Yes, Even Texas Barbecue Needs Sauce
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.
In case you weren't aware, there is a position taken by many Texas barbecue enthusiasts that a most beloved condiment -- barbecue sauce -- is unnecessary and should be avoided. Perfectly crafted 'cue is so juicy and sweet, the mustachioed purists say, that slathering a bottle of sugar-sweet, burnt sienna-colored slime is a slap-in-the-smoker to the BBQ artisan, the customer and God himself.
While I always applaud the courage of strangers who tell other strangers how to enjoy their food, on this point I must respectfully disagree. Why?
Because barbecue sauce is delicious.
A good house-made mixture of spices, peppers, onions, a little tomato and meat drippings can complement a perfectly smoked brisket as well as an American porter or perfect bowl of beans.
Sure, there are bigots out there, the meat community's answer to the Stoic tradition. They won't hesitate to correct your choice of appetizer to one that better complements your locally brewed IPA, or to slap the lime out of your gin and tonic because Hendrick's gin requires a cucumber. Fuck that. If I like my G&Ts with lime, so be it. If it's 106 degrees outside and you only have red wine to drink, I'm going to mix your red wine with ice and Diet Sprite. Why? Because it tastes good, that's why. Why do I need more reasons? This is food, not systematic theology. If there's ever a forum where "do what feels good" is an acceptable modus of being, is it not your own goddam plate?
When we put powdered sugar on a doughnut, are we declaring the doughnut to be insufficient? Are we taking a swipe at the technical skills of the fryer? Is it an act of protest against the worldview of doughnut-makers everywhere? Of course not. Doughnuts are delicious. Powdered sugar is delicious. Let's put both delicious things in our mouths at the same time! Because we can! And because eating delicious things distracts us from that fact that we're all going to die eventually! I firmly believe that Cousin's BBQ sauce in Fort Worth is the closest we'll come to experiencing heaven in this mostly miserable world. Inner peace can be achieved comes by mixing peppers, cumin, black pepper, a hint of sugar, enough tomato to make it stick together, and meat fat.
I'm not advocating that we should all storm into Perry's wearing swimsuits and demand grape soda to complement our giant-ass pork chop. We're not animals -- or worse, we're not Frisco transplants flush with new money. But I simply don't see anything wrong with enjoying a freshly made sauce on a well-smoked brisket. Maybe it isn't necessary, but if we only ate things that were necessary than we wouldn't spend four hours of our Saturday waiting in line at Pecan Lodge.
Here's the other reason I demand sauce, and it's probably going to ruffle some well-waxed BBQ mustaches -- sometimes your shit needs it. I know, you won a few Texas Monthly awards. Over the next week, the City of Ate blog is going to be talking about how awesome you are. Your meat can make a grown man cry fatty, greasy tears. But unless you can promise absolute perfection every single time, on every single plate, in every single circumstance, in every percentage of humidity -- offer sauce. Help me help you, if you know what I'm saying. The smallest bit of sauce can cover a myriad of subtle flaws or natural inconsistencies, and even enhance the flavor of any variety of meat. Consider it the splash of water that brings out all the flavors of good whiskey.
Have you ever met that guy who can always one-up your story? If you bought new running shoes, he just ran a marathon barefoot because that's how an Indian tribe in Mexico runs marathons. If you just heard of a new beer, he's been to the brewery and bought a growler of a super-secret seasonal that's even better. If you are on a diet and order quinoa, he rolls his eyes because he's ordering an even more ancient whole grain that's only harvested by Toltecs in the spring.
Sauceless snobs, meet thyselves. Since we were cavemen, the very act of slow-cooking meat has brought people from all walks of life together to sit around a fire and enjoy good food. Meat is meant to be a social activity, not an exclusive club. Let me join you, and you might learn that we're not so different after all. You might even learn to loosen up a bit and enjoy delicious things. I'll tell you what, I'll bring the sauce. And the macaroni and cheese. And maybe a hamburger with a doughnut as the bun. Because I just want to feel alive.