Hello and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophe, the ongoing saga of one man’s descent into madness, in order to find some lovely geodes to decorate his living room. I’m your host and spelunker of lunacy, Jon O’Guin, and today marks a first for Kitchen Catastrophes, an ongoing series! That’s right, unlike the rest of our easily digestible fare; this set of posts will linger in your mouth like grandma’s overcooked liver for weeks!
By which I mean Liver overcooked by your Grandma, not, you know, your Grandmother’s overcooked liver. We at Kitchen Catastrophe are very against cannibalism. We’re far too delicious to support it.
Ghoulish imagery aside, what could merit such an in-depth analysis? BARBECUE. And grilling. (We’ll get into that in a bit.) But yes, the humble tradition of cooking outside is something of a fractal-ly complex issue, wherein the deeper you investigate, the more information there is to be found. Entire posts could be made simply explaining the origins and differences of the major FORMS of barbecue in America, let alone the world.
For instance, America alone has 5 major regional beliefs in what barbecue SAUCE should be, several of which look almost completely different from each other, from North Carolina’s mustard sauce, Kansas City’s sweet tomato sauce, Alabama’s White Sauce, Texas’s dripping sauce, and St Louis’s Tomato Vinegar. The very first article I found drew a direct parallel between the barbecue sauces of America, and the French Mother Sauces I covered last week.
So, with summer coming on, I figured it was time to start talking about this incredibly deep subject, starting with the simplest points: What is barbecue?
Where There’s Smoke…there might be BARBECUE
Barbecue is a complicated word in English. It refers to, simultaneously, a style of cooking that encapsulates multiple styles/methods, the device in which one performs said cooking, the food produced by those methods or on that apparatus, the act of cooking in that particular style, AND an event where that style of cooking is to be made or consumed.
The word itself is taken from Caribbean cultures, as barabicu, which the Spanish then converted to barbacoa. Supposedly the word comes from Haiti, and referred to a construction of sticks used to cook food above a fire, and to raise you off the ground when sleeping to prevent animal attacks. So imagine if your tent was also a smoking hut for your S’mores.
I said “Imagine”, damn it. You don’t hear too good, do ya?
And here’s where the first point of distinction arises, and the start of a mild cultural skirmish: Barbecuing and Grilling. The problem arises here: the definition of barbecue, as provided by one dictionary, is “to cook on a barbecue” (thanks for that, Merriam, you dick) or “to roast or broil over hot coals or open flames”. Which is a problematic definition. For one thing, several older forms of barbecue in the Caribbean and central America can put the coals ON TOP of the food, so “over” doesn’t help. Further, some barbecue uses indirect heat, meaning the food isn’t actually near the coals/flames. This is because, as barbecue traveled, different people did it different ways, but kept calling it barbecue. As such, there’s linguistic disagreement in what constitutes what.
A more useable conversational definition of direct BARBECUE would be “The cooking of foods over extended time, using moderate to low heat, and using the smoke of the cooking agents as a flavor component.” This keeps it moderately distinct from GRILLING, which is “The cooking of foods using high, dry heat applied to the surface of the food.” You can grill at a barbecue, or IN a barbecue, but if you tried to run a “Barbecue” restaurant with only grilled foods, you’d go out of business. And actually potentially be sued for false advertising, because the United States has a LEGAL definition of barbecue. Seriously: Section 319.80 of Subchapter A, Title 9 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
I knew going to college for a Pre-Law degree would be useful. If only I had actually gotten it.
…And There’s Probably Fire
However, here we enter a weird linguistic realm, because, well, remember that first explanation I gave of Barbecue, and the first part of the Merriam Webster definition? “Food cooked on a barbecue” is, technically, Barbecue. As such, while being a distinctly different form of cooking, grilling food IS barbecuing. But many would discredit the claim that that grilled food is “barbecue”. However, if you WENT to a barbecue, and all they had was grilled food, that wouldn’t be particularly uncommon, and oh god I’ve gone cross-eyed.
And apparently at a bar. That explains more than it doesn’t.
You can see why we needed multiple notes to unpack all this. It’s taken 700 goddamn words just to get a definition that CONTRADICTS ITSELF. And I’m not the only one to run into this issue. While campaigning, Obama asserted at a barbecue that, since there WASN’T any actual barbecue at the event, in his mind, this was a Cook-Out. Masters of Barbecue like Steve Raichlen, author of the Barbecue Bible and Planet Barbecue made the claim that grilling and barbecue were different, and then went on to describe how ‘barbecue’ is one of our oldest traditions, while describing direct-coal grilling. Amazingribs.com did an article that ended up defining barbecue in 39 different ways, spread over three parts of speech, and had divisions like “Definition 1, part D, subsection 5.”
So, in honor of our shared suffering with this linguistic nightmare, and to commemorate this first multi-part post, let us end today with one of my favorite breakfast recipes using a grill, that is definitely NOT barbecue. Because I am powered by Paradox.
NEXT TIME: WHAT EVIL PLAN DOES ALAN HAVE IN STORE? WILL JON EVENTUALLY BARBECUE SOMETHING? TUNE IN NEXT WEEK TO FIND OUT.
Poached Eggs and Grilled Scallions on Toast
- 2 eggs
- 4 scallions/green onions
- 2 pieces toast.
- Salt, pepper
- Olive oil
- White vinegar
- Preheat grill to High heat, and fill a saucepan or deep skillet 1” with water and splash of vinegar, heat to over 145 degrees (use a food thermometer, or just guess for around when small bubbles start to pop up around the edges).
- Toast bread to mildly darker than you like it.
- Toss Scallions in olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Grill 5-8 minutes. You’re looking ot get nice char marks, and for the scallions to be pliable. Place 2 scallions per toast.
- Poach eggs. (If you don’t know how, just crack the eggs into a small bowl, and tip them gently into the water, cooking for about 1-2 minutes, until the whites are set.) Scoop out with a slotted spoon, and place each egg on its own toast w/ scallions. Eat warm.