Leave it to a New Yorker to helpfully point out the shortcomings of red-state cultures. Make that The New Yorker, in this case. In the magazine’s current Food Issue, the great Calvin Trillin travels to North Carolina to investigate a smoldering issue on the local barbecue scene. For years, the regional debate in the pork-centric Tarheel State has largely involved subtle differences in sauce: the vinegar-based stuff laced with pepper in Eastern N.C. versus the vinegar-based stuff laced with ketchup in Western N.C. Nowadays, though, purists seem more concerned with differences in fuel.
In the article, Trillin huddles with the organizers of the Campaign for Real Barbecue, whose main objective is to support and certify local BBQ joints that cook their ‘cue in the traditional way (a.k.a. the hard way): “exclusively from the heat of hardwood coals” and not through some shortcut like gas or electricity, which are both easier and cheaper ways to get the job done.
So far, Trillin reports, “only fifty or sixty” barbecue restaurants in the whole state have been certified as cooking exclusively with wood — that’s roughly 10 percent. In other words: The vast majority of places appear to be “gassers,” an unfortunate trend that the article suggests is only getting worse. Among the restaurants that do make the wood-certified list is the renowned Skylight Inn in Ayden, North Carolina, which is a good thing, given the restaurant’s motto: “If it’s not cooked with wood it’s not Bar-B-Q.”
Did your local smokehouse make the sticklers’ list? Scroll through the full roster of True Cue–certified restaurants here.