The Humbling of a Barbecue Snob

August 04, 2021

The Humbling of a Barbecue Snob

I can draw a line to the specific moment in time when I realized my food snobbishness was getting to be a problem.  Incidentally, it happened to coincide with the time my metabolism called to let me know it was considering retirement.  It was late fall, 2006.  I was 25 years old, and I had some rare time off between shows.  I visited my folks in North Georgia with the intention of kidnapping my stepfather so the two of us could go on what we named “The Barbecue Tour of The South.”  The goal was simple, if its name a little grand: eat barbecue in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas.  We would do this by driving out to Austin to visit my brother for Thanksgiving, and we mapped out a winding route that journeyed through the heart and soul of barbecue.  When I proposed this trip to my stepfather he raised his eyebrows,  and pushed up his lips in a way that suggested piqued interest, and not a little suspicion that we might die of heart attacks on some dirt road in the middle of Alabama.  Nevertheless we set off; who cared if we returned to Georgia with an LDL reading of 250?  


(The Superbread Knife with Huckleberry G-Fusion handle) 

These are things I learned on that trip.  I learned that Jaguar makes terrible cars.  A delightful prop for pulling up to dilapidated barbecue shacks, but useless for getting anywhere reliably.   I learned that I’d been wasting my money on nasal decongestant every winter, when I could have just bought a bottle of North Carolina barbecue “sauce.”  Nothing more than vinegar and cracked pepper, this perfect accompaniment to fatty smoked pork could wake the dead.  I learned that in Memphis barbecue is church.  And lastly, in Texas, I learned that brisket is barbecue.


Now I know what you’re thinking.  Of course it is, why wouldn’t it be?  It’s meat smoked to melty tenderness served with sauce and lots of paper towels.  That’s basically barbecue, right?  Well, this is where my food snob affliction enters the story.  Hi, my name is John, and I can be a snob.  Maybe that comes as no surprise.  What gave it away? The casual mention of the Jaguar we chose for our 2,000 mile barbecue journey?  We Tufts are afflicted with a snobbishness that’s a bit much, honestly.  We’re particular.  We don’t like it when people pass on the right.  We think dinner knives have the serration on the wrong side.  We think everyone should know how to tie a double bowline.  And we think that brisket isn’t barbecue.  

I can hear my grandfather now saying, “Barb-à-que,” in his nasal tenor Atlanta dialect.  “Beard to tail.  It’s French.”  Though his etymology was off by an ocean, he was trying to say that the joy of barbecue is that it’s eaten beard to tail, or nose to tail, to use a more recent, trendy phrase.  Hogs are classic barbecue because every part is delicious.  You pit roast a whole pig, and it’s all good—the ribs, the shoulder, the snout, the ears, the tail.  And it’s not just pigs.  In central Mexico, whole lamb are cooked “barbacoa.” In northern Mexico it’s whole goats.  In parts of Florida, whose early Caribbean influence gave us the term from which barbecue derives, whole fish, slowly smoked is barbecue. From beard to tail, barb-à-que, nothing is wasted.  When you eat beef “BBQ,” however, you’re almost always only eating the brisket.  It’s not “barb-à-que” it’s “just that fatty part, thanks.” Words have meaning, and for something to be called what it is, it should be what it’s called.  


But…times change.  Language evolves. “Explode” used to be a play on the word “applaud,” and it meant to mock a performer who was doing poorly. “Awesome” was reserved for things, you know, inspiring actual awe.  So, too, can the word “Barbecue” evolve, in spite of my silly Tufts-ian snobbishness.  Barbecue has grown to encompass too much to limit itself to its original meaning. Barbecue is cold beer, the gentle smell of applewood, paper plates, catching fireflies, slow cooked patience, messy fingers, nose-clearing vinegar, pork shoulder, beef brisket, and a 2,000 mile drive in rattly Jag with your stepfather. 

BBQ Brisket Sandwich 
Serves 4 (with days of leftover brisket)
Note:  It takes a couple of days.

Ingredients:

Brisket

• 1 whole brisket trimmed of some of its fat. ~ 7lbs
• 1/2 cup of kosher salt
• 1/2 cup of fresh ground black pepper

Slaw

• 1 head of green cabbage
• 1 head of red cabbage
• 1 red onion
• 1 carrot
• 1/4 cup of cider vinegar
• 1/4 cup of buttermilk
• 1/2 cup of olive oil
• 1/4 cup of dijon mustard
• 2 Tbs of Mayonnaise
• 1 Tbs of Honey
• Salt and Pepper to taste

BBQ Sauce

• 1 1/4 cup of ketchup
• 1/3 cup of brown sugar or maple syrup
• 3 Tbs of cider vinegar
• 2 Tbs of Worcestershire sauce
• 2 Tbs of Dijon mustard
• 1/2 tsp of paprika
• 1/4 tsp of garlic powder
• 1 tsp of salt
• 1/2 tsp of black pepper
• 1 tsp of liquid smoke

Also

• 8 slices of thick country sourdough
• 8 tbs of butter, softened

Steps:

Make the Brisket

  1. 1. Combine the salt and pepper in a mixing bowl.
  2. 2. Lay the brisket out on a sheet pan and sprinkle the salt/pepper mixture over the entire surface of the brisket. 
  3. 3. Place the sheet pan and brisket in the fridge for at least 2 hours, and up to overnight.
  4. 4. Prepare a smoker for between 250ºF and 275ºF.  
  5. 5. Smoke the brisket, fat side up, for about ten hours.
  6. 6. Remove the brisket from the smoker, wrap in foil, and return to the smoker for a final 3-4 hours until the internal temperature reads about 190ºF.
  7. 7. Alternatively you can do all of this in a 250ºF oven, but you won’t get any of the smoke flavor.  It’ll still be delicious though.  
  8. 8. Allow the meat to rest for about 30 minutes before slicing.

Make the BBQ Sauce.

  1. 1. Combine all of the ingredients for the sauce in a small saucepan.
  2. 2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat to a simmer.
  3. 3. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sauce has thickened.
  4. 4. Set aside.

Make the Slaw.

  1. 1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the mustard, mayonnaise, honey, and cider vinegar. 
  2. 2. Whisk until smooth.
  3. 3. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil in a very thin stream as you whisk to create an even emulsion.  
  4. 4. Slowly drizzle in the buttermilk while whisking as you did the olive oil.
  5. 5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. 6. Thinly slice the red and green cabbage, the red onion, and the carrot.
  7. 7. Add the vegetables to the mixing bowl and toss in the slaw dressing to evenly coat everything.
  8. 8. Set aside.

Assemble the sandwiches.

  1. 1. Slice as much brisket as you think you’ll need for the sandwiches.  I usually go with 1/4 to 1/2 pound person.   The rest can be wrapped and stored for later.
  2. 2. Heat a large pan over medium heat.
  3. 3. Arrange the slices of bread in a little assembly line.
  4. 4. Top four of the slices with some brisket, slaw and bbq sauce.  
  5. 5. Add the top slice of bread to complete the sandwich.
  6. 6. Melt a couple of Tbs of butter in the pan.
  7. 7. Grill each sandwich, one by one, in the pan until each side is a dark golden brown.
  8. 8. Slice each sandwich in half.
  9. 9. Serve.

John Tufts John Tufts is an award-winning actor and author.  In addition to being paid to travel the world to wear tights and fight with swords, he has also written a book about the food of Shakespeare’s England called Fat Rascals: Dining at Shakespeare’s Table.  His book is available at john-tufts.com/fatrascalsbook.  His upcoming food history web series, Eatso Facto, will start airing in September.  You can follow him on Instagram at @johnnymtufts.  He lives in New York.




Also in News

The Paring Knife and Coq au vin by John Tufts
The Paring Knife and Coq au vin by John Tufts

January 25, 2023

Our good friend John Tufts prepares a delicate and delicious Coq au Vin dish featuring the Paring Knife from New West Knifeworks.

Continue Reading

The Santoku and 72 Hour Short Rib
The Santoku and 72 Hour Short Rib

January 25, 2023

Continue Reading

Love at First Cut: Santoku Meets Grand Canyon River Guide
Love at First Cut: Santoku Meets Grand Canyon River Guide

December 06, 2022

Continue Reading