Posted on March 14th, 2011
(ed: When last we saw our hero, he had asked of the heavens: True Barbeque. Can I make it? Here is Part Two of this Thrilling Tale! It is the Middle Part!)
I had no idea where to begin, so I fired up The Internet, which is loaded with information about how to make your own barbeque (and also depraved pornography). After acquiring an equal measure of each, I learned that the key to barbeque is not fire, but smoke. In learning the ways of fire, I had always considered smoke a byproduct. It was something that fouled one’s eyes if you opened the lid of the grill too quickly. I never thought of it as an ingredient.
Barbeque has a long and storied past that’s a tapestry of Polynesians and pirates, plantations and poverty. (And also, apparently, alliteration.) The kind that I was interested in is called Carolina barbeque. It involves taking a tough (read: cheap) cut of pork, brining it in a mixture of water, molasses and salt, rubbing the exterior with a mixture of spices, then cooking it for a long time at a low temperature while exposing it to hardwood smoke.
I decided to try it. I started by convincing my grocery store butcher to cut the required piece of pork. Barbeque is not native to the Pacific Northwest, so I had to explain that I wanted a pork shoulder with absolutely zero “churching up”. Leave the bone in, don’t “tie” it, and for the love of all that is good and right, do not trim the fat off of the top. A few raised eyebrows later, I had what I needed. I brought it home, submersed it in the aforementioned brine, placed it in the refrigerator and went to bed. The following morning (at 5am), when I retrieved it, its color had gone from bright red to deep brown and it had a difficult to describe new texture. This would come to be one of my favorite parts of the process, a part that I am generally the only person in the house awake to see. I have taken to calling this stage “meat candy,” for that is what it looks like.
I patted the meat dry and applied a spice rub. Many people will tell you that spice rubs are a dark art practiced only by pit mages deep in the heart of the American South. There may be some truth to this, but I have found that a perfectly serviceable spice rub is nothing more than the following: Three parts each chili powder, onion powder and paprika, one part each whole cumin seed, whole fennel seed and whole coriander. Pulse it in a spice grinder until it’s a fine powder. Done.
I built a small charcoal fire in the bottom corner of my grill. I placed several large chunks of seasoned apple wood next to it. I repositioned the grill grate and put the pork on top of it, as far away from the fire as I could get it. I closed the grill and dialed all the vents to just the barest sliver. I then smoked it for ten hours, maintaining the lowest fire I knew how to make and changing the wood chunks occasionally as they gave out.
Even my early attempts were quite satisfying.
Legitimate Carolina barbeque is a three day process.
Cooking things quickly over a high heat began to seem childish, almost vulgar.
(ed: next week, the Thrilling Conclusion!)