Point of view

Two Tar Heels issue the true 'cue challenge

April 23, 2014 

For over 300 years, barbecue in North Carolina was cooked the same way: for a long time at a low temperature over hardwood coals. Those coals were what made the difference between barbecue and roast meat. But, sadly, these days wood-cooked barbecue is getting hard to find.

More North Carolina barbecue restaurants cook with gas than with wood. We at the Campaign for Real Barbecue believe that putting barbecue sauce on roast pork and calling it barbecue is like putting kosher salt on it and calling it kosher. We are working to identify and applaud those barbecue places that still cook in the old-school way, to encourage new “artisanal” wood-cooking barbecue establishments and to persuade gas-cookers to return to the True Faith.

Why would anyone choose to cook with propane instead of oak and hickory? When we ask gassers why they don’t cook the traditional way, we hear stuff like this: “The city won’t let us,” or “The inspector made us stop,” or “It’s against the Clean Air regulations.”

But these explanations never come with specifics. No one has ever been able to tell us exactly which regulations make it impossible. We don’t have the name of a single official who ever told a barbecue place it couldn’t cook with wood. In fact, the only regulations we’ve actually seen in print require that meat be cooked with wood if it is packaged for sale in grocery stores and labeled “barbecue.”

No one expects governments to be consistent, but why would they turn around and forbid barbecue to be wood-cooked when it’s sold in restaurants? (And why would wood-fired pizza ovens get a pass?)

Regulations and officials may make it difficult and expensive to cook barbecue the Tar Heel way, but do they make it impossible? We don’t think so.

So we are issuing a challenge. We will give a handsome “No Faux ’Cue” apron to the first person to email us at truecue@gmail.com with either (1) a citation to any federal, state, county or municipal statute or regulation that makes it impossible for even one North Carolina barbecue restaurant to cook with wood or charcoal or (2) the name and job title of any federal, state, county, or municipal official who has required an existing North Carolina barbecue restaurant to stop cooking with wood or charcoal, or forbidden a new one to start.

If there really are laws or regulations that make life difficult for wood-cooking barbecue restaurants, we will work to change them. If there really are bureaucrats undermining our state’s barbecue heritage, the Campaign will reason with them – and, if reason does not suffice, we will denounce and vilify them.

This we promise to our fellow North Carolinians.

Dan Levine and John Shelton Reed are the founders of the Campaign for Real Barbecue ( TrueCue.org), headquartered in Chapel Hill.

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