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Summer 2011: Learning to cook slowly (NC BBQ)

posted Dec 30, 2011, 8:25 PM by Summerdog Family   [ updated Oct 14, 2013, 12:42 PM ]
In the Spring of 2011 the ceramic smoker from Primo made its appearance on the east side of the house, under the tree that is both apple and crab apple.  The intent was to make a legitimate and credible North Carolina BBQ. 

For years I have made a faux BBQ in the oven that excited its eaters.  It is an adaptation, an approximation, a remembrance of the pork of my father.  This is made in the oven and roasted at 325 or 350 F.   The best cut is a pork loin, bone in, and these days you need to find the piece with the most fat.   To cook: I rub the loin with salt and black pepper. Set the pork in the middle of a roasting pan. Around the pork I cut up a few tomatoes, slice a few mushrooms, maybe 4 large peeled garlic cloves, and set in a couple of whole cayenne or jalapeno peppers.  Then I add a shallow layer of cider vinegar and water.  If I had a large supply of good pepper vinegar, I would use that, but I usually save my pepper vinegar for the end or as a dipping sauce.  If I think of it, and have it, I might start with a tent of aluminum foil.  Sometimes I do a fast brown at the start at 450.  I roast for about 25 minutes a pound for a bone in roast, maybe 30 minutes.  Sometimes I need to add more vinegar.  I do a little bit of a baste.     (I have other rubs for roasts that use orange peel and oregano, garlic, rosemary but they go without a vinegar sauce.)  This pork roast, faux BBQ, can be very good, but it is not NC BBQ.  There should be plenty of sauce, and in fact, this is excellent BBQ sauce.

My native BBQ is Eastern North Carolina, which means "vinegar sauce," but traveling around eastern NC, there is not a lot of consistency of the sauce.  The foundation is cider vinegar, with salt and black pepper.  In my family the BBQ sauce was pepper vinegar, which is cider vinegar in which cayenne peppers have cured for at least a year.  When I make sauces for NC BBQ, I often include some tomatoes, maybe garlic and bay leaves, maybe a little sugar.   There are many amongst us who want more than pepper vinegar.  The basic idea is smoked meat, chopped or shredded with a thin vinegar sauce.  

Many books will say that NC BBQ features the meat, and that is why it is, by many standards, lightly sauced.  Daddy always said that good BBQ happened when the fat in the pork flesh had cooked enough to render into the meat.  That if underdone there was unpleasant fat in the meat.  Daddy said that that meant the pork had been cooked to 195 degrees.  Most recognize this as far above the temperature of "done" pork.   There are passionate arguments about all nuances of BBQ, for example, whole pig or shoulders.   Practically, for cooking at home, the whole pig is a little much, so the shoulder is the good choice.  The loin is too lean.  There has to be fat in the meat.  That said, I think the mix of meats that come from the whole pig has the best taste.  Good BBQ is made in many ways; it lets men argue and compete. (Cooking Whole Pig)

Proper NC BBQ is made from pork that is cooked, smoked, slowly.  I have seen recipes that call for cooking at 190 to 195.  I personally shoot for a temperature around 235-250, and since I like a roasted crisp, I have been known to do a finish at 325-350.  But properly, NC BBQ is cooked at a temperature closer to 200 than 300.  Cooking at a low temperature allows you to get the meat to 190-195 without drying it out.  Thinking about it, you don't want to boil, or roast out, the water in the meat.  Compared with any other reasonably sized cooker in my driveway, the Primo ceramic grill is amazing.  I can start a fire and keep it at 235-250 for at least 12 hours.  I find a bit of a challenge in the beginning until I get to an equilibrium, but if I do it right, I get a little bit of a crisp started early.  For a pork shoulder 6-9 pounds, I aim for 8-9 hours at 235.  I turn it once in the middle.  That'
s about it.  After that it is all in the sauce and that can go many directions.  As in the roast above, there is a salt and pepper rub, and you can imagine a couple of vinegar washes, but it is mostly primitive roasted meat.

This picture is after about 9 hours for the shoulders.  The ribs take 3.5 hours.   The people like a little of a honey rub on the ribs, but that is a different story. 

Sauces:  Here are my basic sauces.   Pepper vinegar is simple, but it is precious.   The best peppers are cayenne, jalapeno, Serrano, and Thai chili works OK.  The really hot peppers, like Habanero, don't have the flavor, and they don't cure well.  Pepper vinegar is made with cider vinegar.  Wash peppers.  Fill empty jar with peppers, don't pack tight.  Boil vinegar.  Pour over the peppers.  After vinegar and peppers settle, top jar with more boiled vinegar.  Close the jar and let it sit for a year.  I have vinegar that is ten years old.  Not sure 10 years is good, but 5 is good.  I have added salt and black pepper to the recipe, but have decided to just stick with the vinegar.  When first made, the peppers float.  When it is ready, they have sunk to the bottom.  This sauce is not, first and foremost, hot.  This is right on pork and greens and succotash and Brunswick stew; it is the taste of a NC meal.

Quick Sauce 1:  I have created a few vinegar-based sauces for when I don't have a sauce.  The first is made from cider vinegar, salt, coarsely ground black pepper, fresh cayenne (dried if fresh not available), peanut oil and a little ketchup.  I bring it to a boil and let it sit.   If it needs to sit more than a day, then put it in the fridge,.

Quick Sauce 2:  This is much the same as the first, but I add bay leaf, dried garlic, and dried onion.  I let it boil maybe 5 minutes.  I have kept this sauce around for a while, but it does not hold up more than a few months.  The  bay leaf is a matter of taste, and you need to think about if you want this in your sauce.  I imagine the bay leaf from the swamps of the coastal plain, and I have used wax myrtle. 

Quick Sauce 3:  This quick sauce can be used as made, mixed into the meat as it is chopped or for dipping at the table.  It is what I make when I need a lot of sauce for a lot of people.  It lasts in a jar for a few months but does not age well. North Carolina style vinegar sauces generally have no sugar, and the quintessential Eastern North Carolina sauces have nothing red or brown in them. They are vinegar sauces, to be mixed into the meat as it is chopped.

1 quart apple cider vinegar

1 can (14 ounces) crushed tomatoes

3 Tbs. dried minced onion

2 Tbs. peppercorns, coarsely crushed

1 Tbs. crushed, dried cayenne

1 Tbs. garlic powder

1 Tbs. salt

5 bay leaves

Combine ingredients. Bring to boil for about 5 minutes.

Cooked Sauce:  This sauce is always a hit.  It is what I described above with the faux BBQ / roast.  Put 2 or 3 country style ribs in a small roasting pan - elevated off the bottom.  Surround with cut up tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic cloves, cayenne or jalapeno peppers, cider vinegar and water.  Roast until the ribs are brown and crisp.  Make sure it doesn't cook dry.  Adjust the sauce (vinegar vs pepper vinegar vs water).  Eat the ribs. (Can also use fresh pork belly instead of the ribs.  Have also used beer instead of vinegar or in addition to vinegar to sweeten the sauce.)

Buying Sauce:  It is a plain and simple truth that many don't like any of the sauces above; they want sugar in their sauce.  I think that BBQ Sauce Reviews does a great job.  Bone Sucking Sauce and Grumpy's especially the Not So Bold play well at Summerdog.  I remember Scott's BBQ in Goldsboro, NC fondly, and they left Scott's Sauce Company.

Cole Slaw: The NC BBQ experience does require coleslaw, and I am far more particular about my slaw than about the sauce.  Or said another way, I don't care for a lot of slaws, and there are many types of BBQ and sauces that I embrace.  For me, slaw provides a complex sweetness to the vinegar, giving a plate of sweet and sour.  I have adapted a slaw recipe from "Best Barbeque Coleslaw" from the Southern Living Big Book of BBQ.  Here are the ingredients, the amounts are approximate - as with the sauces, I go by taste and texture. 

~ 2 pound cabbage.  I cut the cabbage in a few big chunks, then with a chef's knife, cut thin wafers that fall apart.  Chop very coarsely.  I grate in one carrot.  I then put in enough mayonnaise to coat the cabbage.  Stir in about 1/3 cup of sugar.  The juice of a lemon - don't let the seeds fall in!   1/2 - 1 tsp salt, coarsely ground pepper, depending on your audience.  1/4 - 1/2 cup buttermilk - this is the key to sour and sweet.  Stir to mix.  Add more mayonnaise if needed.  Adjust ingredients.  I like a few celery seeds. Let it sit at least a couple of hours.  This is good for a week or two. The original recipe has a little white vinegar and milk which I prefer to leave out.  (I often make a non-dairy version with soy sour cream, soy or almond milk.  It works just fine.)