It’s all about the smoke
It started in the Caribbean and the West Indies. Travelers to the New World reported that the inhabitants used smoldering fires to preserve meat, keep the bugs away and, coincidentally, make it taste good.
In the modern days of the late 1700s, celebrations often centered on an activity called “barbecue” where whole animals were roasted atop an earthen pit filled with glowing logs. Every time they wanted to smoke meat, they had to dig a hole and then find a way to keep everybody busy for the next twelve hours. History concludes that this eventually became tiresome. It’s no wonder that visitors to 18th century America described “barbecue” as a “large party that generally ended in intoxication.”
Not that that would ever happen here at the beach, of course. We now have smokin’ pits and ovens that are more predictable than big holes in the ground, and two of the places around here where you can get authentic wood-smoked meats are Bethany Blues and Savannah’s Deli and Grill.
The boys of Bethany Blues are no strangers to glowing hickory. All styles of smoked meat can be found basking over those smoldering chunks of flavor. Eastern Carolina is known for its vinegar and pepper blend. Throw in some ketchup, and all of a sudden you’re in Western Carolina. Bethany Blues’ Carolina vinegar/pepper sauce goes all-out with brown sugar, mustard and butter.
Move toward the south, and the red sauces rule. Memphis style starts with a tomato base that turns darkly sweet when molasses, brown sugar, and garlic are added. Bethany Blues can even bring the smoke to you. “Ol’ Hickory” is an all-inclusive wood pit complete with trailer, hubcaps, brake lights and a license plate. It’s a hit with the carnivores at picnics, fairs and festivals.
Pitmaster Bill White at Savannah’s Deli & Grille in Lewes also has a BBQ smoker that sports a license plate.
Traditional pork barbecue is almost always from the shoulder, and Bill’s pork is of the North Carolina persuasion; slightly vinegary with a touch of pepper and spices. Say, “’Cue me!” in Texas and you’ll end up with beef brisket, smoked until there’s a crunchy “bark” sealing in the savory juices. At Savannah’s in Lewes, it’s thinly sliced and slathered with a spicy sauce.
Low temperatures, lots of time, and a supply of ice-cold beer can help meat lovers remain faithful to that 18th Century definition of “barbecue” quoted above.