An old proverb mentioned in a 1970s song by David Gates suggests a picture paints a thousand words. I suggest a single word can paint a thousand pictures in the minds of prolific readers who develop extensive vocabularies. Consider the word barbecue.
Vivid images of juicy chopped pork, smoky ribs and chicken dripping with a tangy sauce fill my mind’s eye with such clarity I can almost taste these wonders of the grill and smoker. In half a nanosecond, thousands more images fill my brain.
I see a headless hog split down the middle and calling to me from a giant smoker for an experience that North Carolinians call a “pig pickin’.” I see thin slices of succulent beef brisket piled high on butcher-block paper. I see platters of pork ribs, some smothered with a spicy sauce, others covered with an equally spicy dry-rub.
These images are clear in my mind because my reading experiences combine with my life experiences, enabling me to articulate what I’m thinking when certain words are uttered. It also helps that I love barbecue.
The great thing about words like barbecue are the images they conjure differ from person to person. Ribs for someone in Kansas City produce a different image than for someone from Memphis. And as I’ve said before, pulled pork to folks in Georgia does not mean the same thing to folks in eastern North Carolina. It’s those differences that make barbecue such a delicious word.
Although I have my preferences to one region’s flavor over another, I try not to be rude. If I’m offered a Georgia-style pulled pork barbecue dinner, I won’t insult my host or hostess by expressing my preference for eastern North Carolina-style chopped “whole hog” BBQ drenched in a peppery vinegar sauce.
If I’m offered a plate of North Carolina-style pork ribs, Kansas City or even Memphis ribs, I won’t complain that I’d prefer a plate of ribs from local favorites like Sho‘ Nuff Smokin’ Good BBQ, Southern BBQ and Smokin’ Pig.
Each region of the country has its own unique barbecue. I not only prefer North Carolina’s chopped BBQ, there’s one particular restaurant in Goldsboro, N.C., I love for its barbecued chicken. Wilbur’s BBQ is famous for being one of the few remaining pit-cooked barbecue joints in the Tarheel State.
When I say pit, I don’t mean a smoker on wheels. I’m talking about a concrete-block enclosed pit where the whole hogs are cooked over sizzling coals of oak or hickory. This blend of white and dark meat chopped up together with some of that crispy skin and peppery vinegar sauce is what makes North Carolina pit barbecue so special.
Owner Wilbur Shirley has been serving the best pork barbecue in the state since 1962. His restaurant, located near Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, also serves the best barbecue chicken in the world. Theirs is not your typical tomato-based sauce but more of a spicy-cream sauce.
When my wife and I make our biannual pilgrimage to Wilbur’s, I always get the barbecue pork-chicken combo served with Carolina-style hush puppies and country vegetables. (By the way, misplaced North Carolinians should visit Ida Mae’s BBQ in Flemington.)
If I want brisket, it’s time to visit our oldest daughter in Texas, where cooking beef is an art form and where barbecue joints are everywhere.
Sometimes I cook my own ribs, brisket or chicken — smoking them for hours. Before I got a smoker though, I found a useful shortcut to fixing tender, tasty ribs right on the grill.
Buy a package of a dozen country style ribs and four or five cans of beef broth. Pour the broth into a large pot and bring to a boil while you wash off your ribs. Now turn off the burner. Place your ribs in the pot, ensuring each rib is covered. Cover the pot and allow them to marinate for an hour.
Fire up your grill and when the coals are glowing orange-red, add the ribs, salt and pepper the ribs then smother them with your favorite sauce. My favorite is one I find at vegetable stands near Glennville. It’s a Vidalia onion sauce. They won’t have to cook for long as they’re partially cooked from the hot marinade.
Side dishes for barbecue include hush puppies, greens (see last week’s Around the Table) and new potatoes boiled with onions. Fresh sliced tomatoes also are good. If you’ve still got room, try a bowl of banana pudding.