Sometimes at a public gathering someone will privately comment on one of my food columns. Most are kind, telling me how much they agree with my assessment of steaks, seafood or certain restaurants. Others tell me up front I got it all wrong about which is better — North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Memphis, Kansas City or St. Louis barbecue.
I don’t expect everyone to agree with my food preferences. They’re mine. Besides, food debates are an exercise in futility. I often suggest a particular style of barbecue or pizza or a specific restaurant that features ethnic food like, Chinese, Mexican or German, and I appreciate being told about a restaurant or recipe.
So what if I spend a few bucks on pizza that’s not as good as what’s served at my favorite restaurant? Unless I get catastrophic food poisoning, I’ll live to eat again.
Both the Food Network and the Travel Channel have tried to determine who makes the best barbecue. They may as well try to establish world peace, find a cure for stupidity or come up with a way to eradicate Georgia’s fire ants.
To me, all barbecue is good. But I have a preference for eastern North Carolina’s whole-hog, chopped barbecue that’s evenly smoked and dripping with peppery vinegar sauce.
And though the Tarheel State holds its own with barbecue chicken, it’s not known for ribs. For that, I know I’ve got to go south or west.
By the way, there is a difference between Eastern North Carolina barbecue, Piedmont, N.C., barbecue and Western North Carolina barbecue. The latter is a lot like Georgia’s pulled pork. Eastern Carolina’s chopped pork barbecue is way different than pulled pork from Texas, Kansas City or St. Louis, Mo., or Memphis, Tenn. It rarely does well in barbecue contests because the judging already is biased against it.
Eastern Carolina-style barbecue is sort of a learned taste. I was only 12 when Daddy returned from Vietnam and was sent to Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he retired. My brother was 14. Five years later, he was in the Army and back in Georgia at Fort Benning.
A year after that, I was in the Army, too, but I was sent right back to Fort Bragg.
Therefore, I was exposed to North Carolina barbecue for a much longer period.
When I took a break from the service to attend college, I chose North Carolina State University, partly because two years in Alaska had left me aching for some Eastern Carolina barbecue. It’s in my blood — probably my DNA.
My brother, however, despises Carolina ’Q.
But what does he know? He likes pickled quail eggs.
I actually have no preference for one state’s barbecue ribs over another. I prefer a dry-rub rib, but I always add sauce to it anyway. More importantly, I never turn down a barbecue rib. During the recent Blues & BBQ festival in Hinesville, one of the judges offered me a rib. As I accepted it, he said it wasn’t “one of the good ones.”
If that rib was one of the bad ones, I wish I had tried one of the winning ribs!
After barbecue, the food topic most likely to start a debate is pizza. I love a thin-crust, New York-style pizza because that’s the kind of pizza found around Camp Lejeune, where hundreds of Italian Americans from New York and New Jersey retired from the Corps and made Coastal North Carolina their home.
Some folks have argued with me that Chicago’s pan pizza is better. And it is — to them. Don’t get me wrong — I won’t turn down a slice of deep-dish pie ... unless it has anchovies on it.
My editor, a Missouri transplant, told me that St. Louis has the best pizza. Really? I asked if it comes with ribs on it.
However, after looking at the website for St. Louis-based Imo’s Pizza, I wouldn’t mind trying it. It has a very thin crust, and instead of mozzarella cheese, they use Provel, which my editor said is a combination of cheddar, Swiss and provolone cheeses found nearly exclusively in St. Louis.
Imo’s pizzas are best topped with bacon and mushrooms, she said.
I won’t argue that Sal’s Neighborhood Pizzeria on St. Simons Island is better than Imo’s, but it is a lot closer. There’s no debate about that.
Murray’s column appears every Wednesday in the Coastal Courier. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.