Whew, after my article about Pete Rose, time for a chaser. No numbers, no tables, no arguments.
Okay, so the last part is a lie. There will be arguments. Because we’re talking BBQ.
You’re still reading? You should be eating.
What makes good barbecue? Or barbeque? Or is it Bar-B-Q? We can’t even agree on how to spell it, let alone how it should taste, or how it should be prepared. What makes the best barbecue: beef brisket, pork butt, chicken… maybe venison or buffalo for the more adventurous? And then there’s the whole sauce or no sauce debate. Where to start?
I recommend you start with a fork. If you need a knife, there’s a problem. With luck, you won’t need a fork, either, because you’re eating ribs. Or you just buried your face in a mound of smoked brisket, right on the plate. You animal, you. The first rule of BBQ is, tenderness. If it doesn’t just fall apart, never go back to that establishment. Burn it to the ground, if possible. If your significant other prepared it, either get a good lawyer or a cook. And if you made it… well, God help you. You must not have many friends.
Barbeque, by definition, should be slow cooked over a fire. The etymology of the word is from the Spanish barbacoa, after all, which means to cook over fire. And that came from the Taino word barabicu, which was a framework of wood created to hold food over a firepit, therefore enveloping said food in flames and smoke. Or as normal people would define it in eighteen fewer words, a spit. Smoked meat. Got it.
Ted has the gator; Lee is fanning the fire; Todd is on a beer run.
It didn’t take long for Europeans to steal this excellent cuisine from the indigenous population. We didn’t get around to taking their land till much later. The first mention of the term in English is in 1661, and the Brits were already over a hundred years behind the Spanish at this point. British barbecue – the thought dries my mouth like sandpaper grit. The very thought – shudder – anyway, enough history.
Let’s tackle the preparation first. Can you prepare Bar-B-Q without smoke? Technically, no. Practically, hell yeah. I make a pretty tasty barbecue in a crock pot every few weeks, and always get excellent comments from my tasters. Believe me, my daughter can be brutal, too. Would it be better if I smoked it? Sure. But why in the name of all that is holy would anyone deny themselves something as delicious as a succulent, glistening pork loin, screaming shred me, daddy, shred me! BBQ porn, oh it’s real, alright.
Makes me want to holler for my mama.
Whether you actually dig a pit and build a spit, throw it in a Weber smoker, a Big Green Egg, your Jenn-Air oven, or a Crock-Pot, the rub is what matters. (Please note: the author in no way endorses any of these fine products, nor implies any of the companies sponsor our site. We would be delighted to receive compensation in the form of free appliances for life, though).
Aye, there’s the rub. And Hamlet knew his barbeque. Okay, so this predates the first English use by 60 years. Shakespeare would have loved a good brisket, and you know it. Back to the rub. The dry rub will impart most of the flavor to your intended victim – assuming you’re BBQing Fluffy, yesterday’s pet goat – not the sauce. So the rub is the key. What goes in it? Depends on what you like. Typically, dry rubs will have salt, black pepper, paprika and brown sugar as the base. Like it hot? Add cayenne, chipotle, or other ground chilis. Sweet, add more brown sugar, light or dark. Onion or garlic powder, dry mustard, cumin, thyme… there are as many variations as there are appetites. A good foundation on which you may build your personal empire of savory flavor goodness:
4 parts paprika, 4 parts brown sugar, 1 part black pepper, 1 part salt. Sorry, there are some numbers there, but it’s kind of unavoidable with recipes. Play with the ratios to your heart’s content; double the sugar for a sweet rub, or cut it in half for a more pepper-balanced taste. For pork, I’d go a bit lighter on the sugar and salt, as those flavors are already more prevalent. Add white pepper, the afore-mentioned chilis, etc. Cinnamon, ginger, hell, add some coffee. It’s your recipe, hoss. Or hossette. Hmmm… probably not a word, but it is now!
Worth more than gold. And tastier.
The best part about making your own rub is the customization. There are a huge number of prepackaged rubs available, but making your own is just too damn fun. I frequently add a little cocoa powder for that magical Quetzlcoatl taste! Nothing better than Flying Snake BBQ, no sir! Seriously, make your own base batch, and store in a cool dry place. It’s a spice, it’ll keep for months. Then add something different each time. Pretend you’re back in college and experiment. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about, don’tcha? Uh huh; knew you did, you pervert.
Back to barbeque. If you like beef, get a brisket. Pork, get a loin. Chicken…venison…goat…Or anything else that strikes your fancy from the first illustration. Long slow cooking is the key. When I use the slow cooker method (no more free rides, Crock-Pot!), I’ll use a four pound loin, quartered and thoroughly covered with the rub, and cook about ten hours. I add about a quarter cup of liquid at the beginning, simply because I’ll shred it in the pot. The resulting BBQ gravy (it is a gravy, you know, not a sauce) makes for an absolutely succulent meat, ready to slather all over your favorite bun.
And since I mentioned sauce; you can never have too much of a good thing. Depending on my mood, sometimes I’ll add a cup of prepared sauce for the last hour of cooking. Your mileage may vary – but your enjoyment never will.
Next time, to sauce or not to sauce. For the record, the Oxford dictionary recommends the spelling “barbecue”. I recommend making some, and eating it.