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BBQ: Let's quantify! (yeah, right)

So,........ BBQ.

I can't think of another food category on which more hounds hold varying opinions. Yes, more than pastrami (Langer's all the way IMHO) and more than steak (Ruth's, Morton's, Mastro's and then some), and more than burgers (Umami vs. FO or maybe a little Top's Kobe Bistro for the drive-thru hound).

Everybody that has ever eaten 'cue seems to have a different idea as to what makes it great and after all of this time I'm way more than curious.

What makes BBQ good? I've eaten most varieties, in all kinds of places, in many states. I love Carolina pork, KC ribs, Georgia in general, and my favorite, Texas brisket & spare ribs (keep your baby backs). I love it so much that I've learned to make my own... all kinds and all styles. After trying the local purveryors (OC and LA), I haven't beenoverly impressed. I conclude (and most of you will heartily agree) that I must be in the minority.

Over the years, I've figured what works for me is....smoke! I need to have me some smoke! I'm not down with the boiled ribs and steamed meat that seem to pass for Q in these parts (although I used to sneak an ArbyQ before I knew better). And a good rib, for me, doesn't mean the meat "falls off the bone" and I most certainly don't need my 'cue smothered in sauce. Now, I'm not against sauce, but it needs to be: interesting, sparse, spicy and ON THE SIDE!

Trust me, this controversy is not limited to California. If you go looking for 'Q' opinions on other boards in other states, I guarantee you'll find them.

So, what makes BBQ good for you?

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  1. I'm in the same camp as you, Grubber. I loves me some smoke, coupled with some spicy, some sweet and some vinegar, all in proper proportion. Sauce on the side tambien.

    I agree that what's referred to as "Q" can never have seen the inside of an oven or steamer. Ribs should have some "pull" when the meat comes off the bone. I don't have any use for baby backs either, Brisket deserves a significant bark and prominent smoke ring. Pulled pork is nice but I just can't get excited over it. If I had to pick one favorite meat it would have to be beef ribs. When they're cooked properly . . . boy . . . howdy.

    Looking forward to everyone's thoughts. Oh and the places I go when I don't have time to do it my own selves . . . Baby Blues and Kansas City Barbecue Company.

    "Until that time, Eustace. Until that time."

    1. To my knowledge, most commercial places claiming BBQ smoke theirs, by far, so I don't think you'll have much difficulty finding smoke. But to me, the thing that makes great BBQ is balance- of flavor, texture, everything. Like in wine, where if I can easily identify it as oak, it's too much, the same is true for BBQ and smoke. The meat, smoke,rub, and perhaps sauce should form a balanced unit, with all components working synergistically. I only eat kosher, so I don't know anything about pork, but am often highly satisfied by the beef ribs and brisket I make, but sometimes it lets me down. Each smoking is different, each piece of meat is different. Sometimes the rub and smoke are perfect, but the meat is slightly (or even more) overcooked. Sometimes the meat is perfect after the smoking, but by the time someone orders it it has become dry, or tough. Doesn't happen often with ribs, but brisket, on the other hand, takes a while to finish, so a lot can happen. I will say this- I don't consider a smoke ring mandatory to the enjoyment of Q. I have one smoker that each time creates a wonderful ring, but my commercial smoker does often creates none at all, yet with a comparable flavor profile. I can't see a problem steaming meat, though I don't typically do it myself- many competitive pitmasters wrap their brisket in foil, which effectively steams it in the smoker. There are some tough briskets which require steaming to soften them up- otherwise, there's no way to make them tender in the smoker. But at least with beef, fall off the bone tender or fall apart tender is overcooked.

      8 Replies
      1. re: ganeden

        All you need for the "smoke ring" is the presence of carbon monoxide. No smoke is required.

        1. re: gordeaux

          How about nitrogen dioxide?

          And here is why I don't get all ga-ga about the illustrious smoke ring:
          http://bbq.about.com/od/barbecuehelp/...

          1. re: CocoaNut

            Obviously, oxidized nitrogen is one of the prime ingredients of a smoke ring. Well cured meats are almost entirely pink in color, and they're cured with salts containing oxidized nitrogen (nitrates and nitrites). But evidently, a more purplish hue is produced through carbon monoxide. I was reading a Kathy Reichs novel which mentioned that flesh of bodies subjected to fire often turns purple due to the presence of carbon monoxide. Therefore, I can see its presence as being a component of a smoke ring. I have not had the time to delve into the reaction between myoglobin and the smoke components to produce the pigmentation,though it's probably sitting on a page of my Leninger biochemistry textbook. I don't know whether the best smoke ring is produced in the presence of CO. I'm thinking that the most copious production of oxidized nitorgen in a fire is dependent upon both the heat of the fire and the amount of airflow, more air increasing the availability of both nitrogen to react, and oxygen to create a hotter fire. I'm figuring that my commercial Southern Pride convection smoker, being that it uses electricity as the primary heat source, dilutes the smoke enough, or cools off the smoke enough, to keep the nitrogen oxides below threshold levels for optimal smoke ring production. All I know is that no matter what I do, no matter how copious the hickory smoke, no matter how good the fire is in the firebox, I have yet to see a smoke ring deeper than a couple of millimeters, and often fail to evidence one at all.

          2. re: gordeaux

            So therefore, Gordeaux, the offset smoker I have at home which uses wood for both heat and smoke provides a thick smoke ring, but my commercial Southern Pride unit, which uses electricity for heat, even though it uses hickory logs for smoke, and produces copious amounts of smoke, I'm sure with the presence of some CO, and still produces smokey tasting Q, often fails to deliver on a ring. I was answering Steve2 when I explained that I don't consider it a necessary sign of good Q. A good dip in Prague Powder or Tenderquick could provide a smoke ring, but who wants to do that just to provide "authenticity" to the BBQ eating experience?

            1. re: ganeden

              Authenticity, IMO, is the presence of smoke used in the cooking which would be in the flavor and aroma. The ring, not so much. ALTHOUGH it's kinda pretty to look at and go "yeah, this stuff was smoked," when the ring is present. I totally agree with you, just throwing in a few cents to try and explain why the smoke ring does not always signify real q. I recently thought that a smoke ring was the sign of quality. I find it really interesting that it is not always the case. I think a lot of other ppl might think that a smoke ring is a 100% sign that the q is real. I know I used to.

          3. re: ganeden

            I have no problem with meats being wrapped in foil after they've been smoked but many places claiming they "barbecue" actually steam or bake the meat FIRST, then slather in sauce. Makes the meat "fall off the bone". The meat actually does FALL off the bone . . you can eat it with a spoon. Not so yum.

            As far as the smoke-ring. . . well, I still hold by it. Whether it's created by infusing with gasses or otherwise, it adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the proceedings and I'm all for that.

            Nobody has any favorite spots? (I'll guess, ganeden likes "Smokin'", that Kosher BBQ joint in N.Hollywood but I'm thinking he's a tad biased). I understand I may never get any of "Big Mistah's" Q since the Atwater Village Farmer's Market is shuttering and the other places he appears are G.U.D. (Geographically undesirable).

            I've read about "Smokin'" and since it's in the neighborhood, I'll probably stop by when I'm hankering for beef ribs. Brace yourselves.

            1. re: Steve2 in LA

              It just happened I was in the neighborhood of “Smokin’” this afternoon so I popped in to check things out.

              I got a table right away and thanks to owner Craig (a great guy), tasted a prodigious number of items: Beef Ribs, Beef Brisket, Smoked Chicken, Smoked Turkey in White Barbecue Sauce, Potato Salad, Coleslaw, Baked Beans, Corn Pudding and Sweet Potato Pie.

              The meats were all perfectly cooked, smoky and moist. coated in a well balanced rub (sauce with that meat, you ask? While sauce was available, I found it unnecessary). I especially enjoyed the meaty beef ribs and the turkey in white barbecue sauce. Although a first for me, the white sauce was enjoyably piquant (from horseradish, I was told) which nicely complemented the bird. The sides were all good and fresh but the standout for me was the corn pudding. Corn pudding . . . mmmmmmmmm.

              Finally that sweet potato pie. The pie was truly outstanding. As a matter of fact, the pie alone was worth the trip. I make a pretty mean sweet potato pie myownselves but this one gives my recipe a run for its money.

              As folks have mentioned, the prices are steeper here than other barbecue joints but this is a Kosher Barbecue Restaurant (one of only TWO in the U.S.) and the goods don’t come cheap. That’s partly due to the kosher process and partly because all the beef in that smoker is prime.

              I say, “check it out”.

            2. re: ganeden

              Sounds like your palate is more sensitive than mine, Ganeden. I do like a balance, but I need to taste the smoke (to a point). I do understand what you're saying about a smoke ring, but most of my good experiences have included one.

              It is interesting how BBQ experiences vary dramatically. Penthouse to outhouse is not all that uncommon. Depends on the time of day and whether or not someone is reheating something from the day before.

              I'm still not sold on a foil wrap. It's a quick and dirty way to get it done, but I truly believe the bark suffers. That being said, I don't have to do it for a living and if I did, probably wouldn't love it like I do.

            3. i'm no expert like where this post seems to be getting to...but here is how I judge my bbq...once again...im just a bbq fan/junkie...

              -good crust
              -tender meat
              -does not need to be covered in sauce to be enjoyed

              maybe too simple of an answer for some of you...haha

              5 Replies
              1. re: jaypeezy

                >>> "does not need to be covered in sauce to be enjoyed"

                DING! DING! DING! DING! We have a winner folks!

                1. re: jaypeezy

                  Simple is usually best. Your three points are definitely part of my set of points. And Steve2 in LA - there are quite a few places in Chicago that are "famous" for their ribs which are boiled or steamed, slathered in bbq sauce, and then baked in an oven. It's almost embarrassing when I hear ppl talk about their favorite place for Chicago bbq, and it is one of those joints. On the FLIP side, there are some really decent spots in Chicago that do produce real bbq which is what I refer to as "Chicago Style BBQ." It's usually spares, rib tips, and "hot link" sausages smoked in an "aquarium style" smoker. We're just starting to see the spots opening that serve brisket, and pulled pork.

                  1. re: gordeaux

                    No offense gordeaux, but "famous" does not a barbecued rib make. People might enjoy 'em but they're still not barbecue. They're baked ribs in barbecue sauce, to get semantical.

                    Speaking of Chicago Barbecue though, did you ever try "Smoque" when you were there? I hear they're making some kick-ass Q.

                    1. re: Steve2 in LA

                      No offense taken - I agree with you 100%. Like I said, I'm embarrassed when I hear folks talking about those joints like it's actually bbq. I wouldn't call smoque "Kick ass," but for a place doing brisket, and more of a Texas style of q in Chicago, it's pretty good. Real bbq brisket is a rarity in Chicago. I'm spoiled somewhat because I get to visit my uncle in D/FW once a year. Those places down in Texas - even the "touristy" joints can make some serious q. I could go for a turkey/brisket combo plate right now.

                  2. re: jaypeezy

                    Nailed it, Jaypeezy & CocoaNut!

                  3. My personal choice is very very tender, lots of yummy sauce, and preferably falling off the bone. And I enjoy oven-made bbq almost as much as the 'real' thing as long as it's cooked low and slow...

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Kajikit

                      A lot of folks would argue that you like oven roasted or braised meat with bbq sauce on it as much as you like bbq meats, but bbq can not happen in an oven - if those folks wanted to get persnickety about it. I generally save these type discussions for friends and several cold ones during a bbq. Out of 10 or so close friends, I still have one who is not converted after eating real bbq at my house. He still claims that "momy's" ribs are better. They are boiled and then covered in sauce and water, and cooked in the oven until they are "fall off the bone tender." I call that stew.
                      I tell him he should get a better dental plan if he thinks that meat flavored baby food is "tender." We go back and forth like that, but in the end, it's really all in good fun. It's more about busting each other's stones than who's right or wrong...but we all know who's right.

                      :-)

                      1. re: gordeaux

                        Amen brother! I don't care WHAT we git to fight about, but let's git t'gether and have a good fight (duck blind is a good spot...local joint...whatever...)

                        1. re: gordeaux

                          Another Amen, and let's add a deer camp for that particular git togetha.

                          1. re: gordeaux

                            BBQ and braises are 2 sides of the same coin. Both ways to create a tender meal from tough meat. Braises tend to dilute the flavor of the flavor of the meat, by adding liquid and additional flavor components, while BBQ tends to concentrate the flavor of the meat through dessication, and then often overshadow the meat flavor with too-heavily-flavored sauces and rubs. Braising is more forgiving, and lends itself better to preserving the original flavor and texture of the meat when reheating. If I can keep my place afloat, I plan to add some braises to the product line. I wouldn't call them BBQ, but hope I would call them Delicious.

                        2. I find that people out on the left coast do not get BBQ. They call grilling BBQ which leaves me cranky.

                          I love Texas brisket. I dream of it. I grew up with it, so I cannot abide any other. I like and have unsuccessfully tried to duplicate Shivers (homestead, FL) thick and meaty shake on BBQ sauce. If anyone knows that place and has any idea how to make it... PLEASE release me from the torture of not knowing! I love a shredded pork sandwich drenched in good sauce.

                          BBQ chicken... eh.

                          My husband slow BBQ's a mean boston butt. He uses the regular grill on low and wood chips from our fruit trees. We call it meat candy. No sauce.