The United States Department of Agriculture defines barbecue as “any meat cooked by the direct action of heat resulting from the burning of hardwood or the hot coals therefrom for a sufficient period to assume the usual characteristics” including the formation of a brown crust and a weight loss of at least thirty percent.” To the citizens of the great state of North Carolina, that definition is heresy, an example of government ineptitude and maybe even reason enough to secede from the union.
Everyone in the Tar Heel state knows barbecue is all about pork. In fact, the words “barbecue” and “pork” are synonymous…and don’t ever call pork “the other white meat.” Doing so would be to utter fighting words (similar to suggesting to a Norteño that a little bit of cumin will improve chile) and to disparage centuries of tradition. You can get away with saying that in North Carolina tobacco is a vegetable, but to suggest beef as a viable barbecue option is blasphemy.
North Carolinians go especially hog wild for pulled pork that’s been slow roasted for hours over low heat rendering it so tender that it’s “pulled” from the roast with one’s fingers or forks. In the state’s eastern region, the “whole hog” is barbecued with meat from every part of the pig–shoulder, butt, ham, cheeks–pulled and mixed together. North Carolina prides itself on the variety of its barbecue sauces (tomato-based, ketchup-based, vinegar-pepper based and mustard-based), depending mostly on geography.
My first exposure to a (tangy-offset with a bit of sweetness) mustard-based sauce occurred several years ago when a university professor colleague of my Kim’s sent her several bottles. Alas, she didn’t tell us we were to use the sauce exclusively on pork so we slathered it on brisket, turkey, sausage and even baloney (my favorite). Because of that transgression, there’s a warrant out for my arrest should I ever set foot again in the Tar Heel state.
When our friends Chris and Franzi Moore invited us to the Memorial Day 2012 christening of their new outdoor kitchen and covered patio, we were told to expect North Carolina barbecue catered by Dudley’s Barbecue. It was an opportunity for redemption; there would be no brisket, turkey, sausage or (gasp) baloney on which to slather the mustard-based sauce and embarrass myself. Instead, there was one 120-pound humanely-raised whole hog procured from Keyser Farms in Albuquerque’s South Valley. These are the same great folks who provide the fabulous pork belly served at Farm & Table.
Native North Carolinian Don Dudley is the pitmaster, lovingly tending to a 500-pound smoker and judiciously rationing a fragrant fruit and mesquite wood combination to maintain the low-and-slow balance which allows the pork to cook fully without burning or drying it out. Through indirect heat (not exposing the pork directly to the fire’s heat), he carefully controls the smoke so it imparts flavor and depth without overwhelming the sweet porcine flavor. Don does not sauce the pork on the smoker, leaving that choice to the person eating the pork. Besides, great barbecue should stand alone without sauce.
Dudley’s Barbecue does indeed stand alone (and stand out) with or without sauce. As Don carefully extricates every bit of pork from the butterflied carcass, he hands larger pieces to his lovely better half Penny who gently pulls the pork into tender, bite-sized tendrils and delivers bowlfuls to the waiting masses. Me, I stay pretty close to Don to make sure I try every edible portion of the pig–literally from snout to tail. Franzi, the beauteous barrister and my intrepid culinary kindred spirit (who prepared some fantastic side dishes–coleslaw, macaronis salad, cucumber salad, beans impregnated with mustard sauce) joined me in sampling bacon, pork cheeks, brains, crackling skin and even the pig’s eyes, a feat which impressed even Don.
Mostly, however, we all enjoyed the succulent, moist, absolutely delicious pork–from the pure as Ivory Snow bits (99 and 44/100 percent pure pork deliciousness) to the caramelized edges and especially the cherished bacon and pork cheeks, perhaps the very best parts of the precious pig. Don’s technique ensured just a faint hint of smoke, enough only to leave your mouth mirthful and your nostrils delightfully intoxicated. Don’s traditional mustard sauce, though wholly unnecessary, changes the pork’s flavor profile by imparting the tangy, sweet and slightly piquant elements. Penny gave me a small container to take home and none of it will touch brisket, turkey, sausage or even baloney.
Dudley’s Barbecue isn’t a storefront-restaurant operation, but it’s available for catering events large and small. You can experience Dudley’s for yourself at the upcoming Route 66 Summerfest and at other civic events. It’s barbecue as good as you’ll find anywhere in New Mexico.
LATEST FEAST: 27 May 2012
# OF FEASTS: 1
BEST BET: Pulled Pork, Bacon, Brains, Pork Cheeks, Eyes