On Barbecue

There was a real dilemma on my computer screen. Maybe it was pre-lunch, hunger-induced confusion, but there I was, poring over barbecue photos online. My assignment: find a tasty photo to accompany an article about South Carolina-style barbecue on Moon.com. The problem? I’m a West Coast born-and-raised type who wouldn’t know a plate of hash if it walked across my desk waving a palmetto flag. And I knew it.

If that seems a bit dramatic, consider this: I know enough about barbecue to identify a few famous regions and to be aware that there are specific, identifiable, controversial differences between them. Which is where I got fuzzy. Memphis has the sauce on the side. Wait, is it the Carolinas that have the sauce on the side? And where exactly should I put that coleslaw?

In short, I was in over my head.

In my central-coast Californian childhood, “good barbecue” meant Santa Maria-style tri-tip, cooked for hours over oak, garnished with fresh salsa and preferably consumed directly next to the grill it’d been cooked on. After good barbecue came anything with the squeeze-bottled brown liquid labeled “barbecue sauce”. That’s the extent of my expertise—but as far as Santa Maria barbecue is concerned, I’d know it anywhere, and more importantly, I’d know what it isn’t. And my dilemma counted on you to do the same.

After some mouthwatering research (Memphis, molasses sauce; Carolina style has a vinegar base, never a coleslaw topping; and yes, I now know Texas loves its smoked meats purely sauceless), I’d learned a little about barbecue styles and a lot about food culture. Because while it may be hard to agree on which rub, sauce, chop, or smoke is best, here’s something meat-loving foodies everywhere will confirm: it is good to think about barbecue. To quote our author Jim Morekis, barbecue is “one of life’s greatest luxuries, but one without which a person cannot be said to be truly living.”

So if you’ve got a recipe to share for South Carolina mustard sauce, I’m all ears. And for the record, I ran my final photo pick (above) by a Southern barbecue connoisseur, who confirmed its appropriateness. Phew.