Sunday, 27 April 2014

beards and barbecues and smoky goodness

American barbecue. So hot right now. Smokin' even.

Apparently, according to my sources, Melbourne has become intoxicated with all things Americana...the music, the food, the tattoos. And now, the long and slow, charred and succulent meaty goodness of the Texan barbecue.

Barbecue has been around for a whole lot longer than the current culinary craze might lead you to believe. Barbecue comes from the word, barbecoa, which is thought to have originated in Barbados in the Caribbean. 

Now the origins of the word, Barbados, might perhaps explain why Melburnians can't get enough of the American barbecue. Los barbadoes, 'the bearded ones', was the name 16th century Portugese explorers gave to the giant bearded fig trees which grew all over the islands in the Caribbean they were sailing around. Melbourne is certainly up there with Brooklyn, East London and Lyttelton in terms of its embracing of the beard. As an aside, the beard trend has such a global hold that Gillette recorded a 17% drop in income for the December quarter last year. Men just aren't buying razors the way they used to.

But back to the barbecue. Barbacoa was a traditional pit barbecue that started in the Caribbean. A hole was dug and then a bed of coals and wood was built. Then a whole hog or some cow heads were put on top of the hot bed and covered, buried and smoked for 24 hours.

From the Caribbean, this style of cooking travelled through Mexico and was taken up to Texas by Mexican ranch hands. They started using oil drums instead of digging pits and, given Texas is cattle country, there was a ready supply of meat to be smoked.

Jeremy Sutphin is head chef at Le Bon Ton, Collingwood's answer to the need for barbecue. I recently had a chat to him about the art of the barbecue. He told me that there are ways of doing barbecue that you pretty much have to stick to and then beyond that, you can play with it a bit. And he knows what he's talking about, he's from Texas. He grew up with this.

In Texas, the traditional barbecue, especially the brisket, is just smoke, salt and pepper. It's a dry barbecue. The main flavours are smoke and beef. It's beef country so there is a lot of pride in the beef they source and smoke. The type of wood is also important for the flavour. Hickory and mesquite are the traditional woods for smoking in Texas. 

Jeremy builds a bed of natural charcoal and then feeds wood into it to keep it smoking. His beef is smoked for 16 hours and is juicy and delicious. Especially with his house made barbecue sauce with its spicy earthiness.

For Jeremy, traditional Texas-style barbecue is about community; bringing people together over food. I'm happy to embrace the way of the barbecue.

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