Taking on the tough topic
Over the years at The Ellis County Press I’ve written on a few delicate or sensitive topics. And, have received feedback on some of them, however, I anticipate the feedback on this column will be passionate.
Why? Well, I’m going to write about something near and dear to the heart of almost everyone – barbecue.
Just to set the record straight, I love barbecue. Just about all of it. There is some, however, I can’t tolerate; it makes me pucker. It’s mostly the various sauces, but, I’ll get to that.
Most folks believe the barbecue they grew up eating is by far the best, and I can understand that. I’ve tasted a lot of barbecue around various parts, some good and some not-so-good. I have to tell you none of it beats good ol’ Texas ‘que.
There is a general consensus about there being four relatively distinct regions for barbecue: Carolina, Memphis, Kansas City and Texas. Each has its own taste and method of cooking.
Carolina is credited with being the beginning of modern barbecue. Its history dates way back. Almost universally in Carolina the meat is pork, slow-cooked and pulled. In North Carolina, the whole hog is usually cooked. Several sauces find favor around the area from mustard, vinegar, heavy tomato and light tomato. In the coastal region, the sauce is simply a vinegar and pepper mixture and dates back to colonial times. I’m sorry, but it just makes me pucker.
Memphis dominates the barbecue scene in Tennessee and is primarily known for its pork ribs. They are served dry and made with a spice rub during or right after they’re cooked.
Some are served with a barbecue sauce that’s basted on before and after cooking. There is also a lot of pulled or chopped pork used in a sandwich usually topped with a sweet, finely chopped coleslaw. Some believe this is the highest form of Memphis barbecue.
I find the idea of messing up a perfectly good barbecue sandwich with coleslaw somehow blasphemous. Coleslaw is, after all, a side dish around these parts. Memphis is also home of the annual Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, recognized in Guinness Book of World Records as the "largest pork cooking contest in the world."
Kansas City has proclaimed itself the "world capital of barbecue" since there is over 100 barbecue restaurants in the city. Each year the American Royal claims to host the world’s biggest barbecue cooking contest. Kansas City barbecue consists of brisket and burnt ends, pork, beef ribs and chicken.
Meat is more often served sliced rather than shredded with a sauce on the side or mixed into the meat. Kansas City barbecue sauce is very sweet, spicy and thick with a tomato base. I don’t particularly care for Kansas City style sauce because I find it way too sweet, and KC Masterpiece also makes me pucker. I think the best store-bought brand is Cattleman’s.
I’ll mention St. Louis simply because it’s not a regional variety of barbecue; rather it’s a way of trimming pork spareribs. The St. Louis style of spareribs has had the brisket strip removed leaving a relatively rectangular rack of ribs that’s easy to cook.
It’s interesting that spareribs are always pork. I’ve never really understood how they were named; we all know the pig can’t "spare" them. Beef ribs are usually referred to as "short ribs" or simply beef ribs. Nothing spare about them.
When you are in Texas and talking barbecue, you are usually talking beef brisket, a tough cut of meat rendered fork tender and succulent by long, slow cooking at a temperature of about 250 degrees. Of course, we Texans also like our pork shoulder, sausage, pork ribs, beef ribs and chicken.
Texas sauce is tomato-based, not-too-sweet, tangy and thick. Most of the Texas sauce I’ve had is pretty good, however, some of it is too thin or way too vinegary. Traditional Texas sides are beans, coleslaw, potato salad, and fries. In some localities, usually where the antecedents were German or Czech, the only sides are saltine crackers, pickles and onions with the barbecue served on butcher paper.
I know we all have our favorite barbecue joints. I happen to think some of the best sauce in the world is found at Big Al’s Smokehouse. It has just the right combination of tart, sweet and thickness to be like sheer ambrosia. The meat is good and Tuesdays just happen to be pork rib special day so the place is usually packed. But the food is worth the wait.
There used to be a place in Burnet called Dumas Walker’s. This joint had absolutely the best beans I’ve ever tasted. Unfortunately, Dumas sold it and the new owner just couldn’t make a go of it, so it went away. I’d love to have his recipe for those beans. My mouth still waters when I think about them.
Solly’s in Addison has gone away, too. When it was open the meat was very tender and the potato salad was heavenly. It’s that potato salad I particularly remember.
Many folks consider the original Sonny Bryan’s to be the Mecca of Dallas barbecue. It’s OK, but I found the old shack too crowded and uncomfortable to really appreciate the food. The multiple locations, while serving acceptable barbecue, certainly don’t compare to many other barbecue joints around.
Now, regardless of whether or not you agree with my opinions here, I think you will agree that barbecue exists simply to be enjoyed. Whether you cook it in your own back yard or go out to eat it, it’s just plain fun.