Barbecue vs Grilling

If you asked many Americans, especially Texans, to come to your barbecue they would probably be confused. When we in the UK think of barbecuing we think of what the Americans call grilling. Or tailgating if it happens in the parking lot before a sports event. Barbecue is a word reserved for the cuisine that results from cooking meat slowly in a barbecue smoker oven

We’ve done quite a bit of grilling now in the States. There’s a gas grill on our rooftop, but because that was a bit hit and miss, we bought a little smoky joe charcoal grill, which we’ve used to grill mainly steak so far; we’ve tried out various marinades, chopped it up for sandwiches to feed a crowd on July 4th, and added it to salad. It’s been good.

Barbecue though, has been a revelation. For starters, there’s a different kind of barbecue in pretty much every state (and according to this Wikipedia article, even in different parts of Texas). So far we’ve both tried barbecue in Texas and South Carolina, and R has had barbecue in Oklahoma and Kansas too.

The main thing to remember is that Texas is a beef producing state, so Texas barbecue focuses largely on beef brisket. They dry rub the meat and cook it slowly in a smoker until it practically falls apart. Their sauces are rich, sweet and can be hot. Our most memorable experiences of this barbecue were in Austin last year. First we went to House Park Bar-B-Q in the West of Downtown Austin, near the graffiti wall at Castle Hills. This place was a real old barbecue shack, with a hunting and fishing theme to the interior decoration. We were a bit nervous as to how they would react to two Brits on vacation from DC, but we needn’t have worried. They were really friendly and happy to explain their menu, recommend a can of Big Red (incredibly sweet) to go with our brisket sandwiches, and even show us their 50-year-old barbecue oven. The next day we queued at la Barbecue (as I mentioned in a previous post) and ate brisket in the open air from a trestle table, dousing it liberally with bbq sauce.

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In North Carolina we stopped on the way back from our road trip at a proper barbecue place – Fullers Old Fashioned Barbecue. It was buffet style, and felt both authentic and wonderfully democratic. People from all walks of life were there having lunch. We queued for a short time, paid for two buffet meals with sweet tea, were seated, and then investigated the buffet. There was a salad bar, but like most people we skipped that and went straight for the hot food, where we found collared greens and fried okra, biscuits, and of course the meat. There were two kinds of chicken – crispy fried and smothered with barbecue sauce – but the main draw was the pork. South Carolina is pig country, and they do their barbecued pulled pork in a vinegar/mustard dressing, which was just delicious, especially with the biscuits.

In DC it’s often said you can’t get good barbecue. [People always ask me about Freddie’s place in House of Cards, but the truth is there’s very few places like that left in DC – they filmed those bits in Baltimore.] However, we’ve found two good places, and one comes with the seal of approval from Texans. Smoke and Barrel on 18th street is a great place to try barbecue for the first time, and has become our place to take visitors. You can get a sampler to share which includes chicken, sausage, pulled pork, brisket, ribs and sides. Sides include smoked asparagus, coleslaw, potato salad, sweet potato wedges, and grit cake. You can of course order extra of anything you particularly like. They ask you how you want the chicken barbecued – dry rubbed, wet with sauce or ‘muddy’ in a mixture of rub and sauce (I never understand why anyone would go for anything other than muddy) – and then there’s a range of barbecue sauces, including hot, sweet, and sweet and sour mixtures of maple syrup, honey, and chilies.

Fat Pete’s up in Cleveland Park turns out to be the choice of the few Texans we know. They have a similar range of barbecued meats to Smoke and Barrel, which you can get in a sandwich or as a platter with sides, and the traditional barbecue sauces. The only thing that raised eyebrows was the white barbecue sauce. I think it was made with horseradish, but our friends were highly suspicious of this innovation, so we avoided it. Still the beef brisket was pronounced pretty good – and from Texans that’s high praise.

Apparently you can now get authentic American barbecue in London. I’ll believe it when I taste it though, because at the moment the Camden Blues Kitchen’s ‘Texan pulled pork’ is ringing some alarm bells…

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