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Lucy Saunders
4230 N. Oakland #178
Shorewood WI
53211 USA
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Slow Food, Barbecue and BeerGoose Island at the NASFT Slow Food BBQ tasting

In Chicago, the Goose Island Brewing Co. is an icon for beer lovers - and its support of the Slow Food group in the city helps promote craft beer with food. Devotees of real 'cue gathered in Chicago during the 2003 Fancy Food Show at McCormick Place, to taste and evaluate real BBQ.

Pulled pork shoulder sandwiches were sampled, with comments from panelists Denis Kelly (co-author of Real Beer and Good Eats), Patty Penzey Erd of the Spice House, Jason Barker of SmokeDaddy, and Portia Belloc Lowndes and Patrick Martins of Slow Food, as well as Carol Mueller of Illinois' Prairie Grove Farms, who donated the spectacularly flavorful pork from "slow hogs," raised without growth hormones or drugs.

"Barbecue is a unique American cooking phenomenon," stated Martins in his introduction. He focused on the many BBQ festivals that Slow Food Convivia have organized over the years (see Cooperstown's event). Martins emphasized the "slow and low" meAttndees of NASFT BBQ session sample the beer and cuethod of barbecue...which isn't always true of all 'cue.

Denis Kelly offered more approachable advice to attendees, "Any way to get heat to the meat is OK." He's a champion of good food cooked outdoors, whether on a grill or a true woodfire pit. "The key to barbecue is to know your cut of meat," Kelly says. "If you cook a pork butt over high heat, the collagen will get tough, but the same cut, cooked slow and low, turns silky and tender." Grilling is best for steaks, as Kelly quotes Mark Twain's homesick yearning for a "true American porterhouse, hot and sputtering from the grill."

More practical advice for retailers came from Jason Barker who observed that his BBQ restaurant kitchen operates with just about 15% food costs, because "there's very little waste - we use all the cuts of meat that no one else really wants." He uses an electric convection smoker for uniformity, and that also cuts down on the cost of hauling in lots of wood. The live blues and jazz music that flows through Smoke Daddy's creates a party atmosphere, enhancing the essentially simple menu - meat, burgers, beans, cabbage slaw, sweet potato fries, chicken wings, BBQ sauces and rubs.

Paprika and chili powders from Spice House at NASFT BBQ sessionThe best BBQ rubs begin, according to Patty Erd of the Chicago Spice House, with good quality salt, pepper and paprika. A dry rub, with the addition of a few more spices as well as brown sugar, helps seal the meat with a crust of flavor, in crispy contrast to the tender meat. Some of the best known spices used in dry rubs and BBQ sauces are: allspice, cayenne, nutmeg, oregano, thyme, paprika, sage, and the whole spectrum of chili peppers. One of the high points of the presentation was the chance to inspect the costly paprikas and peppers used in the rub.

There are now thousands of barbecue joints across the US in places like Memphis, Kansas City, Chicago, across North Carolina and Texas, places where meat is slow-cooked using offset heat is revered and hotly debated. Passions run high when talking about sauces, rubs, and cooking techniques, but the real character of cue starts with... the meat.

Carol Mueller of Prairie Grove Farms mentioned how important it is to choose pork that has not been "tumbled," i.e. saturated with water during the final stages of processing. Pork that is true to its original form will look reddish or dark pink, a truly meaty color, not pale pink or nearly white from all the water that's been absorbed. She also reviewed cuts of pork most promising for BBQ, from spareribs to pork shoulder

Best of all, the panel uniformly recommended beer as an ingredient in basting sauces as well as finishing BBQ sauces. "Beer is a secret ingredient for many," observed Kelly. "And it's the beverage of choice for pairing with BBQ." It was great to watch the panel sip A platter of hot links and pulled pork from Prairie Grove Farms and Smoke Daddythe IPA and sample pulled pork...Here's hoping more real BBQ and craft beer will appear in delis and specialty stores in the coming year, thanks to educational efforts such as the NASFT and Slow Food.

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