I've looked at a lot of barbecue books and almost all of them start out with a boring chapter about equipment, tools, and charcoal. I'm not going to do it that way. I will address the equipment and tools as I go along, relative to the dish and the cooking technique being used. I am, however, going to spend a little time here telling you about my feelings about some taboo barbecue subjects. You see, there is great controversy in the barbecue world about where the progress should stop. Predictably, the different camps are content that it stops wherever they are standing.
For example, some people think that you should only cook a whole hog in a pit made out of concrete blocks. That's Traditional Barbecue, they say. Some even argue about whether a piece of corrugated steel should be allowed as a cover. Then there is the camp that says you should only use an offset firebox big ol' hunk of steel cooker. That's Traditional Barbecue, they say. Some guys only cook in a hole in the ground. That's Traditional Barbecue, they say.
My friends with the Big Green Egg will tell you that theirs is the best cooker out there. That type of equipment has been in use for three thousand years. That's Traditional Barbecue, they say. But of course we all know that the real original and absolutely Traditional Barbecue was cooked over an open fire as a caveman made antelope kabobs.
There is a whole group that takes great pride in having giant cookers, and another group that takes great pride in cooking great barbecue on the smallest cookers. There's a big debate over meats: pig vs. cow vs. mutton vs. cabrito. And one over woods: mesquite vs. hickory vs. oak vs. apple vs. pecan vs. cherry.
Then there is the multifaceted argument about fuels. Here is a list of the stances:
• Logs only! No charcoal ever in my cooker!
• Natural lump charcoal is the best! Nothing else works!
• Brand X Natural Lump is much better than the others!
• No logs! They must be burned down to coals first! (Isn't that the same fuel as the guys above?)
• Pellets are cheating!
• Pellets are wood, too.
• Charcoal briquettes are okay.
• Charcoal briquettes are not okay.
• Gas is okay
• Gas is not natural.
• There is a whole fight about using aluminum foil to wrap your food for part of the cooking. Some say it ruins the bark (crust on the meat) and steams the meat instead of barbecuing it. That's not Traditional Barbecue, they say.
• Grilling isn't barbecue!
• Sweet barbecue sauce isn't supposed to be served on real barbecue.
• In fact, some insist that barbecue shouldn't be sauced at all, just rubbed.
Dr. BBQ's Favorite Barbecue Tools
1. Instant-read thermometer
2. Sharp knives
3. Wood flavor pellets
4. Aluminum foil
5. Bamboo skewers
Those of you who don't know me will quickly learn that I am very opinionated and not afraid to speak my mind. Here's what I think. Cook on whatever you have, like, or can afford. It's all good. I have fourteen cookers at this time and I like them all. They are big, small, cheap, expensive, ceramic, steel, grills, smokers, pellet-fueled, briquette-fueled, natural lump-fueled, and even gas-fueled.
Cook whatever meat you have, like, or can afford. (See a trend here?) The old traditions of which meat and which type of wood were very regional and defined by what was available. That's why they cook hogs with hickory in North Carolina and beef over mesquite in Texas. There has always been a big hog-raising industry in North Carolina and there are lots of hickory trees there. In Texas cattle has always been a big business and there is an abundance of mesquite bushes, although I can't believe the first guy who used mesquite for cooking actually tried it a second time.
Now we have access to all the different woods and they are all good and should be tried, with the possible exception of mesquite. To borrow a line from Maxim writer Paul Bibeau, mesquite smoke smells like it came "straight from the devil's ass crack." The fuel arguments are fun, but for me the line is pretty simple. All the major cookoff sanctioning bodies allow wood, charcoal, or pellets. None allow gas. That seems like a fair line, although I wouldn't fuss much if they allowed gas. The best food wins and I've seen great food cooked using all those fuels. Pick your favorite. I would pass on burning all that wood down to coals, though. It's really a lot of hassle and a mess. Lump charcoal is the same thing only it's pre-burned.
The aluminum foil argument is futile. Almost every barbecue champion I know these days is using it in some fashion and judges consistently score their food high. So much for that argument.
To most people grilling is barbecue. Get over it.
Most people like sweet barbecue sauce on their food. Look at how much is sold in the grocery and specialty stores. (Dr. BBQ's Bone-smokers Honey BBQ Sauce is my favorite--it's also mine. Get it at www.peppers.com.)
As you can probably tell, I am all for progress and innovation in cooking barbecue both at home and at cookoffs. I've proposed a cookoff where we all show up in a loincloth and nothing else and see who can make a weapon, hunt a dog, dig a hole, create fire, and get it cooked first. Now that would be Traditional Barbecue. Okay, the loincloths would be cheating, but if you'd ever been to a cookoff you'd want them to be allowed, too.
By the way, I've also proposed a cookoff where the judging is done by a dog. What could be more fair? You all put your box of food on the ground and then they let the dog go. The first one he tries gets a prize and the first one he finishes gets a prize. If he sniffs yours and doesn't eat any you have to put an extra $20 in the pot. Nobody has taken me up on that one yet, either.
So now we get to an issue related to the competitions themselves, blind vs. on-site cookoff judging. These are two distinctly different schools of thought. "Blind" judging is done in a secluded area where the judges have absolutely no indication of who has cooked the meat. There are even rules to limit the creativity of the presentations so this will be pure. The bad news is the public isn't usually allowed to watch and most teams don't feel a need to dress up their area or themselves. "On-site" judging is quite different. It is done at the team's cook site and there is absolutely no question of who has done the cooking. Boasting of one's accomplishments is an accepted part of the process. This is very public-friendly and makes for a fun and colorful event. Dressing up the team and the site is always done and enjoyed by all. There are teams that dress as Elvis and teams that dress as Miss Piggy. You'll see fine china and crystal at some sites and denim tablecloths at others.
Dr. BBQ's Top 10 Favorite Cooking Team Names
1. The Staggering Chef
2. Two Hog Nuts
3. The Smokin' Elvis
4. Dirty Dick's Legless Wonders
5. The Beverly Grillbillys
7. BBQ Gods of the Universe
8. Meat Mitch
9. Squeal of Approval
10. Mean Dean's Smokin' Machine
There is usually also a substantial number of points given via a second set of judges that are using the blind system at these events, but the "on site" is what sets these contests apart.
The primary on-site group is Memphis in May (MIM). MIM is actually a month-long festival that hosts the World Championship Cookoff in Memphis every May and has been doing so for many years. It's the world's largest pork barbecue cookoff. The largest blind judging group is the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS), although there is the International Barbeque Cookers Association (IBCA) and some splinter groups in Texas also use a blind judging system. KCBS was started many yeas ago by a group of friends who had the common interest of barbecue and a bit of a wild hair that inspired them to stay up all night cooking in a parking lot. The American Royal, also a month-long festival, hosts the world's largest cookoff in October every year. It is known as the World Series of Barbecue, and it's held in Kansas City, Missouri. While it really isn't run by KCBS, it is sanctioned and has surely become their signature event. I have cooked almost exclusively in KCBS contests in my time. I am also on their Board of Directors, so that is obviously my preference. It's mainly a product of where I used to live (Chicago) and the fact that I often cooked by myself. If I had been here in Florida when I got started I would have probably become an MIM cook.
I have many good friends who cook mainly MIM and they much prefer it and, of course, I have many friends who cook mainly KCBS and they much prefer that. The food is top-notch on both circuits. Many of us come together in the fall at the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue in Lynchburg, Tennessee. I'd venture to say that the awards have been pretty equally distributed over the years.
I love barbecue in all its incarnations. I can find enjoyment in any sauce, any style, and just about any barbecue meal I can find. The diversity and uniqueness of each style aren't really that different. Kind of like a Ford and a Chevy--the difference makes for good conversation, but they both seem to be pretty good.
Barbecue is a very important cuisine, but it's so much more than that. It is truly a culture and a phenomenon. I have made many good friends on the barbecue trail. I am lucky enough to count many of the most prolific barbecue cooks and business people in the world as my friends. I have proudly included some of their recipes in this book.
Enough of this, let's get to the food!
DR. BBQ'S BIG-TIME BARBECUE COOKBOOK. Copyright © 2005 by Ray Lampe. Introduction copyright © 2005 by Dave DeWitt. 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.