Busting barbecue myths
CNN — Daniel Vaughn may be the most envied man in America right now. Not only is his book "The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue" coming out next month as the debut title in the Anthony Bourdain Books line, he's also taking up a post as the barbecue editor of Texas Monthly magazine. It's the first position of its kind in the country, and the 35-year-old Ohio-born Vaughn left his job as an architect to pursue his fiery passion for smoked meat full time.
The self-proclaimed "BBQ snob" has eaten at over 600 barbecue joints across the nation. He makes it his business to sniff out the best of the best and help his carnivorous brethren avoid potential pitfalls along the way with reviews on his website Full Custom Gospel BBQ.
As such, Mr. Vaughn has a bone to pick with some commonly-held barbecue beliefs.
Five Barbecue Myths That Should Be Dispelled: Daniel Vaughn
1. Barbecue sauce is mandatory
Wrong! I love barbecue sauce. It's a tight race between it and German mustard as my favorite condiment, but it doesn't need to be a part of every barbecue meal. A well-cooked piece of meat that has been adequately spiced and smoked doesn't need to be covered in a thick barbecue sauce to taste good, but bad barbecue does require sauce to be edible.
Hugh Acheson said it best in his "Vinegar and Barbecue" article that ran in the Southern Foodways Alliance Gravy Newsletter #44, "...saccharine sauces do not complement meat cooked for hours, tended with care and precision over wood coals stoked with love and strength. That's like roasting a perfect chicken and serving it with a melted jelly bean sauce." Save the sauce for dipping your bread.
2. Grilling = BBQ
Nope. If you can cook it for a short time over high heat and it's still edible, chances are it's not barbecue. Tough fatty cuts like brisket, spare ribs and pork shoulder are transformed by a low fire over a long period of time. That's barbecue. If you haven't planned your evening meal by 5 p.m. and can still prepare meat over fire for dinner, then you are eating grilled meats, not barbecue.
3. Fat is evil
Child please! When I read a Yelp review complaining that a barbecue joint's brisket is too fatty, I immediately bump that joint up on my personal to-do list. Fat captures and retains the flavors of smoke and seasoning far better than meat, so please don't trim it off. One of the hardest things to watch is when a fresh brisket is laid on a cutting board in front of me and the carver takes the back of their knife and scrapes off the fat right into the trash - all of that incredible flavor wasted.
Well-smoked fat is one of the joys of eating brisket, and its doneness is the best indicator of a well smoked brisket. If the fat's good, then the meat probably will be too.
4. Texans only know beef
Try again. Yes, we can smoke a mean brisket in Texas, but smoked sausages (usually including a mix of beef and pork) are just as important to our barbecue tradition. You'll be hard pressed to find a barbecue joint in the Lone Star State that doesn't have pork ribs on the menu (the term "Texas Trinity" refers a combination of brisket, ribs and sausage), and you may even find smoked pork chops, mutton ribs, pulled pork and even cabrito (young goat). You'll also find plenty of poultry, which is barely barbecue, but the point is we go way beyond just beef in Texas.
5. "Falling off the bone" is a positive achievement
For heaven's sake, no. When rib meat flops onto the plate while you're trying to lift a rib bone to your mouth it's an insult to the pig. That pig just provided one of nature's best meat handles and it's now wasted. Rib meat should easily come away from the bone when bitten, and the bone should be clean after a bite has been taken.
If we could rid society and advertisers everywhere of the notion that there are positive connotations that go along with "falling off the bone," then we will have won. There's no reason for those of us with teeth (or good dentures) to celebrate overcooked, mushy meat.
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