Tag Archives: Barbeque

Is regional cuisine still relevant?

Salt Lick BBQ Pit, Texas

Ever since the dawn of the spice trade, the work of traveling merchants has helped homogenize world cuisine. Migrants, too, bring along traditional recipes and infuse their new homes with tastes from the old country. The effect is a wonderful variety of constantly improving food, but at the expense of regional and national distinctiveness. In America, where people move freely and trade aggressively, the forces of homogenization are stronger then we often realize.

When we set out on our Great American Road Trip, we expected to be wowed by “authentic” regional cuisine. We thought, for example, we’d find the best chicken and dumplings in the Deep South, and the best Mexican cuisine along the Mexican border and throughout the South West. When we rolled into Texas, we felt like we entered the home turf of America’s all-star barbeque team, and had expectations to match.

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Getting Our Pig On

Allen and Sons Barbeque

We’ve been mostly making our plans on the fly, with only a vague idea of where we’re heading. We found ourselves in Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina, partly because it lies in the southerly direction we’re heading, but mostly because it was chosen in 2008 as America’s Foodiest Small Town by Bon Appétit. But somehow the good folks over at Bon Appétit forgot to mention one of the things North Carolina is best known for: Barbeque. And we’re not just talking about any barbeque, but “eastern style” que, which is surprisingly impossible to find anywhere in the northeast.

To the uninitiated, eastern que includes three basic things. 1) It has to be pork. You can find chicken and beef on the menu, but when you ask for “barbeque” you get served some part of the pig. 2) It has to be slow cooked over wood or wood coals. 3) It has to be served with a thin vinegar based sauce, which may or may not contain some tomato.  The result is different enough from what most of us “Yankees” consider barbeque to warrant a special trip to check it out.

Allen & Son plays the part of a modest down-home eatery, located some twenty minutes outside of downtown Chapel-Hill in a seemingly rural section of the city set directly across from railroad tracks and adorned with a weathered sign and emanating the smell of hickory smoke. Inside, patrons seat themselves at tables with plastic checked table cloths and eat under the watchful eyes of a 10-point buck mounted on the wall. But its reputation for great que has spread far from these humble settings and encouraged us to venture out of our way to give it a try.

We both order the first thing on the menu, the “barbeque plate.”  Soon enough we’re served up an entrée of pulled pork (no bun), hushpuppies, coleslaw and an iced tea; sweet of course. The pork comes without any sauce, but it is so well seasoned it doesn’t need any. An old ketchup bottle stands on the table holding Allen & Son signature sauce for those wanting to spice things up a bit. Momentarily forgetting where I am, I grab the bottle and give it a good squeeze expecting the thick resistance of traditional sauce. Instead, a thin marinade gushes to the plate. No worries, it’s fantastic; hot and spicy with tons of cracked pepper and a distinctive vinegar bite. This is nothing like any BBQ we’ve had before, which is exactly why we’re here.

The slaw has some of the same vinegar overtones and is a perfect complement to the meat. The hushpuppies are the stunner, though. Crisp-skinned and well-seasoned, they have a surprising hint of sweetness that almost qualifies them as dessert compared to the heat and vinegar of the meat and slaw. But no amount of sweetness was going to keep us away from the peanut butter pie, which was a perfect way to end a great meal.

Beautiful Barbeque

BBQ Chicken RecipeI don’t usually post pictures of my meat on the internet, but sometimes it looks so mouthwateringly tasty that I just have to share.  I’m also celebrating something of an epiphany.  And I have a confession to make.  I don’t know how to barbeque.  It is somewhat emasculating to admit, but I only cook a couple of things on the grill, and none of them qualify as traditional American barbeque (chicken tikka, fajitas, etc).   Up until now, barbequed chicken was a matter of throwing some breasts on the grill and slathering them with store bought sauce.  Shannon liked it well enough, but for me the results didn’t warrant even the minimal effort it required.  Part of the problem is that we’ve spent our entire adult life living in a city.  No backyard, no barbeque.  But now, man-style cooking over open flame is de rigueur.  So if I’m going to do it, I want to do it right.  And I want it to be awesome.

What I’ve learned is that great barbeque isn’t about the sauce.  It is about layering flavors.  Store bought sauce can actually be very good, but if what is underneath is a piece of dry, tasteless carcass, then the whole thing ends up being a waste of time.  But there isn’t just one secret to making great barbequed chicken, there are two . . . rub and mop.  The rub (a blend of dry spices) forms the first layer of flavor.  Brown sugar and paprika in equal parts (together with salt, garlic, onion powder and pepper for some kick) creates a sweet and smoky base that screams traditional barbeque.  Rub the spices on to the chicken and let them soak in for several hours before grilling.

The “mop” sauce, however, is a revelation.  Basting grilled meat with sugary barbeque sauce causes the outside to burn before the inside is done.  But a vinegar-based, sugarless mixture of spices can be applied throughout the cooking process, keeping the meat juicy and adding another layer of flavor.  Only in the last couple of minutes does the barbeque sauce come into play, getting seared into the meat right before it comes off the grill.  The final product . . . mmmmmmmm, beautiful barbeque.

Barbeque Rub (makes enough for several meals)
1 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs paprika
1 tbs salt
2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp cayenne

Mop Sauce
1/2 cup white vinegar
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp thyme

Barbeque Sauce – Stubb’s Spicy (or brand of your choice)

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