Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Barbecue: Woeful Lapses Addresed

I received an email from Barry Foy recently taking me to task for some "embarrassing gaps" in my knowledge of barbecue.  The esteemed Mr. Foy, it seems, admits that I turned up some good material in my research for Barbecue: the History of an American Institution, but that when it came to the meaning and derivation of the word itself my scholarship was grievously lacking.  And he should know, being the author of The Devil's Food Dictionary: A Pioneering Culinary Reference Work Consisting Entirely of Lies.

Mr. Foy was kind enough to set me straight with a few definitive definitions, which I will be sure to work into the revised and expanded edition that my publisher will no doubt ask me to just as soon as I get those movie rights sold. (Note to Hollywood agents: when you do come knocking at my door demanding to handle the disposition of said rights, please form an ordely line out on my stoop and sidewalk and, please, no shoving.)

Here's the straight dope from The Devil's Food Dictionary:

BARBECUE: An extremely vague term for one or another of several approaches to cooking one or another type of food, usually meat except when it is something else, which make use of one or another cooking technique that most often involves smoke, though not always, and in which a sauce of one sort or another plays either an essential, a prominent, or a negligible role. Barbecue has a nearly fanatical following in North America, particularly in the southern United States, where it carries a lore rich in history, culture, and the sort of factionalism that often leads to gunplay. History documents some legendary feuds over what constituted 'authentic' barbecue, most of which ended with the victors roasting their vanquished enemies on spits over hickory, cherry, or mesquite embers (depending on where the conflict took place), then basting or dipping them in a sauce that was either sweet, vinegary, or spicy (also depending on location), and serving them with sliced white bread at stock-car races."
Now while this might seem to be the last word on the subject, if you check out the “I” chapter you’ll find the following:

I HADN’T FINISHED TALKING ABOUT BARBECUE YET: In conclusion, every American forms a specific mental image at the mention of the word 'barbecue,' but research shows that no two such images are alike. Nonetheless, expert opinion is unanimous on at least the following points: 1) the word 'barbecue' derives from the Spanish barbacoa, which comes from a Taino Indian word…unless it comes from the French de la barbe à queue or barbaque; 2) real barbecue is made only with pork, only with beef, only with mutton, or only with chicken, except when it is made with armadillos, rattlesnakes, tofu, etc.; 3) only one type of wood produces the right smoke for barbecue, except for certain other types of wood; 4) only Americans cook proper barbecue, except for citizens of countries on every other continent except Antarctica; 5) sauce is merely an optional garnish for real barbecue, except when it is an integral, indispensable component of it; 6) barbecue can be cooked only over hot coals on a spit, except when it is cooked on a grill over gas flames with the addition of wood chips, or in an oven or pressure cooker after a basting with liquid smoke; 7) producing good barbecue is a complicated and time-consuming process, except when it is so simple that an eight-year-old could do it in less than forty-five minutes.

And I think that pretty much clears everything up.  If you've not read The Devil's Food Dictionary (which I've been a fan of since its blog days back before it was published in book form),  you're missing out.  Where else will you find definitions like these: "Pear: Perhaps the only fruit famous enough to be shaped like itself." Or, "Aspic: . . . once a common technique in French cuisine; regrettably, everyone who remembered why has now passed away."

I stand corrected!

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