The warm weather has arrived in the Northern climates and that means many people are doing more cooking outdoors. The process of cooking outside on wood fire, charcoal (or briquettes) or on a propane grill is usually referred to as barbequing — also seen written as Bar-B-Que or BBQ. Down under in Australia they call it “cooking on the barbie”. From simple foods like hamburgers or chicken, steaks and chops to vegetables and even tofu they all taste better when cooked on an open fire. The introduction of natural smoke to food adds a sensational dimension to the flavor. In the common vernacular the term Barbeque is a generic reference to cooking anything on some form of open fire. However, real and authentic barbeque is the process of slow smoking meats to infuse a rich and smokey flavor deep into the meat. It is most often applied to larger pieces of meat like beef brisket, pork shoulder, hams, ribs or a whole pig or goat.
I enjoy cooking outdoors all year round. However, as the temperature begins to drop it is necessary to compensate for the rapid heat loss by building a larger fire and perhaps adding extra time to complete the cooking process. In some situations it may even be necessary to insulate the cooker. This can be achieved by bringing it to a sheltered area like a garage or simply covering a small cooker with a cardboard box. Be careful not to cook with gas, wood or charcoal in a fully enclosed area. Carbon monoxide can build up quickly and it is deadly. Always cook in a well ventilated area.
Brines, dry rubs and curing are often used in the various smoking and barbequing techniques. A dry rub is most commonly applied to any meat before cooking/smoking. Dry rubs can be as simple as seasoning with salt & pepper to more complex mixes of herbs and spices. Many professionals will make a secret proprietary blend by adding a special ingredient to the mix that gives their products a mysterious flavor that is hard to discern. If the rub is intended to set for hours prior to cooking, salt should not be used due to its tendency to draw out moisture from the meat. Generally, salt is only applied immediately before cooking. Often, when curing pork the addition of brown sugar, molasses or maple syrup is used to add sweetness to the finished product. Brines usually require the meat to be totally submerged and sometimes the meat is injected with this liquid and let to cure for a period of several hours.
The smoking process takes time. Cooking time will depend on the size and weight of the item. Pork ribs can take about 4 hours. Pork butts and beef briskets take between 10 and 12 hours. A whole hog weighing around 200 pounds can take 18 hours to cook. During the cooking process, a loss in weight of nearly 50% is not uncommon on large pieces of meat. Consequently, this shrinkage must be incorporated into the final sale price. Taking into consideration the lengthy cooking times and weight loss accounts for the fact that authentic BBQ is not cheap. Less scrupulous outfits sometimes use a product called “liquid smoke” to get the smoked flavor. This is cheating the process and the result is second rate. You get what you pay for.
Every BBQ master has his/her own preference for the types of wood used. Kim and Rich at Little Creek Barbeque have a preference for shag-bark hickory mixed with cherry wood. They also like to use “green” or unseasoned wood because their style of cooker uses water to create a steam convection method of cooking. This process helps to keep the meat moist. Additionally, green wood burns slower and emits a more dense smoke than dried seasoned wood.
Competitions— Are popular year round in the U.S. Many teams will attend competitions every week. The Kansas City Barbeque Society is one of the leading authorities in the field. Many BBQ outfits compete for the best ribs and there are literally hundreds of different recipes and styles of making BBQ spareribs. BBQ ribs are delicious for sure, but there is a lot of weight in bones. So I prefer items like beef brisket and pulled pork. In fact, my all time favorite BBQ items is a Beef Brisket. As a second choice and a standard found in any good BBQ house I like Pulled Pork
Little Creek Barbeque in Bangor, PA. is a great spot to have any of the above mentioned classics and many other delicious smoked meat items. Kim and Rich have won high awards at national BBQ competitions particularly in whole hog division. They tell me that they try to compete about 6 – 7 times each year and are especially well received in the Southern circuit around Alabama and Mississippi. These competitions are a way to stay current in the business and to hone their talents. Out of nearly 8,000 national level competitors Little Creek BBQ consistently maintains a respectable standing among the top 900.
Side dishes that most commonly accompany BBQ foods are Baked Beans and Potato Salad. Of course it is easy to buy baked beans in the can or potato salad at the supermarket but nothing compares to good home cooking.
Here is a standard recipe for Potato Salad:
2 pounds of potatoes
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 medium sized onion, diced
1 medium dill pickle, grated
1 cup (approximately) mayonnaise. I prefer less mayonnaise so the salad is not too loose or wet.
Salt & Pepper to taste. if you wish to add one or two of the following: sweet bell peppers, finely snipped fresh chives, crisp bacon bits, or chopped boiled eggs these are common ingredients to perk things up!
Cut* the potatoes into 1/2 inch pieces and cover with cold salted water. I do not peel potatoes. I enjoy the flavor of the skins and this is where much of the vitamin content is concentrated. Bring to a boil and let simmer until the spuds are tender. Drain and cool slightly.
Mix together the onion, celery, pickle and mayo. This can be done in advance and let to chill in the refrigerator. Doing this ahead of time helps to allow the mixture to meld together.
After the potatoes have cooled, place them into a large bowl and add the mayonnaise mix. Blend well and serve.
* Many people cook the potatoes whole and then slice or cube them. I prefer to cut first then cook them a little overdone. This method makes a more creamy potato salad when the mayonnaise is combined.
Start with 2 cups (dried) white beans also called navy beans. Dried beans should always be washed thoroughly before cooking. Then, cover them with (about 6 cups) cold water, bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Turn of the heat and cover with a tight lid, let stand for 1 hour. Then, uncover and return the beans to a boil. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer. Cook, uncovered, until the beans are soft in the center but the skins remain intact. This will take roughly 1 hour. Drain the beans into a colander.
Next, return the beans to the pot and stir in 1 and 1/2 cups of water, 1/2 cup of molasses, 1/4 cup of tomato ketchup, 1 teaspoons of salt, 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, 1/8 teaspoon of ground cloves, 1/8 teaspoon of dry mustard. Add 1/4 pound of partially cooked bacon cut into 1/2 inch cubes and slightly rendered. Some people prefer to use salt pork, but I think bacon adds better flavor. Now, cover the pot and let cook for 4 to 5 hours. It may be necessary to add a little extra water while the beans are cooking. Don’t let them get too dry. When the beans are done they can be served directly or cooled and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week.
These recipe is not overly sweet. The flavor of the beans can shine through.