Initially I learned the finer points of barbecue when I lived in Texas, and Iearned even more about barbecue, pork barbecue in particular, when I lived in Tennessee. However, it wasn't until I moved to the Midwest 6 years ago and missed traditional Southern barbecue that I got involved in judging and seriously cooking it myself. This is when my barbecue passion really began, and has continued to grow stronger year after year.
I also had an epiphany when think about my blogs, realizing that barbecue is a personal experience as much as it is a public experience. While barbecue people are always willing to discuss grills, cooking techniques, sauces, rubs, and their favorite places to get great barbecue with anyone, and barbecues are open, family events, there are certain nuances about barbecue and things we like to do that appeal to us as individuals. These are things that we may or may not ever reveal, or things that other people may not understand about us. Examples may be always using the same set of tongs when cooking barbecue, taking a shot of Jack Daniels before lighting the grill, or taking photos of every barbecue product that comes off the grill and adding them to a 'cooking library'. This is what makes barbecue personal.
Today I'm going to "come out of the pantry" and reveal my personal barbecue nuances.
1. Trying new dry rubs and sauces. This is one of the things I love most about barbecue, much to the detriment of my cholesterol and blood sugar. Like pork, sauces rule! Sampling different brands, styles, and regional sauces is a big thrill to me (along with the other things in life like SportsCenter, bourbon, and sex). And using them with various meats and seafood makes the experience more enjoyable. My pantry is always filled with a double-digit number of "to be tried" bottles of sauce.
2. Trying new barbecue restaurants. This is also a personal thrill for me. Barbecue has become a huge business over the past few years, and new restaurants are opening all over the country. Great barbecue can be found in places never believed possible before. As an example, my former home of Chicago, IL has a number of excellent barbecue establishments within a one hour drive of downtown. Also, Mike Mills' original 17th Street Bar & Grill, voted 'Best Barbecue in America' in 2009 by Bon Appetite magazine, is located in Murphysboro, IL. As a "Marc Axiom" when evaluating a barbecue restaurant, if you don't smell smoke when you initially walk in, walk out!
3. Documenting all the products I've tries & restaurants I've eaten at. Yes, this seems a little extreme, but there are a number of reasons why I do this. First, I often get asked what sauces and rubs I prefer and where is the best place in town to go for barbecue. Having the list helps me make better recommendations and allows me to provide more detail in my recommendations; which in turn helps people make the best choice(s). Second, there are times when I want to use a rub or sauce I've used before to create a certain flavor profile and the list helps me remember what product that is. Third, it prevents me from purchasing a product that I didn't like again by accident. And finally, the listing is a record of my barbecue experience and history. This is important to a true barbecue enthusiast.
4. In search of the "perfect" rib. My barbecue obsession is pork ribs - to cook and eat. When I go to a barbecue restaurant for the first time, I always order the same thing: pork ribs, beans & cole slaw. Similarly, at an Italian restaurant I always get the lasagna the first time. This is my initial judgment of the establishment and serves as an even playing field to compare with other restaurants I've eaten at. When I judged a Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) barbecue contest in Wisconsin a few years ago I ate what I consider to the most "perfect" rib I've ever tasted. As it was a contest, I wasn't able to find out 'who' cooked it and 'how' they cooked it. Finding that perfect rib, finding out how to replicate it, and replicating it would be the culmination of my search. Then again, there may be a more perfect rib out there than the one I just found. So, II guess I'll probably always be searching. What a "perfect" ribs is the subject of a future column.
5. The amazing smoky meat. There are many great things about barbecue, but the meat itself is the greatest to me. And it has to have a good smoke flavor, no matter what type of wood is used. After all, that's what we strive to perfect. It's also what makes us "urban legends" in our neighborhoods and with friends and family when we can cook it well. I love the taste of smoke on all meat, as well as salmon. And to get an excellent piece of smoky barbecued meat, it's has to be cooked low and slow. No exceptions! Another "Marc Axiom". I know shortcuts can be taken to produce a smoked effect, but it's always results in a lower quality product. Excellent smoked barbecue is addictive.
While some of these things may not seem all that crazy to a lot of people (or maybe they do), they fuel my barbecue passion. So, find your own personal barbecue experiences, hold them close to your heart, and have fun with them.
Yes, barbecue is our culinary heritage, the fastest growing food segment in America, and a community event, but it also can be personal. Or stated in classified terms..."barbecue confidential".
Where there's smoke, there's probably barbecue!