Owning barbecue

At Pork Summit 2013, chefs demonstrate the concept of "indigenous barbecue," with tasty results.

You really can’t do a series of presentations on pork without including one on barbecue. So it was at Pork Summit 2013, the event held last weekend for a couple dozen chefs and a handful of trade press editors at The Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus in St. Helena, Calif.

The challenge with barbecue, of course, is deciding on the focus on the presentation. Barbecue is an intensely personal style of food preparation, with regionality and cultural influences both impacting what form barbecue takes. Ingeniously, the National Pork Board, which sponsored the event, didn’t try to hone in on one style. Instead, it challenged four chefs to define barbecue based on the unique attributes of four regions: Mid-Atlantic, Southern, Northern California and Southeast Asia.

The session was called Indigneous Barbecue, and the four selected chefs were asked to make use of local ingredients and, in some cases, cooking equipment from a particular time period to help them “create your own interpretation of barbecue for your region and sense of place,” in the words of NPB’s Stephen Gerike. At the end of the day, we all got to sample their efforts at a special dinner.

The attendees also got a little bit of the history of barbecue from CIA Instructor Tucker Bunch, who explained that the cooking style—basically a method of cooking animals slowly over an open fire—dates back to 1647. The idea itself, of course, is much older than that.

The framework of barbecue is this: a smoke flavoring, a vinegar-based sauce, the use of sweetener to varying degrees and the use of spices to varying degrees. It started on the Eastern Seaboard and picked up various cultural and ingredient influences as settlers moved west.

“Local resources certainly beget the cuisine,” Bunch said.

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