Thursday, May 22, 2008

In Search of Q

A couple of weeks ago, on my birthday, I developed a craving for some barbecue. Out here, "barbecue" is a term loosely used, pretty much covering anything cooked outside. Maybe even some things cooked inside, such as Korean barbecue. It can even refer to the event or act of cooking itself. Where I am from, we refer to most of this type of food as "grilled" (and to the event as a "cook-out") because it is cooked directly over the heat source at high temperatures for a short period of time. Barbecue (or BBQ for the spelling-challenged) is an altogether different thing, not so much an event as a particular substance.

It requires a smoker (or other indirect-cooking contraption) and lots of time. Folks often think it is all about the sauce, but here they are wrong—good quality meat should be used (either pork or beef, depending on one’s regional proclivities), and the sauce or marinade should serve to compliment, not mask it. Spicy and sweet, smoky, or vinegar-tangy, again depending on regional preferences, the sauce should work its way under your fingernails and puddle in the corners of your mouth, providing a few hours or days of lingering stain and smell (wet naps are useful here). Its richness and fat are best alleviated by cole slaw (some put it directly on their sandwich) and iced tea.

So, because of the non-specificity of this term "barbecue" in the West, my search was not an easy one. I was not helped along by the birthday-cake malaise that set in, so it wasn't until last weekend that I ventured forth to a spot near the Culver City gallery district called JNJ Burger Shack. Despite the name, this place serves up some mighty 'cue and is one of the few places in town where you can eat on site. M and I both ordered pulled pork sandwiches, with orders of potato salad (which was perfect, made with mustard and sweet pickle like my Aunt Inez does) and beans on the side. Also a slice of sweet potato pie and lemonades (iced tea and cole slaw were not on offer). The sandwiches arrived, meat overflowing buns, dripping thick, black-peppery sauce; we tucked in and cleaned our plates. We did not eat for the rest of the day.

The proprietor of JNJ Burger Shack is from Louisiana. He wants to retire back there one day for some peace and quiet. But I hope he sticks around for a little while longer -- I'll be needing a few more of those sandwiches.

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