This Sunday, esteemed Texas pitmaster John Lewis is smoking ribs and brisket for the Charleston Brown Water Society's "SC-TX BBQ Invitational" at Holy City Brewing (Rodney Scott, a nearly-hometown hero, will represent the SC end of the equation.)
Many of the pitmasters' techniques overlap: Both men swear by low-and-slow cooking, and both finish their meats with a salt-based seasoning. But while Scott's medium is hog meat, Lewis works in beef. Since many event attendees are likely to be far more familiar with pork barbecue, I asked my friend Daniel Vaughn, Texas Monthly's barbecue editor, to provide a few tips for beef appreciation. His first instruction? "Put down the utensils."
"A smoked beef communion is best enjoyed with your hands, allowing you to feel the give of the brisket slices, and test the doneness of the fat," he continues.
Vaughn practices what he preaches. From Texas Monthly write-up of Lewis' La Barbecue, which rates a 4.5. on the magazine's five-point scale: "We picked up our first moist piece with our fingers and noticed no chunks hanging below, a sign of perfectly rendered fat. The salt-and-pepper rub on the fatty bark hit just the right mix with the smoke, and the lean was equally impressive."
Fingers are equally handy when assessing a rib, Vaughn says.
"Pose with it if you must, but don't bite into it unless you don't plan to share," he says. "Tear bites of beef rib away from the bone. Admire that perfect bite between your fingers briefly."
Don't scoff at the sharing comment: Back ribs can measure up to 18 inches, although many accomplished pitmasters prefer the smaller, fattier and pricier short rib.
La Barbecue's rib also scored highly with Texas Monthly's team: "We twisted off a one-inch hunk for a taste. It was flawless: juicy and smoky, with the richness you'd expect."
(Did you catch that "twisted off" reference? Ticket holders may just have to set down their bourbon glasses.)
As for the final step, Vaughn advises, "If you've only enjoyed pork barbecue all your life, chew slowly with your eyes closed, because it will already feel like a dream. Don't bother wiping your hands off until you're done."
The SC-TX BBQ Invitational is sold out.
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