I just came back from Jack's Bar-B-Cue in Nashville, Tennessee, said by many to be the best barbecue in this city. I had the Three Meats Combo, and chose Tennessee Pork Shoulder, Texas Beef Brisket, and St. Louis Ribs. I also had three kinds of sauce: a Tennessee vinegar based sauce, a Texas tomato based sauce, and a Kansas City Sweet and Hot. It was all very good, especially the ribs, which had a deep, to the bone smokiness. On this day, the Kansas City Sweet and Hot was the best. The aroma of the smoke is still on my fingers. So as long as I have it on the mind, the nose, and fingers, let's talk barbecue:
1. Away from the South, many people think that barbecuing is preparing charcoal briquettes, putting down a grill and quick cooking cuts of meat like steak and burgers for several minutes. That's actually more properly known as grilling. True barbecue is to cook large pieces of meat for several hours by indirect heat using hardwood.
2. Many types of meat can be barbecued, such as pork, beef, or chicken. Most places famous for barbecue specialize in pork, such as spareribs. The Tennessee Pork Shoulder was a "pulled pork," meaning the cooked and tender pork is pulled apart and often chopped. When you say "barbecue" in North Carolina, you are also talking about pulled pork, chopped up and served on a bun with some cool, fresh coleslaw.
3. Texas is a place of its own when it comes to barbecue and almost everything else (perhaps it's for a good reason that it is nicknamed the Lone Star State). Texas is not really considered to be part of the South. Texans are, well, Texans. Texas is most famous for beef barbecue, usually brisket, instead of pork.
4. So who has the best barbecue? In my experience, I'd have to say that all around, Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City is the best, although Jack Stack, also in Kansas City, is right up there. For chopped barbecue, I loved Ted Hill's in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Believe it or not, Los Angeles has some excellent barbecue. The best is Phillips in Leimert Park, in the Crenshaw District, far away from the glitz of Hollywood. The pork ribs are very tender and the sauce is great. There are actually two types: mild and hot. The hot is very hot, so I have usually opted for mild and hot mixed. Worth mentioning for the slogan alone is Mr. Jim's, on Vermont Ave., with fall off the bone tender barbecue: "You don't 'teef" to eat Mr. Jim's beef."
5. Hawaii doesn't have great barbecue in the Southern style, but kalua pig, cooked in an underground oven known as the imu is in the same spirit of slow cooking. Kalua pig is somewhat similar to pulled pork. In fact, I know of a few restaurants who put Kansas City style barbecue sauce on kalua pork.
Deb Hopkins used to have a retail outlet known as Deb's Soul Food in Kailua. It was actually excellent Soul food, if a bit pricey. She still markets a very good barbecue sauce especially for ribs: http://debsribs.com.
So...what's the best 'cue to you?
Grace and aloha,
P. S. Barbecue is the descendent of the primitive open fire cooking first done by our ancestors. In a podcast, I heard that food writer Michael Pollan decided to go back to the basics of eating and hunted animals, butchered, and cooked them to see if he could still eat meat when he had to go through the entire process, instead of just picking up a cellophane wrapped cut at the market. He found that not only could he continue to eat meat, but that the whole process made him much more grateful for the sacrifice the animal was making to feed him. He said that he understands much more clearly why people say grace over meals, because of the gratitude of being able to eat and the gratitude for the animals that made their meals. I hope that we always are grateful for the food that we are blessed to have, and to thank God for ultimately being the one who has provided it for us.