Thursday, March 10, 2011

I am trying to make barbecue

6:30 a.m.
I had a theory about making Southern barbecue at home that went something like this: Yeah, you can probably do it, but it's never going to be like eating pulled pork with a bunch of rednecks in Holly Hill, South Carolina or buying ribs from an old black man in a one-room shack in Arkansas or ordering brisket in Texas or mutton with a side of burgoo in Kentucky. Any barbecue you produce in your non-Southern backyard is going to lack mystique and context. This is what I wrote in the most recent draft of my book.

But it was bugging me because:

a. I did not really know this.

b. Once I got started thinking about pulled pork, I began to crave it. I really did eat pulled pork with some rednecks in South Carolina once, and it was a highlight of my 20s.

In fact, the amount of time and preparation required to make pulled pork on my deck is providing plenty of mystique and context. I may not be an old black man, but I was out there in my robe at 6:30 a.m. spilling lighter fluid everywhere and trying to get the coals to smolder and I know I looked like a "character" because Isabel refused to make eye contact with me when I came inside and asked her about her plans for the day. I may or may not be serving delicious barbecue tonight, but either way we're "makin' memories," to quote my boyfriend Tim Riggins.

Too much red chile.
I put a very heavy, spicy, dark red rub on the meat -- which is supposed to smoke for 12 hours -- and I'm thinking that was a mistake and it's going to take the pork in Mexican direction, which I don't really want. At this point, no choice but to go with it and make margaritas.

In other news, our chickens are dropping like flies. Three down, two sick. I sent a corpse to the state lab for a necropsy last week and await results. But our chicken scourge is a depressing story for another time. Today, I just want to focus on the barbecue party.

Except. Damn it. Now it looks like it's going to rain.


  1. Eeew about the chickens. Was the first one to get sick a recent addition to the flock?

    I am on pins and needles to discover the success or lack thereof of your barbecue experiment, because there is nothing better than legitimate barbecue. I'm drooling a little bit now.

  2. I can't wait to hear about the results of your barbecuing. I will be very excited if you manage to pull it off in a regular Weber. Having been to Sweatman's in Holly Hill, S.C. (perhaps the place to which you refer) and having found it an epiphanic experience, I'm inclined to share your belief that this food cannot be reproduced by white people on the West Coast. Unless those white people have big stacks of cordwood and a giant, blackened barbecue in their yard.

  3. I have millions of chicken questions:

    How many chickens do you have at this point? Do you have any of the original crew left? Are you sad when they die now, or are you like a farmer and don't get personally upset?

    Also, I can't wait for your book to come out!

  4. It is now cold and raining heavily so I have moved the barbecue under the eaves. This is not how I envisioned the day unfolding, when it dawned so sunny and springy.

    Layne -- The first two chickens to die during this scourge were part of the original crew -- there is now only ONE from the original bunch. This made me think there's something happening that builds up over time. But the chicken that died today was my Welsummer and she was very new, very big and hale and heavy.

    Lindsay, there are a few chickens I would be sad to lose. Maybe three. But it's hard to keep caring too much. There's been a lot of loss! I think we now have 16 chickens.

  5. P.S. I just looked outside and another chicken has died.

  6. I wonder what is happening to the chickens! I have several friends with chickens here (though I'm not sure any have flocks as large as yours) and have not heard of such a thing. Good luck with dinner and the foul.

  7. Wtf?! Do they just drop dead with no symptoms?

    It's not raining in Menlo Park, but sounds like it will soon.

  8. I wouldn't worry about the amount or mexican-ness of the spice rub, i think once the vinegary barbecue sauce is on the meat it'll taste like barbecue. And I am very happy that i am going to get to find out in person if this is true! And, I'm sort of glad it's raining, i never want to eat as much rich meat when it's sunny and lovely out- probably because that weather brings up thoughts of sundresses and shorts and tank tops, thoughts which tend to dampen my appetite.

  9. My husband's family is from SC, and when he talked about the BBQ place they always went, Sheeley's, I pictures a wooden building with sweaty men turning racks of ribs over an open fire. I was embarrassed for myself when I finally went there and saw a bright, open huge building with family style seating at long tables, and a huge buffet. The barbecue, though, was excellent.

  10. Sheely's is great barebeque. I'm from South Carolina, and it's not too hard to make your own pulled pork BBQ - my husband just smoked a huge Boston butt, and it came out delicious. He used his Big Green Egg and cooked it for about 20 hours. The secret to real SC BBQ, though, is the mustard based sauce. I've never made the sauce, because you can get it at all the grocery stores around here, but you could search for a recipe.

  11. Mmmm. We lived in South Carolina for four years and the one thing I really miss is decent barbecue. I have a slow cooker pulled pork recipe that is a decent approximation, but I've never gone to the trouble to try and do it for real. I'm curious to see how it works out for you.

    Your chicken pestilence gives me anxiety. I hope you can find the cause and save the rest.

  12. I've been reading my way through your blog, and not sure if you will read a comment from such an old post, but I have a trick (not for purists) for making barbecue without waking at the crack of dawn, which I never do voluntarily. My dad made smoker meat on his Los Angeles deck for many years, and he never felt he quite got the right degree of tenderness that he reminisced about from his youth in Texas. He now suffers from Parkinson's disease, and has bequeathed his old smoker to me (I believe he paid $60 for it twenty years ago.) I am a professional chef and a devoted daughter, so I decided to try a pork butt and invite my dad for dinner.

    Here's the trick:
    Smoke the meat the day before you want to eat it. When you've smoked it for several hours (I usually start at around six in the evening, and manage around five hours of desultory fire tending/kitchen puttering/TV watching before I want to go to bed), plunk the meat in your Crock Pot, cover with the lid and a piece of plastic wrap to prevent moisture loss, set on low, and continue cooking overnight. I actually often leave it in the slow cooker all day, too, so it cooks for more than 24 hours. It fills the whole house with the smell of smoked meat, and my dad couldn't believe how good it was. The five hours or so in the smoker give the meat intense smokiness, and the subsequent slow, moist (just from its own juices) cooking gives it all the tenderness you could ask for, and without having to tend a fire. It doesn't taste like a braise, but very much like barbecued pork, complete with the red smoke ring.

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