line with the orthodoxy, and so if I am now cast out of the tribe, I will understand and return to eating Buffalo wings. [Editor’s note: If you were Catholic, I’d listen to you repent for your sins, but as a fellow member of the tribe it’d be more appropriate for me to try and make you feel guilty… just remember to atone for your failures next time Yom Kippur rolls around.]

Porkless in NY,

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.

President’s Day Barbecue

Barbecue and Presidents go together like, well, barbecue and slaw (or, if you prefer, First Ladies and Presidents). 

In addition to the longstanding and ongoing link between barbecue and political rallies/campaign stops, America’s barbecue traditions date back all the way to that guy with the funny hair who shows up on the one dollar bill.  According to North Carolina’s premier barbecue sociologist, John Shelton Reed, writing in an article you can read here: “When George Washington ‘went in to Alexandria to a Barbecue and stayed all Night,’ as he wrote in his diary for May 27, 1769, he won eight shillings playing cards and probably ate meat from a whole hog, cooked for hours over hardwood coals, then chopped or ‘pulled.'”  Whether the barbecue Washington ate was cooked over the coals of cherry trees and how he managed to eat the ‘cue with his wooden dentures are mysteries. 

Reed continues, “By the early nineteenth century at the latest, a sauce of vinegar and cayenne pepper (originally West Indian) was being sprinkled on the finished product.  This [barbecue] can be found to this day in eastern North Carolina… virtually unchanged… Barbecue is now high on the extensive list of cultural markers dividing the coastal plain from the piedmont.  The upcountry tradition lacks the antiquity of George Washington’s version, but it too has a presidential imprimatur:  the Reagan administration engaged the catering services of Wayne Monk of Lexington for the 1983 Economic Summit in Williamsburg.” 

Reagan is not the only President to have served barbecue at official state functions, and so long as people from BBQ friendly places–southerners born and bred like LBJ and Clinton, southerners-by-way-of-Connecticut like the Bushes, and southerners-by-way-of-the-BBQ-diaspora-to-Chicago like Obama–are elected as President, the barbecue tradition that started in Washington’s day looks like it will continue well into the future.  And that, my friends, is one reason I am hopeful that all Alaskans will remain content staying home and eating Baked Alaska rather than running for President.

Stew ‘n Q Til’ It’s Through

I recently found out about this awesome Stew ‘n Q fundraiser this Saturday at Durham’s St. Luke’s Church. Then I found out I hadn’t found out recently enough.

Chef PigI was too late–as they ask for preorders, which makes sense–sort of like the BBQ RSVP–but goes against the keep ’em comin’ ‘cue ethic. Then again, on scrolling the site with a hungry eye, you learn that they only “strongly  urge” people to preorder to “guarantee” some stew and ‘cue. So…you’re telling me I have a chance?!

Anyway, I have a hunch you may be able to take part in this most holy of fundraisers if you head to St. Luke’s later in the day.

While this kind of Church-based barbecue event isn’t all that rare, taking a step back–what an idea! I’m no expert, but I’d guess that raising funds for charities by selling the divine swine must ensure a pleasant afterlife for all involved. And I’m pretty sure the same would hold true for participating congregants at the first synagogue to emulate it.*

Should the preorder buzzkill hold true, perhaps it’s best to smoke your sorrows at The Pig. This loving review in The Independent reminds me why I need to go back there pronto.

*There is neither Biblical or Talmudic proof to justify this claim, just hot air.

Notable Quotable: Jim Auchmutey

“Of all the signature foods of the South, none unites and divides the region like barbecue. When it comes to barbecue, southerners cannot agree on meat, sauce, technique, side dishes, or even how to spell the word. What they can agree on is that barbecue in all its variety is one of the fond traditions that makes the South the South. It drifts across class and racial distinctions like the sweet vapors of pork hissing over hickory embers.” – Jim Auchmutey, Atlanta Journal-Constitution in The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture Volume 7: Foodways.

Happy Valentine’s Day 2011

A young boy's first taste of barbecue. Love at first kiss.