There are two generally accepted definitions for the word barbecue. First of all, barbecue is a food dish consisting of a whole(or good part) of an animal (usually pork) slow cooked over a smoldering fire for a long period of time. Barbecue is also and event or gathering in which people come together to celebrate and eat barbecue.
Today, barbecue is a process of preparing food that requires smoke, low temperatures, and pork prepared for long periods of time. The meats typically chosen for barbecue include, but are not limited to, pork shoulder, brisket, ribs, lamb roasts, whole hogs and other beef and pork roasts. Barbecue is also the event or meal in which this food is served.
You may hear people refer to barbecue grills, but in fact they are actually referring to gas grills.
You hear people say they'll be serving hamburgers and hot dogs at their barbecue. The truth is, and the only definition that matters is that barbecue is a gathering, a meal, a sharing of time, food and companionship. Barbecue brings people together and makes them happy. Barbecue is about good times, friends and certainly, it's about the food!
Baby Back vs. Spares
In much of Winnipeg, we realize, it’s all about baby backs. But in almost every one of America’s BBQ towns, spare ribs rule. Spare ribs have the reputation for being fatty and gristly, and if they’re not trimmed properly, indeed they are. We serve St. Louis cut spare ribs because they solve the problem that so many people have with spare ribs. A St. Louis rib is a spare rib that has been trimmed of all the fatty, knuckley stuff that makes spares unappealing to a lot of people. Pound for pound, St. Louis ribs are far meatier and less expensive than baby backs. Both types of ribs have their virtues. Baby backs, because they’re thinner, will have a higher ratio of seasoning and caramelized-sauce crust to meat and a slightly different texture. The flip side is that they won’t absorb as much sweet smoky flavour as a good slab of St. Louis ribs will. We like both; and that’s why we sell both. But if you think you don’t like spare ribs, try a half-slab of our St. Louis. You may just change your mind and save a couple of bucks in the process!
It should be tender, juicy, served in medium-sized chunks. There should be a nice mix of the juicier pieces from the inside of the roast and the crustier pieces from the outside. It shouldn’t be chopped into a pulp, or soupy, as if simmering in sauce for hours. It should be pulled off the roast just before it’s served and topped with a bold sauce, as the pork itself has less flavour than a slab of ribs. In some parts of North Carolina, where pulled pork is king, the sauce is little more than vinegar and spices. The vinegar is a nice contrast to the heaviness of the meat, but for our money, we prefer the depth of flavour that you get with a tomato based sauce with a pretty strong dose of vinegar. When done right, a plate of this stuff is a damn fine meal. But we like it best on a sandwich with a healthy mound of coleslaw. A nice, crunchy slaw with a little punch is our favourite. The roll should be soft enough that you don’t squeeze the meat out of the sandwich with every bite, but substantial enough that it can stand up to the sauce without falling apart. Please, please, please—don’t take this wonderful meat that has been slowly smoked for 12 or 15 hours and put it on a packaged hamburger bun.
OK, we admit it. It wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t really get brisket. Every brisket we tried was dry, tough, or tasteless—often all three. But in Texas, brisket is the stuff of legend. So for the sake of completeness, and so as not to anger a very large Texan friend of ours, we sent an expedition down to Austin’s BBQ belt to see what the big deal was. You know what? They’ve got some extraordinary brisket. The best of it is tender, but not so tender that it can’t be hand-sliced and laid out neatly on a soft white roll and topped with a thin, peppery sauce. Man, this is good stuff. The meat itself should have a rich beefy flavour, with a good bit of smoke. There should be a good mix of the leaner cut and the more marbled cut, both which should have a thin layer of fat along the top with a heavy spice crust. Many places chop up the meat for sandwiches, but to us, the result is a little too sloppy Joe. When brisket is good, it’s incredible. Be warned, however, that even the best-prepared brisket will dry out only moments after being sliced. So it’s really best eaten right off the cutting board. If you need to take it home, you’re going to need to mop it with a little sauce to get moisture back into it. Yes, we are against resaucitation as a matter of principle. But with brisket, unless you’re going to eat it right away, there’s no way around it.
One thing that always puzzled us about BBQ restaurants: the sides. Side dishes should complement good BBQ and set it off by means of contrast. But more often than not, they seem like an afterthought. Not here. We think great BBQ deserves great sides—foods that harmonize artfully with the meat, with each bringing out the qualities of the other. To us, this means slow-cooked BBQ beans that echo and amplify the taste of the meat. Tangy and crisp coleslaw that cuts through the fat and savoury character of the meat with a bracing freshness. Mellow and creamy mac and cheese that gives the mouth a textural and gustatory pause before that next onrush of great BBQ flavour. Don’t forget a great tasting potato salad also makes for a great side dish to compliment BBQ. Beans, coleslaw and potato salad are far less susceptible to a loss of quality or character.
For years, chefs of all cuisines have been using sauce to cover up cooking mistakes. In fact, sauce was originally created before refrigeration for the sole purpose of masking the off flavour of meat that had gone bad. Well, we like to think that the culinary arts have evolved since then—not to mention the science of refrigeration. Yet far too many folks still use BBQ sauce to hide the poor quality and lack of artisanship that went into preparing the meat, which by all rights should be the star of the show. They try to breathe new life into dry, tasteless meat by dousing it with an overpowering BBQ sauce—a shameful practice that we like to call artificial resaucitation. Well, we won’t do it. No sir. Good BBQ—in fact, all good cooking—is about balance. With BBQ, where virtually all of the flavours are strong, balance is particularly important. The smokiness from the meat, the spiciness from the rub, the tangy sweetness from the sauce should all exist in perfect harmony. If any one element is dominant, the balance is lost and the BBQ doesn’t show at it’s best. Many BBQ establishments develop a sauce and make it the centerpiece of a house style. They use it on anything and everything that comes out of the smoker. We take a different view. We think that a sauce that strikes that perfect balance with ribs doesn’t necessarily harmonize well with brisket or chicken. So, we’ve gone to some trouble to develop sauces that complement specific meats, and we like to serve them appropriately paired. Sure, if you tell us that you want have the brisket with the rib sauce, we’ll do it. But don’t be offended if we try to talk you out of it. One last thing. BBQ sauce should not be smoky. The meat should be smoky. Smoke-flavoured sauces were developed for home BBQers who lacked the equipment, patience, or knowledge to impart smoke flavour into the meat, and for that purpose, they’re fine. But if you’re at a BBQ restaurant and are going to pay good money for BBQ, insist on having it done right. Smoke-flavoured BBQ sauce is like sour cream and onion potato chips. It’s fine. It’s edible. It’s also a poor substitute for the real deal.