Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Few Notes on Barbeque Sauce

Had some takeout from Chelsea's R.U.B. (stands for Righteous Urban Barbeque) last night. The meats were fair-to-good, but the sauce was excellent, maybe one of the best in NYC. A little bit sweet, a little bit molasses-y, a little bit tomato-y, a lot bit peppery, with a thick consistency. The "market-style" places like Hill Country and Fette Sau have deemphasized sauce (without dispensing with it entirely as many actual Texas Hill Country barbeque joints do), but I do appreciate it as an option, at least, and when it's done well, complimenting rather than dominating the meat, a good sauce can put a barbeque meal over the top.

Barbeque is a famously variable art, with regional differences being held sacred by traveling afficionados and local partisans alike, and there's almost as much variability in sauce's role as there is in sauce styles. Hill Country purists, as mentioned above, eliminate it entirely (although one of the best sauces I've ever had was at The Salt Lick on the edge of the Hill Country near Austin - a thin, oily, mustard-vinegar-black pepper concoction like no other, I mail ordered it from them for years afterward). At the other end of the spectrum, St. Louis' traditional style involves "finishing" the meat in a pan of sauce before serving it, though I'm not sure how many places in STL still practice this. This sauce-drenched style works really well with rib tips.

Another sauce-heavy style is found in the mustard sauce region of South Carolina. Barbeque here is often pulled pork, and often found on a buffet. The sauce tends to be thick and sweet (usually a bit too thick and sweet for my tastes), and is thoroughly incorporated with the meat before serving. If you like a side of white supremacist propoganda with your barbeque, try Maurice's in Columbia (or don't, actually). I felt pretty conflicted about eating at this Confederate flag wavin', "what was so bad about slavery?" pamphlet displayin' place, but I was very happy to be able to report, in all honesty, that the barbeque sucked. In fact, the poor quality of the food, along with the lack of cleanliness and general laurel-resting vibe of the place, echoed Frederick Law Olmsted's observations about the antebellum South in his book A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States, where he found that the institution of slavery had created in Southern white society a culture of "indolence, carelessness, indifference to the results of skill, heedlessness, inconstancy of purpose...", etc, etc. He must've had some pretty half-assed barbeque.

Returning briefly to R.U.B., I found to my surprise that their pastrami (barbeque pastrami seems to have become a "thing" lately in NYC), which had seemed a bit tough and not all that flavorful, actually improved quite a bit overnight.

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