Right at this very moment, Northwest Arkansas is hosting Bikes, Blues, and BBQ. All I have to do is sit on my back deck to hear the rumble of bikers off in the distance or to hop in my car for a quick errand to observe that this area has completely transformed itself into one of leather, smoke, and blues.
Personally, I try to steer clear of the congestion during this time yet it is hard not to notice all the pop-up barbecue food trucks. Some are fancy while most are not. The telltale trail of smoke almost makes you think that you can visualize the taste of barbecue in the air. I wish they would stay around for good.
Because it is timely, today we are going to chat about barbecue.
The folks at KC Masterpiece contacted me last week to give a heads up about the release of their special 35th anniversary Blend called the KC Masterpiece Kansas City Classic. The sauce is based on the Blue Ribbon recipe that won “best sauce” at the first American Royal Barbecue sauce competition in 1979.
“Would you like us to send you a sample of it? Also, would you be interested in interviewing barbecue expert Ardie Davis?”
Um. Was I interested in an interview with THE ultimate barbecue expert and most recognizable judge on the barbecue circuit?
I said no to the sample because I knew I could easily pick up a bottle the next time I was in the Jane, Missouri Walmart store. At less than $3 a bottle and with ingredients I could recognize (real cane sugar, rich dark molasses, no HFCS, thank you very much), I knew that was something that I would be more than happy to purchase on my own.
Who is Ardie Davis?
If you have ever attended a major barbecue competition or watched one on TV, you most likely have seen Ardie Davis. He is known as Remus Powers on the barbecue circuit and is the Greasehouse University founder, where qualified applicants can obtain a Ph.B., or doctor of barbecue philosophy . These applicants must go through a series of rigorous requirements to prove their barbecue skills. He is the author of six books ongrilling and smoking and lives in the Kansas City area. Based on one of questions below, he is working on a seventh book.
My interview with Ardie Davis uncovers what we should look for in good barbecue.
Mr. Davis, I am really excited about the opportunity to ask you a few questions about barbecue because I am ashamed to say that I am barbecue illiterate. When I think of barbecue, the first thing that comes to my mind is a sickeningly sweet and sticky glaze that covers meat that is hard to decipher. Because of that mindset, I usually run the other way when I hear someone suggest we dine at a barbecue joint. Please guide me and change my mindset.
What should I be looking for or asking for when searching for a good barbecue place?
AD :: I am always in search for the best barbecue wherever I go; in fact I am coming out with a new book which highlights some great barbecue restaurants across the country. I always recommend looking at what the regional specialty is when choosing what to get – for example, if I’m in Texas I’m going brisket, if I’m in St. Louis I’ll definitely go with Spare Ribs. Also, great barbecue doesn’t always have to be slathered in sauce; I like when the sauce complements the meat and not overpower it. The best way to avoid being served barbecue that is drowned in sauce is to order it dry, with sauce on the side. That puts you in control of the sauce. You have a healthy mindset: use sauce in moderation as a complement to the meat. If you are told that dry is not an option, take your business elsewhere—or, as you aptly put it, run the other way.
So many folks think of barbecuing as a summertime-only meal. I am curious to know what you think about that and if it should matter if you live in a cold winter climate?
AD :: To me barbecue is year round, the beauty of barbecue is that there are so many different flavors that complement every season in the year. If you’re looking for something around winter time, try a spicier sauce to help warm you up.
What is the most surprising ingredient you tasted in a barbecue dish that completely delighted you?
AD :: The most surprising ingredient that I’ve ever discovered is anchovies. This may sound weird, but anchovies are a key ingredient in Worcestershire sauce, which is a commonly used ingredient in barbecue sauce. That surprise ingredient stands out to me more than any others.
You are the most experienced judge and expert on the barbecue circuit. I am sure you have seen and heard everything when it comes to tips and tricks to making good barbecue. I am curious to know what is your simplest no-fail always-stick-with barbecue tip?
AD :: Don’t completely drown your meat in barbecue sauce. Don’t get me wrong, the sauce is a very important part to the dish; however, the sauce is meant to complement the flavors of the meat. If you add too much sauce, you will miss out on all the flavors that make barbecued meat amazing – the coal fired meat. For other tips, there are many excellent books that will save you time, trouble and money. Plus, go to barbecue contests and get tips from the competitors when they are in relaxation mode. Ask specific questions, like, “How can I make my ribs tender and juicy instead of dry, tough and burned?”
When you are sitting down to your favorite barbecue meal, what are the types of side dishes that you think are the best compliments? Does it differ according to a wet or dry rub or the type of meat you are eating?
AD :: I’m always open to trying what the Pitmaster recommends. Delicious side dishes that go well with any type of barbecue include barbecue baked beans, corn bread, potato salad, coleslaw, baked potatoes, etc. I have a great recipe for Classic Barbecue Baked beans which features the KC Masterpiece Kansas City Classic barbecue sauce, a throwback to the brands original sauce that won the first ever American Royal sauce competition 35 years ago. It’s great as a tailgating side dish.
Of all the rigorous skills required to earn the coveted degree of Ph.B, which skill do you think is the hardest one to master?
AD :: Every grill is different and has its own personality, so learning the timing and placement of the meat for the best outcome can be difficult. Practice makes perfect. The more you grill, smoke, barbecue, etc., the better you’ll be.
Now, who else is craving barbecue?
Thank you Ardie Davis for making me smarter and thank you KC Masterpiece for setting up the interview.
Eat well, my friends. Eat well.