Barbecue…with a side of humble pie

(Guest post by The Boyfriend)

On his old Emeril Live show on Food Network, Emeril Lagasse quipped regularly that he wished that someone had invented “smellavision”.  As the audience ooooh-ed and aaaaah-ed over whatever he was cooking, he would lament that video images couldn’t capture the magical aromas and tastes that he was creating.

I know what he meant.

Sometimes, visual images are  so inadequate…inadequate to the point of actually insulting their subjects.

Ever visit the Grand Canyon?  If you have, you know what I’m talking about.  Ever share your photos of the Grand Canyon with friends or family and become exasperated with their nods and smiles as they reacted to the photos?

“Ooooh! Those are really nice pictures, dear.  I’m glad you had fun.  How about more pie?”

It was no fault of their own that they just didn’t get it…the beauty…the grandeur…the sheer scope.   The medium of photography, no matter how fancy your camera might be, is simply insufficient for relaying certain effects.

Bearing in mind the windy afore-written prologue, look at this photo…

Dan's BBQ

Look long.

Look hard.

Look closely.

This is barbecue.  This is good barbecue…insanely good barbecue.

If I can’t say that this is the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten, I can honestly and safely say this:  I don’t recall ever having eaten any barbecue, anywhere, at any time that was better than this.

This is nothing shy of amazing.  It’s a huge Boston butt, dry-rubbed with a secret mixture.  It’s moist, falling-off-the-bone tender, and perfectly smoked.  If you look closely at the photo–as inadequate as it might be–you can see that the meat is collapsing under its own weight.  It’s that moist and tender.

This ended up as one of those amazing meals that I’m still thinking about days and even weeks after the fact.  Julie and I ate this meal almost a month ago, and we still talk about it regularly.

Even more amazing is the fact that we didn’t get it in a restaurant.

My friend Dan Rauh from Green Township had been telling me for months that he wanted to do barbecue for me sometime.  Dan knows I’m native Southerner and have a pretty persnickety palate when it comes to barbecue.  To be brutally honest, I wasn’t particularly enthused about the idea.  In my mind, I was thinking, “That’s nice, Dan.  I’m sure that whatever you cook is good.  But you’re from Cincinnati for God’s sake…what could you really know about barbecue?” (Editor’s note: he’s been affected by so many people passing off pork in a crock pot as barbecue.  The nerve.)

But there were a few things I had forgotten.  Dan loves to cook.  He and his beautiful wife  Sheilah had cooked for Julie and me before, and everything they cooked was delicious.   Dan is also a Monroe fireman, responsible for cooking at the firehouse.  Our hard-working firemen want hearty, frill-free, no-nonsense meals and have little patience with foods that aren’t tasty and totally satisfying.  It’s safe to say that Dan has a tough audience.

Dan is also a hunter, fisherman, and avid outdoorsman who makes his own venison sausage.  He owns a pressure cooker and, in season, cans/jars his own jams, jellies, preserves, and salsa.

I should have known that his barbecue would be something special.

Dan gave me the honor of shredding the meat, Carolina style.  Before I started, however, I couldn’t resist picking off a personal sample of the blackened outside meat, my favorite part of barbecue.

Dan's BBQ

Incredible.  Simply incredible.

The ultimate compliment that one can pay to barbecue is to say that it doesn’t need sauce.  The sauce that Dan had prepared (a recipe from Food Network’s Down Home With the Neelys) was good, but not necessary.   As a perfect complement to the pulled-pork sandwiches, Dan had put together a sweet and spicy coleslaw.

And that was the whole meal:  barbecue sandwiches and coleslaw.   (Sheilah had baked some killer brownies that we had for dessert a couple of hours later.)

A sure-fire sign that you’ve cooked an amazing meal:  People can’t stop eating.  Though I was totally stuffed after one thick sandwich, I (along with Julie and Sheilah) stood around for another twenty minutes, picking at the delectable outside meat.

Dan would be the first to tell you that he had a little help with the barbecue.   He has a Bradley Digital Smoker.   The Bradley people have turned the art of smoking into an exact science.   The Bradley smoker monitors temperature and automatically feeds fresh wood for smoke (formed into disks that Bradley calls “bisquettes”).

The most knowledgeable pit masters (as they are known at barbecue restaurants down South) will tell you that perfect barbecue requires low, even, and moist heat, with plenty of smoke, cooked for a long time.  “Long time” means twelve hours or more.  And there are no shortcuts. Anyone who tells you that this can be done in four or five hours doesn’t make good barbecue.

Dan, who has studied all of Bradley’s literature and online support materials, cooked this butt for twenty hours.  That’s not a typo.  Twenty.  2-0.

And the final result is amazing.

The night after we had dinner with Dan and Sheilah, Julie ate with friends at Pit-to-Plate in Mount Healthy, our favorite barbecue restaurant in the Cincinnati area.  Her first words when I talked to her afterwards:  “It wasn’t as good as Dan’s.” (Ed. note: This is taking into account that Pit to Plate is our favorite barbecue in town, currently.)

I also own a wood smoker, an Artoo-Deetoo-shaped contraption that produces pretty good meat (see Julie’s post from last summer on smoked duck).  But my particular smoker is too inexact, leaves too much to guesswork.  The Bradley smoker eliminates all guesswork.

Bradley manufactures a wide variety of its bisquettes (alder, apple, cherry, and oak, among others).  Dan opted to use pecan, rather than the traditional Southern hickory.   I can’t imagine that using hickory would have made the final result any more tasty.

At about five hundred dollars, the Bradley isn’t cheap.  As much as I would love to own one, I don’t see it in the near future…unless I’m lucky enough to get a substantial tax refund this year. (Ed. note: He’s lying.  He’s already clearing out space on his front porch and eyeing some space in my courtyard for Thanksgiving.)

Until then, I’ll just have to hope that Dan and Sheilah invite Julie and me over for more barbecue…sooner, rather than later.