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This is why we will never defeat America at barbecue…

Posted July 25, 2015 into Food & Drink by John Birmingham

Because Harvard is on the case and they've invented a cheap, foolproof smoker. And apparently paying a couple of thousand dollars for your cheap, foolproof smoker designed by Harvard engineering grads is a good deal.

The New York Times has the story, but I got the hero pars right here:

Mr. Parker came up with the idea for the smoker project at a cooking contest in a Memphis parking lot before a college football game. He was stunned by the smokers he saw. “I mean, just piles of metal junk,” is how he described them. “Trash cans with smokestacks. It was offensive to an engineer.”

When the semester began, only two of the 16 students in the class had smoked meat before, two were vegetarians and five were from abroad and did not know what American-style barbecue was.

They began by analyzing smokers on the market, focusing on Big Green Egg, a popular one with a ceramic cooking chamber. They evaluated the extra-large version, which costs $1,200. “We went through the patent of the Big Green Egg and just completely dissected it,” Mr. Parker said. “Where’s the opportunity here? Where’s the weakness here?”

They built computer models of Big Green Egg, of the brisket and, eventually, of their own smoker. They ran hundreds of computer simulations, and they learned that maintaining a precise, steady cooking temperature is crucial to evenly breaking down the meat’s collagen, tenderizing it. Several students spent their spring break taking a crash course in ceramics at the Harvard Ceramic Studio to build two prototypes of the smoker.

I don't know of anybody in Australia who goes to the sorts of lengths for a barbecue fix. I did know a bloke in Canberra used to marinate his prawns for an hour or so before burning them on the grill, and there's always some idiot who insists on upending his beer all over the meat while it's on the flame. But I don't know of anybody who's commissioned research and development like this.

I just don't know that we have the patience. This idea that you stand by the barbecue, or the smoker I guess, and lovingly tend the meat for 12 to 14 hours seems… excessive. Don't get me wrong, I accept that the final product is undeniably superior, but by the time I've got four or five beers under my belt I really just want a burned snag, a slice of white bread and another four or five beers.

33 Responses to ‘This is why we will never defeat America at barbecue…’

damian puts forth...

Posted July 25, 2015
Sounds like a reasonable alternative to the slow-cooker for inferior cuts of meat. You wouldn't waste a nice big hairy melt-in-the-mouth steak with such treatment, though.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan has opinions thus...

Posted July 25, 2015
Sure I would. You can't tell me what to do.

damian mumbles...

Posted July 26, 2015
And I'd never try!
I suppose if you'd do that, you might order a steak well done. And you might mechanically reclaim the meat from a variety of seafood for fish-sticks...

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 26, 2015
Damian, why do you hate America?

damian ducks in to say...

Posted July 26, 2015
I love America. I want it to be even betterer!

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan asserts...

Posted July 26, 2015
I expected you to say something like that.
You're a communist, aren't you? Some kind of hipster commie type, huh?

damian would have you know...

Posted July 27, 2015
Well, no, I'm not a hipster at all.

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Brother PorkChop asserts...

Posted July 25, 2015
It's not 12-14 hours of tending meat, it's 12-14 hours of dedicated approved steady beer drinking time whilst you occasionally top up the chips, wood or whatever your fuel is. Meanwhile you enjoy some quality beers, ales and lagers whilst being provided snacks from the kitchen. I don't have 12+ hour sessions but the outdoor oven allows for maybe 6 especially if the spit is in use as well.

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insomniac puts forth...

Posted July 25, 2015
Alternatively you need to culture a strong friendship with someone who does have patience, lives locally, cooks often, and invites you over just for the price of bringing over a few delicious beers.

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Coriolisdave swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 25, 2015
Is there a link to that piece? I can't see it in the post.
That said, 6 hours lines up perfectly with test cricket - tending the tongs during the drinks breaks, sinking brews... It's completely compatible with the Aussie lifestyle

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Murphy_of_Missouri has opinions thus...

Posted July 25, 2015
Barbecue is an art, not a science.

A computer model of the brisket? How can one take such seriously?

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Therbs swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 25, 2015
Follow 2FBS over at Tweeterville and you'll find a man who spends a whole day doing such things. The pictures he posts of his efforts make you drool over your Twitter timeline.

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tqft would have you know...

Posted July 25, 2015
I saw this a while back.
A bit tempted, I do like my bbqed meat. But 12 hours is excessive effort.
Good class project

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w from brisbane mutters...

Posted July 25, 2015
Of course, the point of the science is not that you have 12 hours of effort. It is that you can put it on and come back 12 hours later and it is perfect.

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NBlob is gonna tell you...

Posted July 25, 2015
The unique combining of French Arcadian, Spanish, African, Caribbean & 1st Nations traditions, rendered down in a competitive context and basted in family traditions has resulted in the finest, stickiest, sweetest, tenderest spicey meat products I've experienced. My gluttony reaches new lows when faced with a pit and a man who knows how to use it. I'm not proud of what I've done & I suspect my artery walls may never be the same, but God Bless American BBQ. One question though what's with the corn bread? It just soaks up valuable meat capacity.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan ducks in to say...

Posted July 25, 2015
To understand corn bread you must remember that the BBQ you love is the result of a mash up of the traditions of extremely poor French Arcadian, Spanish, African, Caribbean & 1st Nations peoples. They took what was left after wealthier people had their fill and transformed it something wonderful. Collard greens when cooked right are just delicious. The Collard is a weed that was foraged. Ribs were trash meat. And corn was used to feed animals and consequently, was a cheap carbohydrate. American peasant food.

But let me tell you something, mate, a well-crafted corn bread with cheddar cheese and jalapeno peppers in the batter is a beautiful thing. And yes, it is like a sponge, but it soaks up some fairly tasty juice and sauces.

damian mutters...

Posted July 26, 2015
Anything involving a complex sauce that itself is part of the treatment - will require some kind of starch on the side to soak up the juices. Suspect it's just a language thing that would steer you away.

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DrYobbo ducks in to say...

Posted July 25, 2015
I have a recollection of this being a Blunty at some point. My views are unchanged: there is nowt better than a snarler grilled to crunchiness, but still juicy on the insides. I totally get the Seppo BBQ thing, it's more like slow cooking than anything Strayans would associate with barbequeing.

damian ducks in to say...

Posted July 26, 2015
Agreed - I think Americans do what we call BBQ, but to them it's just grilling. The American BBQ is a totally different thing, really its own cuisine so there's a language issue to hop over.
For us, it's all about the fresh ingredients interfered with minimally.
Though of course an Aussie BBQ sausage should be burnt evenly all the way around.

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Paul_Nicholas_Boylan puts forth...

Posted July 26, 2015
I know I'm channeling Hughesy a bit, but this story offended me. Just a bit. As Murph points out, BBQ is an art, not a science. As the Blob points out, American BBQ represents culture and tradition. And a big part of that culture and those traditions is the mythic idea that, with a bit of tinkering (that can and often does go on for years, through generations) anybody - no matter how low their station in life - can use just about anything to come up with a method for making the best fucking BBQ you ever tasted.

It is an interesting story, but ultimately it is about a bunch of rich kids using expensive technologies to improve upon something they enjoy (easting tasty food) but don't understand. Their product, though possibly perfect, is the equivalent of a microwave oven. High tech and surely good for some things, but lacking soul, lacking passion, and that is why what comes out of it will never beat what you can find strolling along the converted oil drum monstrosities lined up in a parking lot during a BBQ cook off in Nashville, Dallas, Kansas City, Phoenix - hell, even LA.

Finally, if you really want to understand the traditions and magic of American pit BBQ, read or listen (the audio book rocks) Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan. What he describes will haunt your dreams. You will never be the same.

NBlob ducks in to say...

Posted July 26, 2015
Thank you for your most excellent contribution to my birthday list. To my unutterable shame I still haven't finished Mz Razor & Mr Keen's A Short History of Stupid, which I got for Christmas.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan has opinions thus...

Posted July 26, 2015
Seriously, the Pollan book will change the way you look at the universe - especially his up close and personal exploration of old fashioned open pit pork BBQ. The kind that results in buildings burning down as an accepted occasional natural outcome.

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Rhino puts forth...

Posted July 26, 2015
Love these culture gap things. Boylan hit the nail on the head. Soulless cooking. Their meat may be perfect from a chemistry perspective but it will never have the heart and soul of a full rack from Fat Matts Rib Shack. The unhygienic surroundings just make the ribs or brisquit that much tastier.
Also, as an FYI, smoking is generally set it and forget it. Better if you don't open the smoker at all. Get up early, start the meat, come back a couple of times to add some hickory. Mmmmmmmmmmm. And don't pre-sauce your BBQ. Height of ignorance and amateurism. Wait the last couple of minutes and finish on a grill if you want some caramelization.
What you do (and 99% of Americans as well) is "grilling". Apply meat to flame for a few minutes and remove. If you turn the meat more than once you are an amateur and I will curse you in public.

The cool thing in Atlanta are the rib joints that have Chinese as well. A wrestler that went by the Name Abdullah the Butcher is married to a woman of Asian extraction and his eponymous Abdullah The Butcher's House of Ribs is one such uber cool joint.

damian has opinions thus...

Posted July 26, 2015
Trust me in this Rhino, there's nothing soulless (or hygienic) about the average grill plate. Anything that is cleaned by superheating, if at all, while suffering rancid pork fat, possum pee and melaleuca resin in random sprays is always an object of character. Or at least parts.
I totally approve of cooking methods that enable the use of the entire cow. It's what makes big hairy steaks possible, and the longer the treatment the betterer. I also approve of "set and forget" (taking a moment to be thankful for the advent of the self-timed electric slow cooker), and self-smoking is something I really want to get into. We have an old brick barbie in the (currently structurally unsound, as most battens and some beams have rotted and become food for the rather glorious orange trumpet flower vine, but that's another story) that I always had a vague plan to convert into a wood-fired pizza oven. I see multiple uses here. And of course there's a potential re-use for the normal hooded gas barbie, possum wee and all. So little time, too many things to try...

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan mumbles...

Posted July 26, 2015
Murph, the Senator, Ydog, TTim and my less then humble self. I can tell you for a fact that the moment any of us read ""Fat Matts Rib Shack" we said "Fuck, yeah," and meant it to the core of our seppo being.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan reckons...

Posted July 26, 2015
"Abdullah The Butcher's House of Ribs"

Got. To.Get.Me.Some.

yankeedog is gonna tell you...

Posted July 27, 2015
Just got back from Old Southern BBQ up in the depths of Northern Wisconsin, started by 'Famous Dave' Anderson. All chopped up and prepared right in front of you-and when they run out of meat for the night, you're just out of luck.

Two (slightly greasy) thumbs up! And he's going to start a second place. Having created one chain of BBQ places, I wouldn't be surprised if he gets a second one going, and becomes the Barbeque Czar.
Fat Matt's Rib Shack? I can smell that place in all it's smoky meat goodness right now...even though I've never been there.


Therbs has opinions thus...

Posted July 27, 2015

I remember Abdullah the Butcher. One of the vicious bad guys back before WWF became WWE and swallowed all the other wrestling competition. Any man that big would have to know what he wants in bbq'd meats.

Anything called Fat Matt's Rib Shack would just have to be full of meaty win.

*burp*

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Murphy_of_Missouri has opinions thus...

Posted July 26, 2015
I do the ribs on the gas grill. I improvise a pan of wood chips, mesquite is what I prefer. The rub is a combination of Arthur Bryant's special formulation and some brown sugar. Get the heat around 300 or so and walk away. Maybe check on it ever so often to make sure the grill didn't run away.

Apparently I have a knack for it. At some point I should get a true smoker and see how that goes.

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Rhino puts forth...

Posted July 27, 2015
Just had some awesome ribs at Chef Larry's. Dry rub and then in the hot smoker for 2 hours. Then, wrapped in foil and back in medium heat smoker for 3 more hours. Out and rested and sauced.
Meat melted off the bone.

Murphy_of_Missouri mumbles...

Posted July 27, 2015
I bore witness via the Book of Face. Those not there addicted like the rest of us (Thanks, John!) missed out on the foodporn taking place at Casa de Rhino.

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TeamAmerica asserts...

Posted July 28, 2015
I've always assumed barbecue was an Aussie/Yank thing, but it appears to have growing popularity in Britain:
http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/american-style-bbq-heats-up-in-u-k/

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 28, 2015
Cultural imperialism, buddy. First our movies. Then our degenerate music. Now our BBQ. We shall conquer the world by making them all just like us.

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