A Break from BBQ: Two New North Carolina Cookbooks

As the summer heat cranks up, things get interesting in North Carolina.  For one thing, Porky LeSwine starts to speak about himself in the third person and craves food beyond just barbecue.  While man could live just fine on the holy trinity of swine, slaw and hush puppies, sometimes a taste of something else is good for the soul (and the aorta).  Luckily, there are two new cookbooks from North Carolina that allow folks like Porky to get a taste of the good life beyond pork.

Andrea Reusing, newly minted James Beard award winning chef at Chapel Hill’s Lantern Restaurant has released her first cookbook, Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal RecipesReusing is best known for the Asian-inspired, locally sourced, carefully prepared fare she and her team serve at the Lantern, but Cooking in the Moment features few Asian recipes.  Instead, it is full of fairly simple, eclectic recipes that are organized by season, well explained, beautifully photographed and, judging from the few dishes I’ve made thus far, delicious.

Cooking in the Moment is particularly enjoyable for anyone who lives in or near Durham and Orange Counties, as it includes many stories involving local farmers many of us recognize from the area’s several farmer’s markets.  But don’t get me wrong, this is a hell of a cookbook and will appeal to people who live anywhere and love good food.  So, we can forgive Ms. Reusing that she fails to include any recipes for barbecue.  Die hard pigavores will have to suffice with cider-braised pork shoulder, carnitas and the like.
Another cookbook with a similar theme and Chapel Hill ties, this one published by The University of North Carolina Press, is The New Southern Garden Cookbook by Sheri Castle.   The title hints at what is inside: over 300 recipes organized alphabetically by vegetable/fruit ingredient–apples to zucchini, and a whole lot in between.

Rest assured that ham and plenty of other pig parts make their way into The New Southern Garden Cookbook’s recipes.  This is the “new south” but it is still the south.  I should confess that I’ve yet to read this cookbook–my copy is in the mail–but it sounds like a winner from all I’ve heard.  I’ll report back once I get a chance to test drive the recipes. Until then, happy cooking… and don’t forget to take an occasional break from all the produce for some barbecue.  It’s important to stay in shape, after all.

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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
919.732.4647
Website
Hours: Tue-Sat 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. (10 p.m. on Fri&Sat), closed Sun&Mon
BBQ Jew’s Grade:
B+
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

No Fooling: Hillsborough BBQ Company Opening Soon

It’s been a busy week and I haven’t mustered the creativity to write a gag post for April Fool’s Day.  Instead, I’m pleased to report that the Hillsborough BBQ Company anticipates an April 5th  7th opening. They promise to serve wood-fired, pit cooked barbecue so I’m eager to check them out.  Have a good weekend and may your April be fool-free.

Hillsborough Hog Day Has A New Month – May!

Breaking news out of historic Hillsborough, site of the annual Hillsborough Hog Day.  One of the event’s organizers, Margaret Wood Cannell of the local Chamber of Commerce, wrote to share the following news:

“[W]e have changed the date of the 29th Annual Hillsborough Hog Day.  We have historically held Hog Day on the third weekend in June, but the temperature on that day has risen an average of 7 degrees over the last 10 years.  It’s just too danged hot.  So, for the first time ever, we’re holding Hog Day on the third Saturday in May.  The event will be held in River Park, right behind the Orange County Courthouse (exactly where it was last year) on Friday, May 20 from 6 to 9 pm and on Saturday, May 21 from 9 am to 6 pm.”

That is good news, IMHO, as I’ve sweat through far too many brutally hot Hog Days myself.  When the temperature outside feels like the inside of a pig cooker it’s just plain too hot. Plus, I have always been surprised that one of the Elvis impersonators at Hog Day haven’t had a Presley-like heart attack on stage in the heat–sequined polyester jumpsuits are brutal, take my word for it.

On a related note, I’m behind on updating the BBQ festivals listing on this website but promise to do so fairly soon. Keep an eye on the Events tab at the top of the page…

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.

BBQ Jew’s View: The Pig

 630 Weaver Dairy Road, Chapel Hill, NC
919.942.1133
Website
Hours: Mon-Thu 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A- (but it’s complicated)
Porky Says: “Wholly different whole hog.” 

Pondering the Meaning of Whole Hog BBQ
The Pig’s website proclaims–in large lettering–“Serving whole hog barbeque.”  But chef/owner Sam Suchoff’s definition of whole hog barbecue extends beyond that used in Eastern North Carolina tradition.  Indeed, many old school pitmasters and barbecue eaters alike will cringe, roll their eyes, feel their blood pressure spike and mumble a few choice words when they find out what “whole hog barbeque” means at The Pig.
 
In Eastern North Carolina, “whole hog barbecue” typically–okay, always–refers to chopped pork made  from a whole hog, with hams, shoulders, loin, skin and so on chopped together into a glorious mess.  (In other parts of North Carolina, joints tend to rely on shoulders and sometimes hams, rather than whole hog.) The Pig’s chopped barbecue sticks with the whole hog tradition by using multiple parts of the hog.  However, the “whole hog barbeque” served at The Pig includes quite a bit more than chopped and sauced whole hog.  In fact, their menu would not fly in most parts of the state and may well be a criminal offense in Salisbury, Lexington, Goldsboro, Ayden and other barbecue meccas.  But The Pig is located in Chapel Hill, a strange southern town where folks have a little more linguistic freedom, even when talking about barbecue, and where many diners are, to put it politely, not from ’round here. (Yankees.)
 
Nouveau ‘cue
At The Pig, “whole hog barbeque” seems to refer to using every part of the pig but the oink–as folks from ’round here often say–but not just in one dish called barbecue.  Rather than simply chopping the whole hog up to make traditional ‘cue, Suchoff and his team take diners on a menu-wide culinary trip from snout to tail and back again.  I’d challenge anyone to name a restaurant, barbecue or otherwise, in North Carolina that uses as much of one animal to such great effect.  For example, on a recent and ever-so-slightly overindulgent visit to The Pig, I sampled the following kinds of divine swine: Continue reading