Battle BBQ – Ronnie Sinclair’s Traditional North Carolina Vinegar Mop
“It’s poison, is what it is!” Ronnie Sinclair was saying hotly, as I came up behind him. “She’ll ruin it — it’ll no be fit for pigs when she’s done!”
“It is pigs, Ronnie, Jamie said, with considerable patience. He rolled an eye at me, then glanced at the pit, where sizzling fat dripped onto the biers of hickory coals below. “Myself, I shouldna think ye could do anything to a pig — in the way of cooking that is — that would make it not worth the eating.”
“Quite true,” I put in helpfully, smiling at Ronnie. “Smoked bacon, grilled chops, roasted loin, baked ham, headcheese, sausage, sweetbreads, black pudding…somebody once said you could make use of everything in a pig but the squeal.”
“Aye, well, but this is the barbecue, isn’t it?” Ronnie said stubbornly, ignoring my feeble attempt at humor. “Anyone kens that ye sass a barbecued hog wi’ vinegar — that’s the proper way of it! After all, ye wouldna put gravel into your sausage meat, would ye? Or boil your bacon wi’ sweepings from the henhouse? Tcha!” He jerked his chin toward the white porter basin under Rosamund’s arm, making it clear that its contents fell into the same class of inedible adulterants, in his opinion.
Diana Gabaldon, The Fiery Cross (Chapter 13 – Beans and Barbecue)
I’m taking a risk here…really living on the edge. After all, barbecue is a very serious business across the South — and has been since before R & R crossed words in the woods of North Carolina in The Fiery Cross.
And while I am a trained chef and food fanatic, the fact is that I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest; the most time I’ve spent in the South was the 3 or 4 weeks I had in Memphis while training as a manager for FedEx. (Long story, another life. Moving on…)
Memphis may be famous for its barbecue, and I did eat a lot of it while I was there. But it’s a different style than North Carolina, which is what Ronnie was so vehemently defending against Rosamund and her Devil’s Apple Sauce.
So I hit the books and the web (research always lifts my sails), and I feel pretty confident that what I came up with would pass Ronnie’s muster.
I await nervously to hear what the rest of you think. ;)
Traditionally, Eastern North Carolina barbecue involves smoking whole pigs in a pit.
But since there’s only 2 of us, AND my little bar-fridge-sized smoker has a limited capacity (although I have had 8 chickens in there at once), AND our little island grocery store only had pork butt or leg roasts in the 2.5 lb range last Thursday, Battle Barbecue consisted of 2 roasts that some Southerners may consider lacking in the size department. But when you live on an island, you have to take what you can get.
I chose butt roasts — aka the shoulder, where the leg butts against the pig’s torso (it’s not from the pig’s ass) – they’re much better for barbecue than leg roasts, which can turn out tough, no matter how long you cook them.
And then I spent the afternoon, walking between Ronnie’s Butt in the smoker outside the basement door and Rosamund’s Butt in our gas grill on the deck out front. That’s my kind of day.
Lastly, my research told me that pretty much everyone serves their barbecue on soft white rolls. So that’s what I did, with a little bit of coleslaw. Next time, I think I’ll make a batch of Jenny’s Everyday Bread into buns. Meat that takes this long to cook deserves something better than Wonder White.
I’m not enitirely sure Ronnie, or very many others, would agree.
“Ah, that’s the stuff! Not but what a savory sass like this ‘un is wasted on your bastardly Scots,” Rosamund said, replacing the burlap and patting it tenderly into place. “You’ve pickled your tongues with that everlastin’ vinegar you slop on your victuals. It’s all I can do to stop Kenny a-puttin’ it on his corn bread and porridge of a mornin’.” — Diana Gabaldon, The Fiery Cross (Chapter 13 – Beans and Barbecue)
(Click on the link below for a printable version of the recipe.)
An authentic barbecue mop straight from Eastern North Carolina — a thin sauce made from vinegar and spices, traditionally used to baste whole hogs smoking in the pit.
Cider Vinegar – 2 Cups
Chili Flakes – 2 Tble
Ground Black Pepper – 1 tsp
Salt – 1 tsp
Pork Butt Roast – 3 to 4 lbs
Either the night before, or early on the morning of your barbecue, combine the vinegar, chili flakes, pepper and salt. Set aside on the counter for at least 4 hours for the flavours to meld.
One hour before you plan to start, remove the pork from the fridge and season well with salt and pepper. Set aside to come to room temperature.
Brush the roast with the vinegar sauce, then place it in your smoker or grill, set to between 180°F and 225°F. Smoke with the wood of your choice (I used hickory), mopping with sauce every hour or so, until the internal temperature measures 190°F on an instant read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the roast, about 5-7 hours.
Remove from the smoker and tent lightly with foil for 15 minutes. Chop up the meat, drizzle with more vinegar sauce and serve on rolls with coleslaw. Serve additional sauce on the side.
Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Ith gu leòir! (Eat Plenty)
- To keep food-borne illness away, pour a small amount of the vinegar sauce into a bowl from which you can mop the cooking meat. Replenish as needed, but never dip the brush you use on the meat in the main batch of sauce.
- Next time I will remove the elastic netting from the roast — it’s not necessary, and it got in the way.