Monday, October 1, 2012

The Sacredness of Everything Barbecue

As a born and raised Texan, certain things are sacred to me.  No, this isn't a pro-NRA post nor some diatribe about Republican ideology.  In fact, I break almost every single stereotype about Texans - except for one: my shameless, undying love of all things barbecue and meat.  For those with Jones disease, my heart genuinely aches for you and your body's inability to tolerate beef and cow's milk products.  I will grill a steak and a jalapeno popper in your honor, and I'll try to keep my audible enjoyment to a bare minimum.  I cannot make any grandiose promises, but I'll do my best.

There is so much that can be said about good barbecue food.  When I hear someone say "We're barbecuing!  We've got some hot dogs, hamburgers and ..." it's like hearing nails scratch on a chalkboard, I swear.  Call it a grill-out, a cook-out, a burger/weenie roast, or whatever else you want to call it.  Just please do not call it a barbecue just because you are cooking it on a "barbecue grill."  Barbecue is something that takes lots of time and patience.  It involves barbecue sauce (*gasp*), a rub, and a grill and/or a smoker (if you're good at it).  Sure, it's perfectly okay to have hamburgers, hot dogs or even fajitas with your other barbecue food.  Some kids are finicky eaters, and sometimes you need veggie burgers for the vegetarian crowd.  That's fine.  Please, for the love of everything that is pure, holy, and sacred (i.e. barbecue), do not call it a barbecue if it doesn't involve barbecue sauce!  Don't try to get cute either and say "we put barbecue sauce on our burgers!"  Nice try.  It still doesn't count!

Some of you may wonder "Since you're a Texan and you're living in Seattle, where do you find good barbecue?"  The answer is simple: my back yard.  Seattle's barbecue scene is notoriously mediocre.  Every time a new place pops up, the general consensus is "Yeah, I tried it.  It was totally ... decent."  It saddens me on a very profound level.  One of these days, I just might open up a barbecue restaurant here in Seattle in some form or fashion.  Who knows. 

I'll share with you my one and only means of survival in the land that is completely devoid of good barbecue: my dude.  He has participated in some Kansas City Barbecue Society competitions, and he's won!  Of course he and his team would spend ~$20k to win $5k.  His brisket and ribs (similar to the picture above) are simply awesome.  He went through over 90 briskets before arriving at the absolutely perfect brisket recipe.  That's a lot of brisket meat!  His barbecue sauce is superb.  I'm actually going to be bottling and selling it, but we'll see how that goes.  I'll keep you posted when we do!

This dude knows his barbecue.  It's practically his food opus.  I always make sure to accommodate his barbecue making endeavors by chilling a few glass bottled Mexican Cokes, helping out with the sides and sauce, doing any grocery runs, etc. I make him cheesecake; he makes me barbecue.  It's a winning deal.  He's not from Texas (or the South, period), but he knows his stuff. 
He knows his ingredients.
He knows how select the perfect cut of meat.
He knows how to smoke meats.
He knows how to perfect a rub.
He knows how to make a damn fine barbecue sauce.
He knows how to keep me from begging to fly home for some good barbecue.

Sure, barbecue is a shamelessly high caloric meal.  We take healthy foods such as zucchini or jalapenos, and we stuff them with foods that make your arteries clog with joy.  That's right, those are bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers pictured to the left.  Of course they're awesome!  They're wrapped with bacon!  Look, you know what you're getting into when you show up for a barbecue at my home.  I'll usually offer some grilled veggies and fruit as the only compensatory low(ish) calorie food on the menu.

I stumbled across this article the other day.  It's called "Slim Down Your Barbecue Sides."  I feel the title should be changed to "How to Practically Ruin a Barbecue."  Now before I disect this article, I have one disclaimer: I realize these articles are geared towards those that are trying to lose weight, be healthy, and make lifestyle changes.  More power to you if you are!  I know it's difficult, and kudos to you for deciding to take your life back.  If you are struggling with your weight and being healthy, I have an even better suggestion: don't go to a barbecue.  It's not going to be good for you.  If you simply must go for social purposes, eat before you go, load up at the veggie tray, and control your portions.  That is how you survive a barbecue without your stretchy pants.  Though I do agree with a few of suggestions they had, they suggested some ridiculous things such as:

  1. Instead of coleslaw…Swap cabbage for broccoli, which has more than twice as much vitamin C and three times as much protein as a serving of cabbage. Just make sure you choose a slaw recipe without mayonnaise for the best results.  Though I've never personally been a big fan of cole slaw, I know some people who would stab you with their fork if you tried to substitute regular cole slaw for broccoli slaw.  I love broccoli and all, but don't mess with the cole slaw.
  2. Instead of macaroni salad…Trade this dish for a quinoa and vegetable salad. A cup of the ancient grain has 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. Plus you’ll get a healthy dose of manganese, magnesium, and folate to boot. Not ready to give up pasta completely? Opt for whole-wheat varieties instead of ones made with white flour.  Again, I'm not a big fan of macaroni salad, but to trade macaroni for quinoa?  Quinoa is alright, but it's not an acceptable alternative to macaroni salad!  Gross!  Also, wheat pasta in a macaroni salad?  Please don't ruin the macaroni salad!  If you're worried about grains, just bring a loaf of bread instead. 
  3. Certainly the most egregious of suggestions: Instead of bottled marinades…Packaged marinades and dressings can carry more than 20 percent of your recommended daily sodium intake in a single serving. Fresh herbs like basil, parsley, mint, and rosemary pack flavor without weighing down your dish with additional fat, sodium, or calories. Plus many herbs actually serve up antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, O’Shea says.  I know they said "marinades and dressings," but were they slyly suggesting to get rid of barbecue sauce?!  Do *not* do this to people.  This goes back to the "Please do not call it barbecue" argument as stated above.  Make your own sauce.  When I ever get my dude's barbecue sauce on the market, buy an artisinal sauce!  For the love of everything that is pure, holy, and sacred (i.e. barbecue), do not say "I put some rosemary sprigs on the ribs instead of the sauce.  S'cool, right?"
  4. Instead of sugary soda and alcohol mixers…If you’re planning on indulging in a cocktail, skip the soda and brightly colored juices. “Use your calories on your meat and side dish; don’t also spend them on liquid calories,” O’Shea says. Try water with lemon and cucumber, an herbal iced tea with lemon and mint, or sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice.  They get only half-credit for this one.  As I mentioned, there isn't a better drink to pair with barbecue than an ice-cold glass bottle of Mexican Coke.  When you spend all day slaving over a smoker or a grill, you earn it.  Blueberry mojitos are another favorite alcoholic drink to pair with barbecue.  Of course ditching alcohol is a great way to save calories, so that's why I say they get half-credit for this one since they are absolutely right in this regard.  Stay hydrated, by all means.
As I mentioned, they did have a few good suggestions:
  1. Instead of pie…A seasonal solution to your sweet tooth: grilled fruit. Throw peaches and pineapple on the grill, and serve them with one small scoop of ice cream. A slice of peach pie can set you back more than 300 calories, where a serving of grilled peaches and a scoop of fat-free frozen yogurt comes to only about 160.  Yes!  Grilled fruits are awesome!  You can put a nice minty glaze on them, or sprinkle some cinnamon on them.  If you have a rotisserie, shove a cinnamon-coated pineapple on it and slice away!  Recoat with cinnamon after you slice away pieces, and keep it rotating on the grill.
  2. Instead of creamy chip dips…Replace sour cream- and mayonnaise-based dips with homemade salsa, guacamole, or Greek yogurt mixed with herbs. Two tablespoons of chip dip runs at about 60 calories and 5 grams of fat, where salsa carries only 35 calories per half cup and no fat. Likewise, guacamole—in moderation—fills you with healthy fats and at 40 calories for two tablespoons.  Veggie trays are great at barbecues, and there are tons of great, healthy dip recipes out there!  Experiment!
  3. Instead of potato chips… Food Should Taste Good chips are made with quinoa and flaxseed, which provide a dose of fiber and protein you won’t find in a bag of Ruffles. “I don’t feel so guilty about eating them,” says O’Shea. For an even healthier dunkable snack, station chopped carrots and peppers near the chips and dip, which will encourage you—and your guests—to grab for nutrient-rich veggies instead of fat-filled chips.  Though there is a certain level of nostalgia that goes with eatting Ruffles (they have ridges!) at a backyard barbecue, I've had some of the Food should Taste Good chips, and they're not too shabby.  Personally, I save my calories for the grilled foods.  Veggie trays are a great appetizer!  Grilled veggie skewers are even better!
  4. Instead of traditional potato salad…“Focus on recipes that use dressings made with olive oil and vinegar instead of mayonnaise,” O’Shea says.  If creaminess is a must, substitute Greek yogurt for up to half the mayonnaise in the recipe—you shouldn’t be able to taste the difference.  I've never been a big fan of potato salad since it contains so much mayonnaise.  After about 3 bites, I'm done.  I know the majority of people wouldn't even consider it to be a real barbecue if it didn't have potato salad, and they just might try to stab you with a fork if you didn't offer a potato salad.  My dude does a great bananas and spuds potato salad.  The name freaks people out, and some people don't like it since it's not your stereotypical potato salad.  It involves blanching bananas, and it's not a typical mayonnaise based potato salad.  It's really good, and it's very different.  You'll either like it or hate it.  I like it because it's creative and different!
So get out there and grill up a barbecue feast!  You'll know it's a successful barbecue when everyone is sitting down at the table, they've got both of their hands holding some pork ribs up to their mouth, and the room is completely silent - except for some sounds of food-joy.  That, folks, is what a good barbecue is all about!

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