Every time I’ve traveled in Italy, I’m impressed by the micro-regionalism of the food. For example, in Romagna, near Bologna, they make a flatbread called piadina. It’s always the same ingredients: Grade 0 flour, lard from the prized moro pigs, sea salt, baking soda and water. But in one town it’s maybe 5 mm thick, and in the adjacent town it’s more like 6 mm thick, and on and on through the province. And, of course, each of them is the right way to do it.
There aren’t too many hyper-regionalized foods like that in America, but there is one biggie: barbecue. The word evokes clear and specific things depending on where you’re from. Through much of the south it’s pork, slow-roasted and smoked until extremely tender, then pulled and tossed with sauce, though in western Kentucky you’re prone to find mutton, and in Texas it’s brisket and nothing other. (And for those of us who grew up in the Northeast, “barbecue” just means grilling.)
The sauces vary the most. In the Carolinas, they favor a thinner, more vinegary “mop.” In Memphis it’s thicker and sweeter, and smokier in St. Louis. And in Texas you can bet it’s spicier.
It doesn’t stop at a regional level. Q aficionados toil and tinker to develop their own signature recipes, striving to develop the very epitome of their local sauce.
Even here in San Francisco, a place not at all famous for its barbecue culture, my friend Michele makes her own special blend. She gives a nod to the classics, but folds in flavors iconic of San Francisco: Coffee, chocolate, red wine vinegar.
Why not make your own masterpiece? The basic building blocks of barbecue sauce are not esoteric; it’s all about how you put them together. Put your own stamp on it, and develop a microregional cuisine all your own.
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