Convention to politicize BBQ?Recently Michelle Obama characterized the decision to locate the DNC convention in Asheville as one made based on it having
NC barbecue battle fires up talk about Asheville traditions
Michelle Obama’s barbecue comment fires up talk about WNC traditions
Nate Whiting the kitchen manager at Luella’s Bar-B-Que prepares lunch orders Friday afternoon. Luella’s is one local restaurant serving up good BBQ like St. Louis style smoked ribs, chile rubbed beef brisket and chopped pork. 2/11/11 – Erin Brethauer (firstname.lastname@example.org) / Erin Brethauer/Erin Brethauer
ASHEVILLE — First lady Michelle Obama broke many pig-picking hearts in Western North Carolina when she listed “great barbecue” as one of the tasty benefits for choosing Charlotte as the host city for the 2012 Democratic Convention.
While many N.C. folks outside of Charlotte found that declaration hard to swallow, the first lady’s comment also inspired debate over what exactly “barbecue” means in Western North Carolina.
As the Obamas should know — having headed to 12 Bones as soon as they got off the plane for their 2010 Asheville vacation — barbecue is a political hot potato, with lines distinctly drawn between the different parties, or more accurately, different cookout pits.
As with its melding of red and blue counties, Western North Carolina is a melting pot of opposing Carolina barbecue styles, local experts contend, along with regional takes flavored with some local ingenuity.
But don’t be duped into debating just the sauces, warns Jim “Trim” Tabb, longtime judge at Tryon’s annual Blue Ridge BBQ and Music Festival.
“What people confuse is the sauce,” said Tabb, a Mills Spring resident who has judged contests all over the world since the early 1960s. “Sauce complements barbecue. Barbecue is not sauce.”
It’s also not necessarily pork. “You can barbecue an old shoe,” he said.
Out west in Memphis, Tenn., barbecue means ribs. In South Carolina, pork may come with a peppery mustard sauce.
Then there are the barbecue borders slicing up North Carolina: In the eastern part of the state, it’s only barbecue if it’s a chopped whole hog served with a thin, spiced vinegar sauce. But once you get to Lexington, barbecue’s got to come with a sweet tomato sauce — what’s called western Carolina barbecue, meaning the Piedmont west of Raleigh.
But no matter how you take your barbecue, there is one quality all fans recognize.
“Barbecue has a down-home, family feel,” said Martha Kooles, whose family has owned and operated Barbecue Inn on Patton Avenue for almost 50 years. “It makes people feel comfortable. It’s like a good pair of tennis shoes.”
Tabb doesn’t think there is really a clear style or theme for the barbecue you find in Western North Carolina, noting that even parts of the state east of us are getting “homogenous.”
His barbecue “is dry-rub
It certainly works for Dustin Vanderbunt, owner of Ed Boudreaux’s Bayou Bar-B-Q on Biltmore Avenue.
His barbecue “is dry-rubbed with Creole seasonings and smoked with apple wood,” he said. “I wanted to bring my New Orleans cooking background and combine with (Southern barbecue traditions).”
This unusual marriage is a good fit for Asheville’s adventurous dining community, he noted.
“People are going to do what they want to do,” he said of barbecue choices. “People like different stuff up here; they don’t want the norm,” noting that Boudreaux’s Caribbean jerk sauce was one of the crowd’s most popular choices at festivals.
Most pitmasters in Western North Carolina agree barbecue is ultimately about good meat prepared well — over a long period of time using wood or charcoal.
“Pork specifically is a very user-friendly meat,” Kelley said. “It goes well with so many different flavors.”
“There is no such thing as bad barbecue,” he said. “There are just various degrees of good.”
“We’ve got into such a hurry-up society,” he said. “It keeps going faster and faster, and barbecue is the opposite.” It’s weekends in the backyard, Tabb said. It’s Saturday spent lying in a hammock, only having to keep an eye on a temperature gauge as meat smokes for hours.
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