All Fired Up for BBQ

The top barbecue stops to make on your next road trip.


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Barbecue and beer. These two do the tango almost as famously as peanut butter and jelly. No matter what the style of barbecue, whether it’s a plate of Memphis ribs or a slab of Texas brisket, it matches up to near perfection with a cold pint.

But what about serving a portion of sweet, Kansas City-style ribs with a carafe of wine? Or a chunked pork sandwich with a tangy, mustard-laced South Carolina sauce? Well, wine and barbecue pairing, though delightful when done well, can get tricky.

“Smoke is an extremely powerful flavor, and it’s very difficult to pair wine and food together when the food is quite smoky, as that flavor coats your mouth,” says Drew Hendricks, MS, director of wine for Pappas Restaurants in Houston. “If you try to pair barbecue with a wine that’s a little more subtle or a little more reserved, you end up with the flavor of the wine getting smashed to pieces because of the smoke.”

A Tour of BBQ Styles

This aromatic conundrum fuels debate among sommeliers who double as pit masters in their off hours. The debate can get quite heated, especially when it concerns styles of barbecue. Though grills and pits get fired up coast to coast, most devotees agree that there are six styles of barbecue. The big ones are eastern North Carolina, Lexington (North Carolina), South Carolina, Memphis, Kansas City and Texas. “These are very, very distinct styles,” says Fred Thompson, backyard pit master and author of Barbecue Nation.
Eastern North Carolina is always the whole hog, and the sauce is made of vinegar, a little sugar and lots of crushed black and red peppers. The sauce is quite thin and very, very acidic.

Lexington style (just pork shoulders and the sauce), called a dip, is different. “Basically, you take Eastern North Carolina sauce, and you add ketchup and sugar,” Thompson says.

South Carolina barbecue uses either the whole hog or just the shoulders, but what makes it distinctive is its mustard-laden sauce. Though the sauce also contains ketchup and either honey or brown sugar, it isn’t a honey mustard. It’s hotter than that.

Once you get to Tennessee, the epicenter of barbecue is Memphis, and there, barbecue can mean pulled pork, but the city is also known for its ribs. Memphis ribs are heavily seasoned with a dry rub made of brown sugar, pepper, chili powder and cumin, and they’re slowly cooked. “The ribs are known as dry ribs,” says Jamie Purviance, a chef and author whose latest book is Weber’s Time to Grill. “That doesn’t mean that the meat is dry. It means that the meat is not sauced during cooking.”

The ribs, which are both baby back and spare ribs, can be ordered either wet or dry—with or without sauce. The sauce is thick, made with a ketchup base and is always served on the side. “It’s almost like a Lexington sauce that got a lot thicker,” Thompson says. “It’s tart and not particularly sweet.”

Kansas City barbecue stars pork and ribs, but you’ll also find brisket, and everything is heavily sauced. And what defines Kansas City-style barbecue is the sauces. “The sauces are thicker Thompson says. “I like their jamminess, the fruitiness, the way they stand up to the flavors of the barbecue. They don’t mess too much with the sauces. They’re just fabulous.”

Zinfandels are strong enough to stand the heat, Hendricks says. “With a barbecue sauce, there’s a lot of smoke and things that overpower wine in general,” Hendricks says. “Zinfandel is this sort of over-the-top, intense wine that would stand up to all that stuff, and it’s not a pairing that you should shy away from.”

Sometimes, though, with barbecue, you might not want a straight wine. Purviance also recommends pairing sangria with barbecue. “It works on a lot of levels,” Purviance says. “It has a cooling effect, a fruity quality about it, and of course, if you’re eating barbecue on a hot summer day, you just want a cold drink that you can drink in a larger volume, too.”
Recipes

Eastern North-Carolina Style Barbecue Sauce

From Barbecue Nation by Fred Thompson
This mouth-puckering sauce is heavy on the vinegar, and it’s meant to be tossed with pulled pork. It can also be used as a “mop” or basting sauce while smoking your pork.

1½ cups cider vinegar
1½ cups distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon hot sauce

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Use immediately or store in an airtight container, where it will keep up to two months at room temperature. Makes about 3 cups. Pork is laden with flavor and fat, and the sauce is so acidic you need a wine that has enough acid to stand up to it. Hendricks recommends a Barbera. “It’s sweet and big and has good tannin structure,” Hendricks says. Thompson recommends a sweet Riesling, which mimics the over-the-top sugary “sweet tea” of the area. “It should sort of make your teeth hurt, it’s that sweet,” Thompson says of the tea. “But their sauce is also the most acidic, and the most vinegar-based so you need this huge, sweet tea to offset that sauce. Likewise, you’d want a wine that has the same sweetness.”

Wine Recommendation

Pork is laden with flavor and fat, and the sauce is so acidic you need a wine that has enough acid to stand up to it. Hendricks recommends a Barbera. “It’s sweet and big and has good tannin structure,” Hendricks says. Thompson recommends a sweet Riesling, which mimics the over-the-top sugary Pork is laden with flavor and fat, and the sauce is so acidic you need a wine that has enough acid to stand up to it. Hendricks recommends a Barbera. “It’s sweet and big and has good tannin structure,” Hendricks says. Thompson recommends a sweet Riesling, which mimics the over-the-top sugary “sweet tea” of the area. “It should sort of make your teeth hurt, it’s that sweet,” Thompson says of the tea. “But their sauce is also the most acidic, and the most vinegar-based so you need this huge, sweet tea to offset that sauce. Likewise, you’d want a wine that has the same sweetness.”

Lexington-Style North Carolina Barbecue Sauce

From Barbecue Nation by Fred Thompson
Thicker than eastern North Carolina-style, this sauce is called a “dip,” and it can be tossed with pulled pork or served on the side.

2 cups cider vinegar
½ cup water
½ cup ketchup
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon hot sauce
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk all the ingredients together until the sugar and salt dissolve. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month. Shake before using. Makes about 3 cups.

Wine Recommendation

The sauce here is thicker and sweeter than in eastern North Carolina so Hendricks would select a Petite Sirah.

South Carolina Mustard Barbecue Sauce

From Barbecue Nation by Fred Thompson
Thompson’s sauce was inspired by his visits to Maurice Bessinger’s Piggie Park in West Columbia. Bessinger wouldn’t part with his secret recipe, but Thompson discerned the guidelines and came up with this version.

1½ cups yellow mustard like French’s
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cup tomato paste
5 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon granulated garlic
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a medium-heavy saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let cool. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 2 cups.

Wine Recommendation

Sugar and spice, this sauce is not so nice or easy for pairing, but something from the southern Italian region of Taurasi would work well. “It’s going to be very intense and rich, but also have good acidity to balance with the mop,” Hendricks says.

Dave's Memphis Wet RibsDave's Memphis Wet Ribs

From Weber’s Charcoal Grilling by Jamie Purviance
Most Memphis-style ribs aren’t grilled “wet” (with the sauce), so if you’d prefer to make this a more traditional dish, just serve the sauce on the side, instead of basting the ribs during the last 30 minutes.

Prep time: 40 minutes
Marinating time: 3 to 6 hours
Grilling time: 5 to 6 hours

3 racks St. Louis-style spare ribs, 3 to 3 ½ pounds each
1 cup apple juice
Juice of 1 lemon

For the rub:
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
½ tablespoon ground cumin
½ tablespoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon dry mustard
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 fist-size dry chunks oak/apple wood (not soaked)

For the sauce:
2 cups ketchup
½ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
Juice of ½ lemon
½ cup apple juice (in a spray bottle)

Cut off and discard the flap of meat hanging off the bone of the spare ribs. Using the handle of a teaspoon or a screwdriver, slide the tip under the membrane covering the back of each rack. Lift and loosen the membrane until it breaks, then grab a corner of it with a paper towel and pull it off. Place the spare ribs in a large roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet and pour in the apple juice and lemon juice. Turn the spareribs over a few times to coat them evenly. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

In a medium bowl mix the rub ingredients. Remove the spare ribs from the refrigerator. Pour off and discard the apple and lemon juice mixture. Season the spare ribs all over with the rub. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours. Remove the spare ribs from the refrigerator 1 hour before grilling.

Prepare a smoker for 225˚F to 250˚F. Add 3 chunks of oak/apple wood to the burning charcoal briquettes.

Brush the cooking grates clean. Put the spare ribs in the smoker, bone sides facing down, dividing them so they fit in a single layer on the two cooking grates. Cook them until they are done. This should take 5 to 6 hours. The meat will pull away from the ends of the bones by at least ¼ inch (often as much as 1 inch on some bones), and the meat will tear when you lift the racks on one end with tongs. While they cook, make the sauce.

In a medium saucepan mix all of the sauce ingredients except the lemon juice. Place the saucepan over low heat and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the lemon juice and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat.

After about 3 hours of cooking, begin lightly spraying the spare ribs on the meaty sides with apple juice every 30 minutes or so. This will help them brown. If the ribs look like they are about to burn on either side, remove them from the grill (close the lid quickly to maintain the heat) and wrap them individually in aluminum foil. Then return them to the smoker. About 30 minutes before the spare ribs are finished cooking, lightly brush them on both sides with sauce.

When the spare ribs are fully cooked and sauced, move them to a cutting board and let them rest for a few minutes. Then cut them into individual ribs. Serve warm with the remaining sauce on the side. Serves 6.

Wine Recommendation

In Memphis, the sauce is used more as an accent. A Washington Merlot would work nicely, try the Northstar 2007 Walla Walla Merlot.“It’s powerful and quite fruity yet it still retains quite a bit of acid,” Hendricks says.

Kansas City Sweet and Hot Barbecue Sauce

From Barbecue Nation by Fred Thompson
Thick and sweet, this sauce is what many Americans consider the quintessential barbecue sauce. Thompson swears that if you make this sauce once, “You’ll never buy a store-bought sauce again.”

2 cups ketchup
½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon paprika
2 to 3 teaspoons hot sauce
½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
½ cup cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, mashed
½ cup prepared chili sauce
1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Combine all the ingredients in a medium-heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir and cook until the sugar and butter melt, and the sauce is well blended. Simmer, stirring frequently to prevent sticking and burning, for about 20 minutes. Use warm or cold. This will keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to two weeks. Makes about 3½ cups sauce.

Wine Recommendation

The near-cloying sweetness of a Kansas City barbecue sauce necessitates an assertive wine. Hendricks suggests an intense Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or Douro Valley red, like Quinta do Crasto. “They’re big and bold, spicy and really ripe,” Hendricks says. Nate Tilton, general manager at Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue in Kansas City, recommends a Zinfandel or a Cabernet Sauvignon blend, like B Cellars Napa Valley Blend 25. “We just fell in love with this wine with our barbecue,” Tilton says.

Texas-Style Beef Rub

From Chef Jamie Purviance
Though this rub is meant specifically for brisket, you can also use this on other cuts of beef.

4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon pure chili powder
1 tablespoon granulated onion
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon pure chili powder
1 tablespoon granulated onion
In a small bowl mix the ingredients. Makes about ½ cup.

Ten-Minute Barbecue Sauce

From Weber’s Time to Grill by Chef Jamie Purviance
This quick barbecue sauce is meant to be paired with the Texas rub.

½ cup ketchup
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon prepared chili powder
1 teaspoon granulated onion
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
In a small saucepan whisk the ingredients. Simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes to allow the sugar to fully dissolve and all of the flavors to blend, stirring occasionally. Makes about ¾ cup.

Wine Recommendation

“Well, Texas is always about subtlety,” Hendricks says, tongue-in-cheek. “One wine that works particularly well with Texas barbecue is Tempranillo.” Hendricks particularly recommends Texas winemakers McPherson Cellars and Innwood Estates. “They’re rich and juicy and really quite nice,” Hendricks says.

Tripp's Chicken with White Barbecue SauceTripp's Chicken with White Barbecue Sauce

From Weber’s Charcoal Grilling by Jamie Purviance
Alabama-style barbecue is a world of its own. It’s usually chicken slathered with a mayonnaise-based sauce.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Grilling time: 30 to 40 minutes

For the sauce:
1 large yellow onion
2 medium garlic cloves
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup Miracle Whip
1/3 cup loosely packed, roughly chopped fresh tarragon
¼ cup apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
½ teaspoon Texas Pete hot sauce
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
16 chicken drumsticks, 3 to 4 ounces each Vegetable oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mince the onion and garlic until they are almost a paste. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until the mixture is opaque, 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the white wine. Mix well and cook until half of the liquid has evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for about 5 minutes. Whisk in the remaining sauce ingredients. The sauce should have the consistency of ranch dressing. Cover and refrigerate until about 1 hour before serving.

Fill a charcoal grill starter (like the Weber RapidFire chimney starter) to the rim with charcoal and burn the charcoal until it is lightly covered with ash. Spread the charcoal in a tightly packed, single layer across one-half of the charcoal grate of the grill. Put the cooking grate in place, close the lid, and let the charcoal burn down to medium heat. Leave all the vents open.

Let the chicken sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before grilling. Lightly coat the chicken on all sides with the oil. Season evenly with salt and pepper.

Brush the cooking grate clean. Grill the chicken over indirect medium heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until the juices run clear and the meat is opaque all the way to the bone, 30 to 40 minutes, turning occasionally and swapping their positions as needed for even cooking.

During the last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking, lightly brush the chicken with some of the sauce. Serve warm with more sauce on the side. Store the remaining sauce in the refrigerator for as long as 2 weeks. Serves 4-6.

This is a really unique sauce that needs some acid to cut through the fat of the mayonnaise, so Hendricks suggests a grand cru Chablis, such as Joseph Drouhin 2008 Domaine Drouhin-Vaudon Vadésir. “You don’t often get to recommend a Chablis with any other type of barbecue, but this really works,” Hendricks says.

Sweet, Sweet Sauce Sauce

From Chef Jennifer Maloney, Café Sebastienne, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City
This sauce can be used with ribs or pork, but it is especially good on chicken or fish.

1 cup of brown sugar
½ cup olive oil
¾ cup of Myers’s dark rum
1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
1 tablespoon of kosher salt
In a medium sized bowl, mix all ingredients together. Makes about 2½ cups.

Wine Recommendation

Smoke, alcohol and sugar…these ingredients can ruin many wines. Hendricks suggests a Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris from Alsace. “It’s got some residual sugar, but there’s still some power to stand up to the sauce,” Hendricks says.

For great BBQ joints in places mentioned here and more, click here.

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