The truth about Barbeque

I grew up in Eastern North Carolina. I prefer Eastern North Carolina Barbeque. What does that mean? Well, it is a great debate in the great state we live in but there are two types of Barbeque in N.C. It is a serious discussion among locals of the tarheel state of which barbeque is better, eastern or lexington/Piedmont barbeque. Seriously.

I have copied this great post from the great Bob Garner who is a barbeque expert. You can catch him on the PBS program North Carolina weekend. But this guy knows his barbeque. He is here to educate and clear up any confusion any of you may have 🙂

I dedicate this post to my Dad and brother. Two great roasters themselves!

Happy reading

North Carolina Barbecue 101

Posted in News on 04. Sep, 2010

Familiarity with barbecue is part of what it means to be a North Carolinian, and since North Carolina has one of the largest in-migrations of any state in the country, especially among those of retirement age, there are a lot of people who may need to be brought up to speed on how to select, consume and – most importantly – discuss this iconic state food. If you’re a newcomer to our barbecue culture and you want to get the most out of cruising barbecue joints – or enjoying North Carolina barbecue in any fashion – you need to become acquainted with the basics.

First, you need to become familiar with what’s served in North Carolina and how it compares with the barbecue elsewhere. There are really only seven distinct barbecue regions in the United States. Eastern North Carolina and Piedmont North Carolina are two of the seven. The remaining five are South Carolina (mustard-based sauce); western Kentucky (mutton or lamb barbecue); Memphis, Tennessee (pork ribs and pulled pork with thick, red sauce); Kansas City, Missouri (pork ribs and beef brisket); and Texas (beef brisket and barbecued sausage). There’s a great deal of barbecue available in the rest of the country, to be sure, but you can bet that no matter where you are, the barbecue will imitate one of those regional styles.

Not ribs, not chicken, not beef – pork
In both the eastern and Piedmont regions of North Carolina, barbecue means pork, though chicken is thrown in as an added attraction from time to time. (It’s okay to refer to it as “barbecued chicken,” but never simply as barbecue.) Quite a few North Carolina barbecue places also prepare delicious pork ribs on certain days of the week, and a few may even offer tasty beef brisket as a change of pace, but these dishes are sideshows – the exceptions that prove the unspoken rule that reserves the term barbecue for our own beloved chopped or pulled pork. Our pork barbecue is usually served chopped, but sometimes sliced or pulled, with a thin sauce that always begins with a vinegar base and that varies in heat from mild to hot and in taste from salty to sweet.

Anyone who wants to be considered knowledgeable on the subject of barbecue and who wants to explore the barbecue restaurant landscape must also learn about the great schism between the proponents of the vinegary, whole-hog barbecue of the east and those of the milder, sweeter pork shoulder barbecue of the Piedmont.

Eastern North Carolina
East of U.S. 1, barbecue means not only pork but the whole hog, which contains both the drier white meat and the more moist dark meat. Overall, eastern North Carolina barbecue tends to be a bit drier than that found in the Piedmont because of the inclusion of so much white meat in the chopped mixture. (Incidentally, historians believe the custom of chopping barbecue began because so many people, especially older adults, had bad teeth and couldn’t chew the meat otherwise.)

Coastal plain barbecue is almost always seasoned with its historic sauce of vinegar, water, salt, black pepper and both finely ground and crushed red pepper. A true eastern sauce contains no tomato, because at the time it was developed during the Colonial period, tomatoes were generally thought to be poisonous and were not consumed. The eastern vinegar sauce was truly America’s first barbecue sauce.

Lexington or Piedmont Barbecue
Lexington style barbecue, occasionally referred to as Piedmont or western barbecue is prepared by slow-roasting only the pork shoulder (the hog’s front legs), rather than the whole pig. The shoulder is part of the dark portion of the pig’s meat and is suffused with pockets of fat, so Lexington barbecue tends to be moister than its eastern counterpart, even after all visible fat has been removed.

In-the-know consumers of Lexington barbecue frequently order their meat “coarse chopped,” and they also know to ask for “outside brown,” the especially smoky meat from the outside of the shoulder that has turned deep reddish brown from being smoked for 10 to 16 hours.

Throughout the Piedmont, barbecue sauce is known as “dip.” It’s sweeter than the eastern version due to the addition of white or brown sugar, and usually contains ketchup. But even with the addition of a small amount of tomato, Lexington dip is still much thinner and more tart-tasting than the thick red barbecue sauces found on grocery store shelves, which mirror sauces developed further west.

If eastern sauce tends to taste like hot, salty vinegar, Lexington dip might be described as a thin sweet and sour sauce.

Serving Styles
Both styles of North Carolina barbecue are frequently ordered on sandwiches topped with coleslaw. In the east, the slaw will be creamy and mild, while in the Piedmont, it is likely to contain vinegar, ketchup and quite a bit of peppery “kick.” Throughout the coastal plan, Brunswick stew or boiled potatoes are common accompaniments to barbecue served as a plate rather than a sandwich, while Piedmont barbecue plates are more likely to be accompanied by fried potatoes. In the Piedmont, a “tray” is simply a serving of chopped barbecue with a serving of coleslaw alongside, while a “plate” will have meat, slaw and French fries. Hush puppies – nuggets of fried cornbread – are common throughout both regions.

Wood vs. Gas or Electricity
Genuine pit cooking using wood is much more common in the Piedmont, perhaps because barbecue in this industrialized region is more widely regarded as a way of paying homage to a simpler past and staying in touch with the state’s heritage.
There is an entrancing aroma and a certain flavor that comes only from the fat of roasting pork dripping onto hardwood coals. That said, it is also true that of the four characteristics of great barbecue – tenderness, seasoning, texture and smoked flavor – only the delicate taste obtained by cooking over hardwood coals cannot by obtained through the use of a gas or electric cooker. While I personally prefer the bewitching aroma and taste produced by hardwood smoke, I appreciate the tenderness, texture and complex seasoning of some of the best electric or gas-cooked barbecue I’ve been privileged to enjoy. There are curmudgeons who will grump, “If it isn’t cooked over wood, it isn’t barbecue,” I say life is too short for such ideological rigidity.

Now, armed with some of the essential terms and information you’ll need, go forth and enjoy good pig!


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