“Grilling, broiling, barbecuing – whatever you want to call it – is an art, not just a matter of building a pyre and throwing on a piece of meat as a sacrifice to the gods of the stomach.”
It’s a brave man who takes on barbecue in the lean format of the Savor the South series. Barbecue requires bibles, encyclopedias, volumes of discourse on class, culture, technique, and ingredients.
But John Shelton Reed, who has explored barbecue at length in other books, here distills his knowledge, and most importantly, translates this traditionally semi-pro and large scale culinary endeavor for the home cook. After all, as he quotes restaurateur Chris Schlesinger, “I think making your own barbecue is on the outer edge of what can be done in home cooking. You can do it, but it’s a real effort.”
Unlike some of the other Savor the South books, Reed doesn’t include modern updates and mash-ups of Southern barbecue, so no Vietnamese, Korean, or Mexican styled dishes, as delicious as they might be. There are just too many Southern “micro-regions” to cover, from the eastern and western North Carolina variations on pork, to Texas style brisket, to Kansas City smoky ribs, never mind Memphis. Sauces range from Alabama white, South Carolina yellow, and vinegary North Carolina to the unfortunately growing ubiquity of ketchup-based sauces. Some dishes, says Reed, are included for their historical importance “or just their weirdness.”
He leaves whole-hog cooking to the professionals and guides home barbecuers to more manageable pork shoulders, rib racks, and briskets. He does recommend using indirect heat and a batterie de ‘cue that includes a cooker with a cover, thermometers for the fire and the meat, a chimney charcoal starter, gloves (heat-proof, obviously), a squirt bottle for basting, heavy duty aluminum foil (useful for just about everything), and maybe for the next day–a wire brush to clean up (the grill, not your teeth).
The other thing you’ll need is time and attentiveness. Low and slow savor is not a set the oven and walk-away arrangement. As Reed notes, the recipes are pretty straightforward. Assembling a rub, a mop, or a sauce, is not difficult, but deploying it takes some skill. Despite all this, he succeeds in making barbecue at home sound easy and worthwhile.
So build some confidence with Reed’s recipes for slaw and slaugh, various potato salads and cornbreads. Work your way into a pot of burgoo or Brunswick Stew and devote some backyard time to mastering your own barbecue tradition.