Thursday, April 7, 2011

No Smoking Allowed

The best ribs I have ever eaten in my life are smoke free.  There is no smoke in the cooking method, nor is there any smoke in the sauce.

These days, thanks to Food Network, even a Northerner like myself knows that "barbecue" is a term that should not be indiscriminantly applied to foods cooked on a grill.  Also, technically speaking, one cannot turn a chicken into barbecue by slathering it with the contents of a bottle of commercial, or even homemade barbecue sauce.  Unless you are Ina Garten.  Ina comes right out and  calls her grilled chicken with barbecue sauce "Barbecue Chicken", without apology or explanation.  She marinates her chicken in a wonderful sauce she developed back in the day when she owned The Barefoot Contessa out on Long's Island's South Fork, and then carefully grills it over charcoals on an outdoor grill.  There is nothing low and slow about her straight forward method,  and there is nary a splinter of hickory, mesquite, or applewood smoking under the hood.  That grilled chicken is utterly delicious, maybe the best barbecued chicken I have ever made on a grill.

I never ate anything like "real" barbecue until we moved to Florida in 1991 and tried the food at Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q, usually just called "Sonny's" but not to be confused with Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse, which has a number of locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which should not be confused with Arthur Bryant's, which is in Kansas City, Missouri, and has been described by Calvin Trillin as "the single best restaurant in the world."  Since that time I have checked out Sonny Bryan's original location, as well as Arthur Bryant's original location, the one that Calvin Trillin rhapsodized about in his book American Fried.  We make sure we get to the Whole Hog Cafe in Little Rock, Arkansas everytime we are there, and try to make it to Thompson Brothers BBQ whenever we are in Atlanta.  I have a soft spot for the latter, because it really is run by the Thompson brothers, a group of very nice young men, who run a spotless place with awesome food.  One of these days I am going to order their pineapple upside down cake.  And our newest addition to the list of great barbecue, Interstate Bar-B-Q in Memphis, Tennessee. 


Clockwise from top left:  Thompson Brothers; Whole Hog; Sonny Bryan's; Interstate Bar-B-Q
But the truth is, my first taste of barbecue ribs at Sonny's Real Pit was a huge disappointment.  I was expecting sauced ribs and what I got was an unsauced, smoked rib with a choice of sauces on the table.  Over time I came to appreciate traditional barbecue, whether it was ribs or beef or pulled pork, and I've done my share of dry rubbing and then smoking food here at home, by either jury-rigging our old gas grill, or with the use of our new grill's smoker box.  I like smoked chicken as well, especially the truly wacky beer can chicken recipe which produces a moist, tasty, gorgeous bird.

But my taste in ribs was canalized as a child, which means I greatly favor the ribs that my mother prepared  as well as the type of ribs served by Chinese restaurants.  No smoking allowed.  As a young adult, I ate my share of ribs at a restaurant in Commack, New York, appropriately called The Spare Rib, and those arrived at the table smoke-free, but heavily sauced, just like Mom's.  Despite the complete absence of smoke, these are all understood to be barbecue ribs, and in conclusion, if New Yorkers are not particularly authentic in our rendition of barbecue, we are absolutely delicious.

My mother made the best barbecue ribs I have ever eaten, and it is all about her barbecue sauce.  The ribs are oven-roasted in two stages, the second stage involving a lavish application of sauce.  She never used a grill in her life, and in my parents' world, smoking was reserved for whitefish and other Jewish delicacies, and store-bought bacon;  otherwise, pork should be eaten fresh.

The secret to her sauce is the main ingredient:  Log Cabin Original Syrup.  Don't get saucy and try to substitute real maple syrup - it will not work.  The other important ingredients are ketchup and mustard - it has to be Heinz ketchup, and no fancy mustard either.  For this you want the yellow stuff.  At any one time we have 6 or 7 different types of mustards open in the refrigerator, but the only time I have a bottle of French's yellow mustard in there is when I'm planning to make my mother's barbecue sauce.  Just like real maple syrup doesn't work, neither does Grey Poupon Dijon.  And as you might imagine, this sauce works very well on chicken.

I'll be posting the amounts and procedures over on the recipe blog in a day or so.  Once you make this sauce, you will never want to be without it.

Cook like there's nobody watching, and eat like it's heaven on earth. 

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