Friday, September 2, 2011

The Brisket Bender, or Too Much of a Well-Smoked Thing

My love affair with barbecue started late. I grew up in Michigan, not exactly the land of smoked meats, and spent seven of my formative years as a vegetarian.

It will seem blasphemous to residents of Texas, Memphis, and North Carolina to read what I am about to write, but it is true: I first gained a taste for barbecue in New York City. It may not be the birthplace of barbecue, sure, but New Yorkers have the will and the resources to bring pretty much anything worth eating—and the chefs who make it—to their metropolis. (And it doesn't stop at food either. I learned to surf in New York City. Yes, really surf. And I'm sure you could learn to tango from an actual Argentinian, and how to sumo wrestle from a master if you wished.)

I first tasted BBQ at a place where one of my publishing colleagues worked part time. (It's debatable which job paid better.) They served all the guilt-inducing sides, from cornbread to fried green tomatoes, and the meat was unlike anything I'd tasted. They smoked it overnight, and when it ran out, it ran out. Brisket was the first to go—which was okay, because I didn't know what brisket was anyway. (I hadn't been exposed to Jewish cuisine either; my family pronounced the “r” and "l" in yarmulke.) That first trip I probably had chicken, maybe some pork—we all shared. I came home raving about the food, wanting to taste it again soon. There was something in that smoky flavor, like a drug, that kept me wanting more.