How to make The barbecue

Don’t ask me to explain Southern barbecue. Like other Americans, Southerners barbecue everything from pork to chicken to shrimp, yet when Southerners talk seriously about “barbecue,” what they’re really referring to is pork and only pork. To confuse matters more, the word barbecue in the South is never a piece of cooking equipment, nor rapid broiling on a gas grill, nor a sauce, but, rather, a specialized cooking method whereby meat (almost always pork and never beef, as in Texas) is placed on a gridiron, mopped with an aromatic basting sauce, and cooked very slowly over charcoal and/or hardwood coals till very succulent and permeated with the rich flavor of smoke. Each region has variations on the technique, the types and cuts of meat, the hardwoods, the seasonings, and the sauce, but, in states such as Florida, Maryland, and Alabama, the concept can be distorted to accommodate foods that would never be “barbecued” in other areas and can be cooked without a grill. Memphis, Tennessee, is known for its exceptional barbecued pork ribs crusted with a spicy dryrub, Georgia and Alabama for pork shoulders basted with a tomatoey vinegar sauce, South Carolina for sliced pork barbecue seasoned with mustard sauce, and North Carolina (often called the “Barbecue Capital of the World”) for western-style chopped barbecued shoulders and eastern-style whole hogs (“pulled pork”) mopped with a peppery vinegar sauce. But Louisianians are also fiercely proud of their barbecued Gulf shrimp; Floridians love barbecued swordfish; and Arkansans rave about their barbecued duck and wild game. Southern barbecue is maddening. The ideal setup for authentic Southern pork barbecue is an outdoor pit covered with some type of gridiron, but equally efficient are the huge steel cookers (“drums” or “smokers”) used at the dozens of barbecue cook-offs held throughout the South. More practical for the purposes of this book is an ordinary charcoal kettle grill (with vents in the lid and on the bottom) large enough to barbecue not only a whole pork shoulder or loin but also plenty of chicken and duck pieces, fish steaks, a couple of rabbits, and the like. For recipes that call for soaked wood chips, hickory is most popular in the South, though some cooks prefer the milder flavor of oak. (Both can be found in most hardware stores and many mega marts.) Whether you’re cooking over only charcoal briquettes or briquettes and wood chips, the briquettes should always first be allowed to burn till they’re ashen (30 to 45 minutes), and when meats are intended to cook slowly for many hours (indirect cooking), the coals must be pushed around the sides of the grill and a drip pan placed in the center. For slow, indirect cooking, the grill rack should be positioned at least 6 inches from the heat; for more rapid barbecuing, about 4 inches should suffice. Some Southern cooks baste foods with any variety of sauces from the moment they’re placed on the grill; others, wary of overwhelming the foods and of flare-ups from the coals, baste only toward the end.

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