Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Choosing the better sauce

Differences in Barbecue

Different regions call different things barbecue. In South and North Carolina, barbecue usually means pulled pork. In Memphis, it's ribs. Texas thinks it's cow. Up north, barbecue is anything you cook with fire. With the exception of the northern definition, all of those definitions for barbecue are acceptable because a great deal of variation exists between places.

Even in the Carolinas, there's no standard for what comprises good barbecue. In fact, the Charleston area has quite a diverse barbecue palate to choose from.

Chances are that people from each region think that their barbecue is the standard. My grandfather spent his whole life in West Texas, and he's pretty convinced that barbecue is a smoked brisket.

I like ribs and brisket, but I love pulled pork. And it's probably because pork is the standard in South Carolina.

There are marked variations in pulled pork. Some believe that you have to smoke whole hogs, while others like the added control and consistency of cooking only shoulders. Still more 'cue lovers argue about the correct consistency and size of the pulled pork pieces. But most of all, they argue about what's the best kind of sauce.

Too many people make the mistake of believing that a particular sauce should be the standard sauce, and their opinions regarding the best barbecue are too slanted.

It's important to judge barbecue in its own right.

When considering foreign foods, Italian restaurants are expected to be very different from French and Mexican restaurants. In the same way, different kinds of barbecue restaurants should be appreciated in their own right, and they are best compared with other restaurants of the same genre.

To borrow from an oft' abused analogy, you need to compare apples to apples. Or, if you will, always compare tomatoes with tomatoes, and mustard seeds with mustard seeds.

This is why I will group the barbecue places I try according to sauce, or genre.

I like them all. Mustard, both tomatoes, and vinegar all taste good to me. But if you're new to Carolina barbecue, I recommend trying a place with a variety of sauces served on the side. That way you can sample them all and decide for yourself which kind you like best of all.

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