Thursday, March 22, 2012

So . . . what is barbeque?


I like the following story of how BBQ got its name. The word BBQ came from the time when roadhouses and beer joints with pool tables advertised "Bar, Beer and Cues". According to this tale, the phrase was shortened over time to BBCue, then BBQ. However, most etymologists believe that barbecue derives from the word barabicu found in the language of the TaĆ­no people of the Caribbean and the Timucua of Florida, and entered European languages in the form barbacoa. The word translates as "sacred fire pit."  And how many people who you know claim that their recipe and method of barbeque is sacred in its own right.  Take your choice between the versions but it still comes down to what style you really like.

In the southern United States, barbecue initially revolved around the cooking of pork.  During the 19th century, pigs were a low-maintenance food source that could be released to forage for themselves in forests and woodlands. When food or meat supplies were low, these semi-wild pigs could then be caught and eaten.

It was the Spanish who first introduced the pig into the Americas and to the American Indians. The Indians, in turn, introduced the Spanish to the concept of true slow cooking with smoke. The Spanish colonists came to South Carolina in the early 16th century and settled at Santa Elena. It was in that early American colony that Europeans first learned to prepare and to eat "real" barbecue. So, people were eating barbecue in South Carolina even before that name had been applied to the area by the English.

According to estimates, prior to the American Civil War, Southerners ate around five pounds of pork for every one pound of beef they consumed.  Because of the poverty of the southern United States at this time, every part of the pig was eaten immediately or saved for later (including the ears, feet, and other organs). Because of the effort to capture and cook these wild hogs, pig slaughtering became a time for celebration, and the neighborhood would be invited to share in the largesse. In Cajun culture, these are called boucheries. These feasts are sometimes called 'pig-pickin's.' The traditional Southern barbecue grew out of these gatherings."

Each Southern locale has its own particular variety of barbecue, particularly concerning the sauce. North Carolina sauces vary by region; eastern North Carolina uses a vinegar-based sauce, the center of the state enjoys Lexington-style barbecue which uses a combination of ketchup and vinegar as their base, and western North Carolina uses a heavier ketchup base. Lexington boasts of being "The Barbecue Capital of the World" and it has more than one BBQ restaurant per 1,000 residents.

Another distinguishing characteristic of Lexington barbecue is barbecue slaw, which has no mayonnaise, is composed of cabbage, ketchup, vinegar, and black pepper. Eastern North Carolina slaw contains cabbage, mayonnaise, yellow mustard,and salt with pickles and/or celery seed optional. Slaw can be served either on the side or in a sandwich.

South Carolina is the only state that includes all four recognized barbecue sauces, including mustard-based, vinegar-based, and light and heavy tomato-based. Memphis barbecue is best known for tomato- and vinegar-based sauces. In some Memphis establishments and in Kentucky, meat is rubbed with dry seasoning (dry rubs) and smoked over hickory wood without sauce; the finished barbecue is then served with barbecue sauce on the side.

The barbecue of Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee is almost always pork served with a sweet tomato-based sauce. However, several regional variations exist as well. Alabama is particularly known for its distinctive white sauce, a mayonnaise- and vinegar-based sauce, originating in northern Alabama, used predominantly on chicken and pork. A popular item in North Carolina and Memphis is the pulled pork sandwich served on a bun and often topped with coleslaw. Pulled pork is prepared by shredding the pork after it has been barbecued.

Kansas City-style barbecue is characterized by its use of different types of meat (including pulled pork, pork ribs, burnt ends, smoked sausage, beef brisket, beef ribs, smoked/grilled chicken, smoked turkey, and sometimes fish), a variety attributable to Kansas City's history as a center for meat packing in the US. Hickory is the primary wood used for smoking in KC, while the sauces are typically tomato based with sweet, spicy and tangy flavor profiles. Burnt ends, the flavorful pieces of meat cut from the ends of a smoked beef or pork brisket, are popular in many Kansas City-area barbecue restaurants.

Pit-beef prevails in Maryland and is often enjoyed at large outdoor steer roasts, which are common in the warmer months. Maryland-style pit-beef is not the product of barbecue cookery in the strictest sense, as there is no smoking of the meat involved; rather, it involves grilling the meat over a high heat. The meat is typically served rare, with a strong horseradish sauce as the preferred condiment.
The state of Kentucky, particularly Western Kentucky, is unusual in its barbecue cooking, in that the preferred meat is mutton. This kind of mutton barbecue is often used in communal events in Kentucky, such as political rallies, county fairs and church fund-raising events.

In much of the world outside of the American South, barbecue has a close association with Texas. Many barbecue restaurants outside the United States claim to serve "Texas barbecue", regardless of the style they actually serve. Texas barbecue is often assumed to be primarily beef. This assumption, along with the inclusive term "Texas barbecue", is an oversimplification. Texas has four main styles, all with different flavors, different cooking methods, different ingredients, and different cultural origins.  In the June 2008 issue of Texas Monthly Magazine Snow's BBQ in Lexington was rated as the best BBQ in the state of Texas. This ranking was reinforced when New Yorker Magazine also claimed that Snow's BBQ was "The Best Texas BBQ in the World".

Barbecuing encompasses four or five distinct types of cooking techniques. The original technique is cooking using smoke at lower temperatures (usually around 240–270 °F or 115–125 °C) and significantly longer cooking times (several hours), known as smoking. Another technique is baking, utilizing a masonry oven or any other type of baking oven, which uses convection to cook meats and starches with moderate temperatures for an average cooking time (about an hour plus a few extra minutes). Yet another technique is braising, which combines direct dry heat charbroiling on a ribbed surface with a broth-filled pot for moist heat, cooking at various speeds throughout the duration (starting fast, slowing down, then speeding up again, lasting for a few hours). Finally, grilling is done over direct dry heat, usually over a hot fire (i.e., over 500 °F (260 °C) or 260 °C) for a short time (minutes). Grilling may be done over wood, charcoal, gas (natural gas or propane), or electricity.

Smoking can be done with wood or charcoal, although many common commercial smokers use a gas, such as propane, to heat up a box of wet wood chips enough to cause smoke. The heat from the propane fire helps cook the meat while the smoke adds its unique flavor. The distinction between smoking and grilling is the heat level and the intensity of the radiant heat; indeed, smoking is often referred to as "low and slow". Additionally, during grilling, the meat is exposed to the open air for the majority of the time. During smoking, the BBQ lid or smoker door is closed, causing a thick, dense cloud of smoke to envelop the meat. The smoke must be able to move freely around the meat and out of the top of the apparatus quickly; otherwise, foul-tasting creosote will build up on the meat, giving it a bitter flavor. Smoked meats such as pork exhibit what is known as a smoke ring: a thin pink layer just under the surface which is the result of the nitric oxide in the smoke interacting with the myoglobin in the meat.

The masonry oven is similar to a smoke pit in that it allows for an open flame, but cooks much faster, and uses convection to cook. Barbecue-baking can also be done in traditional stove-ovens. It can be used to cook not only meats, but breads and other starches, and even various casseroles and desserts. It uses both direct and indirect heat to surround the food with hot air to cook, and can be basted much the same as grilled foods. In some cases, the grill can also function like a bakery oven by putting a drip pan below the cooking surface rack of a barbecue grill, as well as a baking sheet pan on top, combining two techniques simultaneously, or one right after the other, cooking twice, with a duration slightly longer than grilling.  Meat can also be baked in a pit in the ground, with hot coals and stones surrounding meat wrapped in wet burlap, wet leaves or aluminum foil.

It is possible to braise meats and vegetables in a pot on top of a grill. A gas or electric charbroil grill would be the best choices for what is known as barbecue-braising, or combining dry heat charbroil-grilling directly on a ribbed surface and braising in a broth-filled pot for moist heat. To braise, put a pot on top of the grill, cover it, and let it simmer for a few hours. There are two advantages to barbecue-braising: the first is that this method now allows for browning the meat directly on the grill before the braising, and the second is that it also allows for glazing the meat with sauce and finishing it directly over the fire after the braising, effectively cooking the meat three times, which results in a soft textured product that falls right off the bone. This method of barbecue has a varying duration (depending on whether a slow cooker or pressure cooker is used), and is generally slower than regular grilling or baking, but faster than pit-smoking.

Good luck with your barbeque.

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