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America: Land of the BBQ

Now we all know that barbeque, or BBQ as it is,  is a big thing in America.  But I am pretty sure a lot of people don’t realize how diverse of a tradition we have in this country.

For some folks there may be knowledge of just a few of the different traditions, and I think that’s just a shame.  So I’m taking this chance to highlight some of the various styles of barbeque we have.  I’ve broken them down by state.

Tennessee

 This is often referred to as “Memphis-style” and focuses slow pit-cooked ribs and barbeque sandwiches.  There are wet ribs (which are sauced) and dry ribs (where a rub is applied) and the sandwiches are made of chopped pork on a bun, and can be served with a variety of sauces depending on the joint you’re eating at, or whose back yard you’re in.

North and South Carolina

This is another pork tradition, which sometimes even goes “whole hog” and lets none go to waste. Barbeque in this region can be coated with vinegar-based marinades that include loads of spices, or are sometimes drenched with ketchup or mustard-based sauces as they’re cooked.  Some people call this “Low Country” style.

Kansas

Usually referred to as “Kansas City-style”, this tradition has spawned the biggest competitive barbequing organization in the nation.  Fortunately, they aren’t to snobby, and every style of barbeque is judged at their competitions!

The actual KC-style consists of, as you might imagine, a lot of emphasis on sauce served as a condiment, as well as the dry rub used on the meat.  Speaking of meat, they tend to use just about everything they can get their hands on in KC style!

Texas

Texas is big, and it has a lot of influence.  The variety of barbeque in Texas is impressive, and you can see a number of different meats used (though beef remains the signature Texas meat of course), as well as sauces, rubs, and more.

The type of wood used in different parts of Texas also has a big influence on the taste. Mesquite, hickory, pecan, and oak all have their places.  Down towards Mexico way there’s of course a lot of interesting influences, with barbacoa adding in a lot of goat and sheep, as well as using an underground oven.

California

With a tradition of large pit barbeques and a beef base which arises from the days of cattlemen in the state, Californian barbeque also involves a lot of towed trailers which can be found at events across the state.

Virginia

Pork and chicken dominate the Virginian scene, with heavy influences from both the Carolinas and Tennessee meaning there’s a lot of vinegar involved, but also bourbon, and tomato-based sauces, and it tends to be quite smoky. In Virginia you can sometimes find game animals being barbequed as well, which is quite a treat.

Hawaii

This one sure is a special part of America. The Polynesian roots of the native Hawaiians have given us one of the most fantastic experiences available in event barbeque. The luau is a whole evening of entertainment and food which features kalua pig, a whole swine cooked in an underground oven pit. If you ever go to Hawaii, this is not to be missed as it is absolutely unique among all American barbeque.

So there you have it. A great variety of barbeque traditions from all across the nation. If you’re passing through a region, try and make sure to sample some of the local flavor. You’re bound to find something worthwhile!

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Chasing the Ring: Ideas for Getting a Great Smoke Ring

BBQ enthusiasts chase many things when they are engaging in their hobby, but perhaps one of the most elusive and highly prized is the smoke ring. Some of you are no doubt shaking your heads and saying “that’s simple, you just use Tender Quick”…so maybe I should clarify.

The smoke ring is something people chase because it is a beautiful addition to meat, and a nice challenge to strive for.  Some people will “cheat” to get there (and that’s all Tender Quick is), but many are searching for different methods that don’t involve directly treating the meat.

Judging the Ring

There was a time when a lot of competitive BBQ  judging took the smoke ring into account.  Now many competitions disallow judgment of this element of the meat.  But even with judges at many venues barred from basing any scores off of the appearance of a ring, that doesn’t stop many people from pursuing a nice looking smoke ring during the contests.

For many enthusiasts who compete it is still a point of pride for them to deliver a piece of meat that has a beautiful ring. And certainly for people in their own day to day cooking it is a lovely addition to the final product.

Science of The Smoke Ring

Before we go any further I should get the general science out of the way.  I know it doesn’t really interest everyone, but for those who do get a kick out of knowing how stuff works, here you go.

A smoke ring is caused by the interaction of nitric oxide and myoglobin inside the meat.  Which is why coating a piece of meat in Tender Quick works to cause an artificial ring: you’re directly adding nitrates to the meat, causing the reaction of myoglobin and nitric oxide to happen by brute force.

How to Achieve a Smoke Ring

Now, instead of taking shortcuts, there are some good ways to get an attractive smoke ring in your meats.  Some of these ways work better than others depending on different styles of barbeque, and some people find that they have more success than others using various methods.  The key is to find what works for you and makes you happy.  So don’t hesitate to experiment with some of these methods:

  • Use green wood. Many people find that the smoke given off by wood that has been freshly cut and not given time to season will produce a better smoke ring.
  • Soak your wood in water. While similar to green wood (since it has higher moisture content) the act of soaking already seasoned wood does give off a different type of smoke. If you experiment with this, try changing how long you soak the wood for and see if it effects your end result.
  • Keep your meat cool until it is time to go into the smoker. Many people find that starting with the meat a cooler temperature they get a better ring than when they start from room temperature.
  • Related to the last point, some people keep the meat they are going to be smoking in ice water. This won’t freeze the meat, but it will keep it both colder and wetter. You may find that this combination gives you a better ring.

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