Texas Barbecue Doesn't Need Sauce, OK?
In honor of Sunday's sold-out Meat Fight, we're celebrating smoked animal flesh all week long in our inaugural Meat Week, in which we celebrate the procuring, cooking and face-stuffing of dead-animal flesh.
Yesterday, writer Steven Harrell had the unenviable task of defending barbecue sauce. Today, Professor Cleaver sets him straight.
When I started caring about Texas barbecue, I cared most about the sauce. Back home in England, there is a thing called barbecue sauce, but it is a disaster. Masochists dip fries in it, and some psychopaths use it instead of tomato sauce on pizzas. It tastes like ... brown.You know something isn't good when it tastes like a color, like every purple processed food ever.
The first time I discovered barbecue sauce in Texas, it blew my mind. I didn't even know what it was, but it tasted like something I had never previously realized I desperately needed in my life. But you know what sauce is? It's a gateway drug. It's the marijuana to the crack cocaine of brisket. It'll start you going -- and if like me you start somewhere with mediocre brisket like Sonny Bryan's, it'll cover up the sins of the meat just fine. However, if you have that Platonic ideal of food, the finely smoked piece of fatty Texas brisket, and you apply sauce -- SAUCE! -- to this thing that already tastes like a kiss from the gods, then you, friend, are a savage.
I went to Lockhart, Texas, a few months back, to indulge a long-running fantasy of mine without having to purchase a Princess Leia outfit. The brisket I found there (especially at Black's) was too perfect to even contemplate the employment of sauce. At that point, if you really must get sauce, use it for dipping bread in, or okra. Sure, sauce is excellent, but have you ever noticed that the places around town with the most average brisket have the best sauce? A real barbecue place doesn't spend time perfecting a sauce. They work on a rub, or on temperature, or on being wizards, or whatever it is that they do.
My stance used to be that all meat is good, and that all sauce is good. While this is true to an extent, some meat is so good that to try and make it taste different is a very confusing proposition. That's why Pecan Lodge's sauce is so spicy. If you're going to insist on using sauce, they're going to make sure you can't taste anything. It's a punishment, and you deserve it.
I will concur with my opponent on one point -- bad brisket is inedible without sauce, and sauce is good enough that it can hide a bad piece of meat in a sea of delicious. In these cases, sauce is entirely necessary, but then what are you doing eating at Dickey's anyway? Here then, is my thesis -- sauce is always good, except when the thing it's designed to go on is really good. Got it? I suppose that's kind of ironic, that poor old sauce should be an unnecessary imposition on the best form of thing it's meant to go on.
Life is strange sometimes, though.
Previously In Meat Week: