The Start of the Barbecue Road Trip
This has been a fun book to research and write. Many of us have dreamed of the chance to travel the country eating and learning about barbecue, and now many of us do it. Seeking out the legendary old barbecue haunts has become a common vacation activity. I think it's because we all travel so freely now and we have the ability to find interesting new things to do while we're traveling. But it's also the magic of barbecue that draws us to it. There's just something about an old barbecue restaurant that can't be matched by a seafood shack or a famous old diner. I think it's all about the preparation of the barbecue. A great seafood shack is mainly built on the freshness of the fish and the waterfront tables. A famous diner is often about the flakiness of the piecrust and the sweetness of the waitress, or is it the other way around? At a barbecue joint it's about that pitmaster's own version of the greatest American cuisine. The surroundings can be anything and anywhere. If the food is good it works. How many of us spend our whole lives in search of the ultimate rib? I know I do. Anytime I drive past a barbecue joint I haven't been to I can't help but think that this might just be the place with the best rib anywhere so I'd better stop. I wouldn't want to make my life's decision about the best rib ever and be unsure because I've skipped this place. Sound familiar? Okay, maybe it's brisket for you or pork, but you know you have your favorite barbecue specialty.
In my travels I've found consistencies and surprises. The most consistent thing about a barbecue restaurant is the passion for the food. It's always the top priority. Whether I was talking to Mr. Powdrell, the weathered old barbecue restaurant man in Albuquerque, or to Dave Klose, the legendary pit builder in Houston, or to Adam Perry Lang, the French chef turned barbecue man in New York City, it's all about the food. The culture and patina just seem to happen around barbecue, and it's often taken for granted. That could be because they are all so focused on the food that painting the walls or getting a new sign justtakes a backseat. Sometimes it takes a seat and never gets back up. Louie Mueller's in Taylor, Texas, couldn't be funkier if they tried, but it's one of the best barbecue joints I've ever been to. Every person, place, or thing in this book is completely focused on the quality of the food. Now that doesn't mean there aren't some places that are a little better kept. The new Oklahoma Joe's in Olathe, Kansas, is quite nice, while the original in Kansas City, Kansas, is in a funky gas station. I'm happy at either one, though, because the food is always good. It's their top priority.
As for the differences in barbecue around the country, some are obvious. They cook almost all pork in North Carolina and mostly beef in Texas. No surprise there, they grow hogs in North Carolina and cattle in Texas. The sauces are generally sweeter as you head north and there are always regional specialties like the barbecued mutton in Kentucky. But I found that many of the legends that are written about just don't seem to be true. When I go somewhere and eat the barbecue I've often wondered if some of the people who write about regional barbecue have ever been to these places. Trust me: If you're reading about smoky-tasting barbecue in North Carolina the writer hasn't been there, if you're reading about all the white barbecue sauce in Alabama the writer hasn't been there, and if you think you won't get slaw on your sandwich outside of North Carolina, you haven't been to Memphis. I had a brisket sandwich at House Park Bar-B-Que in Austin, Texas. It's been there since 1943. They served sauce on my sandwich. Wait a minute. I thought there wasn't any sauce in Texas, so I asked. The guy said, "Sure we put it on, our sauce is homemade and it's good." It was. On the contrary the barbecue up north doesn't all get a bath of sauce as some think.
What about beer with barbecue? It seems like a natural, but I ate in twenty-two restaurants in North Carolina and couldn't get a beer at any of them. In Texas many of the barbecue joints were primarily beer joints that served barbecue. Beer certainly goes well with barbecue and it's very popular, but it's not the chosen drink in the world of barbecue. What is? Sweet tea. Sweet tea is a staple in the South but I don't think I've ever been to a barbecue joint anywhere that didn't serve it. Sometimes up north you'll get "iced tea," which southerners would recognize as unsweet tea, but they've always got some of those little sugar packets so you can make do. Here's the first recipe in the book and it goes here because it's universal to all the regions of barbecue.
Yes, there is a recipe for sweet tea. Making sweet tea is a serious thing to southerners, and northerners are catching on thanks to the spread of real barbecue. Good tea can make or break a restaurant in the South. That premixed stuff just doesn't cut it. It needs to be fresh brewed with lots of sugar. Here's how I like mine. You may want to up the sugar to 2 full cups. Yield: 1 gallon
1 gallon water 4 family-size tea bags (designed to make 1 quart each) 1½ cups sugar
In a medium saucepan, bring 1 quart of water to a full boil. Remove from the heat and drop in the tea bags. Let the tea steep for 6 minutes, tumbling the tea bags a couple times. Remove the tea bags and stir in the sugar. Let rest for 1 minute and stir again until the sugar is all dissolved. Pour into a 1-gallon pitcher and add 1 quart of water. Stir well. Add one or two trays of ice and stir again. Add enough water to fill the pitcher and stir again. Keep in the refrigerator and serve over ice.
If you know me or you've read my other books, you know that I've spent a lot more years driving a truck than I have writing books. So this book, like my others, is kind of free-form. Some of the places in the book I've been going to for many years and know well. Some of the people are old friends. Others are new friends that I sought out just to learn about for the book. Same with the places, I stumbled across some of the new ones but also made specific trips to some new places to learn about them for this book. That's why you'll read twelve restaurant reviews written by me in Texas. I wrote those immediately after I'd eaten at the places with the intention of blending them later. When I got done it seemed a shame to break them up so I've left them intact. The North Carolina trip was with my friend, The Pope of Peppers, Dave DeWitt. Dave wanted to score the restaurants so we'd have a favorite when we got done. Sounded good to me and that's how you'll read it. Kansas City is a place I've gone for many years, and the barbecue joints and people are so much a part of my life that it was hard to write about as a road trip. So please enjoy each chapter in its own way. I begin each chapter with a rub recipe and a sauce recipe. These are by no means meant to be the end-all regional rub and sauce for that area. If I found anything on this trip it was that there usually isn't a specific taste that fits the whole region, despite what you might have heard. These are just my recipes inspired by the regions. I call for the rubs and sauces in recipes within the chapters, but you should feel free to mix and match them. Speaking of the recipes, you're going to find some great recipes in this book from some famous barbecue people. I generally don't ask them for one of their signature recipes; I know those are usually confidential. Besides, one book can only have so many rib or brisket recipes. The good news is these folks all gave me something interesting and it has made for a great collection of recipes. I highly recommend every person, place, and thing in this book as a stop on your barbecue road trip. Tell them all Dr. BBQ says hi.
DR. BBQ'S BIG-TIME BARBECUE ROAD TRIP! Copyright © 2007 by Ray Lampe. Foreword copyright © 2007 by Chris Lilly. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.