Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

May 12, 2014

‘Queing up: Most pick pork over beef

May is National Barbecue Month

TAHLEQUAH — Summer is just around the corner, but in Green Country, people often begin barbecuing once the ice thaws.

May is National Barbecue Month, and Tahlequah is home to several businesses that specialize in roasting meats low and slow, as well as backyard aficionados who take their craft seriously.

John Yeutter, associate professor of accounting at Northeastern State University, can be found in the parking lot of NSU’s Gable Field at Doc Wadley Stadium during home RiverHawk football games, providing smoked meat for the masses.

“First, I want to distinguish barbecue from grilling,” said Yeutter. “In U.S. terminology, barbecue is cooking with indirect heat, while grilling is done over a charcoal or, by some, propane fire.”

Troy Sanford, Tahlequah native, believes barbecuing is personal.

“Barbecue cooking is like martini-making, in that there are a million different ways to do it,” said Sanford. “It just depends on the individuals’ tastes.”

Sanford, who is known for his slow-roasted ribs, explained his process.

“What I try to do is to never get the heat in the smoker over 212 degrees Fahrenheit, because then you are the boiling point of water, thus you are boiling all the juice out of the meat,” said Sanford. “However, to ensure you have cooked the food to the right internal temperature, you have to cook it much longer than normal. The meat comes out juicy, with smoky flavor, but you have to ride herd on your smoker for 14 hours or so. It’s tit for tat.”

When it comes to meats, many locals prefer pork over beef, but some enjoy both.

Yeutter prefers pork for barbecue, but believes the possibilities are endless.

“[Barbecue] can be done with more than just beef and pork,” said Yeutter. “I have smoked salmon, fowl, and even tofu, and am beginning to experiment with a variety of vegetables. I have cooked a pot of barbecue beans in my smoker, and have seen macaroni and cheese done.

Ralph Winburn, former New York City EMT and local nurse, has made a name for himself as co-owner of The Soul Shack, with his wife, Molly. He said the type of wood used when smoking is important.

“I like a good pork loin or shoulder,” said Winburn. “All pork loves apple [wood], with hickory as a base. Beef get white oak, with hickory as a base. Either one is great, but chop it up and put it on a plate, and the untrained palate can barely tell the difference.”

Winburn also enjoys smoking chickens.

“Hold the presses – pun intended! – but then there is chicken, low and slow, whole or quartered, just legs or thighs; you make the call,” said Winburn. “[You can’t beat it] when it’s done just right, and the skin is edible. It’s time to bring the old yard bird into the equation, and the cherry/hickory combo will drive the point home.”

A spice mixture, often called a rub, is often a well-guarded secret among those who ‘que. Some people like the meat without sauce; others have to have it.

“The rub has to be able to go on every piece of meat you put on the smoker, and if smoked right, no barbecue sauce is necessary,” said Winburn. “If you have to have sauce, a mild but sweet, mildly tangy, and almost hot sauce is what I make from scratch. Keep them fires going!”

Yeutter prefers to let the meat speak for itself, rather than employing a rub.

“I have tried a variety of rubs, but I think they detract from the true taste of the meat,” said Yeutter. “A well-prepared pork shoulder, or a rack of ribs smoked until it’s falling off the bone needs little or no sauce to taste great.”

If he does use a sauce, Yeutter, like many other locals, prefers Head Country.

“But I do have some appreciation for some of the regional differences,” said Yeutter. “I like both types of North Carolina-style sauces, and really enjoy a slaw-hog sandwich with red slaw – using Lexington-style sauce instead of mayonnaise – and pulled pork.”

Darcy Hicks has been cooking in competition and catering since 1999, and believes pork is best when it comes to barbecue.

“Pork rules, whether its butt or ribs,” said Hicks. “Although it’s hard to beat a good brisket hot off the smoker. I find that it doesn’t matter as much what you put on the meat, that’s only part of the equation, but how you cook it. People tend to overcook and oversmoke the meat. That special twang your tastebuds are sensing is not your special blend of spices. It’s creosote, the same snotty stuff that accumulates in a wood heater.”

Tahlequah resident Robert Priddy also prefers pork to beef.

“I like to use pork butt roasts, over 5 pounds each,” said Priddy. “Pork, to me, seems to have more flavor than beef, and it’s always been my meat of choice.”

Priddy prefers a homemade “mop” sauce, which is usually liberally applied toward the end of cooking, but said Head Country also makes a delicious sauce.

“My rub mixture usually consists of garlic, onion powder, Hungarian paprika, mustard powder and black pepper. I cook on a smoker for 10 to 12 hours, with a mix of hickory and oak wood,” Priddy said.

LeAnn Manus agrees with Priddy on his meat selection, saying it has the best flavor.

“Head Country barbecue sauce is my new favorite; it used to be K.C. Masterpiece,” said Manus. “I make my own rub, which is a variation of the recipe by [Food Network’s] Alton Brown, and I prefer hickory or mesquite wood. But, when pressed for time, I’ll use liquid smoke on the meat and just bake it wrapped in foil on low heat in the oven while I’m at work.”

Walter McDowell, longtime Tahlequah resident, said he, too cooks a lot of pork. He believes learning to barbecue takes time and patience.

“I’ve been cooking for a long time and have learned a lot over the years,” said McDowell. “You have to have a lot of patience. I love to fire up my smoker. It relaxes me.”

tsnell@tahlequahdailypress.com

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