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.

2 Responses

  1. Lexington-style BBQ was once “New BBQ,” wasn’t it? Would Carolina BBQ be better off if everyone was only smoking whole hogs with 4-ingredient sauces? And why even stop there for the starting point of Carolina BBQ tradition? Why not go all the way back to some of the early Carolina BBQs described in Holy Smoke? Carolina-style BBQ’d ox, anyone? “Tar Heels have barbecued all sorts of meat–and until quite recently.”

    Similar story for Texas. Robb Walsh quotes Edgar Black on the change from BBQing forequarters to briskets in the 1950s, when the slaughtering business moved North.

    Still, I’m kind of sympathetic to your view, at least with respect to Carolinians cooking Carolina BBQ. It does feel as though a kind of perfection has been achieved in the marriage of smoked pork with that old 4-ingredient sauce.

    But Texas? Pfft. Their antisaucitism is merely a sign that they’ve still yet to discover a comparably impressive marriage of ingredients. (Though, New BBQy things like Franklin’s espresso sauce and the kind of coffee rub described in that link are pretty smart and a step in the right direction, I think.) I didn’t eat a burger when I was there, but I don’t imagine Texans insist on nothing but salt & pepper between their burgers & buns, do they?

    And finally, the rest of the country needs New BBQ, if for nothing else than to avoid generic everything-to-everyone remixes of regional BBQ and the crappy BBQ establishments that follow.

  2. DJK makes some good points, worth considering — unlike Ozersky, who simply slams America’s barbecue traditions and says he wants something fancier. Jim Shahin writes about what Ozersky advocates, “Doing this to barbecue is like taking a t-shirted, barefoot, dirty-faced boy to the opera.” Barbecue has heretofore been the most democratic of foods, and it’s wrong to let chefs take it away and tart it up to where workingmen and their families don’t recognize it and can’t afford it.

    By the way, Ozersky seems to be generally a jerk. The Wikipedia entry on him says that “he has said in numerous public appearances that he disliked ‘food writing’ as such, and that his strongest influences have been G.K. Chesterton, Thomas Babington Macaulay, and A.J. Liebling.” Make that a *pretentious* jerk.

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