Well, my tiny little corner of the blogosphere is buzzing over Instapundit's backhanded insult at Texas BBQ – specifically, the dismissal of beef brisket as a basis for a roasted meat religion.
Barbecue brings out a passion for food in people that might otherwise be content to eat beef stroganoff from a box every night without ever wondering if there's something out there that's better. Everyone (I don't care where you're from) knows someone who knows someone with a great dry rub, or a family recipe for sauce, or some special way of roasting a certain cut that makes it delectable. Barbecue is one of the things in America that reminds us all of the connections we can make with one another through food – it's not just a meal, it's a regional identity, a family heirloom, an absolutely indispensable part of a family gathering.
But why barbecue? Americans certainly have strong opinions about other made-in-the-USA dishes – the best hamburger, for instance, or how to optimally combine frankfurter and bread. There are certainly regional differences in how seafood is prepared, or whether fried chicken should be rolled in flour or not – but none of these disagreements turns into the passion of 'cue arguments.
I think it's because of the inverse relationship between complexity of preparation and expected mores for serving and eating the stuff. Generally, the complexity of preparation drives the rules about how it should be served and eaten – the harder it is to make, the bigger deal it is when you eat it. Souffle is ordered well ahead of a meal to allow a chef time to prepare – it is served with the utmost care, eaten slowly and considerately, and presented by itself in its own special dish. It's generally priced to match.
Cue, on the other hand, generally can be considered one of the most difficult types of food to prepare. Cooking and preparation is extremely time consuming, in line with the most complicated French pastry, and requires a large investment in highly specialized equipment. Recipes can take years to formulate and perfect, and are held and guarded as closely within families as most anything.
But how is it served? On paper plates at a picnic table. Cold the next morning. With a cold beer on a TV tray. It's sold by the pound (imagine pinafores sold by the pound!) Sauced (if it is sauced) directly by the person eating it. Covered in condiments (beans, bread, onions, rice, whatever, the more the better). This remarkable confluence of complexity in preparation and complete removal of any pretense in serving makes it distinctly American – accessible decadence. Now that's an American ideal we can all embrace, and that's what makes cue so special to us – drives us to get so emotional about it.
So, I can understand why barbecue devotees – those that have spent large parts of their time on this Earth thinking about, experimenting with and most importantly EATING cue – get upset about the moral definitions of what is and is not the defining quality of the food they love. It really is part of their nature.
My perspective? Cue is what cue is – if you have an emotional attachment to cooking meat in line with the framework I've described, you're probably eating cue, regardless of the type of sauce, the meat, the prep method, whatever. I don't quibble about what 'cue is and isn't – long as I get my own plate of it.
Just don't forget the links. That's *real* barbecue.