No, it’s not a new show on the Food Network, but war…what is it good for? Absolutely…good eats..of course! In America, there are several distinct styles of barbecue that you can sink your teeth into and get all over your pants. I know what I’ve grown up eating, and through my tasty travels, I’ve had lots of different kinds. But, we all know there is only one kind…Carolina style. It’s all pulled pork here, folks. Ribs? Brisket? Move along, now. To confuse things further, there are several types of Carolina style:
- Eastern North Carolina style is hot and spicy and will make your hair stand up if you aren’t careful. It’s a thin sauce with apple cider and white vinegar with barely any tomato, a heaping amount of black, red, and cayenne pepper. It can be savory or can have some sugar added as well.
- Central North Carolina style builds on the hot fiery sauce above with more tomato and a bit less pepper, not enough to be thick, but just enough to round off the bite while still preserving the vinegar taste. This is also called Lexington BBQ after the famous festival.
- Western Carolina style is the most tomato-based of the vinegar sauces and is enjoyed by the mountain folk. Can be sweet, might not be.
- South Carolina style is vinegar based and full of yellow mustard and spices. It’s often called “Carolina Gold” sauce.
Many many holidays have passed in our family and there was always pulled pork barbecue on the table. The day before, the men in the family were up unto the wee hours with a whole or half hog splayed out across pecan wood in a homemade pit on our family’s farm. Homemade means building a box made out of cinderblocks and putting a grate across it with a big metal lid someone’s friend of a friend’s cousin named Fat Cat made with his new welding equipment. Then, we sit. All night. Beer is imbibed, stories are told, and fun is had by all. In the morning, the hog is pulled off and chopped up. The result is a variety of textures–stringy meat from certain parts of the animal, tender short chunks from the loin, and other silky bits just waiting to be chopped up and parted out to the families who have pitched in to purchase the pig. A pig weighing about a hundred twenty-five pounds is going to feed about 85-90 people so it is often a staple at southern weddings. For the holidays, four or five families can pitch in and have enough meat to last for days.
In my neck of the woods, the Eastern Carolina style influence seeps across the border into the Pee Dee region of South Carolina and that’s what we have. My father’s sauce will put hair on your chest. My grandmother’s sauce is a little sweeter, but always very thin and peppery. Bringing out a jar of the mustard-based stuff will get you run off the property faster than you can say twelve gauge shotgun. I like it hot, and I have great fun snickering at friends and others who I share the ‘cue with that take a bite and immediately gasp for air and reach for the sweet tea. It’s a pity, really. They don’t know what they’re missing. It’s always served over grits on Christmas morning. When you’re at the dinner table, only sticky white rice will do, with plenty of biscuits for sopping up the extra sauce.
Eastern Carolina-style Barbecue Sauce
by Jason Osborne
makes two cups
2 cups apple cider or distilled white vinegar, your choice (white = more tang)
1 tablespoon worcestershire
2 1/2 tsp ground red pepper (this may be marketed as such, or labeled cayenne, do not use not crushed flakes)
2 1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp white sugar
1 small squirt ketchup (eyeball it)
1 tsp hot sauce (recommend: Tabasco)
Bring the vinegar, sugar, and ground peppers to a boil. Add remaining ingredients and simmer five minutes. Remove and transfer to a container in the refrigerator. Will keep for eternity, plus or minus a week.