As BBQ has increased in popularity so has the desire of the general public to learn more about it and how to do it themselves. Luckily the BBQ world is full of people who not only love to make great BBQ but who enjoy passing on their knowledge to others. The South Carolina Barbeque Association (SCBA) takes pride in educating the public about all things BBQ and holds two seminars a year to turn enthusiasts into judges. The main aspects looked at when comparing BBQ are Appearance, Aroma, Tenderness & Taste. Just looking at it should make you want to eat it; the aroma should get your mouth watering and once you have tasted it, it should be moist and tender yet still have texture. The flavor of the meat kissed with smoke should lead, while the subtle nuances of the rub and sauce should both enhance and add depth of flavor to the meat.
The major points to considering when making BBQ are rubs, sauces, wood and mastering the art of knowing how to have the right temperature, amount and type of smoke.
Rub is the first way to introduce flavor and color to the meat. There are two basic types of rubs: wet and dry. Dry rubs are a combination of spices and herbs. Wet rubs are dry rubs with the addition of oil or other liquid to make a paste. Both are best made with some course ground spices as these help to more deeply roughen up the surface of the meat allowing the smoke to permeate better. Rubs typically should be applied at least an hour prior to cooking and can even be applied up to 24 hours in advance.
There are two types of sauces. A basting sauce is low in sugar and used mostly to keep the meat moist while cooking and allows for the aromatic smoke to cling to the meat better. A finishing sauce is added the last hour or two of cooking to add another layer of flavor to the meat. South Carolina is the only state that has four specific finishing sauces, each originating from a different region of the state. The first sauce thought to have originated by the Scottish that settled in the coastal plains of the Carolinas is a simple vinegar and pepper sauce and is often used for basting as well as finishing. The second sauce thought to have originated by the German immigrants that were encouraged to settle in South Carolina in the 1700’s is a mustard based sauce, found predominantly in the middle third of the state. It is the sauce that SC is most known for since it was not found in other states. The third sauce is a light tomato based sauce (basically vinegar & pepper sauce with tomato ketchup added). It came about in early 1900’s and is typically found in the northwestern part of the state & Pee Dee region. The fourth sauce is a heavy tomato based sauce which is both thick & sweet, found mostly in the lower third of the state bordering with Georgia.
Aromatic wood is what gives BBQ its smoky flavor, and there are many options when it comes to woods used. Hardwoods, fruit woods and nut woods can be used alone or in combination. Soft woods such as evergreens are not recommended. It is commonly thought that different species of wood impart different flavors, but some feel the different minerals in the wood are more important to flavor. The Forest Encyclopedia states that “smoke flavor is influenced more by the climate and soil in which they are grown than the species of wood.” In my opinion, both matter. Wood should be cured (dried) before using. It is important to note that ideally the same piece of wood will go through the different phases of combustion at the same time. In the different phases, different compounds are released in the form of microscopic solids mixed with water vapor along with a variety of gases. At the point that flame is produced we get our greatest aromatic compounds released as well as the gas nitric oxide which is essential to the formation of a smoke ring, the chemical reaction between smoke and meat which causes a pink tint just below the surface (bark) of the meat.
A pale blue smoke coming from the smoker is thought to give the best flavor to low slow BBQ. Getting this pale blue smoke involves adjusting the air flow of the smoker as well as the temperature and is the trickiest part of the process.
To learn more about the SCBA, events and BBQ see scbarbeque.com.