Charlie Podrebarac is gifted at hitting barbecue hot buttons with good-natured humor.
In one of his classic Cowtown cartoons, a traveling Cowtowner is offered a grilled hot dog from a cook dressed in chef duds: “Who wants some Bar-B-Q?”
A scowling, finger-pointing Cowtowner reacts: “If I want ‘Barbecue’ I’ll go back to Kansas City and order some. That, sir, is a grilled wiener!”
When competition barbecue got its wings in Kansas City in the 1980s, a dogma surfaced. The dogma held that meat smoked slow and low is barbecue and that cooking meat over hot fire is grilling —NOT
barbecue. I was as righteous about the dogma as the Cowtowner in Charlie’s cartoon. I preached it in my writings and when I taught Certified Barbecue Judge classes.
Now I say that if you’re cooking meat with fire you’re doing the barbecue method of cooking. Grilling hot and fast or smoking slow and low: both are barbecue.
We thought we had found validation of the dogma in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Who could argue with a CFR definition of barbecue? Here’s an excerpt from what the feds said:
Barbecued meats … shall be cooked by the direct action of dry heat resulting from the burning of hard wood or the hot coals there from for a sufficient period to assume the usual characteristics of a barbecued article, which include the formation of a brown crust on the surface and the rendering of surface fat ... The weight of barbecued meat shall not exceed 70 percent of the weight of the fresh uncooked meat.
— Code of Federal Regulations, Title 9, Chapter III, Part 319, Subpart C, Section 319.80, January 1, 1985 (US Department of Agriculture)
Thus, some of our favorite Kansas City barbecue treats aren’t barbecue. Hogwash! The grilled KC Strip at Jack Stack, smoked and deep-fried chicken at Johnny’s, smoked and fried baloney at Earl Quick’s, smoked turkey and smoked salmon at Jon Russell’s and many other Chow Town barbecue joints is barbecue, CFR-correct or not. Likewise your backyard burgers, brats, wieners, steaks and fish tacos.
The dogma persists. A few old-timers and newbies defend it with vigor, as if it is proof that they know barbecue and you don’t. Some limit barbecue to pork, smoked Southern-style. Period. I call that a hogma.
Don’t bother to argue dogma with dogmatists. Instead, enjoy many varieties of barbecue, grilled or smoked, under the big barbecue tent where there’s room for competition barbecuers, backyard barbecuers, old-timers, newbies and hogmatists. All are welcome and it’s all good!
If every barbecuer agreed on every question, especially this one, pigs would truly fly.
“Who wants a Bar-B-Q wiener?” I’ll take one — especially if it’s an all-beef Hebrew National or Nathan’s Famous.
A tip of the hat to Craig “Meathead” Goldwyn for convincing me that where there’s a meat fire, there’s barbecue. Find Meathead at Amazing Ribs.com Check out his thorough treatise on the definition of barbecue.
Ardie Davis is an iconic figure in the barbecue community. He founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS’s Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on numerous food shows and writes for a variety of barbecue-related publications. He is also the author of a number of barbecue books, His most recent release book is “America’s Best BBQ Homestyle: What Champions Cook in Their Own Backyards.”