Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sauce Theory 101

     I've been in the sauce business two full years now.  Having done so, I've met a lot of folks as passionate about sauce as I.   As a community you couldn't ask for a better bunch of people to hang out with at festivals.  I've tasted all of their sauces, and they all fall into two neat categories:  Sauces that taste best by themselves, and sauces that taste best with other foods.   It really comes down to what your goal is for which you would choose, and the choice is as personal as any choice can be.

     If your steak is dry and bland you add sauce to it to add moisture and cover up the blandness of the meat.  Also handy when you burn the food.  I think the most common examples of this style of sauce would be steak sauce, ketchup, mustard, and salad dressing.   If you need to see the example in action, look to parents feeding young children.  Kid won't eat salad, they put ranch on it and suddenly the kid is eating their carrots and broccoli.  What goes on hotdogs? Mustard and or ketchup.    My daughter would happily eat cardboard as long as she has plenty of ketchup to go on it.

     Other sauces enhance existing flavors.  NC barbecue sauces tend to enhance, they are generally thinner than ketchup so the excess sauce drips off of whatever you are putting it on.  The thicker sauces like Kansas style or Texas style are thicker and sticker.  You get more sauce on your food per bite and they act like a blanket over whatever you are eating.

     Clearly, I'm biased towards the enhancement style sauces over the cover up sauces, but I really like the taste of food.  When I go to a rib festival, I don't add sauce to the ribs I buy because I want to taste the meat, the smoke, and the flavor that was cooked into the meat.  If it is bland, I'll enhance it with a little of my sauce to bring out the flavor that is hiding in their waiting to come out.  

     I'm not against the cover up style sauces, I do have a favorite one that isn't my sauce and I have no intention of ever trying to make one like it.  I'd rather support a brother in arms and buy his food with his sauce on it and end up with his trade mark saucy face before I'm done eating.

   To confuse things a bit, everyone has different taste.  So a sauce that someone is going to buy again and again, someone else might not like at all, or they will like it but won't know how to use it.  I've said, and heard said to me occasionally, "This is good, but what do you use it for?"  

    Some people have a refrigerator door filled with sauces, each sauce has a specific use and if that works for them wonderful.  Others have a go to sauce that fits most of their needs, and they keep a couple of other sauces around for certain dishes.  Some sauce companies create a lot of sauces for specific things (like Kraft salad dressings), other sauce companies create one sauce with the occasional small variant of the main product (think Texas Pete).

There is no wrong answer.  You follow your taste and do what works for you, hopefully in doing so you are purchasing locally produced sauces by small businesses (like mine).   Taste everything, buy what you like.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Memories of Barbecues Past

I have been almost haunted lately by the memories of barbecues of my childhood. The smell of wood smoke, chilly air, homemade wine, store bought liquor, dad's moonshine and tobacco smoke.  Dad and I would arrive at the garden about an hour before sunrise to start up the burn barrel and get the pig on. The pig spent the night wrapped in plastic in the back of the truck.  It was tradition to cook pigs in the fall and winter.  Not only because cooking a pig is hot work but also because no one really had anything big enough to store a whole hog in to keep it cool.  

About the time the first firing went under the pig, dad's closest friends would show up and they would light up the home made gas stove in the shed.  It was made from an old tobacco barn burner. That stove is currently in my shed, though I've never once used it.  Breakfast was bacon and eggs with a pot of rice taken right from the pan and put into styrofoam plates, which always suffered minor melting.  The morning was spent loading the burn barrel, shoveling the coals and watching the clock.

Drinking started promptly at noon and not a moment before.  I always assumed it was because it was thought only an alcoholic would drink before noon.  These men took drinking seriously and wouldn't let anyone tell them they had a problem.  By the time the first guest arrived the cooks were pretty well lit and the others played to catch up.  

The pig pickins of my childhood worked like this.  The cooks bought the hog, plates, forks, cups, napkins and such.  The guests were responsible for all drinks, sides and desserts.   As a child I could drink from the chaser supply as long as there was plenty until some other drinks arrived, or I could drink from the water hose.

A couple of hours before sundown the pig would be flipped from skin up to skin down. It was also checked for doneness.  Is the skin crispy?  Is the meat tender?  When you put a knife into the shoulders and hams did the juice run clear?  It was only when I was in my teens did anyone start using thermometers to check internal temperature.

There were very few sober guest and absolutely no sober cooks.  The sober crowd tended to be wives dropping off husbands and children.  Typically they would get a plate and head home.  They would come back about dark to bring their kids and drunks home.

One of the cooks would take point in the serving.  They would pull off the ribs and put them aside for the cooks.  Pretty much all of the meat had fallen off the bones, but they guarded those bones with their lives.  I must have been twelve before I got my first rib bone and that was in payment for my work keeping the burn barrel full of wood.  They would use tongs to pull meat off of the pig and put it in the plates of the guest.  Once everyone got their first plate of pig the tongs were laid down and anyone who came back for more was on their own.

Once everyone had eaten and proclaimed it the "best that's ever been", the plates for the widows and the aged were made.  Say what you will about that bunch of hard drinkers, but they took care of their elderly neighbors.  Strangely enough as drunk as the bunch was and as large of a crowd as it was, nobody ever got mad, and nobody ever got rowdy. They frowned HARD on anyone who did so those people never got invited.  These were "civilized rednecks" not "bikers and criminals".

It was after dark when the last of the guest had left, either driving drunk or riding with their wives.  Those that lived walking distance there, lived staggering distance back.  Dad was usually last out, cutting out the lights, locking the shed door and making sure the lid, drafts, and fire door were closed on the cooker.  It was always cold enough outside that they never had to worry about meat spoiling.

The next morning the cooks would all meet back at about nine in the morning to discover that what meat had been left on the grill had been stolen in the night.  Or so they said.  It was only recently that I started to wonder if they left without realizing how much meat was left on the grill after everyone ate and made plates.  After surveying the damage, they would start a small fire in the burn barrel and heat the pig enough to melt the grease.  They would split up the skin and any meat that could be scrapped off of it.   Of course, if they didn't finish before noon, the drinking commenced but it all got done eventually.  The cooker was thoroughly cleaned and returned to the side shelter.

I was able to put wood in the burn barrel starting when I was about twelve.  I wasn't allowed  to shovel coals until I was in my twenties and that was extremely rarely.  I wasn't allowed to help in ernest until I was in my thirties.  I got to co-cook exactly one pig with my father before he died.  He had nothing but positive things to say about my work, but that didn't mean I wasn't watched with the critical eye of a grizzled and seasoned drill sergeant. 

As the only sober person to witness the entire process from start to finish that ended up making me something of an expert in how they did it.  The only difference between the pigs they cooked and the pigs I cook is.

  1. I'm always sober. (Though I might have a beer to relax after the work is done.)
  2. I cook with charcoal. Wood is a lot more work and I'm not positive the work got that much return for the effort over charcoal.
  3. Barbecue is my passion and my business.  For them it was their love and their hobby.
I try to cook a pig ever year or so for all my friends so I can relive my childhood.  That said my favorite thing in the whole world is opening the cooker for the first time after the meat is done and having people who have never experienced a pig pickin' before come up and photograph it for their friends. That look on their face when they see ALL that meat always makes me smile.  Bonus points if the client ask for the head to stay on. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

How I Cook A Pig

From The Mail Bag

Facebook fan Jennifer writes; "I'd love to read a blog post about the whole goggle thing..."

Dear Jennifer,

Nice hair!  I like it so much that I now wear mine that way.  ;)  Your simple question requires a long answer, and away we go!

The Delwood's Barbecue Sauce recipe traces its roots back to the 1800's and the method of cooking a pig has changed little.  In the 1800's it was cooked in a hole in the ground, now we have old oil drums, and fancy welded equipment.  Wood became charcoal and sometimes fancy gas ovens.  Traditional dress among those who cook barbecue range everywhere from jeans and button up plaid shirts to jeans and t-shirts.  Ball caps have logo's like "Cat" and "John Deer".  Here's some old photos of my dad dressed in the traditional Eastern North Carolina Barbecue style.

Ball cap, jeans, plaid shirt, its traditional to the point it is almost a uniform.  Other traditions include drinking, horse shoes, and having your left over pig stolen over night because no one was sober enough to pack it up when the eating was done so it was decided to come back the next morning to pack it up.  I suppose you would also have to include, stealing left over barbecue to the list of traditions.  The most important and easiest tradition of all to forget is community.  No one ever cooks alone, you are always surrounded by friends ready to drink beer, play horse shoes, and help you flip the pig once it is about ready to sauce.

Coming at this I realized from day one that while I was going to take the traditional knowledge I learned and apply it to make the best barbecue I possibly could, there was a lot of traditions that I was going to be leaving behind.  When I cook a pig, I am on the clock and I will not drink until the last person has eaten.  I am usually cooking alone, so I have to cook my pig skin down the entire time.  I am usually cooking alone because this job doesn't pay enough to pay a second person to sit around with me for six hours and not drink.   Realizing all this really early on I realized that what I was delivering wasn't a traditional "historically accurate" pig picking experience.  I was creating a "historical fiction" of a pig picking tradition that could have existed but didn't.  Plus, being based out of the triad, the expectations have changed, Down East everyone eats right off of the grill.  Up here in the Piedmont, folks like their meat served off of a platter with all the other sides.

Meanwhile, in another subculture called Steampunk you have a "historical fiction" world where the transistor was never invented and the industrial revolution never ended.  It is a world of Jules Verne, HG Wells, and HP Lovecraft.  The Titanic never sank, the Hindenburg never caught fire and the jet engine never got off the ground.  It is a world of adventure and far reaching frontiers.  Men are real dapper gentlemen, women are real ladies of a certain quality, and scientist are all quite mad.  It is populated by an endless number of lords, ladies, professors, tinkers, airship captains, ship captains, submarine captains, mechanics, pirates, explorers, traders, and adventurers of every ilk.

And now they have a cook.

So there you have it.  In a sea of barbecue cooks, I'll be the one wearing goggles standing at the crossroads of two wonderful histories, that just happend to have never actually happened.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Business and Politics Do Not Mix

I see in the news various pieces about businesses out there throwing lawyers, guns, and money at various political interest in order to further their own business interest.  Me being a new business owner and all I thought I'd better see where I stood on issues.

I gathered together everything that makes my business an entity,  a couple of jars of sauce, a bag of charcoal, tongs, cleaver, articles of organization, tax ID document, and my goggles and I asked them all serious questions about how we should move forward.

"Which party are we going to be affiliated with?"  The silence was deafening.  I realized pretty much as soon as the words left my mouth that I had asked a dumb question.  My sauce is meant to be enjoyed by everyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientations, or political affiliations therefore had to remain non-partisan.  "Unaffiliated then."  I  made a note on my clipboard.

"Are we going to advocate any religions?"  I was batting a thousand.  I realized that the government papers like articles of organization and tax papers must be kept separate from religions.  The steely sheen on the clever reminded me that all of the major religions had an opinion about the status of pork as a food source.  The stiff expression on the tongs reminded me that a lot of people had not forgotten the inquisition.   I wrote "No religious affiliations of any kind."

"Any charity affiliations?"  My checkbook fell off the stool and into the floor.  "No charities then."

"Well, for the record, moving forward do we believe in anything?"  The screensaver on the computer which had been laying down photo's of past barbecues chose that moment to show a slide with my companies, mission statement.

Mission Statement:
To provide time-honored Eastern North Carolina-style sauce, barbecue, and pig picking experiences in a fun and uncommon way using tried and true methods from generations of know how, right to your plate.

"I'm hearing you on FM".

I looked at the bag of charcoal which had offered no opinion up to this moment wondering if it had anything to add. The bag read "Lump Hardwood Charcoal". It was then I realized something that should have occurred to me a long time ago.

I'm talking to a bunch of inanimate objects. Businesses are not "alive" or "sentient" and therefore had no business offering its opinion or support to any religious or political entity. I don't give a wet slap how much some rich tycoon paid to make it a law otherwise. I'm here to make sauce and cook pig and that's about it.

'Nuff said.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Here There Be Whoppers!

I'm not talking about hamburgers either.  I'm talking about the good old fashioned story.  Every word the truth from my lips except those words I change to make the story better for the sake of the telling.

Allow me to furnish an example:

Back in the 1980's my dad and a bunch of his friends got their pig cookers together and cooked bunch of pigs for a church charity fund raiser for someone or other who needed help paying their doctor's bills.  They got together at about dark at a local plantation farm to cook the night away.  The pigs would be done about sunrise, they would let them cool enough to be touched, then they would fall in an chop the whole batch for plates.

I wasn't that old at the time, well, I was old enough to want to go, but not old enough that dad would let me do more than throw wood in the burn barrel.  Just so you know, I was in my twenties before I could shovel coals, and I was in my thirties before I was allowed to actually help cook one.  All under my father's watchful eye.

So here I was not yet driving, but hanging out with these seasoned cooks for a night of wood smoke, conversation and barbecue.  Gas was just starting to come into fashion, so maybe four cookers were gas while the rest were wood coals.

Long about way past my regular bedtime I had about had my fill of talk about politics, philosophy, weather and invention and  made my way back to dad's truck to have a nap in the front seat.  I don't know how long I'd been snoring when the whole area was rocked by a huge explosion.  I jumped up so fast I banged my head on the roof of the truck, and the dent is still there today.

Half dazed, I stagger out of the truck to well ordered chaos, men were gathering buckets here, hoses there,  others doing head counts and trying to find the cause of the explosion.  There was smoke everywhere, but nothing appeared to be damaged anywhere.  All the vehicles were intact, all the cookers were intact, no ruptured gas lines.  As the smoke started to clear folks investigating the scene started to pick up the smell of propane gas.  They traced it to one cooker,  and peaked in the fire door.  These early gas cookers were just wood fired cookers who had outfitted tobacco barn burners into the bottom, so the door you shovel coals through was still there and it was from there that they lit their burners.

This cooker's fire was completely out, but the gas was running and there was the smell of cooked meat about it.  They opened the lid to find a completely empty grill.  There was no pig left.  There wasn't much of a sign that there had ever been a pig there, but they all knew there was.  They all loaded their cookers at the same time and helped each other position the pigs. By flashlight they looked for the pig but didn't find it.

The sun came up that morning and we all set out scouring every inch of the place looking for that pig.  Some of the men even shimmied up ladders and looked on the roof of the equipment barn.  We never found hide nor hair of that blown up pig.

That my friends, was a whopper.  By way of comparison, I'll tell you the absolute truth of the story as it happened.

Back in the 1980's my dad and a bunch of his friends got their pig cookers together and cooked bunch of pigs for a church charity fund raiser for someone or other who needed help paying their doctor's bills.  They got together at about dark at a local plantation farm to cook the night away.  The pigs would be done about sunrise, they would let them cool enough to be touched, then they would fall in an chop the whole batch for plates.

I wasn't that old at the time, well, I was old enough to want to go, but not old enough that dad would let me do more than throw wood in the burn barrel.  Just so you know, I was in my twenties before I could shovel coals, and I was in my thirties before I was allowed to actually help cook one.  All under my father's watchful eye.

My momma set her foot down, I wasn't going, and I didn't.  I watched TV, brushed my teeth and was in bed by 9pm same as it ever was.

Dad and the rest of them got good and rip roaring drunk talking about women, hunting, fishing, eating, and cooking.  Then the place was rocked by an explosion, they all staggered out and found one of the gas cookers with its fire out, and the lid askew enough that one of them thought to open it.  There was no pig, and only just enough meat smeared around the inside to prove beyond doubt that they had put a pig on it.

They never found hide nor hair of that blown up pig.

That is the truth as told to me by my dad and backed up by the solemn word of every other man there that night.  Which story was better?

Here I promise you will always read the better story woven from threads of truth.  Just like the sauce.  Delwood's Eastern North Carolina Style Barbecue Sauce is the absolute truth as taught to me by my father.    How you use it, creates the whopper.  My dad used it for barbecue ONLY most of his life and only late in life did he start to use it on chicken.  If he were alive today and you were to tell him how amazing it was as a marinade, or sauce on vegetables, he would likely accuse you of telling whoppers of your own.  His recipe is truth, but together we're going to tell a better story.
  -Delwood Cavenaugh II
April 16th 2012