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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

      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.

                        1. Dry, tough cue is bad cue. The thing is, good BBQ--especially brisket--is somewhat rare. Producing top-notch cue for the masses is almost an art form, and that's why I really respect those rare pit bosses who do it well.

                          1 Reply
                          1. Dry and tough Q is a major, disqualifying fault. Come through Kansas City, we'll do you up right.

                            1. I much prefer other types of BBQ for that very reason.

                              American style of BBQ is difficult to get right. There is far more bad BBQ than good. I also don't care much for the regional sauces. I do like a few regional rubs and I use a Memphis one at home when put in the time for Memphis ribs.

                              Even when I have had a good American regional BBQ, it doesn't compare with so many other kinds of BBQ around the world to my tastes. There are just too many other styles of BBQ around the world that I like so much better!

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: sedimental

                                Which types do you prefer? Just curious. And keep in mind, we're talking about slow smoking, preferably over indirect heat, not simply grilling over a live fire.

                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                  All kinds!
                                  Not just an American ( mostly southern) definition of BBQ either. I love Cantonese BBQ, especially BBQ duck. I usually do a combo of smoking, grilling, and using a variety of flavor combos at my house ...and use my wood fired oven for slow smoked food. I do a lot of Brazillion BBQ and Mid East BBQ (including spit roasting) as well.

                                  I was actually grilling with Steven Raichlen last weekend. We were talking about BBQ in general and smoking. He is writing a new book right now about smoking. It will not be just about American style smoking. It has its place, but there is a whole big world out there too. We did grilling (and lots of wine drinking :) and he is a terrific resource for BBQ of all kinds, all over the world. Of course, we didnt smoke meatsm we grilled and flash smoked mussels. I posted some grilling techniques about it here:


                                  I guess my point to the OP is that If you don't care much for American BBQ, there are many other ways to BBQ ...ribs, brisket, duck, lamb, fish, chicken, sausage, etc. some slow smoked, some cold smoked, grilled, spit, pit, all different ovens and boxes, all different smoking options not just wood... tea, rice, herbs, etc. Don't let bad American style BBQ sour you on the experience! There are many ways to BBQ.

                                  1. re: sedimental

                                    Brisket in the oven needs/must be cooked for no less than 3 hours. For BBQ/Smoker then the time goes to 6-8 hours. Yes you make Jerky.

                              2. I guarantee you the brisket your family had that was dry & tough was undercooked.

                                Yep, undercooked...NOT overcooked.

                                I'd be willing to put money on it.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: JayL

                                  Yes. Most people don't understand the importance of getting the meat temp high enough for long enough to melt the collagens, thereby making the meat juicy and succulent.

                                2. I do find that in Taiwan they can cook pork without being afraid of the fat, which can make some gloriously juicy, tender dishes. In the US, I think, in spite of the bacon obsession, that there's much more of a fear of fat in meat. (Wanders off to make stewed pork belly...)

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                    Off Topic:

                                    Love, love, LOVE crispy pork belly. Food of the gods...

                                    We haven't made it lately...I think we're due.

                                  2. I almost never find dry bbq, so I'm not sure what you're talking about. Of course it would be a problem.

                                    1. Why cook dry, why overcook meat? It destroys the flavour and texture.

                                      Why use inferior cuts of meats? Use rump steak or T-bone or eye fillet, cooked to rare to medium rare to medium. This keeps the meat juicy and tender.

                                      Here in Australia the easiest cooking method is the BBQ. In summer many folks live off the BBQ of a summer's evening with a glass of a good Australian Shiraz (syrah) or Cab Sav with family and friends.

                                      But dry meat off the BBQ? YUK!

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: BobE1953

                                        Bob, I think the American definition of barbecue and the Australian definition are quite different. What you're describing is called grilling which we also do plenty of.

                                        Barbecue is a means of slow cooking tougher cuts of meat over low heat and wood smoke. It's by definition inferior cuts of meat. The trick is to slowly render the fat in them and turn them tender over a long period of time.

                                        1. re: JonParker

                                          Thanks Jon. I've learnt something new :)

                                          I'll hunt that up and give it a go. I do some slow roasting in the oven such as a leg of lamb for 5-8 hours at 100deg Centigrade; the meat falls off the bone.

                                          Yet another example of language differences between the 'States and Oz.

                                          1. re: BobE1953

                                            What sort of wood do y'all cook with down there? I'm assumin' mesquite, hickory and pecan are not heavy on the ground in Oz, but perhaps you have some oak?

                                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                              We mainly use eucalyptus wood, native to Australia and plentiful. There are many species depending upon where you live.

                                              For any smoke flavouring we use woodchips on top of the eucalyptus or we use woodchips in a smoker.

                                          2. re: JonParker

                                            I wouldn't say that "by definition" bbq is inferior pieces of meat. Sure, brisket was pretty inferior until someone slow cooked one with smoke...but that's about all I can think of off the top of my head.

                                            Traditional barbecue where I come from is whole hog...from the rooter to the tooter. Nothing inferior about that. I can't think of a single inferior piece of the hog that would typically be bbq'd.

                                            And yes...for all you Australians and Californians...bbq isn't the same as a grilled steak. LoL

                                            1. re: JayL

                                              I'm certainly not going to get into a debate over the definition of barbecue -- that would lead to hundreds of posts, mod intervention and someone insisting that the whole thing was invented by Eskimos in 900 AD and the rest of us are full of crap.

                                              So yeah, whole hog barbecue is certainly barbecue, and any piece of meat, whether because it's huge or because it's just a crappy piece of meat that's slow cooked, preferably with wood smoke is barbecue.

                                              My point was to differentiate what we're talking about in this thread from grilling, which is what the Australians call BBQ. Shrimp on the barbie (BBQ) would be impossible under the American definition. There'd be nothing edible left after 10 hours of smoking it.

                                            2. re: JonParker

                                              Exactly. Barbecue involves smoke and time. Grilling is what most Americans do.

                                          3. Most reputable BBQ restaurants that I know of are not using ultra lean "other white meat" supermarket pork. The first 3 posters pretty much summed up the lean pork issue.

                                            1. They are, or at least they should be.


                                              12 Replies
                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                From a cooking perspective, why would a leaned out pork product be preferred over a nicely marbled heavy pork product available from virtually any good purveyor?

                                                1. re: Tom34

                                                  Lean pork has nothing to do with cooking and everything to do with Marketing and the Zero Fat Heart Healthy Police.

                                                  1. re: Tom34

                                                    I think you are confused by Bill Hunt's post. He wasn't responding to you, he was responding to the original poster. Bill Hunts comment "they are, or at least they should be" was in response to the question posed by the OP "Are dryness and toughness not considered defects in BBQ?", not in response to your comment regarding the use of lean pork.

                                                    1. re: carolinadawg

                                                      What is perfectly clear in my mind at the time does not mean that I was clear in execution. It was my usual rant to Tom34 query on why a leaned out pork product is now the norm.

                                                      Just because I may know what I mean to say, does not mean that I can express myself clearly. My apologies.

                                                      1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                        Indianriverfl, you are also confused by my post, which was directed at Tom34. If you look in the upper right hand corner of every dialogue box, the name of the poster the comment is directed at is listed. If no name is present, the comment is directed at the original poster.

                                                      2. re: carolinadawg

                                                        Exactly, and I cannot imagine what Tom34 was thinking, or responding to, but sometimes I am just dense.

                                                        Tom34 - dryness, and toughness, regarding BBQ, ARE considered defects, at least by me.


                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                          It's actually fairly easy to see how he was confused. He said "most reputable BBQ restaurants are not using...lean pork.". Then your post, which appeared directly under his, said "they are, or at least the should be.". He simply thought you were responding to him. If he had looked closely, he would have seen your post was in response to the OP.

                                                          1. re: carolinadawg

                                                            But my reply was to the OP.

                                                            Sorry for the confusion. Perhaps one needs to read the "RE:___ " to understand the reply?


                                                        2. re: carolinadawg

                                                          Yeah, my screw up, should have looked for the little box......also should have picked up on "why would Bill advocate lean pork"......talk about a brain fart!

                                                        3. re: Tom34

                                                          Sorry, but you have completely lost me here.

                                                          Can you cite where I said that a "nicely marbled heavy port product," was not preferable?

                                                          I think that you might have missed the point, or misread my reply.


                                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                            Sorry Bill, thought you were responding in favor of lean pork , which, with a little more thought on MY part should have sent up red flags that I got something terribly wrong. Bottom line, my thought was no good.

                                                            1. re: Tom34

                                                              No. Only to the OP.

                                                              Sorry about that.


                                                      3. nope--it's not supposed to be like that. unfortunately, i have discovered that most americans have no idea what constitutes good food in general--the majority believe that quantity = quality, and when there is a choice between the two, quantity is the only sane choice.

                                                        i have spent dozens of years in texas, and in houston (one of the great american cities for wonderful restaurant experiences) there are only a couple of good barbecue joints, the very best being Pappas' Barbecue. i honestly believe a great deal of the problem is people from other regions, and likely other countries who (like yourself) do not know what to expect--like the people who come to texas, and are genuinely shocked to discover that not only is dallas a tiny little berg in comparison to houston, but almost no one here ever rides horses, and the majority of us never come in direct contact with ranch animals anywhere outside of the houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (a texas tradition i hate, and pray every year for it to stop--BTW); almost no one has a drawl, and almost no one owns either cowboy boots, nor a stupid cowboy hat.

                                                        briskets have two layers of meat, and the top layer has more fat than the bottom, which makes it tricky. a skilled chef can and does prepare a barbecue brisket that is not dry and tough--that is the result of a very poorly trained, and unskilled grill master. another confusing point is sauces--some regions do not use sauce by tradition, but newcomers expect it, so it is served.

                                                        i have no doubt that you have had a hard time finding brisket that is not nasty; i can only suggest you do lots of research, and perhaps learn to do it yourself, so that you can really impress your in-laws, next time!

                                                        i did a quick search, and found: http://texasbbqposse.blogspot.com/201... (which i am not familiar with);

                                                        and these people research how best to cook everything for a living: http://www.americastestkitchen.com (i imagine they can help!) this is what i found in their site from the term "barbecue brisket"--http://www.americastestkitchen.com/se....

                                                        good luck!

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: albalovescholo

                                                          Well, even if it's true that a majority of Americans don't know good food (and I don't think I agree) that still leaves a lot of people who do know good food, and creates a huge market for places that do it right. (Pappas? The chain? Really?) And I really can't find the connection between wearing a cowboy hat and good food.

                                                          I do agree that unfamiliarity with the way a particular food is supposed to be cooked can be an issue, however. For example, I read a lot of comments from people who, upon eating NC BBQ for the first time, will say something like "the sauce was so full of vinegar I couldn't eat it". Well, duh.

                                                          I'm not sure ATK is the best source for authentic preparations. Oven barbecued beef brisket?

                                                          1. re: carolinadawg

                                                            i am confused by your offence at my observations. if americans have such great taste, how do you explain fast food, and the insane number of nasty buffet chains? many, many nasty restaurants do very well based solely upon the portion-to-price ratio, because americans equate huge piles of food with quality.

                                                            processed foods are bad for us, and made with crap ingredients, but there is no end to the variety of garbage foods on the market: more every day. i was in the opening crew of an Olive Garden in Encinitas, CA, and i know exactly what is in their food: did you know that most of it comes from boxes and bags? it is relatively low-quality, seriously bad-for-you food, and they make piles of money. the best things there are the soups, because they are made fresh, from fresh ingredients, all day long, but that "alfredo" sauce is from a mix--that;s why it is gross the moment it is no longer hot. true sauce "al Freddo" has only butter, young Parmigiano Reggiano, salt, and pepper--no cream, no nutmeg...and definitely not from a mix.

                                                            as to Pappas being a chain--so what? it is a family-owned company, that began as a refrigeration company. they served restaurants, and decided they could do at least as well as those they worked for, and they were right. Dot Diner is the best diner in Houston, and there is only one--is that better? that too is a Pappas property.

                                                            i was a professional chef, and i think about food differently than most people do, because i know how it is made. ATK has far more recipes than oven-barbecued brisket, and a brief scan of the linked page reveals that truth. i do not always agree with their opinions, but the reality is that they know what they are doing.

                                                            the comment about cowboy couture was relevant to people not knowing what to expect, and not understanding the difference between reality and mythology. the Bush clan preferred Otto's, and that was based in familial loyalty--Otto's was dry, and nasty, and no longer exists at all; Goode and Co. is also very dry, tough, and flavourless, but that company thrives.

                                                            i honestly do not understand why my observations offended you. as a psychologist, i find it interesting.

                                                            1. re: albalovescholo

                                                              LOL, I wasn't offended. Maybe you need to re-read what I posted. I simply don't agree with all your observations. Just offering my observations back. Interesting that you view that as taking offense...

                                                              But in regard to food, which this site is about, I've been to Pappas, and if that's the best Houston has to offer, then Houston doesn't have great BBQ. Good maybe, but not great.

                                                              1. re: albalovescholo

                                                                "Americans equate huge piles of food with quality"

                                                                In any population there will be those who see value in quantity and those who see value in higher end ingredients prepared by higher skilled chefs. I also think being the melting pot of the world makes it very difficult to compare US eating habits as well as a host of other things to many other countries. I find it even more interesting that a Psychologist would try to do so!

                                                                1. re: Tom34

                                                                  There have been several threads on similar - "Quality = Quantity." While I feel that sentiment is wrong, maybe a Search would benefit here?


                                                          2. Just joined this site and already upset by the things people post. Not all restaurants are the same. I lived in Atlanta for 20+ years. Yes there is good BBQ there, but you need to stay out of chains. There are great restaurants if you look. Donny's in Powder Springs is wonderful. There was a great restaurant in Marietta on Windy Hill, but new ownership, not that great anymore....

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: Dissie

                                                              Whenever one gets pushed into a corner, they dredge up the "chains," to support their point - Americans are not worth the type, as they are deficient, and on many points.

                                                              Do not let such arguments dissuade you from posting, or following. Those people cannot make a point, without horrible use of hyperbole. Ignore them.


                                                              1. re: Dissie

                                                                Bill has it right. Most folks like chowing down a dozen or more cheap buffalo wings with a pitcher or 2 of beer and other times enjoy a nice perfectly cooked piece of $15.99 lb sea bass. The intent of the occasion plays a big role.

                                                                On the BBQ end of it, I have a BGE and love slow & low cooked BBQ. Some things like ribs I like just a dry rub. Other things like pork butt I like a dry rub followed by a good squirt of that vinegar based Carolina Sauce.

                                                                Some folks turn their noses up at us, but honestly, what other country could you find 1/2 doz different styles of BBQ. Throw in the Asian BBQ influence and it expands even further.

                                                                Some folks just need to get a life or better yet expand their pallets.