Porky’s Pulpit: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Barbecue

Today is Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember fallen military heroes who gave their lives trying to protect the American way of life (and to find great deals on new cars, household goods, and other manifestations of consumerism runk amok, ahem, the American way of life).  Yet despite the heroic efforts of generations of brave men and women, one of America’s proudest institutions is under attack.  Indeed, like so many great American traditions before it–sex, drugs and rock & roll, to name only a few–barbecue is continuously affronted by the nattering na(shish-ka)bobs of negativism.

Every week my email inbox is filled with anti-barbecue propaganda, ranging from basically benign barbs to maliciously malignant missives.  Among the attacks I’ve seen on the great American institution, in the past week alone, are:

-On the benign side, confidence-suppressing articles about dealing with problems like “improper flaming” and other possible afflictions of the grill.  Not since Viagra ads first hit the airwaves have America’s charcoal-wielding men had such cause for performance anxiety.

Articles about barbecue’s supposed role in the epidemic of obesity plaguing our nation’s collective midsection.

-News reports that imply barbecue may lead to incidents of violent crime and even natural disasters.

-Malignant stories discussing barbecue’s supposed link to, well, cancer; anyone want to learn about “7 Ways to Cancer-Proof Your Barbecue”?

-The burden placed on barbecue to solve America’s ongoing economic woes and rebuild its diplomatic ties at the highest levels.

-Common dangers, such as household fires, tenuously linked to barbecuing and played up for maximum dramatic effect on barbecue-friendly occasions like Memorial Day and Independence Day.  Even in BBQ strongholds like West Texas, the BBQ-baiting media have tracked down otherwise self-respecting firefighters who “are sending out a warning [that barbecue] might not be worth the risk.”  As current West Odessa Volunteer Fire Chief, and possible Past-President of the West Texas Brussel Sprouts Defense League, Jimmy Ellis put it in the same article, “One spark and the whole city could go up like a keg of dynamite.”  Humph.

-Lest the above dynamite-level dangers not be enough, other alarmists warn of the risk of contracting trichinosis and other food-borne illnesses.  Luckily, in a rare act of bravery, the USDA recently released updated guidelines on cooking meat, and finally admitted that cooking pork to 145 degrees is sufficiently safe (as tenderloin lovers have known for decades).

As if the above affronts on America’s barbecue tradition were not enough, the Al Gore set has devoted a disproportionate amount of effort to pin the future collapse of the earth’s ecosystems on barbecue.  Indeed, it appears that barbecue is now THE grease-stained culprit of global warming. “Are barbecue grills destroying the planet?,” asks an article in the May 27th issue of The Week, just the most recent in a series of attempts to make backyard pit bosses feel as guilty as possible for their selfless act of smoking meat instead of gassing it or, lord forbid, torturing it in an electric oven.

Finally, the forces of evil have stepped up their efforts to challenge the most fundamental of American barbecue values: the near-biblical truth that barbecue is by definition meat.  Indeed, masochistic vegetarians across the country write morally bankrupt drivel like this piece that tries to nudge meat aside and claim a spot on the Weber for veggies (it is consoling that the folks in the picture that runs with the article look famine-stricken and sport forced smiles that quietly scream, “For God’s sake, let me trade this pink polo shirt for a slab of ribs”).

While vegetarians take pains to inflate their bloated self-worth, and to maintain their emaciated figures, by choking down Bulgur Veggie Burgers with Lime Mayonnaise and the like, I’m sticking up for the American way.  I’ll be out back on my flammable wood deck cooking up some carbon-heavy, cancer-inducing pork butt to serve with bacon-flavored greens and calorie-full hush puppies.  After all, it’s Memorial Day and I think that our fallen heroes would have it no other way.

The Pit Adds Durham, Subtracts Pitmaster Ed Mitchell

A tip of the snout and “oink you” to Dave, who pointed me  to this very interesting N&O blog entry.  According to the Mouthful blog, legendary BBQ pitmaster Ed Mitchell, who helped found The Pit in downtown Raleigh, has parted ways with the restaurant (or vice versa).  Mitchell will pursue opening his own restaurant in a yet to be revealed location somewhere in the Triangle.  It will be interesting to see where Mitchell lands and whether he sticks with the upscale concept pioneered at The Pit, especially given that…  The Pit will be opening up a new location in downtown Durham sometime in the next several months, presumably in one of the Greg Hatem-owned buildings near the Post Office.  (Hatem is a partner in The Pit and is a major real estate developer in Raleigh, with more recent interests in up-and-coming Durham.)

According to the N&O, Hatem commented about the split that, “We enjoyed our relationship with Ed Mitchell. Ed wants to pursue the Ed Mitchell brand. We want to continue pursuing great North Carolina whole hog barbecue.”  Depending how you read that quote, it is either gracious or a bit of a dig at Mitchell’s larger than life barbecelebrity.  A visit to The Pit’s website, which used to revel in its ties to Ed Mitchell, reveals no mention of its now-former pitmaster.  Not surprising, but quite a change.

Looks like this story will be continued, so stay tuned…

Cackalacky Cookout Celebration and Charity Event

The Cackalacky Condiment Company is celebrating its 10th anniversary–really, has it been that long?–on Saturday, June 4th from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill.  According to a press release from the company, “Page Skelton, founder of Cackalacky, Inc., and Cackalacky pit master, “Big Tom” Price manning the 40-foot Grill-Zilla portable cookout apparatus and serving North Carolina-style pork barbecue with proceeds to benefit the NC Diabetes Bus Initiative.”  In addition, the founder of Duck-Rabbit Brewery will be on hand pouring samples of his beers. He makes some of the state’s best, specializing in dark beers.  Finally, there will be live bluegrass music.

BBQ, beer, and bluegrass for a good cause.  Oh, and if you’ve never tried Cackalacky sauce, it is a treat.  A very difficult to describe treat but a treat nonetheless.

Porky’s Pulpit: Rapture is a Good Plate of Barbecue

I am writing this post on Friday night in case rapture comes on Saturday as predicted. If you are reading this post on Monday when I scheduled it to run then there are three possible explanations: 1. the rapture did not happen and the prophets of doom were wrong, or at least off by a week or two (stay tuned); 2. you are a sinner and were Left Behind, yet still have access to a high speed Internet connection (poached from a believer, perhaps?); 3. you have been saved and the Big Man Upstairs has rewarded you with your own iPhone (reception is good in the clouds even for AT&T users).

As for me, as a BBQ Jew I am not sure how the lord will regard me on judgment day, but if I make it through unscathed then I think I’ll celebrate with a chopped plate of ‘cue.  Well, as long as there are still some pitmasters left to cook for me, since I expect they will be saved from this earth before the rest of us.

Porky’s Pulpit: Frozen Pig Semen

I received my new, free subsription to Pork Magazine this week.  In case you are among the remaining few who don’t subscribe to this trade journal, it proclaims itself, “The Business Magazine for Professional Pork Producers,” and who am I to disagee with such a specific claim?  Speaking of pork production, evidently pigs do not reproduce through mitosis.   Indeed, here is a photo of the disturbing full page advertisement that graces the inside cover of the May 2011 issue of Pork Magazine:


AMG catheters: “Undisputedly, the world’s finest catheter for frozen semen.”  Again, I will not argue with such a specific claim (though I did look up undisputedly online and discovered it is, indisputedly, a real word). Yet all of a sudden my quaint childhood dreams of being a farmer are gone–gone like a semen snow covered evergreen. 

Hogs and Pigs, Oh My

Two Triangle-area barbecue events take place this weekend:

Hillsborough Hog Day, the classic barbecue festival, cook-off and cultural event, moves up a month from past years in order to beat the heat.  The 29th annual event is held in River Park behind the courthouse and features live music, other entertainment, arts and crafts, and lots of chopped pork.  I’ll be dropping by bright and early on Saturday morning to help judge the pork shoulder cooking competition, so I’m looking forward to partaking in some breakfast barbecue.  I hope you’ll come out later on in the day to take in the festitivies, as it’s always a well run event and in the past the hot June weather has been my only complaint!  While you are in Hillsborough, be sure to check out the new Hillsborough BBQ Company.

A few dozen miles east of Hillsborough in Raleigh this weekend is the sixth annual Carolina Pig Jig, which will be held at the state fairgrounds as part of the Got to Be NC Festival (meaning, there will surely be an appearance by the giant shopping cart–you’ll see what I mean if you don’t know already).  The Pig Jig is a cooking competition organized by Raleigh Masonic Lodge #500 as a benefit for area children’s homes.

BBQ Jew’s View: Hillsborough BBQ Company

236 South Nash Street, Hillsborough, NC
Hours: Tue-Sat 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. (10 p.m. on Fri&Sat), closed Sun&Mon
BBQ Jew’s Grade:
Porky Says: “Unconventionally traditional barbecue.”

New Traditions
As of this moment, the Hillsborough BBQ Company is the newest barbecue restaurant in North Carolina, as far as I know (of course, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit may open three new franchises before I finish this sentence).  It’s obvious from the vintage black and white barbecue pictures on the Hillsborough BBQ Company’s website that the owners of the newly opened joint respect the state’s BBQ tradition.  And it is obvious from the simple fact that the joint has a website, and a fairly slick one at that, that the Hillsborough BBQ Company is not afraid of breaking from tradition.  More to the point, Hillsborough BBQ Company shows its dedication to tradition by cooking whole hog Eastern-style barbecue  over wood coals in a real pit.  Yet unlike the few dozen other BBQ joints in NC that still use a wood pit, Hillsborough BBQ Company cooks much more than just pork. 

Although hand-chopped pork barbecue is featured on the menu, diners may also order the following meats: beef brisket, pork ribs, chicken and turkey.  The rest of the menu is similarly diverse: NC staples like hush puppies, slaw (white and red), okra and banana pudding; and non-traditional NC dishes like a wedge salad with pork skins and keylime pie.  But the Hillsborough BBQ Company is definitely not trying to be all things to all people: the menu remains focused around barbecued meats and dishes that go well with them.  The well-stocked bar–featuring draft beers, cocktails, and “vino”–is really the only jarring element of the BBQ Company from a barbecue traditionalist’s perspective.  And since I am no teetotaller, I am willing to accept a bar as a nice addition to a barbecue joint. 

Judging the Food
To be honest, it is much more difficult for me to review a place like the Hillsborough BBQ Company, where the menu goes far beyond chopped pork, than it is for me to judge more typical North Carolina ‘cue joints.  First, my primary reviewing strategy of ordering the same basic meal–chopped pork, slaw and hush puppies–at each restaurant in order to compare apples to apples is unfair to a place like the Hillsborough BBQ Company.  Clearly, they want to be more than a NC BBQ purveyor, so it’s not really fair to judge them on one visit without trying more of the menu.  Second, I simply have less experience with brisket, ribs and the like and do not fully trust my palate to assess the finer points of these relatively foreign dishes.  But the show must go on.

I ordered a 2-meat combo plate with chopped pork and sliced brisket, as well as collards and white slaw (red slaw is also offered, but since the joint refers to its barbecue as “Eastern-style whole hog” I stuck to the variety meant for the pairing).  The brisket was somewhat overcooked, fall apart tender rather than a little give to it, but tasted good–heck, it’s brisket after all. I was not especially impressed with the sauce available for the brisket.  It was too ketchupy and lacked the depth of flavor that exists in the best Texas and Kansas City style sauces. Still, brisket really needs no sauce so perhaps that critique is irrelevant.  The white slaw and collards were both good but not exceptional. The slaw was slightly sweet, delicate and well chopped–slightly too much so for my taste–as Eastern NC slaw specimens typically are.  The collards tasted fresh and were not cooked to limp death, but were tender.  There was a bit of bitterness present but other that that no Continue reading

Backyard BBQ Season is Here

As I write this post it is one of those remarkably beautiful North Carolina spring days.   The temperature and humidity are perfect, the sky is Carolina blue (even for a devout Duke basketball fan like myself), and the swarms of summertime mosquitoes have yet to come out of hibernation or wherever the heck they are over the winter. In other words, it’s the perfect time to cook some barbecue.

If you want to become a master barbecue cook, or at least not embarass yourself too badly, I highly recommend reading through the great info at AmazingRibs.com.  The chief blogger/cook/all around BBQ guru over there, Meathead, offers a ton of free advice on everything from cuts of meat to buying guides for grills and accessories.  Really valuable info that ignorant wanna-be BBQers like myself can’t match.  If good old fashioned cookbooks are more your speed, I highly recommend Peace, Love, & Barbecue by Mike Mills or pretty much anything Steven Raichlen has written. Sure, he looks like a bit of a goofball but he knows his stuff.

You can spend a ton of money on a grill or smoker, but if you’re a newbie I recommend starting with something basic.  Cooking barbecue isn’t easy but it’s not all that complicated either.  There are lots of places to buy a grill, and online shops have started offering a lot of choices at competitive prices.  For example, CSGrills.com offers everything from entry level charcoal Brinkmann Smokers to top of the line Weber Gas Grills, as well as a range of other BBQ grills (with free shipping on most).  In my opinion, the only thing better than using a grill is dreaming about what a darn good pit master you’d be if you just had the right set up.  (Okay, maybe that’s just me).

Anyway, enough about my fantasies.  The bottom line: if you need a grill, buy one; if you have a grill, use it; and if you are planning to cook a bunch of barbecue, by all means save me some!  Happy cooking.

Happy Mother’s Day-After

I spent my weekend with my family instead of preparing posts for this site. I know, I know, time to get my priorities in order.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the barbecue mamas out there, from the women who run their own restaurants (e.g., Bridges Barbecue Lodge in Shelby) to the mothers working as waitresses to the moms and grandmothers who help prepare food for church BBQ fundraisers. And happy Mother’s Day to Mrs. Porky LeSwine, a wonderful mother even if she and her two beautiful daughters have yet to acquire a taste for chopped pork.

Busy BBQ Festival Weekend

Three barbecue-related events this weekend, including the legendary Smithfield Ham & Yam Festival.  See them all at https://bbqjew.com/events/