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My Private Obsession with Barbecue
It is a little known fact
amongst those of you who follow my articles but I am a Barbecue fanatic. Usually this doesn't bring me to the point that I am willing to write about it. Off and on I will collect and try out different sauces. Every time I see a new barbecue pit I have to try it out. It is a hobby that comes with a decent price tag. When you go for the meat, meat is expensive.
I am well aware that the modern barbecue joint doesn't bury cows and pigs in smoking craters lined with hot rocks and smoldering ashes. I cant get over barbecue and my love affair with them anyhow. The average barbecue establishment is very rustically decorated. That goes with the territory. I say that mournfully because I rather like to eat in elegant locations when the spirit moves. With the shrinking of range land and the sprawl of the population, there isn't a lot of room for the kinds of farms that there used to be. That is the way it is where I live. There are many places in the United States that are getting that way. The price of feeding the herds is sky rocketing. Coming full circle, I don't go very often to barbecue establishments. As my family matures and my income grows I hope to change that. Be that as it may, I am still in desperate love with the modern interpretation of the barbecue.
On the whole, however, barbecue elegance usually amounts to romanticizing the dining hall of the gentleman farmer. How close the place gets to feeling like a five star ski lodge changes much in the service, food and price. Most barbecue joints in my neck of the woods start in price at around twelve to fifteen bucks a plate. There is a predictable side that is served with it. Usually I only get around to picking at these sides. This is really my fault as I judge most barbecue joints on two main factors: their ribs and their sauce. As a whole most barbecue sauce in restaurants isn't hot enough for me.
Barbecue sauce goes usually one of four directions: smokey, sweet, tangy, or spicy. This covers three of four taste quadrants. I say three of four even while listing four factors because it is a fact that spicy isn't a function of taste. It is a measure of pain. Spicy is the body's reaction to pain in the mouth. Sadomasochists of the food world unite. On a more serious note, for legal reasons, I imagine, most barbecue restaurants are very careful with spice. Usually they have a hot sauce of some sort available for spice addicts to mix with whatever to taste.
Ribs on the other hand come in two types: pork and beef. You may be able to go to places where neither animal is available an then I would be wrong but lets stay in my paradigm for the present. The beef obviously has more meat but they have larger bones. The actual ratio of meat to bones favors pork ribs but the meat is more fatty on the whole. The quality of ribs ranges between digging the meat off the bones with your teeth, to picking up the bone and watching the meat remain on the plate. I like ribs that are somewhere in-between favoring the more easily removed meat.
Sides are often mixed with potato and beans in various mixtures. Sometimes a nice salad accompanies the meal. Maybe the lack of imagination in sides is inevitable. maybe my experience isn't wide enough to judge. Perhaps in twenty years I will look back at this article and laugh. I do note that, in better establishments these sides get more attention. At Tahoe Joe's and Dickey's (two separate ends of the price tag) these sides are of special note as they were as memorable as the excellent meat they served.
My love affair with ribs was such that I actually took my wife to a barbecue restaurant when we were dating and yes I ordered ribs for myself. Usually this is a no no. I wanted to be real with her and if that was a deal breaker I was prepared for that to happen. Ribs are served with hot wipes on purpose. They are exceptionally messy and it is hard to be classy while you are eating ribs. You can try, but when you do the meat left on the ribs taunts you. The price tag is such that it feels like a shame to leave anything eatable on the bones.
What can I say? I am an unrepentant carnivore. Adding to everything else I am, I love the various seasons of barbecue. I have tried meat without sauce but I always end up going back to it. Don't worry, If you served me spiced meat I would never bee so gauche as to ask if you had any sauce. Spice rubs and other forms of meat prep have their place and should not be desecrated. Barbecue is a very strong flavor and covers up too much.