Porky’s Pulpit: Bourgie Barbecue

With the mainstreaming of barbecue across the country, it’s inevitable that the formerly humble food will finds it way onto menus at a increasingly varied range of establishments.  A case in point is Chapel Hill’s landmark gourmet food shop, A Southern Season, which recently made the following announcement about the newest addition to their delicatessen menu:

Authentic, North Carolina Pulled Pork BBQ
We are bringing you some of North Carolina’s finest—Pig Pickin’ style Pulled Pork with a tangy Eastern North Carolina-style vinegar sauce. Made exclusively with pork Boston Butts.

The Classic NC BBQ Sandwich
Stop by today for a classic BBQ sandwich $4.99 each.”

If you’ve never been to A Southern Season, you should know that I like the place.  You should also know that A Southern Season is famous for its chocolates, ornate gift baskets, wine selection, gourmet deli and cheese shop, and various overpriced snacks and knicknacks.  It is, at its essence, a gourmet southern food store for northerners.  The inclusion of a BBQ sandwich on A Southern Season’s deli menu is akin to McDonald’s deciding to offer an artisanal cheese plate.  Could it be good?  Possibly.  Does it make sense?  Certainly not.

Is bourgie ‘cue something that should concern barbecue traditionalists? A level-headed observer might say no.  I say hell yes.  Although I’ve yet to sample the barbecue sandwich at A Southern Season, I have no problem deeming it, sight unseen, as yuppicue of the highest order and warning my loyal readers to steer clear.  Well, unless you happen to be shopping for Belgian chocolate cordials and get a hankering for chopped pork… I couldn’t fault you for that.

Porky’s Pulpit: Polls Over Pits

As much as I’d like to regale you with yet another witty and entertaining post about barbecue, it’s election day and you should be doing something better with your time than reading this blog.  So go vote. Now.

If you’ve already voted, consider this my gift to you for doing your patriotic duty (pig stamps, I mean, is this a great country or what?):

Porky’s Pulpit: World Series Bets

Little known fact: Porky LeSwine is as big a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals as he is of North Carolina barbecue.  He also likes referring to himself in the third person.  Porky was thrilled with the Cardinals thrilling World Series victory over the Texas Rangers.  Better yet, he won a plate of Texas-style brisket from a Rangers-rooting co-worker.  (The co-worker lost a similar bet last year, poor sap.)

What other bets were made on the World Series between Cardinals and Rangers fans?  I’m so glad you asked.  Here’s my favorite bet list from St. Louis’ independent weekly, the Riverfront Times.  And rest assured barbecue is involved so this post is completely justified.

Porky’s Pulpit: Barbecue & Baseball

October is hands-down my favorite month of the year.  All of a sudden the 95+ degree weather of North Carolina summer seems to be a distant memory–except when it is still present–and is replaced by cool nights and temperate days.  The leaves change colors but don’t really clog up the gutters until next month.  The sunset is still at a reasonable hour.  You get the picture.  October is also a month full of fun–beer festivals, fall festivals, The Barbecue Festival in Lexington, pig pickings and, notably, playoff baseball.  Of course, October is not the only link between baseball and barbecue.

Similarities
Barbecue and baseball both take a long time, and for much of that time it appears to the casual observer that not much is happening.  Experienced observers know that a lot is happening even when nothing is happening, or so we tell each other.

Barbecue and baseball are consumed by many but fully appreciated by a relative few.  Similarly, baseball snobs and barbecue snobs can be insufferable–I am both so I know.

Making barbecue and watching baseball are perfect times to drink beer.

Eating barbecue and playing baseball are inappropriate times to drink beer.

There is a long history of tobacco in baseball, from early baseball cards coming in packs of cigarettes to chewin’ and spittin’ and the like.  Barbecue has much tobacco-related history too.  (Okay, so pretty much everything connects to tobacco one way or another, admittedly.)

The best barbecue restaurants and baseball stadiums are revered as much for their history as the product they offer.

Differences
Barbecue is made of pork, baseballs are made of cows.

There is often good baseball played north of the Mason-Dixon line; there is rarely good barbecue in that geography.

Baseball’s fan base is eroding, barbecue’s is expanding.

There is no Major League baseball team in North Carolina.  There are several major league barbecue restaurants here.

It takes 18 men to play a game of baseball* and only 1 to make barbecue.  (However, as soon as 1 man starts to cook barbecue, 17 others arrive ready to eat it.)

*Yes, 18, not 20, as I feel the same way about the designated hitter as I do about gas/electric cookers.

Porky’s Pulpit: Happy Labor Day 2011

“We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” – Louis Brandeis, Supreme Court justice, Jewish southerner, and barbecue enthusiast.*

In honor of Labor Day, that holiday where we browse mattress sale flyers and mourn the end of the summer (while simultaneously celebrating the fact that our kids are going back to school), it’s worth taking a minute to reflect on the holiday’s serious origin. Especially in today’s political climate, where the idea of celebrating organized labor seems downright unpatriotic, please remember that America’s robber barons didn’t always have our nation’s best interests at heart; since many corporations are publicly held, nowadays we can trust their leaders fully.  Likewise, politicians weren’t always staunch advocates for the middle class and working poor like they are today.  In fact, in 1894 President Grover Cleveland dispatched thousands of troops to suppress a strike that started at the Pullman railcar company, an act that resulted in significant political fallout and lead in short order to a national Labor Day holiday.

So, when you are signing the receipt for your new mattress (made overseas at a union-free factory, presumably), pause for a moment and remember that we did not always have minimum wage standards, child labor laws, a forty hour work week and the like.  But don’t let your rememberance get in the way of a good Labor Day cookout.  I think folks of all political stripes, and captains of industry and laborers alike, can agree that firing up a grill is a worthy way to celebrate the holiday.  And I am sure the ghost of Louis Brandeis will forgive you for indulging in some pork… in solidarity with the working man, of course.

*Technically speaking, this post-Oxford comma statement is unconfirmed.  However, Brandeis grew up in Kentucky so it is at least possible that he enjoyed ‘cue.

Porky’s Pulpit: Put Some Swine in Your Stein

With Hurricane Irene behind us, it’s time to relax and have a drink.  And what better to drink after a hurricane than beer?  Although I am generally not a believer in pairing beer with barbecue (unless you count having one in hand while cooking it), I do love beer.  Whereas the explosion of barbecue as an “in” food spreading across the country has many drawbacks, chiefly related to watering down sacred regional differences, the explosion of the craft beer movement has no such side effects.  Locally produced craft beers can be found in every state and have transformed the United States of Pilsner into perhaps the most diverse beer country in the world.

In honor of beer, I have compiled this list of 15 swine-themed beers from among the hundreds of beers that are named after pigs, hogs, sows, pork and other porcine references.  All of the beers below are described on RateBeer.com, an invaluable website for beer drinkers, and are presented below in no particular order:

1) Avery Brewing Company Hog Heaven Barleywine-Style Ale, rated a 99 out of 100 on RateBeer.com. I can personally vouch that this is incredible beer.

2) Aviator Hog Wild IPA, from Fuquay-Varina, NC.  RateBeer.com is less kind (52) to this brew but it has only been reviewed 17 times versus over 1,200 for Avery Hog Heaven.

3) Fullsteam Hogwash, from Durham, NC.  As far as I know, this is the only beer in the world designed specifically to pair with NC BBQ, and it pairs quite well.  A good brew, with the hickory smoked malts pronounced but not overwhelming.  Rated a 90.

4) Maui Brewing Wild Hog Stout, rated an 85.  I’ve never had this beer but wouldn’t mind being flown to Maui to taste it. Pairs well with luaus?

5) Slaughterhouse Swineherd.  This beer was apparently a special cask ale served at a festival in England, so I wouldn’t count on finding it on tap at your neighborhood bar, but the name alone is worthy of inclusion in this list.

6) Speaking of great names, how about pouring yourself a glass of Avery Piglet Purgatory?  This beer is a lower alcohol, less hoppy version of Hog Heaven and scores a 92.

7) Blind Pig Brewery in Illinois produces a large number of beers from Belgian ales to pale ales, Irish Dry Stouts to Russian Imperial Stouts.

8 ) While we are on the subject of Russians and Blind Pigs, allow me to mention Russian River Blind Pig IPA, which scores a perfect 100 from RateBeer.com based on over 800 ratings.

9) Angry Minnow’s River Pig Pale Ale is a mouthful of a name.  It rates a 76 and hails from the beer and cheese state of Wisconsin.

10) Need another pale ale selection?  You could do worse than Naked Pig Pale Ale, which is from Alabama and therefore sure to have some track record of washing down barbecue.  Rating is 51.

11) Another Durham, NC beer is Bull City Burger & Brewery’s Pigmeat Markham Smoked Rye.  Click the link to read where the name comes from–interesting trivia for Durhamites.  I’ve never much enjoyed rye beers but this one sounds too interesting to pass up.

12) Flying Pig Brewery of Washington state shows its love for swine with several pig-themed beers, including Flying Pig P.I.G. I.P.A.

13) In the interest of supporting whole hog barbecue, I’d be remiss not to include a snout beer:  Pickled Pig’s Porkers Snout. Okay, so it’s actually a cider, but close enough.

14) From snout to tail we go, with the Harvest Moon Pigs Ass Porter, which earns an admirable 88 from RateBeer.com and features killer label art to boot. Keep in mind that when you eat “pork shoulder,” you really are eating pigs ass.

15) Although it is among the lower rated beers on RateBeer.com, earning a paltry 22 based on 278 ratings, this beer has some fans.  I wonder why?  Oh yeah, maybe its the name: Butternuts Porkslap Pale Ale.

Cheers!

Greatest Hits — Porky’s Pulpit: “bbq pulled shreds” rant

[Note: This post originally ran on February 10, 2010.  I have not consumed bbq pulled shreds since then but still have flashbacks and nightmares from the experience.]

I recently lived my nightmare.  I ate–“consumed” is a more appropriately clinical term given I did it only in the name of research–most of a package of “Certified Vegan” tofucue.  (You can pronounce that last word however you see fit.)  I will return to the scene of the crime soon to give you a full report on how this vile product tasted (preview: vile), but today’s post focuses on the packaging.

The Front of the Box
Where to begin?  Perhaps the name itself–“bbq pulled shreds.”  Shreds of what? Pulled what? And don’t think the small print “meat-free” above the word “bbq” gives me any comfort.  Plus, aren’t the words “pulled” and “shreds” redundant?

Was the budget too small to afford paying for capital letters on the packaging?  must every word be written in lower case like a jr high text msg? omg luv u tofu, lol!

Why do the words “contains no poultry” appear at the bottom of the picture?  You’ve already flaunted that you’re meat-free.  Is this small print poultry-free message supposed to make me happy?  Or is it an apology?  If so, why apologize simply that you’re poultry-free?  You look like you’re pretending Continue reading

Porky’s Pulpit: Dickey’s to the Rescue? No thanks.

As loyal readers may have noticed, I am not the world’s biggest fan of Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, though I am a member of The Yellow Cup Club for research purposes.  So when I saw this press release from the Media Machine that is Dickey’s, I threw up a little bit in my mouth (ironically, it tasted a bit like Dickey’s pulled pork… I jest).  According to the release, “In the past 8 months, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit launched 34 new stores in cities across the country, fueling employment growth in each community… bring[ing] employment opportunities to struggling communities. With each new franchise that opens we bring dozens of jobs and, while unemployment numbers remain at historic levels, we are looking to expand these efforts.  As our franchise expands from coast to coast, we are constantly looking to employ people locally,’ President of Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc. Roland Dickey, Jr. said.”

I am pleased that Dickey’s is “constantly looking to employ people locally,” since it would be a poor business model to open a restaurant that employs people who don’t work there.   Still, I can’t help but feel like rooting for Dickey’s to grow is like rooting for Wal-Mart, Starbucks or any other number of mega-chains that have taken over for the mom and pop five-and-dimes and the local coffee shops of the country. Worse yet, whereas even the old time five-and-dimes sell the same crap made in China, and coffee is a fairly universal language, barbecue is/should be hyper local.  Part of what makes barbecue so appealing to me is its particular heritage, its local flavor (figuratively and literally), and the multi-generational pride in regional, and even town to town, differences between meats, sauces, rubs, and the like.

In short, a barbecue chain is antithetical to everything barbecue is about.  Chain barbecue, whether “good” or “bad” in taste, is by definition universal and designed for mass appeal, meaning it is anti-local.  That may work for hamburgers, or coffee, or cheap t-shirts, but not for barbecue.  I don’t want to be able to eat the same brisket in Cheyenne, Wyoming as I eat in Lockhart, Texas. If I did, I’d eat every meal at Applebees (baby back ribs, anyone?!).

Aside from my philosophical objections to franchising barbecue, I have serious reservations about Dickey’s overall impact on employment.  Does each new Dickey’s franchise simply add local jobs, or is the truth a little more complicated?  Are there one-of-a-kind local restaurants, whether serving barbecue or otherwise, that lose customers to Dickey’s?  Will your favorite local BBQ joint survive Dickey’s aggressive expansion plans?  Will the pitmaster who spent his adult life tending the coals at your favorite joint be eager to reheat meat in Dickey’s kitchen?

I know, I know, this is life in a capitalist economy and one can make a similar argument about virtually any chain.  And life without chains would have drawbacks too (I own some of those cheap t-shirts and have a Big Mac from time to time).  I don’t begrudge Dickey’s for doing what they do well, but I sure hope I’m not the only one who steers clear of The Big Yellow Cup That Could in favor of local joints that show pride in their uniqueness.  The barbecue served by chains is something less than, while the barbecue served at your local joint is, well, barbecue.

Porky’s Pulpit: Say It Ain’t So, Jared

I recently spent a weekend in our nation’s capital visiting friends.  The visit was going well until I exited a Metro train, headed up the escalator and encountered this horrifying sight:

What's wrong with this picture? Everything.

There are a many things wrong with the image above:

1) Despite the food styling, flattering lighting, airbrushing and god knows what else this sandwich was subjected to in preparation for its big showcase, it looks inedible.

2) Only a fool would pour gloopy barbecue sauce on top of pulled pork. Then again only a fool would order a BBQ sandwich at Subway. It makes the gray, lifeless Philly cheese steak Jared’s benefactors hawk look almost appealing.

3) Only someone out to harm our nation’s vital interests would place pork barbecue on top of lettuce on a sandwich.  The Department of Homeland Security should stop frisking infants and the infirm and focus instead on this serious threat to America.

4)  A barbecue sandwich where the bread is a sub roll? No thanks.

5) The tagline “Get Pulled In” is more of a threat than an invitation, particularly when paired with the BBQ sauce bullseye/vortex pictured to the right of the sandwich.

I could go on but you catch my drift.  Could it really be as bad as it looked?  As the nation’s most fearless North Carolina-based Jewish barbecue journalist, I knew I could not rest until I hunted down the Abominable Pulled Pig in its natural habitat.  How else would the public be made aware of this imminent threat to the American way of life?

On the way back home from D.C. I made a pit stop in Rawlings, the scuba capital of central Virginia.  It was there, under the harsh flourescent lights of a Subway/gas station/Dunkin Donuts that I spotted the beast. Luckily, I was protected by a sparkling clean glass sneeze guard and was able to photograph the pulled pork without risking life and limb.

As the sauce-stained pork lay silenty in its black plastic cage, reconciled to its fate, I suddenly felt sorry for it. While other pulled porks were cooking away over wood coals with salivating customers eagerly awaiting them, this pork was all alone despite its crowded surroundings.  Pepperoni, provolone, guacamole and the like have nothing to offer a proud pulled pork.  Sure, other pulled porks don’t get displayed on a poster in the Metro or a digital billboard near Petersburg, but was the fame worth it?  Was its life really going to come to an end on an Italian roll being served to an unappreciative BBQ Jew?

Well, not exactly. I ran out the door screaming before I could bring myself to order this vile creation.  But it lurks out there awaiting the next oxygen-deprived inland scuba diver to get pulled in

Porky’s Pulpit: Reasons to Visit Minnesota (or to Stay Home)

I recently returned from a week’s vacation in northern Minnesota, a short canoe trip (or long drive, your choice) from the Canadian border.  In case you and your’s are considering a journey to the land of 10,000 lakes, perhaps you’ll find the below comparative analysis helpful.

                                                    North Carolina      versus      Minnesota

Official State Bird                Cardinal                                           Common Loon

Unofficial State Bird           Chicken (Fried or BBQ’d)            Mosquito

Political Embarassment    John Edwards                                State government shutdown

Typical July Weather          95 degrees                                       75 degrees

Key Word/Phrase                 “Ain’t”                                              “You betcha”

“Athlete”/Politician             Richard “The King” Petty             Jesse “The Body” Ventura

Food of Choice                        Barbecue                                          Hot Dish (aka casserole)

State Religion                         Baptist/NASCAR                            Lutheran/Ice Fishing

Auto Accessory                      Calvin peeing sticker                     Snow chains

Minnesota is a beautiful state, but please don’t visit for its barbecue, which in my limited experience is, to put it as politely as possible, horrible.  Pictured at left is the “pork barbecue” sandwich I had the misfortune of ingesting on July 4th. Believe me when I say our founding fathers would have been appalled.