One nation under sauce: All barbecue is not created equal
A prominent figure in the American Revolutionary war, Patrick Henry is remembered for his words, "I know not what style of barbecue others may like; but as for me, give me Carolina 'cue or give me death!"...
A prominent figure in the American Revolutionary war, Patrick Henry is remembered for his words, "I know not what style of barbecue others may like; but as for me, give me Carolina 'cue or give me death!"
Having offended the Patrick Henry Society, I admit, that's a lie. The former Virginia governor never went on record with his favorite flavor, but the paraphrased quote reflects the hard-line attitudes eaters take to their meat.
Many consider barbecue to be America's greatest contribution to the culinary lexicon, but no matter how it's spelled (barbecue, barbeque, bar-b-q or even bbq), slow, smoked cooking is a simmering issue in the states.
Starting today, eight barbecue operators from around the country square off in the Fargodome parking lot for the 10th Rib Fest and More.
To the Carolinas, barbecue is strictly pork basted with vinegar mixed with cayenne pepper, red pepper, onion powder, nutmeg, molasses, whiskey and brown sugar and cooked over smoked hickory. Instead of individual cuts, the feast is often served shredded as "pig pickings." In many ways Texas is a nation-state, and its approach to barbecue is just as singular. You don't mess with the Lone Star State, and you don't mess with its brisket, a cut of beef from the breast section under the first five ribs. Deep in the heart of Texas, slow, mesquite-cooked meat is slathered with a tomato-based sauce frequently thinned with Worcestershire sauce.
"In Texas, it's a heritage," says Dallas Green of Cowboy's BBQ. "My daddy gave me six months to figure out what I wanted to do or else he'd leave me in Oklahoma, and that's the worst thing you can tell a Texan."
At the crossroads of America, Kansas City, Kan., takes a bit(e) from each, melding the vinegar from the Carolinas with Texas taste for tomatoes.
"Kansas City is the melting pot of barbecue," says Carolyn Wells, executive director of the Kansas City Barbecue Society. "If it moves, we cook it."
The abundance of meat from stockyards and a variety of aromatic woods like cherry, apple and pecan, give Kansas City cooking a wide variety of flavors.
"The best thing about Kansas City barbecue is that if you ask 10 people what it is you'll get 10 different answers, and they'll all be right," Wells says.
(According to Wells, there is a fourth distinct regionalism as Memphis, Tenn., is divided over whether ribs should be prepared wet or dry.)
Participants at Fargo's Rib Fest use St. Louis style ribs, a spare rib with the tip, or brisket, removed. While the cuts may be the same, the preparations aren't.
Contestants are guarded about secrets, but they reveal a little about their style in their taste.
Famous Dave's BBQ - Minneapolis
It's all in the rub and smoke, says proprietor Mike Wright. The owner of Famous Dave's restaurants in Fargo, Bismarck, Sioux Falls, S.D., and Sioux City, Iowa, says, "In the Upper Midwest we find a little more thicker tomato sauce," like Dave's Rich and Sassy.
Elmer's Authentic Texas Style BBQ - Battle Lake, Minn.
Though sticking to traditional Texas-style ribs, owner Ursula and Tim Nanson add a Northern flavor smoking their meats over Sugar Maple wood.
Cowboy's Barbecue - Fort Worth, Texas
Twenty-year barbecue veteran Dallas Green uses mesquite wood to smoke his ribs, but doesn't like the sweet northern meat treatment. "It's more like eating cotton candy."
Fatdaddy's House of Bones - Mansfield, Ohio
Owner Willie Mollett says Ohio ribs are "sweet with a kick," due to a peppery honey sauce. He smokes his meat with a cherry wood.
Desperado's BBQ and Rib Co. - Cleveland, Ohio
Despite the western-flare of the name, owner Lee Rice says he's not trying to intimate Texas barbecue. "We don't pretend to be anything we're not." He doesn't need to. Desperado's won People's Choice Award for the fourth year in a row last weekend at Sioux Falls' Rib Fest.
Johnson's BBQ - Virginia Beach, Va.
Dan Johnson dismisses regionalisms in his universal approach, using both vinegar and ketchup. While he says, "Good barbecue ought to transcend space," he explains that Virginians are sticklers about their sides. "You can run out of ribs. You can run out of meat. But in Virginia you cannot run out of coleslaw." Whatever purists think of his genre-bending methods, he says his food speaks for itself, winning Best Ribs and Best Sauce in America at the Great American Rib Cook-off in Cleveland over Memorial Day weekend.
I'm sure he would've received Patrick Henry's vote.
Also participating this year is Rib-Bin's BBQ and Howlin' Coyote BBQ. Neither could be reached for comment.
Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533