The concept of meat being placed over fire dates back to the Stone Age. It probably involved a Pterodactyl, a spit and a nut and berry caveman sauce. However, barbecue by today’s standards has a few more complex flavors. A quick rummage through your mancave/garage will probably turn up a propane powered barbecue grill. If you’re lucky, a charcoal grill is buried somewhere behind the air hockey table and your lawn mower. Technology may have given the mancave many advancements in the cooking/grilling process, but traditional barbecue methods still provide the best results.
Traditional barbecue originated in the Caribbean. Barbacoa was defined by the exploring Spaniards as the slow and low cooking method used by the islanders. They would raise the hog above the hot coals and it would slowly steam and smoke the cut of meat to produce tender and juicy results. Barbacoa made its way north to the newly discovered America and was eventually translated to barbecue. Once in the southern part of North America, the Spaniards introduced the wild hog to the area. It soon became the popular choice for barbecue because of its flavor and its wild abundance. Hunt, kill, eat!
A mancave barbecue expert must use the islanders form of indirect cooking correctly to truly understand the concept of slow and low. World BBQ champions rely on the basic rules of barbecue. They agree that mancave barbecue aficionados should keep it simple and use simple ingredients (K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple Stupid). Start with a good sized Boston Butt or a picnic shoulder, season correctly and cook using the slow and low technique.
Basic techniques used by pitmasters include setting their smokers, pits or spits to temperatures of 225-270º F and cooking for long periods of time. An internal temperature of at least 160ºF is needed to ensure that the meat has been cooked properly. Set up your grill with the charcoal on one side and then place the meat on the other – indirect heat. Keep in mind that some pitmasters will let the meat to cook a little longer than the 160º internal mark to help make the ‘pulling’ process a little easier. This is a matter of taste and differs among enthusiasts.
Creating heat by using charcoal, different types of wood or a combination of the two will indirectly cook the meat and also add to its flavor enhancement. These are burned primarily to envelope the meat with flavors. The types of wood used most often are hickory, apple, cherry, and maple. Some folks even prefer the aroma given off from woods chips that came from old oak bourbon or wine barrels.
The entire process is based on the smoke. The wood used for the smoke, the control and flow of the smoke, the temperature of the smoke. The reason being is that the true test of a good smoke on your hog is in the ever definable ‘smoke ring’. It forms a thin pink layer on the inside of the meat crust, usually called the ‘bark’. The smoke ring becomes visible when slicing or pulling the pork.
Technically, what happens is that the nitric oxide created by the smoke causes a chemical reaction with the myoglobin and water from the meat and causes a pink coloration inside the bark. In other words, your smoke flavor has made its presence known. Conversely, salt tenderizers can be rubbed on the hog before cooking to give a larger chemical reaction and thus a larger smoke ring. Because of this fact, the smoke ring is no longer used as a method of judging in barbecue competitions.
Now that the hog has been prepped, smoked for hours and eventually set aside to cool a bit, the process of getting it onto a plate comes next. Some folks slice and some pull. A meat-slicer from the deli would probably be the easiest, however, the Caribbean islanders did not have these readily available. Therefore, pulling the meat apart and leaving in long strings or chunks was the method of choice. Using two forks and some muscle, a picnic shoulder can be manhandled in your mancave to resemble a heaping pile of love within a matter of minutes.
Pile high on your plate and top with some sauce. Now, add a side of baked beans, some slaw and a cold beer. This little bit of heaven on earth will surely secure your entry into the Mancave Barbecue Hall of Fame.
Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em and don’t forget your bib.