Collected Thoughts of a Barbecue Philosopher
Dave Lineback Smokey, would you tell us a little something about yourself?
Smokey Pitts I like barbecue.
Dave So we've heard. Could you be a bit more specific?
Smokey Well, yes. I like barbecue a lot.
Dave Okay .... Just what kind of barbecue is it that you like?
Smokey All kinds.
Dave Any particular ones come to mind?
Smokey Well, that beef brisket them fellers make down Texas way is mighty fine. And, them ribs out in Kansas City are tasty, too. Don't much care for those pig snouts up in East Saint Louis though.
Dave No, barbecued snouts appear have a limited following. How about Memphis?
Smokey Oh, yes. There's some real good barbecue made in Memphis.
Dave I'm surprised you haven't mentioned North Carolina pulled pork barbecue, Smokey.
Smokey Well, I growed up from a pup on that stuff. Naturally, I'm partial to it.
Dave Is it your favorite?.
Smokey That's hard to say. Them others are mighty fine. But, done right, I think pulled pork is awfully good! Still, some folks who ain't from around here say they don't like it much.
Dave Why is that?
Smokey I don't rightly know. Could be their taster is defective or needs recalibration. That pulled pork is a lots milder than beef, you know, and the flavor is more subtle. Then, of couse, I think it might be that them folks just never had any made the traditional way.
Dave How's that?
Smokey Slow cooked over hardwood coals in a pit.
Dave But, Smokey, doesn't everybody make barbecue that way?
Smokey Naw! Not any more. You got to be careful where you go these days. A few of them joints has switched to charcoal. Many of 'em are using gas and 'lectricity. Stuff cooked like that don't have no flavor to speak of. Might as well put the meat in the kitchen oven and make a nice pork roast out of it. It sure as hell ain't what I'd call barbecue!
Dave That's a pretty strong statement.
Smokey That's the way it is. I'd be telling you a lie otherwise.
Dave Why do you suppose fewer joints cook over hardwood coals these days.
Smokey Oh, I don't know. Some of them boys are just downright lazy. They just don't want to get out of bed at 2:00 in the morning to tend to the coals. Then, too, the wood's more expensive than gas. And, of course, ...
Dave I hear some folks are worried that we are cutting down all the trees ...
Smokey Get out of here and quit ruining my life. Trees is a renewable resource. Somebody told me that we still got near 80% of the forest land we had when Leif Erickson discovered America 500 years ago. Now, I'll grant you that there ain't many trees in most downtowns but, then again, there ain't that many downtowns. Next time you are riding in an airplane, look down. You mostly see trees and grass and stuff, unless, of course, you're flying over the Grand Canyon or some such parched patch. You hardly ever see a downtown until you are near the airport!
Dave Sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. You were starting to say something when I interrupted?
Smokey Uh, yes. I was gonna say that the government is getting to be a real problem in the barbecue industry. Some joints are allowed to continue using wood only so long as it stays in the family. Others have even been obliged to add industrial equipment called "scubbers" to their chimneys. I think it has to do with particulates or something. And, of course, a new joint in some places don't even stand a chance being allowed to use wood in the first place. Next thing you know real barbecue will be outlawed, and folks is gonna have to go out in the woods with the moonshiners to make it!
Dave Now, Smokey, isn't that something of an exaggeration?
Smokey Might be. Might not. But, tell me something. How come it is that all them big ole city buses can get away with spewing those stinking deisel fumes and that dingy soot all over the place while a poor feller trying to earn a living by making a few pounds of barbecue gets plumb near hassled to death over some of the sweetest smelling smoke on earth? I tell you it ain't right! When I think about it, I get so mad I could spit.
Dave That's certainly an interesting point.
Smokey Damned straight it is!.
Dave Barbecue seems to be a very important Southern icon. Why is that?
Smokey It's just a natural thing. You see, each region of the country develops a culinary culture around what wild things they got a lot of. That's why New England is famous for lobsters and clam chowder. Folks know the Northwest for its salmon. And, of course, California is associated with its nuts.
Dave You mean things like almonds, walnuts, and pecans?
Smokey Well, now that you mention it, that kind too!
Dave Oh, my! And the South?
Smokey In the early days, I reckon we was pretty much limited to deers and possums and such. Them beef cows, you know, was too tender to grow wild down here. But then about 500 years ago some feller came looking for the fountain of youth. If I remember correctly, his name was Hudson or Packard or something like that. Any ways, he turned some hogs loose down yonder in Florida and Alabama. Next thing we knowed, the woods was full of pigs, and Southern folks has been famous for making some mighty fine pulled pork barbecue ever since.
Dave Actually, I believe you may have been thinking of the Spanish explorer, DeSoto, who came in search of the Fountain of Youth! Tell me, what do you think about the prospects of folks living outside the South making pork barbecue?
Smokey Hmmmm ... I suppose that it's theoretically possible for a Yankee to make decent barbecue. But it sure ain't a pretty thought!
Dave Why so?
Smokey Yeah. I believe there's some kind of link between barbecue and kudzu. Synergism they call it.
Dave How so?
Smokey Beats me. I ain't no rocket scientist. All I know is that generally there's some pretty good barbecue to be found where there's a bunch of kudzu vines growing.
Dave Seems I read somewhere that kudzu only grows in the South.
Smokey Now you're starting to catch my drift!
Dave Is kudzu actually used in the prepartion of barbecue?
Smokey Now don't be silly.
Dave Sorry. What is?
Smokey You mean in addition to pig meat?
Smokey Well, like I told you before, you need some of them hardwood coals to cook the meat over.
Dave What else?
Smokey That's about all until the meat is done. Then some folks like to add a little finishing sauce just before they eat the barbecue.
Dave So pork barbecue is nothing more than meat that has been cooked over hardwood coals and flavored with a finishing sauce?
Smokey Tell me, you deaf or just can't hear?
Dave I'm just astounded that it's that simple!
Smokey Never said it was simple. If it was, near everybody would be an expert. To tell you the honest truth, a body's lucky to live long enough to learn how to make barbecue in a lifetime.
Dave What's so complicated?
Smokey You gotta know your wood and and how to control the fire to make good coals. Finding the right meat is real important. Then there's building the pit itself and cooking the barbecue at the right temperature for the right length of time. There's real artistry in that. And, of course you have got the pulling and chopping and the dip to attend to.
Dave The dip?
Smokey Yeah, the finishing sauce.
Dave The sauce ceratinly seems to be important!
Smokey That stuff might be a little overrated. You make some good barbecue, it don't really need no sauce at all. A little sauce goes a long ways. You don't want to cover up that smokey taste. Of course, if it wasn't for the dip we wouldn't have much to argue about, would we?
Dave There seems to be plenty of that on the Internet!
Smokey Yeah, but I don't pay much attention cause it generally don't have much to do with barbecue. Most of the time them fellers are just flapping their jaws about cooking burgers and such nonsense of their gas grills.
Dave Don't you ever use a gas grill?
Smokey Hell, no! Never have, never will.
Dave Why not?
Smokey That stuff is great for heating water and drying paint. But gas don't do nothing to help the taste of food.
Dave Some folks have no choice but to use gas or electricity ...
Smokey Get out of here!
Dave It's true. The places where they live have restrictions on the use of solid fuels like wood and charcoal.
Smokey Hmmmmm.... That's a real shame. Is that another one of them government things?
Dave Sometimes, but its more likely to be the result of a concern for burning down your neighbor's condominium. What would you recommend that these folks do?
Smokey Well, in that case, I suppose stuff cooked over gas might be better'n nothing at all. But, if I was them, I think I'd be looking for someplace else to live!
Dave That's not always possible, Smokey.
Smokey Life sure is cruel to some folks, ain't it? You know what make me hopping mad?
Dave An 071 living in the neighborhood?
Smokey Naw, there's some mighty nice folks from New Jersey. That's not all of 'em, mind you, but there is some. What makes me madder than a wet hen is them feller who has the audacity to cook on a gas grill that don't have to. There just ain't no excuse for it.
Dave Then why do you suppose they do?
Smokey Well, if I look at it on the positive side, I suppose it's ignorance. Some of them folks just never tasted real barbecue made over live coals. Most of them, though, are as lazy as an old coon dog on a hot afternoon. I blame it all on Ray Koch.
Dave The hamburger baron?
Smokey Yeah, everybody knows about a Big Mac. Ever seen a television commercial for a barbecue sandwich?
Dave Can't say that I have.
Smokey What more can I say?
Dave Smokey, you ever heard of vegetarian barbecue?
Smokey Well, you know, barbecue is made from meat. So I reckon vegetarian barbecue would be what you would call oxyacetylene.
Smokey Yes, vegetarian barbecue falls in the same category as a married bachelor, military intelligence, and barbecue grills.
Dave Oh, I believe you mean an oxymoron.
Smokey Might be. For sure, it's a real contradiction in terms.
Dave The Vegetarian Society UK would disagree. They actually have one web page, The Vegetarian Barbecue, with techniques and another, Over the Coals, with recipes.
Smokey Get out of here! Next thing you know you'll be telling me they make tofu barbecue.
Dave Actually they do suggest an Indonesian soya food called tempeh that is suppose to have a bit more texture than tofu.
Smokey I bet that's some mighty tasty stuff.
Dave They say you might be put off by its unappetising appearance, but that it really is quite delicious.
Smokey Hmmm... I've heard the same said of chitterlings!
Dave Please, Smokey, you're ruining my lunch.
Smokey Sorry, but you brought up the subject ...
Dave ... of vegetarian barbecue.
Smokey Ain't no such thing. Cooking a bunch of carrot over wood coals for a day or two don't improve them like it would a pork shoulder or beef brisket. All you will get for your efforts is overcooked carrots.
Dave Is there no hope for vegetables?
Smokey I wouldn't say that! There's some mighty fine grilled vegetables, you know.
Dave Do you have a personal favorite?
Smokey Yep! Asparagus.
Dave Aren't they a little tender for such rough treatment?
Smokey Naw. Just marinate 'em in some olive oil, Balsamic vinegar, and lemon juice for a while before you put them on the grill. Then you gotta roll them around regularly to keep 'em from getting scorched. Soon as they start to shrivel up they are done. Be sure to pour some of that marinade over them on the serving platter. I can taste them now!
Dave Are they good with barbecue?
Smokey Hell, no! Slaw and hush puppies and beans and such like is what you eat with barbecue.
Dave So what do you eat with grilled asparagus?
Smokey Grilled fish is good. Poached salmon served with a nice dill sauce is great.
Dave Poached salmon and barbecued asparagus? Smokey, you surprise me sometimes!
Smokey Now there you go again. Look here, I done told you that you can't make barbecue out of a vegetable. It's grilled asparagus, man, grilled asparagus!
Dave Sorry! I'll try to keep my nose to the ground for Mrs. Malaprop's handiwork in the future.
Smokey Uh, ain't that a mixed metaphor, Dave? ... Miss! Oh, Miss! That last barbecue sandwich was kinda small. Could I have another one? And, some more slaw too?
Dave I think I'm getting a headache.
Smokey Want some of my hush puppies?