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Are dryness and toughness not considered defects in barbecue?

I've eaten a lot of barbecues in the southeast US and some are pretty good. But the majority are dry and tough, almost like it's supposed to be that way so that they can then be rescued with a lot of sauce.

I get all kinds: pulled pork, ribs, chopped brisket, sliced brisket, chicken, beef short rib (this one is rarely dry).

It helps to add that I grew up in Taiwan and "barbecue" I ate growing up were tender, juicy, fatty stuff. Think Cantonese BBQ, or Cuban Asada. I've lived in the US for a long time now so I am used to BBQ style here. But when my in-laws came to visit recently and had some sliced brisket, they were shocked by the dryness and toughness (it's like jerky to them). I initially thought about defending the US BBQ style but after thinking a while I thought it's honest to say that I almost expect the meat to be kind of dry whenever I try yet another BBQ place.

Am I being unfair or is there some truth to this?

Excluding chains, I've been to 10+ places in the Atlanta area. Blowing Smoke in Savannah. Phil's in Efaula (very good). 7+ places in FL. 3~4 places in TN and NC. Don't get me wrong, some stuff I had at some of these places were really good!

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  1. Major defect for me. Unfortunately, supermarket pork is very lean now, and I have to special order a brisket with the cap on.

    2 Replies
    1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

      I've never bought one myself, but my mom gets cap on briskets at Target.

      1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

        Yes' new age pork is a real pain for me as there is no marbling, because decades ago the food police decided that marbled pork was no good for you.

        So I use the pork belly and a deboned pork loin with a good home made spicy apple sauce (be careful, do not use too much spice.

        You can get old fashioned marbled pork leg from some specialty butchers, or go to Bangalow Pork on the far north coast of NSW - delicious!

      2. If you've been getting a lot of dry and tough BBQ, in the south or anywhere else, you've been quite unlucky. Brisket especially, should be juicy. Pork ribs should never be dry and tough. Sometimes pulled pork can get a little dry if it's pulled all at once and then put on a steam table. My brother thinks he makes good pulled pork, but it's dry and tough. He leaves it on the smoker much too long.

        7 Replies
        1. re: John E.

          A long haul on the smoker shouldn't be bad in itself - it could be his temperature is too high. The meat should come to 190ยบ internal and no higher, then held at that temperature until it becomes "pullable" - i.e. the connective tissue and tendons have dissolved. Even today's too-lean pork is fatty enough if you stick with shoulder butt, bone-in. The meat should sit covered until it can be handled without raising blisters, then pulled apart by hand and kept in a covered tray until serving. Sauce strictly on the side.

          1. re: Will Owen

            I don't know if his temperature is too high or not. I have only had his pulled pork in situations where it has been frozen and then reheated in big broasters, such as for his son's high school graduation party. However, I had the pork just after it came up to temp and not after it was sitting in there a long time.

            When I smoke a pork shoulder, I usually smoke it for 4 hours or so and then finish it wrapped in foil. I don't care so much about the bark as I do about the juices. When I finish it either in an oven or in a crockpot, I'm left with a lot of juices that go back into the meat. His seem to drip away in the smoker.

            1. re: John E.

              You might try finishing it in a pressure cooker instead of wrapped in foil or in a crock pot. 15 lbs of pressure tenderizes the meat so that it remains extremely juicy and slips apart.

              I season my shoulder for 24 hours, smoke it with apple wood, then finish it in a pressure cooker. Perfection without any dryness. The skin is not good this way, though. Not crispy, but is best for the feel and flavor of the meat.

              1. re: sedimental

                Not too long ago I bought. Kuhn Rikon SS pressure cooker, it's only 6L, but I'm going to give it a try sometime. I really like using it for meat braises, but I haven't used it for BBQ before.

                1. re: John E.

                  IME the trick for BBQ and a pressure cooker is using the lifter in the bottom and only putting 1cup of liquid in it (totally not in contact with the meat). It will change your life and you will understand why people the world over, use pressure cookers for tough cuts.

                  1. re: John E.

                    I recently bought a Fagor pressure cooker and I also highly recommend that presuure cookers be used for pork or beef spare ribs. I have a big green egg and, even with following egg recipes to the letter, I have had pork ribs come off the egg drier than I would like. With my pressure cooker, I have had some of the tenderest, most flavorful ribs ever! I've cooked pork ribs in liquid and above the liquid in a pressure cooker basket. There is no contest - above the liquid is way better. Frankly, it's kind of getting to the point where I would just prefer cooking my ribs in my pressure cooker. It's a lot faster, much less labor involved and the results are simply (and just about always) fall-off-the-fork delicious.

              2. re: Will Owen

                To say that you should not go over 190 is very misleading.

                Some meat takes 200+ to get to that "pullable" stage.

            2. Sliced brisket should be a little chewier than chopped (a good chopped brisket should be like pulled pork in that it's more of a fall-apart texture prior to chopping). What neither should be is dry or tough.

              1. "7+ places in FL."

                Is Florida really known for their barbecue?

                6 Replies
                1. re: ttoommyy

                  I don't think so. It's just to show my reference points.

                  1. re: ttoommyy

                    I lived in FL for 2+ years and had some great BBQ. (And I base that on working in a whole hog, full log, pit BBQ in Georgia during grad school, and helping friends of mine on the pro BBQ circuit including some of the top winning teams in the US.)

                    1. re: JMF

                      Oh, I don't doubt Florida has good barbecue (we do hear in NYC too). I was just wondering if Florida was a state known for its barbecue. I know I like eating it but I don't know much about the subject. I was just trying to educate myself.

                      1. re: ttoommyy

                        I leave Florida for good Que. There are some places around the state, But not worth the drive. I will gladly stop along the way to try a new one.

                        1. re: ttoommyy

                          Northern Florida is relatively famous for barbecue.

                          1. re: ttoommyy

                            As a NY'er I know how good our BBQ is. Local teams have taken the top regional and national awards over the past ten years.

                      2. I think Q should be able to stand on it's own, no sauce. Should never be dry or tough.

                        3 Replies
                          1. re: JMF

                            Through the years, the best bbq i've had has come down to four basic ingredients:

                            meat, wood, salt and pepper

                            no fancy sauces or fifty secret ingredient dry rubs....

                            1. re: byrd

                              You forgot one ingredient: time.