by Jeff Adams
There are three topics that one ventures into with trepidation in the South: Religion, Politics and Barbeque. Of the three, the last one is the one most likely to start an argument. Southerners, being an obstinate lot, are likely fight over barbeque no matter how small the slight.
I've heard a lot of stories on the origins of barbeque, but there is one in particular that I'm fond of. Perhaps it's just because of the mental pictures it conjures up, and it seems to go will with the whole idea of barbequing. I remember reading when I was a boy that the word u2018barbeque' came from French pirates who created a concoction to put on their meat as it cooked to enhance the flavor of their dull meals (the original word supposedly went something like "barbed de' queue." Maybe it meant u2018meat on a stick' for all I know, as I don't speak French). Sounded reasonable, as the French tend to use a lot of sauces in their foods. Perhaps it is this idea of a tradition of cooking with a sauce by fierce pirates that makes barbequing, and fighting about it, so appealing to Southerners. Barbequing may not be a Southern creation, but it took Southerners to raise it to the high levels of perfection that it has reached today.
That being said, let's get to what really matters: What is barbequing? For starters, others can say what they want, but to this old Southern boy, u2018grilling' and u2018barbequing' are not the same thing. Grilling involves fish, chicken, steaks, or even vegetables. Those items may have some spices on them, but that's it. Barbequing is about beef, pork, and on occasion some wild game. These items will come in large chunks of meat, perhaps even a u2018whole hog,' or half a cow. When cooking these large pieces of meat, there is a sauce that is slathered on while cooking the meat over a flame.
To me, the sauce is the key to real barbequing. If you aren't using some kind of a sauce, then you're just grilling. Everyone has their favorites, so let me point out some key ones that give a good selection of high quality sauces across Dixie (since sauces outside of the South don't matter, as they surely can't measure up to Southern barbeque). I'll work East to West, following my personal migration over the years. And for the record, I know that I'm stepping on some toes here. As I said before, Southerners will fight about what's good barbeque. I'm just throwing all my punches right here.
Johnny Harris. This barbeque sauce was created in Savannah, Georgia (my home town) and has a unique taste, with a bit of a vinegar base to it. My father, a barbeque connoisseur, (tenth-degree black belt BBQ eater) swears this is the best sauce on the planet. If you doubt it, be prepared to have your butt whooped by a 69-year-od retired college dean, as my father has tried enough barbeques over the year to believe his is the final word.
Maurice's Carolina Gold. This is a rather unique sauce in that it is mustard based. I don't believe I've seen this anywhere but in South Carolina. The taste is sweet and tart. Doubles well as a dipping sauce for chicken nuggets. My father had the chance a couple of years ago to eat at one of Maurice's u2018Piggy Park' restaurants and has declared the food there the best barbeque (not to be confused with the best sauce) on the planet. Don't go into South Carolina and tell folks Maurice's isn't the best unless you want to get your butt whooped by some South Carolina rebels.
Rendezvous is a restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee that is well known for its dry rub ribs. Personally, this goes against my belief that barbeque isn't barbeque without a sauce, but I have to mention it or the next time I go back to Memphis I could end up getting my butt whooped by my Memphis friends I've offended by u2018dissing' their ribs. They say the ribs are great, but I'll just say I've tried them and to each their own.
Dreamland. While the owners of Dreamland restaurant have opened up several other locations, the original is in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and has, in my opinion THE best sauce and ribs, bar none. And yes, I say this knowing I face a whoopin' from my dear father, whom I'll be seeing later this summer. But I've got to speak the truth as I see it. This vinegar-based sauce is fantastic, and words can't do it justice.
Rudy's. This Texas style sauce is good and spicy. You can see the black peppers in the sauce in the large bottle they sell it in (which resembles a large whiskey bottle and has a plain white label with black lettering on it). It's good and thick, and has a strong taste. For those who can't handle hot, not to worry. For non-Texans, Rudy produced a milder version called u2018Rudy's Sissy Sauce.' Just as good, but without all the heat. I first tried Rudy's a year ago when I was in College Station, Texas for a speaking engagement at Texas A&M. I didn't tell those Aggies it wasn't the best because, well, you know I didn't want a butt whoopin' at the hands of those Aggies.
I have to inject an u2018honorable mention' here. Boeker's catering in Humble, Texas (where I live now) produces the finest brisket I think I've ever had, and a great sauce to boot. Unlike the others I've mentioned, they don't have a web site, but their number is 281-441-3319. It's a small family business that has built up a fine reputation in a relatively small area. I've provided links to the web sites of these different sauces so those who are adventurous can order them and give each a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
Now a quick note: Folks need to remember their manners when traveling around the South trying barbeque. In Texas, barbequing anything other than beef, be it brisket or otherwise, is almost forbidden. The only other things that gets legitimately smothered with barbeque sauce is sausage, and of course your face when you eat. While in college in Memphis, I learned early on that Memphis is a staunch pork-only town, and they have their own unique way of serving pork barbeque sandwiches, by plopping some cold slaw on top. So, don't question the local traditions, or make comments, just keep your mouth shut except for stuffing food in it unless you want someone to come over and give you a butt whoopin'. Southerners are friendly until you start questioning or insulting their traditions, especially when it comes to barbeque.
As for the rest of Dixie, it's mostly pork barbeque with occasionally beef (my personal favorite) being offered. My father likes to barbeque chicken, but I never could get into that. Chicken is best served deep fried, period. Quite frankly, I'd rather have barbequed rattlesnake (which is actually quite good if prepared right) than barbequed chicken. It's just not right.
Barbeque lovers who read this will either agree or disagree with my views depending on their personal tastes. Yes, I know I've totally ignored Kansas City, which is reputed to be a barbeque hub, but I've only had barbeque there once and wasn't too impressed. (Note to self: Don't travel to KC any time soon so as to avoid a butt whoopin'.) However, I do want to direct barbeque lovers to a site that will provide a number of links that will pique your interest, so click here to step into a world of barbeque. My final word on barbequing is that no one does it better than Dixie, and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise.