By G.D. Maxwell
With the heat of summer having arrived, if for ever so short a visit, and with an incipient scandal or not brewing at Muni Hall, faithful readers may be forgiven for assuming Id wade into things with my usual high regard for getting my facts straight. Im not. But rest assured, J.J.s on the case and will surely get to the bottom, or at least the muddy middle, of such matters.
This weekend though, is barbecue weekend and if anything can be considered sacred in my secular world, the trinity of rub, smoke and holy sauce would certainly come closest. I wouldnt be surprised, in fact, that had the church of my youth served up ribs instead of body wafers I might today be a man of the cloth napkin.
If barbecue be the one true food of gods, its irony surely lies in the murky underworld of its origins. No one knows with any certainty where it all began. The West Indies have a claim, at least etymologically speaking, and even the French, as with all things culinary, have muddied the waters with a spurious assertion that "barbe a queue" meaning from head to tail was where the name, if not the technique, originated. As with most historical references, the French conveniently overlook the fact the phrase "barbe a queue" never referenced a culinary event until after the French Revolution and then only to describe the hysterical desecration of corpses of the nobility who were, head to tail, distributed to the starving masses whod had enough of eating cake.
And while the very august Oxford English Dictionary settles the origins of the word somewhere in Haiti, Im confident the organizing rule of international law use it or lose it can be successfully applied to refute any claim whatever puppet government looting Haiti these days might mount. Besides, no one in his right mind with any tastebuds left would claim jerk chicken as anything but a bastard child of real barbecue.
That pretty much leaves the origins of barbecue mired somewhere in the murky, feudal South, as in Southern United States. As an aside, barbecue in Whistler can, quite accurately, trace its short roots back to the phoenix-like resurrection of Dustys a scant five years ago this autumn.
It is no coincidence barbecue came into full flower in the South. The South had the three key ingredients that go into making barbecue: lotsa pigs, a good appetite and indentured black men who had no choice but to spend their already hot, sweaty days cooking in an even hotter smoky shack while their massas inbred, argued the merits of thoroughbred horses and sipped cool drinks in the shade of magnolia trees. Given lotsa pigs, lotsa slaves, lotsa time, and a society organized around throwing gay parties, there really is no place else in the world other than the South where barbecue had a chance of taking root.
Thats because barbecue, real barbecue, makes a mockery of the whole, very trendy Slow Food movement. Barbecue, in fact, makes the rest of what passes for slow food look like takeout at the Grease n Go. Real barbecue takes so long to prepare that any restaurant serving it and not taking earlier-prepared hunks of it out of a cooler has a sign something like Sonny Bryans original restaurant just off the Interstate in Dallas. Sonnys sign says:
til we run out of meat
On a good day, closin time might be as early as 7 p.m.
Like most good things, barbecue was transformed through migration. Even within whats generally considered the barbecue belt the states bordered on the north by Tennessee and North Carolina and on the west by Louisiana and Arkansas a good argument can be had over the proper ingredients of barbecue sauce and an even better argument, a fight even, can be sparked by mention of appropriate side dishes one may or may not serve with barbecue. While noteworthy, it must be remembered most any subject can start an argument or fight in those states.
One of the first places barbecue traveled was to Texas. Texans, being a prideful, boastful bunch, will, given half a chance, take credit for perfecting if not inventing barbecue. Then too, most of them still believe Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, so delusional is their world. In the interest of fairness, it must be said at this point my roots are in New Mexico and there is a longstanding animosity between that state and Texas, an animosity perhaps best captured by the very popular bumper sticker affixed to many cars bearing New Mexico plates. It reads, simply: Ski Texas. Anyone with even a passing familiarity of the climate and topography of Texas and the ski hills of New Mexico understands the sentiment.
Texas primary contribution to barbecue was the addition of beef and greasy sausage. Texans are very proud of this fact but most people who can still taste anything wonder why. It is not entirely without justification carnivores consider the brisket of a bovine suitable only for corned beef or pastrami. Texans, however, have based their entire claim to barbecue on that mean cut of meat and the atrocities the states German immigrants have committed against it. Well, that and the sick joke of smoking with mesquite, a subject about which I shall say no more except to give them credit for pulling it off.
If you grew up outside the insular confines of the barbecue belt or Texas, what you consider barbecue probably owes more to the special twist given to the cuisine in Kansas City, Missouri than anywhere else. It is generally settled that KC barbecue was first cooked by Henry Perry some time around the turn of the last century. What Henry started, Arthur Bryant, George Gates and Otis Boyd perfected. Their slow smoking technique, sweet, tangy tomato-based sauce and vegetable-free menus have clogged arteries for generations, sending many a patron to the sweet hereafter regretting only the very high probability there is no barbecue in either heaven or hell, and prompted the great American writer Calvin Trillin to declare Bryants simply the best restaurant in the world.
If there is any one overriding mystery about barbecue and trust me, there are many it is this: Why hasnt Canada embraced it? Canada, for all its multiculturalism, its polyglot cosmopolitan centres, its fine beef and swine, is, by Southern standards, a barbecue-free zone. You can get Thai, Korean, Mongolian, French, German, Portuguese and Italian food in Canada. You can hardly swing a dead cat without hitting a vegetarian restaurant. You can eat beaver, moose, caribou and poutine from sea to sea to sea. But finding barbecue in Canada is as hard as defining what exactly makes the country unique.
Except this weekend in Whistler at Dustys.