Gassers vs. Stick Burners… if you’re at all familiar with the world of Competition BBQ, you know the answer is the “real hardwood” all the way. Sure, pellet heads abound in Professional BBQ, but it still ain’t gas. But what about BBQ restaurants?
Whether tried and true mom and pop joints or chains, the ‘beef’ many lovers of real BBQ (cooked over hardwood charcoal) derives from the fact that many of these ‘crank out the volume’ joints use gas or electric to craft ‘phony cue.’ And, it seems this trend is becoming the norm, partly because the throngs of “McRib” eaters out there don’t really care either way… just as long as there’s lots of sauce.
This bums me out. I mean, on one hand I get it. Restaurants traditionally operate on slim margins and as such need to squeeze out every dime of profit they can. But I also find myself thinking that there should be a rule that if you call yourself a BBQ restaurant, you should have to cook your stuff over hardwood.
I know I’m being unrealistic here, and you’re free to disagree with me. But that’s just how I feel. So, you can imagine how cool it was for me to catch a cool story yesterday from Durham, NC’s Herald-Sun writer Bob Ashley entitled Crusading to honor, preserve ‘real barbecue’.
The Crusade To Promote and Save Real BBQ
In his article, Ashley relays the story of John Shelton Reed, famed Sociologist from UNC focusing on the preservation of Southern Culture and Dan Levine, author of the blog BBQJew.com. Those of you who read up on BBQ also recognize Reed’s name via his outstanding book on NC BBQ Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina BBQ. Also check out the foundation Reed started called The Center For The Study of the American South. Great stuff!
The two friends – of one another and true barbecue – have launched a website and a crusade to certify and celebrate what they mourn as the diminishing number of barbecue joints that prepare their ‘cue the only true way. That, in Levine and Reed’s view (which, by the way, is absolutely correct) is “slow and low” over a wood fire.
“We’re not going to name and shame gassers (restaurants that cook over gas or electricity),” Reed told The Charlotte Observer’s food columnist, Kathleen Purvis. “But they know who they are and they know what they can do about it. It’s never too late to be saved.”
Or as Levine puts it in a news release announcing their campaign, “Wood smoke is what makes real barbecue, and good barbecue cooked entirely with wood is the gold standard by which all others are judged.”
Reed and Levine seek to help restaurants interested in serving up “true cue” stay in business and encourage new ones to open.
Ashely points out that new ones are in fact opening, like The Pit Authentic Barbecue, which opened last year on West Geer Street — along with its original namesake in Raleigh – makes the “TrueCue” list. Others in Durham and Orange counties are long-time fixture Allen & Son Barbeque in Chapel Hill and the Backyard BBQ Pit in Durham.
Other Restaurants That Meet The Real BBQ Standard
I like that on the TrueCue.org site, Reed and Levine have a page that helps people find North Carolina BBQ restaurants that adhere to the TrueCue “Real BBQ” standard. Here’s a list of those they deem authentic. Especially cool is the level of commitment these gentlemen display in keeping the list current and up to date:
To the best of our knowledge, these restaurants serve barbecue that meets the True ‘Cue NC criteria (some serve barbecued meats or sauces in addition to those specified above but their menus include traditional NC-style barbecue).
Certifications are performed by our volunteer team of True ‘Cue Inspectors. Restaurants may choose to display the True ‘Cue NC Real Barbecue certification on their premises, but it is not required. If you think you know a restaurant that meets the True ‘Cue NC criteria, let us know. If you think a place on the list now cooks with gas or electricity, drop us a line at email@example.com and we’ll check it out (we don’t want to start a flame war, so to speak).
There’s also a list of BBQ restaurants that they believe are cooking “true cue,” but have yet to verify. This statement cracks me up… “We conduct inspections and re-inspections as time, money and cholesterol levels allow.”
More Press Coverage on the TrueCue.org “Real BBQ” Movement
They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and at the Campaign for Real Barbecue we will take any we can get. Here’s some of the press coverage we’ve received to date:
- “True ‘Cue: A Campaign for Real Barbecue” at tmbbq.com (Texas Monthly’s BBQ blog)
- “Digest: True ‘Cue” at roadfood.com
- “New Barbecue Campaign Supports Cooking over Wood,” in the Charlotte Observer
For press inquiries, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interested In North Carolina BBQ History?
If your’e like me and love to read about food history, you should definitely check out John Shelton Reed’s seminal text Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue – co-written with his wife Dale Volberg Reed and contributor William McKinney.
North Carolina is home to the longest continuous barbecue tradition on the North American mainland. Authoritative, spirited, and opinionated (in the best way), Holy Smoke is a passionate exploration of the lore, recipes, traditions, and people who have helped shape North Carolina’s signature slow-food dish.
Three barbecue devotees, John Shelton Reed, Dale Volberg Reed, and William McKinney, trace the origins of North Carolina ‘cue and the emergence of the heated rivalry between Eastern and Piedmont styles. They provide detailed instructions for cooking barbecue at home, along with recipes for the traditional array of side dishes that should accompany it. The final section of the book presents some of the people who cook barbecue for a living, recording firsthand what experts say about the past and future of North Carolina barbecue.
Filled with historic and contemporary photographs showing centuries of North Carolina’s “barbeculture,” as the authors call it, Holy Smoke is one of a kind, offering a comprehensive exploration of the Tar Heel barbecue tradition.
Have a Favorite True Cue Real BBQ Restaurant in Your Area?
Do you have a True Cue BBQ Restaurant you’d like to give a shout out to? Pop their name, location, and a link to their site in the comments below!