I've surprised myself about all the barbecue I've written about in this blog. Blue Smoke, The Canopy, Rocklands, The Pig and that order at Waterman's comes to mind. I never realized just how much eat and just how much I enjoy some good barbecue. I am a big fan of slow cooking meat in a smoker and letting all that flavor from a rub or a sauce soak in. So, when I got this e-mail after I got back from North Carolina, I jumped at the chance to get a better education about real barbecue.
Hey Food Nomad,
I saw your post on The Pig – great post. At the end of the article you mention, “you still don’t know what North Carolina barbecue is…”
Well, sometimes the nomad needs to take a break, kick back and let the food come to them.
I’d like to help educate you on what North Carolina barbecue is all about by sending you a complimentary box of BBQ.
If you get the box and feel it is worth writing about we’d be honored, but of course, if you don’t feel what I send is post worthy no hard feelings. Sound good?
If you’re open to getting a free box of NC BBQ send me your mailing address and a day you’ll be home to receive it.
All the best,
The North Carolina Barbecue Company
Well, actually the first thing I did was go, "WTF?" Does someone actually read this blog? Does someone actually read enough to find my e-mail address way in the back? Is someone actually offering to send me food? Then I thought for a second, "Wait, are there ethical considerations here for me to get sent some food and then write about it?" But, that was quickly drowned out by the voice screaming, "Authentic barbecue from North Carolina! Come get some, son!" So, after I composed myself, I wrote back and said (paraphrasing) that I'd love to try out their barbecue and if I didn't say it then, I'm saying it now, thanks for reading the blog.
The barbecue took about a day to arrive and came in a nice little styrofoam cooler. Inside were two vacuum sealed frozen packs of barbecue, two kind of coleslaw, two kinds of barbecue (plus some texas pete for good measure), and couple of packs of hush puppies. Wait, why two of everything? NC barbecue lesson one for me (after opening the enclosed paperwork) is that there is sort of civil war about barbecue in North Carolina. There's barbecue from the Piedmont (Western North Carolina) and from the Eastern part of the state. I'll get into the differences later but they do a good job of playing up this rivalry even offering something called a Battle Box (which I think I got) which allows you to try both kinds.
It could just be me or maybe I just lived NYC too long but I'm always surprised when people are genuinely nice and patient. I'm saying this because when I received the barbecue, I wrote a couple e-mails to Ryan (see above) asking about how to best re-heat the barbecue and the such. Looking back, they were pretty dumb questions that probably could be answered if I read everything thoroughly. But, he was polite, answered all of them and directed me to their website where they had some instructional videos, which were pretty great. If it were me, I'd probably be thinking, "Hey, moron, you write a food blog on the internet, you could probably look up this stuff on the...you know...internet. Did I also mention, you write a food blog and this involves something difficult like boiling water but I'm sure you can manage that." Yeah, anyway, North Carolinians are awesome.
Here's my first observation. You must really believe in your product in order to put yourself out there with the recommended heating/cooking method. Like I wrote above, the barbecue comes in a frozen pack and the recommended way to get optimal flavor is to place the bags into boiling water, lower to a simmer and let simmer for roughly 10 minutes. I let my barbecue sit out for a bit to thaw out before I put it in water and after the 10 minutes was done, I found that there were still some parts that were cold and others that were steaming hot. I found it very difficult to see if the meat was done or not with this method and because of that you could easily sour on this barbecue through no fault of Ryan and his company.
After the prescribed cooking time, I was careful (and by careful I mean anal retentive) to make sure that each type of barbecue was put in a separate bowl and grouped with its accompanying sauce and slaw. I had gone to Whole Foods earlier in the day to get some slider buns (the video recommended either regular size buns or slider buns) and toasted them in the oven for about five minutes on 350 degrees. They came out warm and with only a slight toasting. I probably should have put them in slightly longer but I was pretty hungry. I used the same sheet tray to cook the hush puppies (as per their instructions!) and let those cook while I made the sandwiches.
So, by watching even more videos, the SOP for the sandwiches seemed to be meat first on to the bottom half of the slider bun, then top the meat with slaw and then add some sauce. I picked out mainly meat that was steaming hot and left any cold pieces back in the bowl. I heaped the meat on pretty thick and followed accordingly with the slaw. I may have been a bit liberal with the sauces but I wanted to make sure I tasted them through all the slaw. Finally, I smushed (is that even a word?) down the top half of the bun and then it was go time.
First up was the Eastern barbecue. According to the literature, the meat comes from the whole pig and cooked over hickory or oak. The sauce is composed of vinegar, salt & pepper. The slaw is the more common white kind that you probably find everywhere. This type of barbecue is very similar to the barbecue I had at Allen & Sons that I had while I was in NC. The vinegar taste wasn't as overwhelming in this sandwich and while I thought it was a little strange, I liked the slaw on top of the barbecue. It gave a nice creamy crunchy contrast to the tender pork.
Piedmont barbecue is just pork shoulder cooked over hickory coals. The sauce is very similar to Eastern sauce but with tomato or basically ketchup. The slaw can be called BBQ slaw due to its similar flavors to the sauce and its red color. The slaw and the sauce made all the difference in the Piedmont barbecue. The tomato added a nice sweetness to the sandwich which I found to be a much more familiar barbecue taste. The red slaw was different but I think I'm a convert from traditional white slaw. It had more depth of flavor and meshed better with the pork I thought.
I did try the pork by itself and while I liked the whole Piedmont sandwich better than the Eastern kind, I preferred the Eastern pork all by itself. It may have been the greater vinegar flavor or it could have been that the meat was from different parts of the pig but I found it to be more flavorful and tangier than the Piedmont style. I'd probably never eat the Piedmont barbecue without it's sauce but I would definitely chow down on the Eastern kind with or without condiments. It was interesting to me that I wasn't the biggest fan of the vinegar base when you put it on bread and add slaw but when I ate it by itself, I craved the vinegar zing.
They sent me a ton of meat (thanks again!) so I got to be a little creative with it on subsequent nights and mornings. I sauteed it in a frying pan the next night and made the exact same sandwiches again. They lost a little tenderness but I was able to season and cook them a little crispier so they fit my flavor preferences a bit better. Over the weekend, I put the meat in an omelet with some fresh herbs, salt and pepper. I mixed both types this time around and the meat still held up even after a few days.
The original e-mail above alluded to the fact that I didn't know what North Carolina Barbecue was. Even after all this, I still can't say that I'm very knowledgeable about barbecue from the the Tar Heel state. I can say that I'm now very much aware that barbecue is a serious business down there and that there are different varieties. I'm thankful the Ryan and the North Carolina Barbecue Company took it upon themselves to further my culinary education about barbecue. I'm astonished that something in this little old blog resonated with someone (it's funny, during the same week I got this e-mail, I was invited up to NYC to write about a restaurant in Nolita called Ken & Cook). Above all, I'm grateful that someone sent me free food! Scratch that...above all, I'm grateful that someone send me some great barbecue!
P.S. If you want to order your own and try out some authentic North Carolina Barbecue, you can visit, contact information below:
The North Carolina Barbecue Company
826 North Elm Street
Greensboro, NC 27401