Barbecue is as American as apple pie. Available in the North, South, East and West, chefs and pitmasters from fast casual to fine dining continue to redefine barbecue beyond the well-known regional styles like Memphis and Texas. By using innovative preparation techniques, unique sauces and surprising sides, today’s barbecue may be unrecognizable to your grandparent’s generation. For example, The Granary ‘Cue & Brew in San Antonio, Texas menus beef clod with a coffee quinoa crunch, tomato caramel, pickled celery and “cornbread”; Wexler’s in San Francisco offers smoked short rib served with braised cabbage, roasted grapes, mashed potatoes and BBQ au jus; and country style pork ribs are served with a fennel and coriander rub, maple glaze and house pickled escabeche at Lambert’s in Austin, Texas.
While it will continue to remain an American staple, it seems that barbecue is evolving into a canvas for culinary innovation. But there are some things about barbecue that cannot be redefined.
- Barbecue is not the same as grilling, it requires smoke to properly flavor and color the food; barbecued foods are cooked at low temperatures for long periods of time in order to develop the best flavor and tender texture.
- Barbecue evolved as a way to make tough, well-exercised meats very tender, but the exact type of meat that is associated with an area has a great deal to do with local availability.
- Hardwoods, including oak, hickory, pecan, maple, beech, butternut and ash are common choices for barbecue. Softwoods should not be used.
- The presence of a smoke ring is a sign that foods have been smoked, rather than merely grilled or roasted and brushed with a sauce. The smoke ring is reddish in color and may be about 8 to 12 millimeters deep, extending from the exterior toward the center.
- There are two types of smoking: hot and cold. Hot smoking is a technique where the meat is held directly above or in the same enclosure as the wood, so it cooks as it smokes. Cold smoking is done at a low temperature and is not intended to actually cook the product.