Some people argue over barbecue like religion. I am rather ecumenical when it comes to eating barbecue. I will worship at your flames and join you at your table if great care, skill, and love goes into your meat. To clarify I am from the reformed denomination of Southern Pork BBQ. This isn’t an article that will discuss ribs or beef. We don’t use barbecue as a verb where I’m from. I have tasted all the pork BBQ. Rarely do I come face to face with bad BBQ, but there always is a better BBQ. As a Piedmont Carolinian, I was raised in the confluence of many styles: the rich tomato sauce from the Mountains west of me, that catsupy tang from down the road, and all that Down East vinegar and pepper from way down the road (there is some mustard just South of us, and it ain’t bad . . . .but). Taste and preference goes so much farther than sauce. What about the meat? Whole hog or shoulders? Sliced, diced, minced, or pulled? What’s the heat source? Is there a condiment- and most directly- what is your slaw?
The first time I made BBQ I was twelve years old and poured KC Masterpiece over a chopped up left-over pork tenderloin. It wasn’t good. I’ve eaten all the good stuff. Through the last thirty years since that disaster, I’ve watched masters cook. I catered for a Memphis-style joint in college and stood around the pit at a Shelby-style restaurant my grandfather owned. My father-in-law is a badass on a Weber grill. Good eats and great influences, but all these years I was confused.
I will argue that if a BBQ place has more than one sauce on the table, they haven’t earned the venerable title of “joint” yet- they haven’t arrived. I was looking at a sandwich I made today and thought- I have arrived at my style. It is consistent through the past decade. It is what anyone that eats it can come to expect from me. It is an amalgamation of what I admire the most in a BBQ sandwich, an odd bastard of all the parts and pieces I have gathered along the way. I like it. My family likes it. My friends like it. Sometimes they tell me it is the best they have ever had and it makes me feel pretty darn good (but I’ve been know to make the company of some bullshitters). So here it is just so you know.
The Meat: We call it “Red Roy’s BBQ”
- Whole shoulder.
- My rub*
Wash meat, pat dry with towels. Rub in a thin coating of the dry rub. Bring to room temperature for 2 hours. Prepare fire. I use lump oak charcoal and large hickory chunks mixed 50:50.(For more on preparing the fire, see end of blog). Cook over indirect heat at 210 degrees for 11-13 hours. Let the meat rest for at least 45 minutes once it is falling off the bone. Shred with two large salad forks removing any “greasy meat” and obvious pieces of fat- where I’m from we call that “clean BBQ”. I tear shreds that come to crisp ends by hand so that you don’t bite a piece of “outside crisp”, but rather have pencil thin sprinkle of brown meat at the end of the hand pulled chunks.
The Rub: A Memphis style dry rub?
- 3 parts brown sugar
- 2 parts garlic powder
- 2 parts paprika
- 1 part Kosher Salt
- 1 part ground black pepper
The Sauce: “Papa’s Sauce”
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Brown Sugar
- Black Pepper
I keep a gallon of this sauce in the pantry at all times and give it a good shake whenever I see it. No, I didn’t give the portions- not really a secret but I have always done it by feel and intuition. When the meat is pulled and shredded, I squirt a bit on it and toss the meat, but not an amount that would saturate it. I give a little shot more over the meat just before serving it. My boy’s call this Eastern Style Sauce “Papas” because that is what their granddad, my father-in-law, has used in his family for generations. *Note there is NO tomato sauce or catsup in this.
The Slaw: “Hot Slaw”, a recipe developed over time in our house.
- 1/2 head of medium cabbage, shredded
- 1/2 head of cabbage, dice the crisp white parts
- 1/2 Vidalia Onion, diced
- 1/2 Vidalia Onion, shredded (nearly pureed)
- 4 stalks of celery, sliced into paper thin pieces
- 1 fresh Red Hot Chili Pepper, finely diced- include seeds
- 1 cup of Dukes Mayonnaise
- 1 cup of my Papa’s BBQ sauce
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 2 tablespoons of honey
- Salt and black pepper
Whisk the Mayo and vinegar sauce. The stir in everything except for the cabbage to make the dressing. Stir in equal parts of the shredded and diced cabbage until the slaw is coated, but not drenched. It is spicy and the sauce is too.
Warm Pepperidge Farm Sweet Slider Rolls in the oven. Place meat, then a spoon full of sauce and a mound of slaw. Serve on a paper towel or a Chinet plate.
* We also like a thick, toasted piece of white bread in the summertime.
* Tomato sauce in the sauce just never became my thing, but a big slice of a homegrown tomato is great on this sandwich in the middle of summer!
How I prepare my fire.
Some BBQ guys would never give up their recipe. To me, no two BBQ preparations will be the same as long as a different pit is used and a different cook is manning it. I have cooked pork BBQ many ways, from whole hogs in the ground, to steel drum pits. I cook this recipe over and over, year end and year out in my extra large Big Green Egg. I would argue that even that BGE is unique. It is seasoned from nearly a decade of loving cooking with a deep black crust inside of it. It rests in a brick and soapstone bar in my back yard. If I moved and the new owner insisted on having this grill, I would buy him a new one and take mine.
When I start my fire, I make a pyramid of oak lump charcoal and large, dry hickory chucks. I ignite the fire with a benzene weed torch and let it burn until all of the coals have ashed over. I place a ceramic plate setter (baffle) under the grate to shield the meat from direct heat, reflect radiant heat, and serve as a platform for the juices to sizzle from. I place the meat on the grate fat side up and never turn it. I close the carburetors to cook at 210 degrees. Typically, I don’t have to make any adjustments to the airflow until the last hour or two. I just watch the thin blue smoke and smell the aroma all day.
* Roy is my little known and often “hidden”, God-given first name. It is my dad’s “real” name, his dad’s real name, and his dad’s real name too. Although we are Scots-Irish it means King in French. Not a bad name for a bunch of horse thieves. I have red hair and have been called a redneck a time or two also.