From Paleo to Vegan – Low and Slow for All!
In the final part of our weeklong series on barbecue, today we present a short piece on how barbecue can be used as a technique for diverse diets and food preferences.
For Authentic Taste, It’s Got to Be Low and Slow
I’m good friends with a Southern-born man who doesn’t think barbecue north of the Mason-Dixon line is worth eating. When I finally dragged him to a place advertised as authentic, he was disappointed. He explained that when he went for barbecue, he wanted to eat “the whole hog.” Northern-style portions struck him as odd — if you’re going to feast, then, well, feast. He was and is too polite to comment on the taste, but he couldn’t hide a slight sneer.
It isn’t just the portions that turn off our neighbors who grew up in the areas of the country where the tradition developed. In New England, we have a baffling tendency to confuse grilling with barbecue. While both are generally done outdoors, they are contrasting cooking styles — grilling uses high heat and is done quickly; barbecue involves low heat and cooking times that sometimes require chefs to fire up the smoker before the sun rises.
What is worse, many have fallen victim to the idea that barbecue is defined by a sweet ketchup-based sauce that wasn’t even widely used until the 1980s. Calling a piece of chicken “barbecue” because it’s slathered in said sauce is like calling this article a poem because it contains words.
To get yourself in the right mind for barbecue, you need to forget about the pace of life we have come to accept in this region. The same mind that is accustomed to weaving in and out of rush-hour traffic on I-495 is ill-suited for crafting the perfect plate of baby back ribs.
FROM PALEO TO VEGAN — BARBECUE AS HEALTH FOOD
As an increasing number of people follow restricted diets, it is harder to cook communal food. Fortunately, barbecue is appropriate for a range of food types.
While we normally think of barbecue as a carnivore-centered delight, the method adapts well to vegetables. Chipotles are hot peppers slowly smoked using a technique developed in Chihuahua, Mexico. You can approximate the results with a home smoker or grill. Tofu, tempeh, potatoes, corn, mushrooms and onions are all excellent choices for low-heat roasting. Salts and herbs are given added depth. Smoked brie is easy to make. Tea leaves may be lightly smoked for a more complex flavor.
Paleo dieters embrace barbecue, but are often hesitant to use sugar in rubs. Sugar is necessary to form the bark. The amount of sugar you ingest from the bark is very small, and the sugar in recipes can be replaced easily with honey or, for the true New Englander, locally-produced maple syrup.
Commercially available sauces are a hidden source of large amounts of sugar. For people concerned with carbohydrates, there are many options: Memphis dry rubs and vinegar- or mustard-based sauces require little or no sugar and add welcome flavors. Rosemary- or thyme-infused vinegar is easy to make and often tastier than less healthy supermarket options. Additionally, the Merrimack Valley is home to a number of excellent Asian groceries that sell a wide range of vinegars, fish sauces and spices that complement slow-cooked meat and vegetables.
Then there are barbecued meat dishes that don’t require any sugar, such as pulled pork.
Remember this: If the food requires sauce to make it interesting, that’s a problem with the chef and it’s time to go back to barbecue university. At one of the longest-running barbecue restaurants in the country, Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas, the motto is “no sauce, no forks,” and that’s a good mantra for any aspiring pit master.