For me, learning barbecue “for real” started with a modest introduction to an actual master. That modest event generated something outstanding which was needed, all along, to truly propel me: it generated My Repentance … (“conversion”?)
Years earlier I had literally won a barbecue ribs contest among friends in Dallas, and years before that my sibs and friends and I had cooked thousands of pounds of meat on nightly grills. At the time, I intuited that barbecue acumen was a matter of increasing my boasting about it and doing it “lots”–but fast forward to a 6-hour culinary class that my father and I attended together in Kansas City for fun one day. There, I learned better. About how bad I actually was.
Today, people we know erroneously say we learned that our (current) amazing barbecue is from “that weekend from a well known chef,” but that is mistaking what actually happened. Research and experiment and regimen, on our own, is what eventually got us here today. But it was “My Repentance” that was needed, first.
Embarrassed, we were, on that training day, to learn that boiling ribs merely softened the meat and exiled all the actual meat juices and best tastes, and that what made Ruby Tuesday’s ribs (and ours) taste so good was merely the wonderful salt, soggy tissue, and slathered sauces. Against our own convention, we now heard that “true smoking” meant we needed to “over” cook our pork and beef, to temperatures around 200 (versus a 125 degree steak), and that we were not supposed to merely “straight up cook” such meats, as much as we were supposed to carefully orchestrate a scientific reaction that literally altered their chemical composition from one thing into something else. We learned that a rib’s true “tasting” involved a bite into it that first deciphered the animal (pork ribs!), then its flavorings (rubs, brines), followed by smokeness (cherry, mesquite, pecan)—in that tasting order, and with capacity to tell a difference. Oh, and falling-off-the bone was wrong (versus al dente), and all the why’s. How wrong we had been. Our wrongness had been disguised by us being the best among all those doing it wrong.
Yes, we left with notes and a several recipes that day, but it did not take long for us to reinvent awesome barbecue into our own image. Since then, over the years, and even through inventing trainings of it for others, I have cordoned “real bbq” as involving 3 enterprises I describe as “Science, Art, & Discipline.” But all of this barbecue smartness only followed what we had needed first to know—that we had been wrong, and that we needed to learn, starting from zero.
That is where real barbecue is first set free (repentance) and I have seen countless men especially never get to that part of it, but rather keep on in their barbecue pride to do all sorts of unlearned things and to load the internet with ideas that are off. On the other hand I have seen countless men repent it like I did, and then see their barbecue stars get born. Indeed barbecue pride does have an awesome role in the whole practice, though mostly in that enterprise of it which I call “Art”. Equally, though, the Science of it must be regarded. And the Discipline of growing in it needs to be obeyed.
I share this with hope that folks go ahead and learn the basics of barbecue from someone, knowing that not too long after doing so, there is still plenty of room afterwards for them to carve their growing hobby into a better thing that is truly their own. Barbecue is a pastime loaded with pride and showing off. That is fine, and great, but also we can make room to give those prides of ours their proper readiness; and if we are helping teach someone else, well, we can go easy (“kindly”?) and leave room for them to drum up that same repentance. Thus, through many others people’s awakening, the “real barbecue” thing will spread. And maybe that is how (among other things too) all my enemies will eventually get to try some really awesome barbecue.