Sunday, March 11, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: North Carolina I - East Is East, West Is West, Never the Twain Shall Meet

Certain states have contributed very specific things to the American cultural landscape: of course, Maryland has its crabcakes, Massachusetts its own style of clam chowder, Texas its chili (and its barbecue but we won't get into that right now) and Illinois its deep dish pizza.  North Carolina is one of those states, and it contributes not one but two different styles of barbecue.  And I have the daunting task of trying to make them both in a short amount of time, with no access to a smoker.

Official Name: State of North Carolina
State Nicknames: The Tar Heel State, The Old North State
Admission to the US: November 21, 1789 (#12)
Capital: Raleigh (2nd largest)
Other Important Cities: Charlotte (largest), Greensboro (3rd largest), Winston-Salem (4th largest)
 South, Southeast, Upper South; South Atlantic (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Crabcake; Chestnut
Bordered by: Virginia (north); Tennessee (west); Georgia (southwest); South Carolina (south); Atlantic Ocean (east)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: blueberry & strawberry (berries), milk (beverage), channel bass (fish), Southern Appalachian brook trout (freshwater trout), Scuppernong grape (fruit), honey bee (insect - again, for the honey), gray squirrel (mammal), sweet potato (vegetable)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: two - count 'em: two famous styles of BBQ (Eastern and Western or "Lexington-style"); other standard Southern foods, including (typically eaten with said BBQ's) cole slaw, hush puppies, sweet tea; pimiento cheese (the nation's leading producer); also the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola

As noted way back when I looked at Missouri's KC-style BBQ ribs, barbecue is NOT the same thing as "a cookout".  Kansas City is but one stop on America's BBQ tour.  There are, of course, a few important sources for BBQ: Texas, Memphis, again Kansas City, to name some of the biggest.  (And yes, I would love to lump Baltimore pit beef in there, but technically it ain't BBQ, so I can't).

Of course, that's not to leave out North Carolina.  The whole state is home to not one but two of America's major styles of 'cue: Eastern and Western (or Lexington-style).  And Tar Heels are very defensive about their specific BBQ.  I don't know if wars have been started over which is better, but I'd rather not find out first hand.  Saveur contributor and self-professed Yankee transplant Dana Bowen spent years getting used to even one style, her husband's preferred Eastern style, which he grew up with.  She found out early on just how intense the BBQ rivalry can be:
Once I became a convert, I realized that it's not enough to simply love North Carolina barbecue...; you have to play favorites and defend yours at all costs. And these favorites will land you on one side or the other of a fierce and long-standing debate: Which is better, North Carolina's eastern- or western-style barbecue? To an outsider, this rivalry must seem silly: Both regions serve slow-smoked pork with tangy sauce and slaw. How different could they be? But to North Carolinians, the details represent something larger than barbecue itself: They're a matter of intense cultural pride. [Bowen 2011]
As Bowen soon points out  - hell, as any source points out - they're not the same.  The North Carolina Travels website has two very simple distinctions.  For one, the Eastern-style BBQ uses a vinegar-based sauce, while the Western-style (aka Lexington-style) is specifically ketchup-based.  That is the major difference, though there is one other important note:
The other difference is that in the east they use the whole hog, both white and dark meat, while in the west they cook only the pork shoulder, which is dark meat and thus more fatty, moister and richer. [, date unknown]
I don't have the money to buy two different chunks of pork.  I cheated (I guess), and just used one 9 pound pork shoulder for both.  And oh yes, I made both, thanks to the nice lady at Wegman's who cut the pork shoulder in half for me, bone and all.  The Eastern recipe I used comes from Chapel Hill's now-closed The Barbecue Joint, showcased on Rachael Ray's $40 a Day a few years back.  It takes about 11 hours, and is done partly in the smoker and mostly in the oven.  In retrospect, I might have experimented with different vinegar sauces - many of the user reviews of the BBQ were not kind (and Rachael Ray was a fan, so there's that too).  "Great for Yankees who don't know BBQ" was one reviewer's headline (ouch).  So I'm willing to try a few vinegar based recipes in addition to this one.  There 's Michael Ruhlman's excellent one, which isn't really "traditional" (it uses fish sauce).  Though intrigued, I opted for something a bit closer to the norm, using one recipe recommended by Craig "Meathead" Goldwyn.  This was only after I used the one from the Barbecue Joint.  It can't hurt to have a few of these after all.

There was just one final problem: I don't have a smoker - or the time or patience to use the grill right now (even with the warmish weather we've been having lately) - so what do I do?  As with the KC ribs post, I tried to figure out how to smoke my BBQ indoors.  There are definitely ways to do it, though not necessarily authentic ones.  I could have done what I did for the KC pork ribs, using that oven-smoking method.  But I didn't want to leave the oven on for ten hours.  I just didn't.  So ever resourceful, I tried to find out if there was a way to turn my slow cooker into a smoker.

Yes, there is!  Thanks to Stephanie O'Dea, who got the idea from the now-defunct Crockpot Alchemist (and who was echoed by Jamie at Suddenly Stay@Home), I found out that one can indeed use a slow cooker as a makeshift smoker.  It's not the most authentic method, but it works for my very humble purposes.  Stephanie avoided liquid smoke by soaking wood chips, wrapping them in parchment, placing them at the bottom of her slow cooker, poking holes throughout it, and then slow cooking a dry rubbed brisket with the wood chips.  Since she did this with brisket, I figured why not try this with the pork shoulder?  And as with Stephanie's brisket, it did actually work.

The Recipe: Eastern North Carolina-Style BBQ (Smoked in the Slow Cooker)

For the recipe featured on $40 a Day you will need:

* pork shoulder (as stated above, I bought a 9 lb pork shoulder on sale at Wegman's for about $11.  One half is in the photo above.  The other half is in the next post)
* wood chips - soaked in water - and parchment paper (this is for my slow cooker smoker project.  I bought hickory chips at Home Depot for $3.50)

For the vinegar sauce, you will need:

* apple cider vinegar (the basis for your sauce - a bottle isn't that expensive, about $1 or $2)
* garlic (got it)
* black pepper and kosher salt (same)
* red pepper flakes (or since I didn't have any, a dry chile pepper ground up)

The ingredients are pretty much the same as those in the Goldwyn recipe, with the exception of sugar (any kind) and hot sauce, which the above recipe doesn't have.  I'll be trying his sauce later on in this post.

Before all else, prep your wood chips.  Soak them in water for at least half an hour.

The longer the better: these were soaking for about four or five hours.  No particular reason.  I just had to go out and do some things: some shopping, a soccer game, a long drive.  Before you know it several hours go by!

Drain the wood chips and place them in the middle of a large sheet of parchment paper.

Fold over the parchment paper to form a packet, like a very rough en papillote.

Like so.

Place the packet in the slow cooker and poke many holes in it to let the steam and flavor escape.

Next, place your pork shoulder on top of the packet.  Stephanie says to add liquid but this recipe does not require it at all.  Set your slow cooker for 10 hours - yes, 10 hours - on LOW.  That's how you do North Carolina BBQ: slowly.

While the pork is cooking, prep your vinegar sauce.  Combine all the rest of the ingredients minus the black pepper in a saucepan.

Bring to a boil, and simmer on medium-high heat for about 20 minutes.

Turn off, let cool, add ground pepper and stir.

There are specific sides that are typically served with Eastern NC BBQ: hush puppies, sweet tea and cole slaw.  Why not make some slaw while you're waiting?  This recipe comes from the North Carolina Barbecue Society [2009], whose Eastern North Carolina Style Cole Slaw makes it clear that even the slaw is different from east to west.  Their recipe serves 50.  I reduced it to 1/12 the size.

You'll need:

* cabbage (duh.  Cabbage is pricey outside of St. Patrick's Day - a 4 lb head for $4.80)
* sugar (had it)
* celery seed (same)
* green onion (the last onion I pulled out of my garden this winter)
* salt (got it)
* apple cider vinegar (hey, I have this lying around)
* mayo (many prefer Duke's from Richmond, a very Southern mayonnaise)

Shred your cabbage.

Mix everything else.

Pour the sauce over the shredded cabbage and mix it thoroughly. 

And there you go.  You will typically eat this on top of your BBQ in a bun.

And speaking of which, it's been about 10 hours.  Let's check in on that pork shoulder.

It's a gorgeous, wonderful smelling pork shoulder.  As Easterners like to point out, their pork must be high quality, since it isn't masked by all that thick ketchup-y sauce.  Best not to say that to a Westerner.

10 hours under a large pork shoulder and look at the hickory wood chip parchment: surrounded by a moat of pork fat.  Smells wonderful.  You can't reuse this packet, mind you.

Transfer the pork to a large platter or tray or something else on which you can pull it apart with your fork, knife or other utensil.

Pour the sauce over it and mix it in thoroughly.  I didn't have enough sauce to keep any on the side.

You won't typically eat the BBQ this way.  More likely, you will eat it like this:

I have to say, there wasn't a lot of sauce here, but what I tasted did have a nice tang.  But again, I read some not nice reviews of this sauce, so I tried out the Meathead's sauce to see if it would make a difference.  At least the brown sugar and hot sauce should make the flavor a bit different, right?

It was - oh boy, it was!  Meathead's recipe does not call for cooking - just mix it all together and let sit for 12 hours.  But I simmered it to a boil anyway and let it cool down.  It was still much better than the other vinegar sauce.  Which makes me wonder: had the Barbecue Joint used Meathead's recipe, would it still be open today?


Barbecue Joint.  "Eastern North Carolina Barbecue".  Featured on the episode "Durham, NC" of the show $40 a Day (Rachael Ray, host).  Food Network, 2005.

Bowen, Dana.  "East Vs. West: North Carolina Pulled Pork"., Issue #139: BBQ Nation.  Published June 16, 2011.  Copyright 2011  All rights reserved.

Goldwyn, Craig "Meathead". "East Carolina Kiss & Vinegar Barbecue Sauce & Mop". Amazing Ribs website. Last revised September 12, 2011.  All

Graff, Michael, Wendy Perry, and Teresa Williford.  "The Pepsi ‘N’ Peanuts Cake".  Our State: Down Home in North Carolina. Posted February 2012.  Copyright 2012 Our State.  All rights reserved.

North Carolina BBQ Society.  "Eastern Style Slaw".  Copyright The North Carolina Barbecue Society, Inc. 2009.

North Carolina BBQ Society.  "Piedmont Lexington-Style Dip".  Copyright The North Carolina Barbecue Society, Inc. 2009.

North Carolina Travels (  "North Carolina Barbecue".  Date unknown.  Matt Barrett's Travel Guides: North Carolina.  All rights reserved.

O'Dea, Stephanie.  "You Can Use Your CrockPot as a Smoker".  A Year of Slow Cooking.  Posted August 7, 2008.

Pepsi Store (  "History of the Birthplace".  Date unknown.  Copyright and Pepsi-Cola.  All rights reserved.  "Lexington Pulled Pork"., Issue #139: BBQ Nation.  Published June/July 2011.  Copyright 2011  All rights reserved.  "Lexington-Style Red Slaw"., Issue #139: BBQ Nation.  Published June/July 2011.  Copyright 2011  All rights reserved.

Southern Foodways Alliance (Sara Roahen and John T. Edge, editors).  The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook.  University of Georgia Press: Athens, GA, 2010.

Wallace, Emily.  "A brief history of pimento cheese".  Independent Weekly (  Posted June 22, 2011.  Copyright 2012 Independent Weekly.  All rights reserved.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "North Carolina" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "North Carolina".