Sunday, September 9, 2018

Project Maryland BBQ: Part 1: The Beginning

Barbecue is regional, albeit the names are more local.  There is Eastern Carolina barbecue, with smoked whole hogs served with a piquant vinegar sauce (perhaps my favorite).  There is also Western Carolina barbecue, which is still pork based, but there is an added tomato tang to the sauce.  Then, there is Southern Carolina barbecue, which goes its own way with a mustard based sauce.  Travel west, and one finds Kentucky barbecue, Memphis barbecue, Kansas City barbecue, Texas barbecue and, even further west, Santa Maria barbecue.  Add to all of these the international styles of barbecue, brought to the United States by immigrants who brought their culinary traditions with them (think, barbacoa, for example).  

I am a big fan of barbecue, but I don't live in the Carolinas.  I don't call Memphis, Kansas City or any part of Texas my home.  I live in the Mid-Atlantic, the State of Maryland to be exact.  These questions got me to thinking about barbecue in the State where I live.  To be sure, there are a lot of good barbecue joints across Maryland, and, I have eaten at quite a few of them.  Those restaurants feature barbecue that draws its inspiration from those major regions ... Eastern Carolina vinegar-based pork; pork ribs with the tangy, spicy Kansas City barbecue sauce; and central Texas style brisket.  

If one were to look past the barbecue joints and ask what is true Maryland barbecue, the first answer might be Baltimore Pit Beef with Tiger Sauce.  But, as much as I love pit beef, it does not fit the definition of barbecue, that is, the low, slow cooking of proteins over wood smoke.  Pit beef is more about grilling, using a higher heat to generate a crust on the beef, which is thinly sliced, piled onto a bun and dressed with the sauce.  Others may say Delmarva chicken (which someday will be a post of its own), but that is really just grilled chicken dressed with a sauce that is one part oil and one part salad dressing or mayonnaise.  To be sure, one could have smoked chicken with a mayonnaise sauce; after all, Big Bob Gibson's in Decatur, Alabama perfected it. (You can check out my effort to make the recipe here.)  However, there is little doubt that Delmarva chicken is more about grilling than it is smoking.  

So what is Maryland barbecue?  Is there such a thing as Maryland barbecue?

There is no easy answer to these questions, because there is no accepted concept of a Maryland style of barbecue. That does not mean that it does not exist.  I will need to look around the Old Line State.  I need to go beyond the barbecue joints and focus upon the essence of barbecue: cooking protein over over wood smoke in a low and slow fashion. Even if there is no such thing as Maryland barbecue, I will take the initiative to create one.  Hence, the Chef Bolek's "Project Maryland BBQ" Series.  

A disclaimer ... this entire endeavor is for fun.  Over a series of posts, I will explore those fundamental elements of barbecue -- (1) protein; (2) rubs; (3) mops/sauces; and (4) wood/smoke -- and how they fit into a style of barbecue that could be called Maryland's own. I will also focus on other aspects of barbecue as they would relate to a style. Only time will tell whether or what will come of this endeavor.  Until then ...


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