Pork barbecue, or “pulled pork,” as we call it, is a southern delicacy.
Recipes are closely guarded secrets. You might as well ask for a Texas chili
cook-off recipe, the ingredients of a gourmet coffee blend in Seattle, or
how to make that green stuff that your mother-in-law brings to family
It is the way the pork is barbecued that gives it the delicious taste. You
can slow cook a pork loin roast in a crock-pot until it so tender that it
falls apart when pulled with a fork, but it won’t fool anyone except the
family dog. To make real pulled pork, it is necessary to slow roast pork
over an open pit using wood so that the hickory, wood-smoked taste is cooked
through the meat.
In spite of “Eat More Pork” advertising campaigns, you usually don’t find
pulled-pork except in the South. When I lived in St. Louis, barbecue always
had a heavy, sweet tomato-based sauce, probably due to the proximity of
Kansas City and the beef market. Beef seems to demand a heavy sauce.
Southern barbecue, on the other hand, is usually cooked without any sauce,
and a light sauce is added just before eating it on cornbread. Most places
have hot or mild sauce, just like they have sweet or un-sweet tea.
Around these parts, barbecue is often Memphis style, cooked using a dry rub.
Other types of recipes center around other regions of the South, such as a
famous vinegar-based sauce in the Carolinas, good only if you like vinegar
any place other than in coleslaw. Some restaurants make their own secret
sauce and may even sell it. Actually, there are a million different sauces
on the market and you will probably never find the perfect sauce — unless
you are a celebrity with a marketing pitch.
There are a now a lot of slick barbecue restaurants that are franchised
chains and some of them are actually trying to do it right. Often, however,
the small independent places are better than large chains. You can easily
spot a good barbecue place because the worse the restaurant looks, the
better the barbecue.
Pork is a traditional food in the south as pigs are easy to raise and also
because southerners like everything greasy, even vegetables. In some places,
such as Texas, beef is used instead of pork due to the abundance of cattle.
Most southerners do not consider beef “real” barbecue, though, regardless of
how much Texans brag.
If you really want to try a home recipe and have a smoker grill, you may be
able to come fairly close to the real thing. Buy a high quality pork roast.
Order a sauce off the net that sounds like what you want, or do the best you
can at the grocery store. Keep changing methods until you get the taste you
want — or want the taste you get — depending on what your patience will
As for me, I don’t even try to barbecue when so many others do it so well. I
just run down to the drive-thru and order up a pint to go, much to the
relief of the local fire department who voted my home most likely to burn
down from a cookout disaster.
Not everyone agrees on a definition for barbecue, even in the South, and
there are numerous variations. It is generally agreed that barbecue is
slow-cooked, while the rapid cooking of meat over open flame or charcoal is
considered grilling. That is, unless the slow cooking method is called
“smoking” and grilling is called “barbecuing,” just to keep things as
confusing as possible. The really strange thing about cooking pulled pork is
that nobody at all calls it frying, in spite of the fact that the pork is
saturated in its own lard.
There is not only no agreement on the definition of barbecue, there is not
even any agreement on the spelling. Some call it barbecue. Some call it
barbeque. Sometimes it’s Bar-B-Q, or even BBQ if they don’t have enough
letters to spell the entire word.
Regardless, the one thing everyone agrees on is that it’s not the spelling
that’s important anyhow, it’s the cooking and the eating.