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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Barbeque Snobbery

April 21, 2015

I am not a barbeque snob.

There are plenty of them out there. Barbeque has grown into quite a booming industry. Years ago there were barbeque joints in most southern towns. Though big cities and large metropolitan areas outside of the south and Texas were mostly devoid of good barbeque, except for small, out-of-the-way soul food joints. I never remember hearing about a barbeque cooking competition before 1983, either. Maybe they were being held, but it wasn’t the beast that it is today.

These days everyone is competing against each other for this barbeque title or that designation. Memphis and Kansas City seem to be the epicenters of these barbeque competitions. Cable television has gotten into the game in a big way. I respect the people who are into cooking competitions (I have several friends who are religious about it), but it’ not for me. I love to eat barbeque. I just don’t want to get all stressed out cooking by rules and time limits.

There might not be a bigger genre of the food world that draws more critique, criticisms, and opinions than barbeque. Lets get this straight from the start: I am not a barbeque expert— far from it— but I have a pretty sophisticated palate, and I know what I like. But I don’t “study” barbeque history and cooking techniques. So any thoughts or ruminations from this point forward are my opinion and based purely on what I like.

Here are the undeniable barbeque truths as I see them:

1.)  The best barbeque comes from a smoker using real wood and no artificial fuel such as propane or natural gas. This is a biggie for me. My two go-to barbeque joints in my hometown: Leatha’s and Donanelle’s both use real wood and no artificial fuel.

2.)  Just because meat on ribs is fall-off-of-the-bone tender doesn’t mean that it is par cooked or par boiled. Case in point: Leatha’s. I have had numerous heated email exchanges from people who claim that Leatha’s par boils their ribs because the meat falls off of the bone. That’s just not the case. I have walked through the entire process with the folks at Leatha’s and the ribs are fully cooked on the smoker.

That is a hard feat to accomplish. Fake ribs— ribs served at chain restaurants— are usually cooked in an Alto-Sham smoker/cooker that cooks low and slow on all six sides of the oven and makes the meat tender. You may like that. If you do, I’m not going to take offense, but to me, true ribs are cooked in a smoker without electricity or the help of artificial fuel and may, or may not, be fall-off-of-the-bone tender.

3.)  All barbeque should be served dry. Again, this is a personal preference, but slathering sauce all over barbeque can mask a lot of mistakes in the cooking process. I believe each person knows how much sauce he or she wants on his or her ribs, pulled pork, or brisket.

4.)  Liquid smoke should never be a part of the process. Ever. Period. No elaboration needed.

5.)  Beware of contrived barbeque joints with themed décor and intentionally misspelled words on the sign or menu. You might have found one that serves worthy barbeque, but I have yet to do so.

I have eaten barbeque in Mississippi, Texas, Kansas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. I’ve had good bbq in those states and I’ve had subpar barbeque in those states. Barbeque changes from state to state. In Texas they prefer beef. In Tennessee pork is king and the ribs are dry. In South Carolina they serve a mustard-based sauce. I didn’t grow up eating that, but I like it when I’m there. In Alabama some places serve a white barbeque sauce that is mayonnaise based. In South Mississippi the sauce contains more sugar than in other places. I like that, too.

The degrees to which vinegar and tomato dominate the sauce recipe vary from joint to joint (or in the case of Alabama and South Carolina not at all). I find that most people favor the style of bbq that they grew up eating. Fine. Who am I to criticize what someone likes or doesn’t like? It’s funny to me that people can be so opinionated and closed minded about a cooking process that varies depending on personal taste.

I like both of my go-to barbeque joints. Leatha’s serves sweet, fall-off-of-the-bone tender ribs and Donanelle’s serves a pecan-wood smoked variety that has a hint of heat and toothsomeness. Neither of those might be your thing. That’s OK with me, too.

In conclusion, lets just all agree to eat more barbeque. Tell the barbeque snobs to take a hike and chill out. You can compete against someone if you enjoy that kind of thing. It won’t bother me (as long as I get to eat some of it). In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the kind of barbeque sauce I like and you can enjoy the kind of barbeque sauce you like— mustard, mayonnaise, tomato— it makes no difference to me. Everyone will be happy, and as John Steinbeck once wrote, “Once again the world was spinning in greased grooves.”


BBQ Ribs

3 full racks of 3-inch/down pork spare ribs

1 cup                         White Vinegar

1/4 cup                     Paprika

2 Tbl                         Garlic Powder

1 Tbl                         Onion Powder

2 tsp                         Black Pepper, freshly ground

1 Tbl                         Kosher Salt

2 Tbl                         Brown Sugar

1/4 cup                     Sugar

2 tsp                         Creole Seasoning

Place the ribs in a large roasting pan or baking dish and pour the vinegar over the ribs. Using your hand, rub all of the ribs with the vinegar and allow them to marinate for 1 hour. Drain the vinegar and dry each rack completely with paper towels.

Combine the spice mixture and coat the ribs completely. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Prepare the charcoal according to the directions on the grill for slow barbecuing. Place the ribs on the grill, and cook slowly for three-four hours. The meat should begin to draw away from the bone at the tip, and the ribs should “bend” when picked up with tongs.

Once the ribs are cooked, remove from the grill and cut into2-3 bone sections and serve with BBQ sauce on the side.


Robert’s BBQ Sauce

2 Tbl                  Bacon Grease

1 /2 cup             Onion, small dice

1 Tbl                  Garlic, minced

1/4 cup             Brown Sugar

1/4 cup             Sugar

1/4 cup            Molasses

2 cups              Chicken Stock

1 quart             Tomato Sauce

1 1/2 Tbl          Black Pepper, freshly ground

1/4 tsp             Cayenne Pepper

2 Tbl                 Dry Mustard

2 Tbl                 Lemon Juice

1/4 cup             Worcestershire Sauce

1/2 cup             Balsamic Vinegar

1/2 cup             Cider Vinegar

Preheat oven to 300.

In a three-quart Dutch oven, heat the bacon grease over low heat. Add the onion and and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute. Stir in the remaining ingredients and place the sauce in the oven. Bake for 2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes.

Puree in batches.

Chill and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Yield: 8-10 servings


Drew’s BBQ Sauce

This is my brother’s bbq sauce recipe. Purists will scoff at using a bottle of prepared bbq sauce in the recipe, though once they’ve tried it they will change their mind. It’s really, really good.

2 18-oz Kraft BBQ sauce (the basic sauce, no added flavors)

1 tsp garlic powder

1 1/2 tsp black pepper

1 Tbl chili powder

1/4 c brown sugar

1 Tbl salt

1 Tbl paprika

1/2 c Worcestershire

1/2 c apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 c honey

1 tsp cayenne

 Combine and heat

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