Friday, August 30, 2013

Labor Day recipes to complete your BBQ odyssey

Labor Day weekend isn’t the last weekend Americans barbecue meat outdoors, but it can certainly feel like the ‘last hurrah’ of summer. For this final installment of the Barbecue Crossroads road trip map, we follow the work of James Beard Award-winning author Robb Walsh and acclaimed documentary photographer O. Rufus Lovett on the final leg of their seven state barbecue pilgrimage. In Barbecue Crossroads, they profile the history, diverse approaches, and the people behind American barbecue businesses and traditions from Texas to the Carolinas. You can recreate their journey with the Google map below, but if you’ll be barbecuing this weekend to celebrate Labor Day (and the first weekend of college football!) you’ll also want to take note of the recipes.

Continuing from our previous installment across Tennesse and Alabama, we pick up Walsh and Lovett’s journey in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and head east and north to South Carolina and North Carolina. Disclaimer: The route linked below maps the odyssey Robb and Rufus traveled in the process of writing Barbecue Crossroads. To get the most out of this journey, we recommend buying and reading the book in full before embarking. Enjoy!

Access the Google map here:

From the book:
At around five in the afternoon, Rufus and I pulled up to Scott’s Variety in Hemingway, South Carolina, a rural convenience store that sells barbecue. On the front porch were containers of okra and rows of watermelons. A sign advertised fresh field peas by the pint or quart—the peas were kept in the cooler inside, along with the Pepsi. In the winter, bushels of sweet potatoes and huge heads of freshly harvested cabbage are available. 
Rufus and I wanted to look around and buy some barbecue for dinner and then come back before dawn to watch the whole hogs being cooked. The shelves were stocked with Sunbeam King Thin White Bread and staples like Dixie Crystals sugar. According to the hand-lettered sign over Scott’s kitchen window, the store will cook your hog for $110. You can buy a medium-sized barbecued whole hog for $400—half a medium hog is $200. That’s quite a bargain—depending on the size of the hog, it comes out to somewhere between $2.65 and $3 a pound. Barbecue sauce is $22 a gallon.
“Who buys a whole hog?” I asked the young pitmaster, Rodney Scott, when he came inside the store.
“Tailgaters buy them on Saturday mornings during football season,” he told me. “They pull up and load a pig on the back of their pickup truck on the way to the game so they can say to their buddies, ‘Look what I’ve been doing all night!’” 
Luckily, you can also buy barbecue by the pound at Scott’s Variety. We ordered a pound with some coleslaw and beans on the side. It was an easy choice—those are the only sides available. The barbecue sauce is red, but you taste peppers and vinegar more than ketchup; it was one of the spiciest I sampled on the whole trip. We also got several slices of white bread so we could make our own sandwiches. The bill was ten dollars. 
A few years ago, the old-fashioned country store in Hemingway and its handsome thirty-nine-year-old pitmaster started to attract national attention. “John T. Edge wrote about us in Garden & Gun magazine in 2008, and then in the New York Times in 2009,” Rodney Scott remembered. “After that, the local news station here won an Emmy for a broadcast about us.” 
Scott was invited to cook whole hogs at the annual New York barbecue event called the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, along with Samuel Jones from the Skylight Inn, Chris Lily from Big Bob Gibson’s, and several other famous Southern pitmasters. A documentary about Scott titled cut/chop/cook by Joe York, a Southern Foodways Alliance filmmaker, debuted at the event. Scott was overwhelmed by the experience of cooking barbecue in Manhattan. 
“There were 100,000 people there. Some of them had never eaten barbecue before,” Scott said. “When I saw how those folks reacted to a whole hog, I was amazed. It changed my life. It made me realize what I was doing was something I had to keep up.” After the publicity and the New York event, people from all over the country started showing up at Scott’s Variety. More media attention followed. Scott became the model of a new breed of hip, food-scene-savvy pitmasters. He forever changed the image of South Carolina barbecue. 
Scott’s Variety is on the cutting edge—by virtue of being so old-fashioned. It is a destination for barbecue zealots looking for the last of the endangered species that wood-fired pit barbecue has become, for heritage-livestock folk studying alternatives to factory pig farming, and to the new generation of chefs and food enthusiasts who are rediscovering pork. 
Rodney Scott is not only helping save a barbecue tradition, he is working with top chefs on new innovations. Scott, along with Samuel Jones of the Skylight Inn and John T. Edge from the Southern Foodways Alliance, is a member of a barbecue cook-off team sponsored by a group called the Fatback Collective. The team also includes four James Beard Award–winning chefs. 
In 2011, the team entered a Mangalitsa pig in the whole-hog competition at the Memphis in May barbecue cook-off. Imported from Europe, the Mangalitsa is a heritage breed that is much fattier and more flavorful than the lean commercial pigs raised in factory farms today. The idea was to return to an older barbecue tradition with a smaller, pasture-raised pig. 
The cook-off team came in a respectable third. But the competition was a small part of a larger scheme. The Fatback Collective was sponsored by Nick Phakis, the owner of Jim ’N Nick’s Barbecue, a chain of twenty-eight barbecue restaurants across the country. Along with barbecue restaurant owners such as Danny Meyer at Blue Smoke in Manhattan, Phakis is working on finding alternatives to commercial pork. 
Barbecue men everywhere would love to be able to buy the small pigs on the hoof that Stephen Grady and Roosevelt Scott get from local farmers in the eastern area of the Carolinas. Across the country, small pig farms are producing heritage breeds, but the supply is limited. Blue Smoke cooks Niman Ranch pork from California. But while big-city chefs will gladly pay top dollar for the tastier pork, the prices are far beyond what traditional barbecue restaurants are willing to pay. As more small pig farms start producing, the price may come down some. But the real question is whether barbecue lovers will be willing to pay more for a higher-quality product. 
It would be comforting to believe that a new generation of young purists such as Brandon Cook, Samuel Jones, Rodney Scott, and Aaron Franklin was going to save the American barbecue tradition. And that chefs like Tim Byres, Tim Love, and Zakary Pelaccio were going to take it to new heights. But the sad fact is that the purists are losing ground and the innovators can be counted on the fingers of one hand. 
Barbecued Hog Forequarter
  • 1 hog forequarter, 25 to 30 pounds
  • 6 tablespoons Hog Rub (below)
  • 1 quart Pork Mop (below)
Season the pork roast with the dry rub, pressing the spice mix into the exposed meat. Set up your smoker for indirect heat. Use hardwood lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes. Maintain a temperature between 225˚ and 275˚F. Place the forequarter in the smoker with the largest area of skin down. You can put a square of foil under the skin to keep it from getting too burnt if you plan on frying it. The skin will shrink and harden, serving as a vessel to contain the fat and juice. You might rotate the cut to achieve more even cooking, but don’t turn it over. Replenish the charcoal as needed. Mop the meat whenever you open the lid. The meat is done at 195° to 200°F. Expect a cooking time of approximately an hour per pound, but you have to add time if the temperature goes too low or you open the lid too often. To be safe, start the forequarter around 30 hours before you plan to serve it. A little extra cooking won’t hurt anything. After letting the meat rest for at least half an hour, remove the skin and reserve. Remove the bones, ligament, and undesirable pieces of fat. Remove the ribs and pull away the stringy belly meat (middlins), and loin meat (catfish), and set aside. Put the white shoulder meat, the crusty outer bark, and the melting bits of fat on a chopping block in separate piles. Combine a little of each meat on the chopping block and mince together with a pair of meat cleavers. Repeat until all of the meat is chopped. Place the meat mixture in a hotel pan or large aluminum foil roasting pan. Season the mixture with salt and pepper and enough Red Dip to moisten. Serve the chopped meat on a tray with sandwich fixin’s and sides, or on sandwich rolls with Carolina Barbecue Sauce (p. 202, 205) and slaw. Fry the pork skin following the directions on p. 260. Serves 20 to 25. 
East Carolina Barbecue Sauce 
The amounts are a little daunting, but you need a lot of barbecue sauce for a whole hog.

  • 1 gallon cider vinegar (diluted with water to 40 grain)
  • 1 cup crushed red pepper
  • 3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup kosher salt 
Combine all ingredients in a large soup pot over low heat and stir until the salt dissolves. This will keep indefinitely at room temperature in a gallon bottle. Yields 1 gallon. 
Hog Mop 
Apply this liquid to the pork ribs with a cotton dish mop as they cook.
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons crushed red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt 
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Makes 2½ cups. 
Tennessee Hog Rub
  • ¼ cup salt 
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar 
  • ¼ cup paprika 
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder 
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder 
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne 
  • 2 tablespoons ground black pepper 
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well, then pour into a shaker jar. This rub will keep for a couple of months in an airtight bottle. Makes about 1¼ cups.
From Barbecue Crossroads: Notes and Recipes from a Southern Odyssey by Robb Walsh with photographs by O. Rufus Lovett (Copyright © 2013).

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