When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to celebrate the dissolution of political bands that connected them to another people far away with bland food but good beer, a decent respect to the traditions of mankind requires they should celebrate by throwing some meat on the grill.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that summertime holidays should always be celebrated outdoors, that patriotic summertime holidays should be celebrated with cookouts, that charcoal tastes better than gas, but that gas is so much more convenient and easier to regulate that it's not worth going to war over.
This Fourth of July -- Wednesday-- millions of Americans will fire up their grills and, in a fit of patriotism, cook mountains of hamburgers and piles of hot dogs.
But is that truly patriotic? Is the best way to celebrate our independence from England really to eat foods that come from Germany? Far more patriotic is the barbecue, which was invented in America by Americans, and also maybe by some cavemen.
The basics to barbecue are familiar to all: Take a piece of meat that is full of connective tissue and is generally quite tough, cook it over a smoky fire at a low temperature for a long time, and serve up the sweetest, juiciest, smokiest, most tender meat you can imagine.
Everyone has his or her own recipe for cooking it and we aren't going to tamper with them here. We aren't even going to discuss those people who boil their ribs before briefly smoking them. Our focus, at least for the moment, is on the other essential element of the barbecue, the sauce.
Unquestionably, most people buy their barbecue sauce from a store. Many of the available brands are very good. But not one of them is half as good as a sauce you make yourself. And it's easy to do.
"Every sauce is a little different," said Nick Mancy, managing partner of Shorty's True American Roadhouse.
"The main things you look for are some acid, some tang, and that comes from the vinegar part of it, and then you want some sweetness, which can come from a number of sources," he said.
"Then something to bring it all together, like tomatoes. Most of your sauces are tomato-based, which brings a little acid to it, too. And then you want some spice. We use chipotle powder in our spicy barbecue sauce. That adds a little heat and it adds a little smoky flavor, too.
"Obviously, if you like something a little more tangy, you ramp up the vinegar. We use apple cider vinegar. If you want something a little more sweet, you ramp up the sugar. We use a combination of sugars: honey, molasses, and we use pineapple juice. That's our secret ingredient."
In this part of the country, barbecue sauce invariably means tomatoes. That's how they make it in Texas, too, but there they do it with a twist: the meat they use is beef brisket. The sauce is served on the side as well as used to baste the meat as it cooks.
One of our favorite barbecue sauces is inspired by Texas barbecue, so of course it goes wonderfully with brisket. But it's a long-simmered, complexly flavored, all-purpose sauce for any kind of barbecue as well. It is a breathtaking balance of acidity, sweetness, saltiness, and spice.
Of course, the beauty of barbecue sauces is that they are so forgiving. You can change them any way you want and still have a good sauce. If you want it to have a little more tang, just add more lemon juice or vinegar. If you want it a bit more sweet, try more sugar or add ketchup. All you have to do is taste it while you're making it.
Bobby Flay, who is perhaps the most famous proponent of grilling and barbecuing in the country, has a recipe for a sauce that is completely different. Technically it's a glaze, and he gets a little acid from Dijon mustard and a bit of spice from prepared horseradish. But it is the other main ingredient, which provides both sweetness and a medium for binding it all together, that is so unusual: pomegranate molasses.
With its large Middle Eastern population, this area is no stranger to pomegranate molasses, which can be found in many Middle-Eastern and Asian markets. But using it for a barbecue sauce is something new. It provides a strong sweetness and a sharp tang, a culinary counterpoint to the spice rub Mr. Flay pairs with this chicken-based barbecue.
Based on Spanish spices, the rub blends a lot of paprika with lesser amounts of cumin, dry mustard powder, and ground fennel seeds, plus salt and pepper.
Finally, there is North Carolina barbecue, which is based primarily on vinegar, not tomatoes. According to Mr. Mancy, even within the state there are regional differences in how to make it. The eastern side of the state uses no tomatoes at all, he said, but "the further west you go, the more they are going to use tomatoes."
Traditionally, North Carolina barbecue sauce is used only on pulled pork -- a big joint that is smoked and then pulled apart with forks and hands. But we have found that it is also excellent on chicken, cooked over indirect heat for an hour, and then splashed with sauce for the last five minutes.
Our North Carolina recipe uses cinder vinegar, brown sugar, a bit of garlic, and maybe just a bit of ketchup, depending on your favorite part of the state. It's completely different from the sauce most people around here know, but with its tang, its sweetness, its spice, and even (sometimes) its tomatoes, it is also absolutely the same.
Texas Barbecue Sauce
1 pound slab bacon, rind removed, diced
¼ cup onion, minced
3 tablespoons garlic, minced
¼ cup celery, minced
4 bottles beer (lager)
1 tablespoon salt
½ tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
In a medium sauce pot, place bacon, onion, garlic, and celery over medium heat and cook until browned. Add beer, raise heat to high, and bring to a boil. Add salt, brown sugar, dry mustard, pepper, zest, lemon juice, soy sauce, and cider vinegar, and stir to mix. Lower the heat and slowly simmer 1 hour.
Source: Adapted from Jack McDavid, via the Food Network
Eastern North Carolina Barbecue Sauce
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons crushed red pepper (see cook's note)
½ tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
Cook's note: This recipe makes a fairly spicy sauce. If you don't like it that hot, use less crushed red pepper.
In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, brown sugar, red pepper, garlic, and salt over high heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-high. Boil for 15-20 minutes and then remove from the heat. Let cool, then add the black pepper.
Source: The Barbecue Joint
Spanish-Spiced Chicken with Tangy Pomegranate-Mustard Glaze
For the rub:
2 (3-pound) chickens, cut into serving pieces
¼ cup sweet Spanish paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
For the glaze:
1 cup pomegranate molasses (see cook's note)
½ cup prepared horseradish, drained
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
Cook's note: Pomegranate molasses is available at Middle-Eastern markets and some Asian markets.
For the rub, combine paprika, cumin, dry mustard, ground fennel, 2 teaspoons salt, and 2 teaspoons pepper in a small bowl or jar. This rub stores well for months stored at room temperature in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.
For the glaze, combine pomegranate molasses, horseradish, mustard, pepper, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside a few tablespoons to brush the cooked chicken.
Set up your grill for indirect heat. Rub the chicken pieces all over with the rub. Grill the chicken over indirect heat for 1 hour, turning once. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, brush the chicken on both sides with the glaze.
Remove chicken from the heat, brush with the reserved glaze, and let rest 5 minutes before serving.
Yield: 4 servings
Source: Boy Gets Grill, by Bobby Flay and Julia Moskin
Contact Daniel Neman at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6155.