To Barbecue 101
Barbecue (BÄR bi kyoo') - A method of cooking, the
product of such cooking, or a gala featuring barbecue.
Whatever the definition, it's great.
Barbecue is man's oldest method of cooking his food. It probably began
when some prehistoric man or woman wandered up on the remains of some animal
that was the victim of a wildfire... "Hmmmm, this is better than raw meat."
Today, the art of barbecuing has evolved into three basic methods, all
called barbecuing. First of all we have the most popular method, grilling;
food is cooked on a grill over a bed of coals. Next we have smoked viands
that are dry cooked by the heat of smoke. Finally, the method of cooking
that is accepted by most authorities is "meat or other foods, cooked in
close proximity to a fire of coals or wood, usually with a sauce applied."
We will concern ourselves here with the latter method. Whatever barbecue
is prepared in is called a "pit." That name derives from the fundamental
barbecuing method of digging a hole in the ground to contain the fire and
using a grate, grill or a platform of sticks on top to hold the meat or
other foods. A cover of some sort serves to contain the smoke and heat.
We will occupy ourselves here with meat only for this discussion.
Purists insist that the temperature in the pit not exceed the boiling
point of water. In theory, if you don't exceed the boiling point,
the natural, flavorful juices will remain in the meat keeping it moist
and tender. This is a slow method of cooking. Eight, ten or even twenty-four
hours on the pit are the norm. Barbecue is never cooked rare. It is always
well done to the center. A meat thermometer is essential here for the novice.
The Pros calculate cooking time by the amount of beer consumed or when
the wife yells out the window, "Ain't that stuff done yet? These
people are starving."
Barbecuing at a higher temperature is acceptable. You just have to be
sure you are not burning the outside of the meat. Meat of any sort gets
really tough when overcooked. There are those who choose to smoke the meat
for an hour or so and then wrap it tightly in foil to bring the temperature
up and reduce the cooking time. This works fairly well but seems to cook
a lot of the smoke flavor out of the meat.
Whatever the temperature used, a basting sauce is in order. In barbecue
terms, this is called a "mop sauce." Mop sauce should be non-tomato and
non-sugar. Tomato and sugar tend to burn at a very low temperature and
A "finishing sauce" is applied to the meat in the last minutes of cooking.
Your favorite homemade or bottled sauce is in order here.
The meat that is barbecued is at the discretion of the individual cook.
Where you live has a lot to do with the meat in favor. In Texas, by far
the meat of choice is beef. The beef of choice is the brisket. The brisket
comes from the breast of a bovine, between the front legs. It's boneless
and usually very fatty. But if your heart can stand it, the fat imparts
a delicious flavor.
In South Texas, cabrito (baby goat) is favored for the barbecue. Adult
goats are also very popular. Authentic Texas barbecue can also include
beef ribs, pork spareribs or country style ribs (which are in reality cut
from pork shoulder), pork shoulder roast and chicken. It's all delicious.
You will also find a lot of sausage at Texas barbecues. It's not really
barbecue but it just tastes better prepared on the pit.
When you go East of the Mississippi or North of Oklahoma, pork is the
barbecue. A barbecued whole hog is a delight to behold and even more delightful
to consume. You will also find a lot of "pulled pork"; that is, pork roast
cooked to falling-apart tenderness and then shredded and served with a
generous dollop of sauce.
The folks in Kentucky lean toward mutton as the barbecue of choice.
In New England, there are the seaside, seafood barbecues. Whole lobster,
clams and fish are prepared in barbecue style.
On the West Coast, giant sirloin roasts are skewered and cooked over
an open fire. It's barbecue to them.
No matter the location, your barbecue is best. Charly McTee, the late,
noted Texas outdoor writer once told of his trip to "Yankee Land" where
he ordered barbecue and got "something brown on a bun." Charly said, "No
wonder them folks are so contrary, they never get nothing good to eat."
Now that you've graduated Barbecue 101 and are ready to have at it,
we will leave you with a basic mop sauce and a finishing sauce.
Basic mop sauce for barbecue:
1 pint Water (2 cups)
1/2 C Lemon juice
1 t Salt
1/2 C Butter (1 stick)
This is the base you use to develop your own mop sauce. You can experiment
by adding onion, garlic, and your favorite spices. The mop sauce is applied
to the meat with a brush or small rag mop at intervals during the cooking
process. A good indicator of when it's time to mop is when the meat begins
to appear dry on the surface. Don't overdo it. Every time you open the
pit, you lose heat.
Basic finishing sauce (Texas Red Style):
2 C Catsup
2-3 T Worchestershire sauce
1 T Black pepper, fine grind
1-2 Cloves garlic
Juice of half a lemon
You will mix all these ingredients in a stainless steel saucepan and
simmer a half hour or so. You might want to add a little brown sugar if
it's too tart. A little cayenne gives the sauce authority. Add water or
stock to get the consistency you desire, but it should be a little on the
thick side. Here again, you are encouraged to experiment and develop your
very own best sauce.
The finishing sauce is applied to the meat in the last fifteen to thirty
minutes of cooking. Be careful not to scorch the sauce. Serve the remaining
sauce with the meat for dipping.