Friday, January 08, 2010

The Geography of BBQ

BBQ is big business in Central Texas, and here it's not about the sauce, it's about the smoke. Most of the BBQ at serious joints (Smitty's, Kreuz, Salt Lick, etc.) that I've been to around Austin are smoked with Oak wood. And most of the meat that is smoked is beef. When my mom visited we went to the Salt Lick down in Driftwood, and even though she doesn't normally like beef brisket, she really liked theirs. So, this combination of Oak and beef is important. Beef are grass feeders, so you need not only the Oak, but lots of good grasses. That's a combination we have in spades in the Hill Country.

Oak smoking at Smitty's Market in Lockhart, TX

This got me thinking about the geography of BBQ. Why are certain towns and states most associated with BBQ? You have St. Louis, Memphis, North Carolina, and Kansas City as big hubs of bbq meat in the US, and why is that? And why are certain meats or sauces associated with these places. Kansas City has its thick sauce and pork spare ribs. North Carolina has a clear vinegar sauce and pulled pork.

Looking up St. Louis on Wikipedia, "before the founding of the city, the area was prairie and open forest maintained by burning by Native Americans. Trees are mainly oak, maple, and hickory." This gets back to the hardwood and grassland combination that you find in Texas. Then you also have the influence of manmade elements such as the railroads that made St. Louis at one point the gateway to the American west. And farmers who grew corn crops found that one of the best ways to transport the caloric value of corn was to fatten up pigs and then ship them in railcars. So maybe that's one reason why pork ribs are big in St. Louis still to this day.

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