By Stephen and Adam Podowitz-Thomas
I used to think I knew what barbecue was until I found out what I thought was barbecuing was actually grilling. It took marrying a Southerner for me to learn about the beauty of “low and slow” cooking. Don’t get me wrong; I love a chicken breast or a cob of corn with grill-marks from the high heat of the grates, but nothing compares to cutting into a slice of barbecued meat and seeing that red smoke ring. Us Ashkenazi Jews have our own version of low and slow, which usually involves turning brisket or some other tough cut of beef into fall-apart, melt-in-your mouth goodness through braising. Barbecue takes away the liquid, and turns meat tender through indirect heating from burning wood, keeping the meat juicy, while adding smoky flavor.
My first “real” barbecue experience was in San Francisco of all places. Since moving to California, Adam had been searching for restaurants serving up barbecue, when we stumbled upon Memphis Minnies. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect, so I eyed the brisket—something familiar—from their extensive selection of meats. Once I brought my piping hot sandwich back to our table, I had the choice of three sauces, one South Carolina-style, one North Carolina-style and one Texas-style.
Before reaching for my first to try, Adam took the opportunity to school me on the intricacies of the Great BBQ War. The Great BBQ War is essentially the belief, which every Southerner is born to, that the region they hail from makes the best barbecue. While there are many factors that affect barbecue (including the kind of meat and wood you use, and how long you let it cook), perhaps the most important is what sauce goes on the meat. Since my first encounter at Memphis Minnies, I’ve learned that there are a ton more than those three varieties of sauces that they had on offer. There are sauces based on vinegar, mustard, ketchup or tomato paste, and even a sauce based on mayo. Adam’s from North Carolina, so he grew up with a vinegar sauce, but with three different types of vinegar-based sauces in the Carolinas, “North Carolina” isn’t really specific enough. He comes from the Piedmont region, so the Lexington mop sauce is his favorite, which has some tomato paste or ketchup added, as opposed to the thinner pepper and vinegar sauce from East Carolina. After trying quite a few varieties, South Carolina-style mustard-based sauce is my favorite–don’t tell my husband.
Our version of a pulled chicken sandwich with North Carolina-style vinegar barbecue sauce.
I’ve learned a lot about eating good Southern food over the last several years, like how a fork is not required for fried chicken and that it goes best with waffles, a side of greens and a big glass of sweet tea. Most importantly, I’ve learned that mixing barbecue sauces is just not okay, but trying them all is delicious. At my request, we’ve tried our hand at making a few in our kitchen. We’ve focused on ones from the Carolinas and Georgia–far be it from me to suggest us testing out a Texas-style sauce in our home.
Living far from the centers of the barbecue world, throwing together sauces on our own and finding enclaves where Southern expats flock has given Adam a taste of home. We look forward to introducing our child to the diverse joys and rich history of barbecue. Maybe someday we’ll make it to the Lexington Barbecue Festival on a visit to Grandma Thomas’s in Charlotte. And no matter what, we’ll love our child whatever type of sauce they like best.
For more about Stephen and Adam’s Adoption Journey, check out our adoption page.