And boy: would you be wrong.
What we traditionally call barbecue in Italy, the simple form of quickly grilling meat or fish on an open pit, has evolved into a very serious artistic slow cooking form in the US, with regional variations that make a Kansas style BBQ something very different from a Texas BBQ. Texans in particular are very serious about their BBQ.
|Kreuz Market BBQ, from Texas.|
I remember one of the most mystical experiences (I cannot avoid using almost religious terms when I talk about the flavors of BBQ) was to enter into this giant BBQ joint, Kreuz Market, in Lockardt, Texas, the self-dubbed Capital of Barbeue. Two gigantic smokers, as big as the 18 wheels trucks that are the nightmares of any motorcyclists, were slowly cooking tons and tons of meat. The smell was Paradise. And the food we got - served in plain paper, with no forks or knives and with absolutely no sauce - was the tastiest meat we have ever had.
In much of Europe barbecue is often associated with quick preparation: you get your steak and your sausages, you throw them on the grill, you eat. Although this type of BBQ can obviously also be found in the US, the actual cuisine called BBQ is a different thing entirely. And it is as much to do with fast preparation as Berlusconi has to do with sexual abstinence: very little.
Certain traditional BBQ dishes (brisket, pulled pork), are extremely long preparations, requiring often more than 20 hours if you want to do them right. Texas BBQ, if I understand correctly, actually demands the longest preparation, because here the meat is cooked/smoked through indirect heat: the meat is not put on coals or a grill, but it is cooking standing next to a furnace which sends its smoke and heat towards the meat for hours.
If you are not salivating by now you have no heart, really.
Different American States have different traditions in barbecuing different animals (or different parts of the same animals). Variations can also be found in the sauces or rubs used to marinate the meat: from the mustard based sauce of South Carolina (I must admit, one of my favorites), to the Texas mop sauce, the sauce will tell you what type of BBQ you are eating as much as the cooking method.
Whatever the type of BBQ you are having though, the one feature that groups them all is that BBQ is served in joints which are as unpretentious as they come: metal chairs, metal tables, no towels. Some places - for instance Chicago Q - try to offer an upscale dining experience, with cloths on the table. But if you are going to eat BBQ and you can't be licking your fingers at the end of the meal, then you are in the wrong place, as far as I am concerned.
|A typical BBQ joint interior: unpretentious...|
Cooking good BBQ at home is not impossible. Provided your building allows for charcoal grills or at least gas grills. If - like me - you live in a place where the only grill allowed is electric, and no smoker, then you are out of luck. That's why my experiments with BBQ have been mostly limited to the classic quick grilling, and to the BBQ dishes that you can actually make at home in a slowcooker. The slowcooker is in fact an excellent alternative cooking method for some of the BBQ dishes: the extremely long cooking times allow the fat and the connective tissues of the meat to dissolve and give the meat that specific tender, off the bone appearance that is required in so many US BBQ dishes.
|Baby back ribs, slowcooked and caramelized in the oven. Not a bad alternative...|
I have been playing it with quite some time, and I came up with a couple of recipes that I think are smashing good, if I do say so myself: pulled pork with dry tart cherries and cherry beer, with a cherry beer BBQ sauce, for instance. Interested?