The Grilling Nation.
Memorial Day is often considered the unofficial start to the grilling season in America. Also, Mother’s Day, which is just around the corner, is a popular cooking day for most Americans.
However, the calendar has become increasingly irrelevant because America’s craze for all things grilled is now a year-round phenomenon.
Grilling is not merely a way of cooking food on the Hibachi grill, it is also a social gathering which has brought Americans together for a couple of centuries.
During the earliest years of the Republic, Americans arranged BBQs throughout the country on the 4th of July not just to celebrate and enjoy their independence, but also to strengthen and foster the democratic values of the community.
Every year millions of Americans gather around their outdoor ovens, pits, and grills for slowly cooking themselves meaty and sumptuous dishes covered in sauce.
Grilling is about as white, blue and red as American cuisine gets. Also, for most meat lovers, the important question is about making room for more.
Let’s get one thing clear: in the traditional sense simply putting chunks of meat on your Hibachi grill is not BBQ. Although most novices might think that anything slathered in KC Masterpiece is grilled meat, the real thing is usually cooked using indirect heat often over a wooden fire.
The grilling process takes a long time (at times up to 16 hours). The resulting flavor is an excellent mix of meat juices, smoke, fat and various spices. Are you famished? Me too….
Due to the slow and long cooking process, grilled meat tends to soak up the spice rubs and smoky flavors, which make the final product tender and moist.
This is why grilling is more suitable for tougher and bigger cuts of meat which cook well with even and slow heat; these include tri-tip, brisket, ribs, as well as tender pulled pork.
Four Popular Grilling Styles.
Most people agree that grilled meat and BBQ is a unique North American delicacy. However, what you will get can be quite different, based mainly on where you place your order. BBQ means pork east of the Mississippi.
On the other hand, west of this mighty river-particularly in Texas-BBQ means beef. In Kansas City, ribs are the stock and trade of most pit masters, while in North Carolina pork shoulder are the most popular cut of choice.
Grilling techniques and styles vary by region. There are four primary styles which are named after their respective places of origin. These places include Memphis, Kansas City, North Carolina and Texas. Memphis is popular for its pulled pork-shoulder dipped in deliciously sweet tomato sauce.
You can eat it as a sandwich or on its own. While you will find a variety of grilled meats and even seafood in the city, there are two meat cuts that reign supreme.
These are ribs and pork shoulder. The latter is slowly smoked to fork-tender perfection and is served in thin slices with barbecue sauce. However, the ribs really distinguish Memphis from other regions.
People of Kansas City prefer ribs that are cooked slowly in a dry rub, while folks in North Carolina love to smoke the entire hog in a rich vinegar-based sauce. This occasion is known as “pig picking” and has become a community event.
Kansas City has more than ninety BBQ joints, which range from Arthur Bryant-esque establishments (also known as grease houses) to fine dining Hibachi restaurants.
The most popular barbecue sauce in Kansas City is sweet and thick; it is a complex mix of tomato sauce or ketchup, corn syrup, brown sugar, molasses, onion, garlic, vinegar, liquid smoke, red pepper flakes, and at times even apple juice. Isn’t that a delightful combination?
In North Carolina, BBQ means pork, especially pork shoulder, which is also called Boston butt. At times, pit masters rub the meat with a special mixture of salt, paprika and sugar.
On other occasions, they forgo the seasonings. They smoke-cook pork shoulders over hickory or oak for about six to eight hours, until the meat is sufficiently tender and can be pulled to shreds just with the fingers.
Some pit maestros (especially the ones at restaurants) like chopping the shoulders into small pieces using meat cleavers. The chopping or pulling is vital, as it allows the small meat pieces to better soak up the sauce. Unlike many other regions of the country, Carolina-style BBQ is seldom served sliced.
Finally, Texans love beef. The proximity of Eastern Texas to Tennessee puts the state in the pulled-pork style. That being said, in the western parts of the state it is likely that you will come across “cowboy styled” mesquite-grilled brisket.
In Texas, the preferred choice of meat for grilling is brisket. Unlike other regions, the preparation of meat is very simple, and cooks use wood smoke for the purpose. The wood could be hickory, oak or mesquite.
In terms of time, an adequately prepared brisket may spend as much as eighteen hours in the pit, which produces a pinkish tinge, especially around the edges of the slices.
This natural band of color is called the smoke ring, and is found in meat slices which are smoked for extended periods of time. Also, a majority of pitmasters in Texas do not even consider using mop sauce or rubs.
Texan BBQ sauces are based on chili powder and tomatoes and are quite thin and vinegary. This is because people do not prefer a lot of sugar.
As per the Texas Restaurant Association, there are over 3,800 BBQ joints in Texas. A majority of them serve pork shoulder, ribs, turkey, sausage (jalapeño sausage is very popular these days), and other meats.
Residents of different regions defend their respective cooking styles with the kind of intense loyalty and enthusiasm typically reserved for passionate sports fans.
Just like you will not mention the Yankees to Red Sox fans, it is better not to express your love and enthusiasm for Texas beef to people from Tennessee.
Best Grilling and BBQ Competitions
If you are on your quest for the most delicious BBQ around (of course, apart from what you are grilling in your own backyard), you have found it. We will tell you about some of the best barbecue competitions and parties, hottest hog fests, and the smokiest battlefields that the US has to offer.
Most national barbeque parties usually kick into full gear in early May and sizzle through October. These festivals and competitions offer sumptuous local food, showcase smoky traditions and bring together the community like nothing else.
International Bar-B-Q Festival
Since 1979, Owensboro, KY has become a popular spot for pit masters everywhere. Grilling teams, local restaurants and “backyard BBQ chefs” all gather to take part in The Backyard Cookoff, competing passionately and revealing their top-secret grilling recipes.
One of the primary things that make this international competition more noteworthy compared to other BBQ festivals in the country is that it offers participants with a great forum to raise funds for charitable purposes.
More than 80,000 people can sample their masterpieces. Apart from eating some of the most famous and delectable BBQ, festival goers can also indulge in crafts and arts, live music, an incredible car show as well as enjoy the great Southern hospitality. So check this festival if you have the chance.
Memphis in May BBQ Contest
Each year, this incredible BBQ competition brings together thousands of participants from various parts o the world. More than 300 teams compete aggressively in different challenges and dole out thousands of dollars to establish that their grilling skills are top notch.
And the lucky people in Memphis have the opportunity to taste and decide which BBQ is the best!
So, if you are in Memphis in May, you are in for a treat of a lifetime. The contest has enough BBQ, fun and revelry to make anybody go hog wild. And do not miss the popular Miss Piggie Idol as it will definitely instigate plenty of squeals!
Jack Daniel’s World Championship Barbecue
When it comes to worldwide appeal, it simply cannot get any bigger and better than the popular Jack Daniel’s World Championship. The competition is held in Lynchburg, TN and attracts more than 25,000 fans who cheer for different teams as they participate in seven separate categories; these include chicken, butts, pork ribs, brisket/beef, pork shoulders and obviously, mouthwatering dessert.
This festival is considered one of the leading and most prestigious BBQ competitions in the world. Smoke masters compete for a hefty $10,000, and getting there is no walk in the park.
An entire day of seasoning, smoking, searing and indulging in the finest barbecue will surely satisfy your BBQ cravings. Make sure you make it to the next championship as there’s so much to do.
Houston Livestock Show and World’s Championship BBQ Contest
In Houston, Texas, it is all about beef brisket, pork ribs and spicy chicken, all nicely flavored using aromatic woods such as hickory, oak, mesquite, as well as the expertise of passionate BBQ masters. So what about the amazing choco-dipped jalapeños? You will not be disappointed!
Before the rodeo competitors dust off their chaps and bucking broncos make it to the arena, more than 300 teams prepare to smoke the heart of Texas with a variety of mouthwatering BBQ and unique treats to get crowned as the most sumptuous in different categories.
Such as Best Fried Food, Most Innovative Food, Best Breakfast Food, Best Dessert and Best Food-on-a-Stick. The festival blares live music every night and there is craft beer for sale. And they will definitely need passionate judges next year. So, what do you think?
Big Apple BBQ Block Party
Held in the center of the Big Apple, this BBQ festival is a real treat. Bring your picnic blanket and an empty stomach to celebrate and enjoy some of the finest culinary and music traditions in the US.
You will enjoy a whole weekend filled with love, peace and barbecue in Madison Square, which attracts some of the top pitmasters in the country as well as local NYC food hotspots that prepare their top-notch and award-winning barbecue.
Tents surround the perimeter of the famous Madison Square Park, and various groups sell a few of their best items, while live music, a beer area and passionate New Yorkers fill the park.
Take home a lot more than just a happy tummy, as you can hit up some of the cooking seminars and cooking stages to learn how you can prepare wholesome summer salads and tasty Austin-inspired BBQ tacos.
Hogs for the Cause
Don’t you love that name? We do. Held in New Orleans, this competition attracts more than eighty teams of newbies and professionals who compete for the coveted titles in various categories such as ribs, pork shoulder/butt, whole hog and porkpourri!
The best part about this festival is that it raises funds for two noble causes: supporting families and researching pediatric brain cancer. In addition, the music line-up is very remarkable, and mixed drinks and beers are available for sale, making this event essentially a huge cocktail party.
American Royal World Series of Barbecue
Held in Kansas City, this amazing carnival really knocks barbeque out of the park! So, better get ready! The prestigious American Royal is hosted annually.
It is an 8-week season brimming with livestock shows, rodeo and agricultural activities along with the largest BBQ competition in the world. The festival attracts more than 500 teams and a whopping 70,000 fans.
If you are serious about BBQ, this prestigious and exciting and grand series is definitely a championship you would not want to miss.
For those who are competing in this grand event, may the smoke always be in your favor, and those are looking to get their hands on some of the best BBQ, Kansas City, Missouri is where it is at.
Apart from its competitive focus, keep in mind that the organization organizing this BBQ competition is a non-profit entity, which focuses on children, and grants more than $1.4 million in educational awards and scholarships to well-deserving youth.
No Hibachi Grill competition yet?
As so far we didn’t find any proof there was already a Hibachi Grill competition?!?
On one side we can understand, as it is a small and portable grill. Easy to bring along, but not suitable for large amounts of meat.
Nevertheless, it would be a smart move for any festival to include a Hibachi Grill competition. As it’s new, fresh, original and people can see it’s potential. It will bring whole new ideas to your visitors.
So come on, you BBQ-festival-organization-people!!
Grilling & Barbecuing in the USA.
Even though Americans have been grilling and barbecuing since the colonial times, it was in the 17th century when the first official documentation mentions the word ‘barbecue’.
Americans love a slab of pork ribs cooked to perfection over a fire and this love has been established and ongoing since time memorial. This is one of the reasons why you will find most Americans having grillers, Hibachi or other, at their home. As it is the most enjoyable way for them to have a good time with their loved ones.
History of BBQ and Grilling
No one is quite certain where and when the term barbecue originated. According to conventional wisdom, the Spanish used the term barbacoa upon landing in the Caribbean, referring to the technique used by natives to slowly cook meat (usually beef and pork) over wooden platforms.
This culinary method was well established by the nineteenth century, especially in the American South. Also, because of the prevalence of pigs in the region, pork soon became the most popular meat at BBQs.
In addition, cornbread became the preferred side dish, because of the fact that in hot and humid Southern climate, corn usually grew much better compared to wheat as wheat was susceptible to a variety of fungal infections.
Another reason for this immense popularity was that it allowed people to cook an abundance of food at once, and swiftly. This is why BBQ quickly became the preferred menu item for larger gatherings such as neighborhood picnics and church festivals.
You might notice that BBQ belt residents will claim that mutton-based barbeque prevalent in Kentucky or beef-based barbeque of Texas does not really constitute true or authentic barbecue.
For it to be authentic, BBQ purists such as Jim Villas from North Carolina contend that the slice of meat should be purely porcine. This is mainly because the original barbeque-ers of a majority of southern colonies heavily relied on the low-maintenance and economic characteristics of pig farming.
Unlike cows, which needed enclosures and huge quantities of feed, people could set pigs loose in the forests to graze whenever supplies of food were short. This is why pigs left fending for themselves in the wilderness, were a lot leaner at the time of slaughter.
This led Southerners to utilize the low and slow nature of BBQ to better tenderize pig meat. Southerners ate about 5 pounds of pork for each pound of beef during the pre-Civil War years. Eventually, their heavy dependence on this affordable food source evolved into an act of patriotism.
As a result, they took more care when they raised their pigs, and refused to export pork to most northern states. However, by this time, the connection between pork and the barbecue had been deeply forged.
Still, the Southerners’ penchant for pork doesn’t fully explain the diversity between their BBQ styles. To understand it, we have to look beyond American borders, to the immense influence that many colonial immigrants had on both the preparation and flavor of the meat.
According to several narratives, the original styles of BBQ are those that emerged in the eastern colonies, such as the “whole hog” (vinegar-based) BBQ popular in North Carolina and Virginia.
The unique technique of saucing the meat while it cooked came from the British colonists who introduced the concept of basting in order to preserve the flavor and juices in the meat using the famous Caribbean BBQ technique.
In the same vein, vinegar-based sauces of North Carolina are a remnant of Briton’s love for the delicious tart sauce.
In South Carolina, which housed a significant population of both German and French immigrants, a distinct mustard-based sauce became extremely popular. Again, this is one of the major reflections of the traditional preferences of immigrant populations in the US.
In the initial half of the twentieth century there was a mass migration of African Americans to Northern cities from the rural South. During these migrations, they brought their Southern recipes with them.
Black-owned BBQ joints had sprouted in almost every US city by the 1950s. Along with cornbread, fried chicken and hush puppies, BBQ became popular as the “soul food” dish.
So, it is no surprise that to the present day, there is a very strong relationship between the African-American community and this cuisine.
Americans love outdoor cooking on the Hibachi grill. However, that’s not new to most of you. Grilling and BBQ is a huge industry in the country that rakes in billions of dollars on a yearly basis.
BBQ is as American as muscle cars, John Wayne and football. So this 4th of July, when the sun starts to set and parades have ended, throw some meat (beef, pork or mutton) on your grill and prepare yourself an authentic American classic.
It is likely that in the future, grilling will be dominated by state-of-the-art accessories such as BBQ Dragon and Grillbot. The former is a powerful cooling fan that would help you with the hectic task of lighting your charcoal fire.
BBQ Dragon features multi-level speed controls, meaning that you can use it for lighting other fires, such as your fireplace.
On the other hand, Grillbot is an effective grill-cleaning robot; it makes the messy and tedious post-grill cleanup simple and quick with its three motors and replaceable wire brushes. The unit is controlled by sensors and a CPU chip and is fully autonomous, running on rechargeable batteries.
You would agree that patriotism never tasted so sumptuous, hearty and high-tech at the same time.