Kings of the Barbie

Friday, November 20, 2009

As a transplanted southerner who is learning to appreciate Boston (but still occasionally finds himself missing his grill), I smiled when I saw Eric S. Raymond describe himself as "a Boston-born northerner" who has "eaten barbecue all over the U.S. and the world" en route to commenting on an interesting article from Australia that forthrightly and manfully admits that Americans are kings of the grill. (But I must say that there is zero disgrace in acknowledging a master.)

Even, and this is gonna hurt, the Americans have it all over us when it comes to cooking with fire, iron and tongs. In fact it's arguable the American barbecue, or rather its plethora of regional variations on barbecue, set the gold standard worldwide for applying heat to meat while out of doors. While the popular image of American cooking, at least as practised by average Americans, involves squeezing a plastic sauce packet over something nasty in a chain restaurant, the truth is their barbecue specialists would put ours to shame. Undying, unutterable shame.
As Raymond notes, American food culture has improved drastically over the last generation, and it's refreshing to see someone overseas get past tired stereotypes and say as much. As I have to fly out the door this morning, I'll toss out a short list of barbecue links (Hah! Get it?) and take very brief note of an interesting comment exchange from Armed and Dangerous.

First, the links:
  • Wikipedia, which deserves a post of its own on some "Love of Life Friday," has good articles on barbecue as well as its regional variants in the United States. In the latter article, see specifically how the form varies across Texas. My main quibble with Raymond is that I found his "farther south is better" rule of thumb too one-dimensional, although this could just reflect his personal taste.
  • Finding an old post here about celebrating (Life on This) Earth Day by firing up the grill, I also was reminded that the practice made headlines briefly as a measurable component of Houston's local air pollution.
  • Oh, and to round things out, another post here on the rites of spring discusses chimney starters, my bottle opener and cork puller of choice, and my favorite book on grilling, which I highly recommend.
Now, the smack-down:
JessicaBoxer: Is it really necessary to eat all that meat? ...

Eric S. Raymond
: Well, since you ask, no. But most sex isn't 'necessary', either.
Nice comeback, but he could have gone further, and I'm not even talking about the absurd notion that eating meat is unhealthy.

Man is an integrated being of mind and body, and mere physical survival is not the same thing as living a life proper to man. Pleasurable activities like sex -- including some that are risky or dangerous if performed carelessly or to excess -- are necessary to an enjoyable, properly human, life. I recently found someone make this same basic point very succinctly at Objectivism Online about smoking, of all things. (The first two words also very economically yank the discussion into its proper context: i.e., What is philosophy for?)
Pokarrin: ... I'm a smoker, which I know for a fact does not advance any possible purpose I might choose for my life...

: Oh really? ... [I]f you enjoy the occasional cigarette, and don't mind running the risk of a slightly shorter life because of it (Though the risks of occasional 'casual' smoking are overblown by just about everyone) then by all means smoke. If it adds no value to your life, and you just do it because of some irrational chemical craving, then just who are you trying to fool?
You could make exactly the same point about any number of other hobbies or activities. And with that, having survived anaesthesia and surgery last week, I move on towards the next stage of fixing a nearly life-long mouth problem...


-- CAV

PS: Via email, Martin Lindeskog has informed me that he is soliciting links for a new enjoyment-themed blog carnival.


: (1) Corrected some typos and formatting glitches. (2) Linked to Tito's Blog and ARL entry on happiness. (3) Added PS about new blog carnival.


Roberto Brian Sarrionandia said...

I feel like such a fool. I just read the quote about smoking and thought "Hmm, good point".

Then I realised you were quoting me!

Gus Van Horn said...

Hi Tito,

That happens to the best of us!

Since you're here, let me thank you for making that point as elegantly as you did.

I have been doing lots of interesting thinking lately on a couple of related issues and reached more or less that conclusion, but hadn't though of such a condensed, easily-graspable way of expressing it.


Mike said...

As one who is an "outsider" to Deep South Barbecue, I can definitely add a voice in support of the Aussie writer's conclusions. Texas barbecue is practically a work of art.

I visited Texas in May to attend my bro-in-law's graduation from A&M. We ate at BBQ joints in Houston, Bryan, and Waco. All three were just fantastic. The Waco one was actually the best of the bunch... when you walk into a converted farmhouse and a big section of the floor has been turned into a firepit, you know you're in for something special. They grilled up the best pork I have ever eaten, hands down.

I'm still looking to master the BBQ arts here in AZ. I've got dogs and brats down pretty well at this point and I've had good results from marinated steaks the last couple of times out. Chicken has been hit-and-miss, and somehow burgers still elude me. Oh, the pre-made ones go fine, but when I "build" my own to cook, they end up as hockey pucks with bloody centers. I'll be workin' on that some more this weekend.

Gus Van Horn said...

"{W]hen you walk into a converted farmhouse and a big section of the floor has been turned into a firepit, you know you're in for something special."

You've got that right!

Last week's surgery was in Texas and I had to make a tough choice the night before: Barbecue or Mexican. I can make barbecue myself, but not Mama Ninfa's tortilla chips. So I went with Mexican. We know another couple up here who made the same move we did at the same time and on comparing notes, we determined that the Mexican places up here all pass off pita chips as tortilla chips. Odd, but still much better than when I lived up here about 20 years ago.

Still, that post made me wish I went for brisket and sausage at Goode Company or Hickory Hollow.

mtnrunner2 said...

I'm no expert on Q, but I do like it and try it when I can. The best chain BBQ I've had is Famous Dave's; I like the sauces and the several times I've partaken, has been flavorful, tender and juicy. The nearest one to you is in Springfield, which is a haul, but... I guess that depends on how badly you want it :) If you happen to be out that way...

Gus Van Horn said...

Nice! Thanks for mentioning them and taking the time to find one near me.

It'll be a new experience for me, should I find myself in Springfield or decide to forage there...

bothenook said...

ah, the manly art of bbq and grilling. most of what i do is grilling, but since in live in (mostly) sunny kahleefornia, i can grill all year round. as a matter of fact, i had a couple of incredible pork tenderloins grilled with old bay and smoked spanish paprika rub just this evening.
get better soon, and get back to fire cooked meat.

Gus Van Horn said...


Yeah. I'm really more of a griller, too.

If I recall correctly, you posted the pork tenderloin recipe you're telling me about now (or something like it) a couple or three years ago. Whatever you posted, I made it once and it was dee-lish.

Happy grilling!


coreyo said...

Kansas City BBQ! I love the Australian mention. Gates BBQ, Arthur Bryants, Jack Stack and Oklahoma Joe's (in KC and named Anthony Bourdain's favorite BBQ place in the world). SO GOOD

Gus Van Horn said...

I've heard good things about Kansas City barbecue, but have never been there.

I appreciate now having a small list of places to try should I ever find myself there one day. Thanks!