Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thrill of the Grill, an update on evil sauce

Andy and I have been watching the Thrill of the Grill week on Food Network. Last night, the focus was on the Bama-cue championship in Mobile. Watching some of the entrants brought to my mind a recurring debate I have with anyone who'll listen and, barring an available audience, myself.

A handful (OK, one team really stood out in doing this) of competitors made a big, big deal out of their sauce. When the camera crew went to the restaurants, the ribs or pulled pork were drowned in sauce. If there was any meat under there, it would have taken a jaguar to sniff it out.

My point: Good meat, whether it's a steak or a piece of chicken or a slab of ribs, should be able to stand on its own and not have to swim in sauce to get its flavor, its character. Food is not a conduit for sauce; if you're so hopped up for sauce, toss it in a bowl and eat it as soup.

I tell my friends, when they come over and eat my food, if I've done my job, it shouldn't need any sauce at all. I'll offer sauce (homemade, of course), but I expect it to be used as an enhancement only -- not as a baptismal dunking with which the diner hopes to wash away the sins of a bad piece of meat, poor cooking technique or inadequate seasoning before the food hits the grill/smoker/oven.

I love the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes," but any self-respecting Southern barbecuer would never say, "The secret's in the sauce." That line always makes me mad.

Also last night, I was horrified when one woman put a seasoning on a brisket slab and said, "That's what gives it a smoke ring." No, ma'am. Prolonged exposure to smoke is what gives it a smoke ring. Andy, aka The Judge, mentioned that the Kansas City Barbecue Society was going off looking for "smoke rings" because people have figured out how to fake them. Shame, people. Shame.