Yesterday afternoon I was doing some virtual trail running in the gym when the above commercial for Wendy’s BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich came on. Even with the sound down I got the joke. When asked to divulge the recipe for his “secret sauce” the presumably Southern pitmaster and his assistant refuse to give up the goods laughing off the request.
The subsequent glamour shots of “our hickory smoked pulled pork” and a BBQ poutine of sorts looked so good that I couldn’t get them out of my head. I envisioned Wendy’s very own sauce bespattered, real deal pitmaster whipping up this pulled pork, a veritable Ed Mitchell of fast food. As a certified Kansas City Barbeque Society judge who’s been around BBQ pits and smokers of various and sundry sizes and configurations, including a stainless steel number whose firebox resembles a miniature bank vault, I know this is nonsense. But Wendy’s and its ad agency are selling a fantasy, one that I clearly bought into as evidenced by my choice of a late night dinner. (more…)
Once every five years or so I am seized with a desire to eat at the Golden Arches of McDonald’s or the majestic palace of the Burger King. Images of hamburgers as seen in print, TV, and on the screen of childhood memories crowd my hungy mind. I am always disappointed. The wet cardboard like patties sometimes taste vaguely beef-like, but the sandwich never ever looks the picture. I always find myself wondering why I even bothered to order one. So when I was drawn like a moth to a fast-food flame by Arby’s new Smokehouse Brisket I was prepared to be disappointed. I’d been burned by fast food before. Plus, I know a thing or two about barbeque and am always especially leery of a fast-food joint purporting to offer barbeque. By its very nature barbeque is all about patience. Meats smoke for hours and hours on end. The only thing quick about barbeque is the service, just slice and serve. (more…)
Tyson Ho and his mentor, Ed Mitchell having a hearty country breakfast.
Today is the day that separates the hogs from the sucklings I thought to myself as Tyson, Matt, Mike and I hopped into the pickup for day two of our whirlwind North Carolina barbeque tour. “Some of the places we are going today will make yesterday’s places look like four-star dining,” Tyson said as we began our journey into the sticks.
Our first stop was Wilson, N.C., “the beginning of the sticks,” for breakfast with Ed Mitchell, Tyson’s barbeque mentor. I was kind of disappointed that we were meeting him at a Cracker Barrel, as I’m more of a Waffle House man. Actually I was hoping that breakfast would be at Ed’s new joint, slated to open later this summer. Meeting the maestro of whole hog was kind of surreal, I’d never seen him without overalls or a baseball cap.
At first I wasn’t going to eat anything as I wanted to reserve all my stomach capacity for barbeque. As I heard everyone placing their orders that plan soon fell by the wayside. I had a light breakfast, biscuits and gravy with a sausage patty. A couple of weeks ago when Tyson—a self-professed Chinese Yankee hog cooker—told me barbeque had its roots in North Carolina whole hog cookery I took it with a grain of salt. Now as I broke biscuits with his mentor, I began to realize that this stuff about barbeque being born not from trying to make the best out of tough cuts but from the celebratory roasting of a whole hog was true.
“That’s where barbeque comes from, the pig,” Mitchell said in between phone calls about his new restaurant, each of which seemed to involve fried chicken. “People didn’t slaughter the pig just to cook a shoulder they did it to roast the whole animal. The full technique comes from being able to roast the whole animal. Cooking a rib or a shoulder is nowhere near the challenge of cooking a whole animal.” Pointing to his hands he said, “The only thermometer I have is these right here, but that comes from years of experience.” (more…)
Hursey’s was the first stop on our whirlwind North Carolina barbeque tour.
My notebook and several articles of clothing still smell of hardwood smoke. I blame it on my buddy Tyson Ho. Last week we took a barbeque road trip to hit up a bunch of whole hog joints in North Carolina. Tyson, the man behind the Hog Days of Summer, never misses a chance to evangelize about Carolina barbeque, but the real reason for the pilgrimage was to pick up a cooker to replace the one stolen from in front of John Brown Smokehouse last month. Very few things cause me to leave the house before dawn. One is the Malaysian soup service at Curry Leaves in Flushing. The other is barbeque. So last Thursday morning found me standing on the corner at 4:15 a.m. waiting for Tyson to pick me up to begin the journey southward. Joining us were Tyson’s buddy, Matt Gelfand and Michael Rudin, a photographer and fellow barbeque enthusiast.
On the 10-hour drive down—thanks and praise to expert wheelman Matt—I learned quite a bit about whole hog barbeque. The most important fact being: in North Carolina the phrase “whole hog barbeque” is redundant. “A lot of people will say, ‘I went to North Carolina and asked the waitress what was on the barbeque plate’ and she looked at me funny,” Tyson, who I’ve come to consider as something of a Chinese John T. Edge, said. “That’s because there’s only one thing on it: barbeque. And barbeque is whole hog.”
Pointing to the cookhouse at Hursey’s.
“We are at the six-hour mark don’t eat too much at the first stop,” Tyson said. By the time we pulled into Burlington, N.C., I was delirious from hunger and lack of sleep. So much so that I was ready to try the buffalo chicken pita that some god-forsaken place called The Park touted on its roadside sign. “For me to eat it has to be cooked with wood,” Tyson said pointing to a stack of hickory outside the cookhouse at Hursey’s Bar-B-Q (1834 S. Church St, Burlington, N.C.).
The counter at Hursey’s is country as all getout.
Hursey’s is a local institution that started out with a homemade backyard pit in 1945. Four years later Sylvester Hursey and his wife, Daisy were granted the state’s first ever barbecue wholesale license. These days the entire operation smokes 1,200 shoulders a week over hickory coals.
A plate of Hursey’s hickory-smoked whole hog.
It’s a good thing that we were warned not to pig out too much at the first stop. By the time we were done ordering the table was covered with plates: chopped barbeque, sliced barbeque, broasted chicken, hush puppies, and a rack of ribs, along with cole slaw, banana pudding, and cobbler. The barbeque itself had a nice tangy flavor with a good bit of smoke, but was quite honestly nothing to write home about.The culprit? Prechopping and presaucing the gives the meat a texture not unlike tuna salad. I’m gonna go out on a hickory limb here and say that Sylvester and Daisy would not approve. Frankly I’ve had better whole hog in Tyson’s back yard. The ribs—and remember in N.C. ribs ain’t cue—were of the steamed saucy variety shunned by barbeque geeks like myself. I literally took one bite and left the rest.