Barbecue: It’s Not What You Do, But What You Eat

By Merry Carol Cotton

Barbecue: It’s Not What You Do, But What You Eat

If you’ve recently moved to South Carolina, and if you’ve moved here from the North, chances are the locals…mainly your new gal pals…have declared you “a clear and present danger” to Southern cuisine.

When I arrived in Pawleys Island a few years ago and naively asked how hot I should set my oven temperature to bake boiled peanuts before eating them, the stunned looks and bursts of laughter I got will be remembered, by not only myself, but my new friends, for a long, long time. Along about the same time, I casually mentioned I’d never heard of chicken bog and tried to imagine how the recipe name might appropriately describe the food itself.

But nothing created greater dismay, then shock, and then total disbelief than when I invited my new friends and their spouses to a “barbecue.” I could have had NORTHERNER tattooed on my forehead. You see barbecue where I come from is an action of cooking hamburgers, brats or hot dogs. They are prepared on a grill, sometimes with lots of flames shooting out of the grill and occasionally off the meat itself. You see, my new friends were expecting pork barbecue – not burgers, brats or hot dogs.

I must confess I was a victim of not being from the South, with my idea of what barbecue was, but had also been victimized by cooking shows, television commercials and delicious food layouts in magazines suggesting that grilling burgers, brats and hot dogs is barbecue. The misleading suggestions included titles like “BBQ Recipes,” “Summertime BBQ’s,” or even “Fourth of July Menu Suggestions” all heralding “BBQ planning” for the summer season – but not how to prepare true barbecue. How wrong these food editors are!

I have since learned that barbecue is a word that stands by itself and means pork that has been very slowly smoke cooked – ribs, roasts or other pork cuts – with curling, drifting smoke that flavors the pork and is cooked until the meat falls from the bone. And a true South Carolinian does not make barbecue from beef, lamb, chicken or any other kind of meat. barbecue is not an action, but an end result, and it’s made from pork, period.

As I worked toward mastering cooking some of the Southern cuisine, I really began to feel a part of the South when my husband and I purchased a smoker to make what has now become signature barbecue. I learned what makes up rub – and to you, the beginner Southern cook – a rub is a mixture of spices including paprika, garlic powder, both red and black peppers, salt and brown sugar rubbed on the pork butt or shoulder and allowed to flavor the pork, preferably overnight. But, of course, the amounts of each of these ingredients vary depending on the cook.

I should also add the critical choice of wood for that special smoky flavor – wood like oak, hickory, apple or even pecan – usually soaked in water for several hours – helps determine the flavor of the barbecue, as well as its moistness.

But my Southern friends really took me under their collective wing when they kindly let me know that a homemade sauce is critical to the success of the barbecue itself. I learned that vinegar and pepper sauce has been considered the oldest of the sauces.

Then I was introduced to mustard sauce and learned that mustard sauce for barbecue is uniquely South Carolina. I am now the recipient of a slew of mustard sauce recipes, but a bit of my northern background resists when I see yellow-colored sauce on barbecue. It just doesn’t “cut the mustard” (pardon the pun) for me, but please don’t tell anyone my closely guarded secret. Then, of course, are the tomato sauces – one is a light tomato sauce and the other is a thicker tomato sauce.

But the best thing I’ve learned about preparing barbecue is that it is one of the pacemakers for Southern living – everything about the preparation is in slow motion and offers time for family and friends to simply talk and give lots of hugs and share the latest news.

Also, preparing barbecue is often done in the fall – especially around Thanksgiving, during the kind of days when it’s a must to be out of doors enjoying the beautiful weather; but most of all, it’s when conversations and preparations have gone into slow motion, and I know I’ve made the right choice by moving South.

About this writer

  • Merry Carol Cotton Merry Carol Cotton arrived in Pawleys Island over five years ago after having taught high school English in Michigan for nearly thirty years. She has published in the National Council of Teachers of English Journal, edited medical textbooks, and contributed many articles to church-related publications. She and her husband have three grown children and seven grandchildren.

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One Response to “Barbecue: It’s Not What You Do, But What You Eat”

  1. Hayley says:

    hey grandma! It’s Hayley! I was at school being bored in class so I looked you up and I found these stories that you wrote which I love! Just thought you should know. I love you! :)

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