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.
• 1 whole brisket trimmed of some of its fat. ~ 7lbs
• 1/2 cup of kosher salt
• 1/2 cup of fresh ground black pepper
• 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
• 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
• 8 slices of thick country sourdough
• 8 tbs of butter, softened
Make the Brisket
Make the BBQ Sauce.
Make the Slaw.
Assemble the sandwiches.