Since the debut of this column a year ago, the most common question I get goes something like this: “Barbecue? Can you find enough to write about?”
“Enough?” I typically reply. “Try, too much.”
What with the explosion of new restaurants, the continued growth of competitions, the ever-expanding universe of specialty sauces and rubs, the increasing variety (and sophistication) of rigs, the overwhelming number of blogs, the new TV shows, the profusion of barbecue cookbooks and, oh yeah, the food, the challenge isn’t finding material. It’s keeping up with it all.
I could run an entire Barbecue Desk, with bureaus in North Carolina, Texas, Memphis, Kansas City and at least one stringer on the West Coast (and others in countries around the planet).
With a year under my sagging belt, I thought it might be an opportune time to look ahead. But first, to help stoke the fire, let’s poke through the embers of the year just past.
Smoke Signals is about the food and culture of barbecue. It has run recipes on almost everything, from the basics such as smoked ribs to the unconventional like smoked turkey and smoked goose to the decidedly off-road items such as smoked latkes.
It explored the mysteries of wood and went indoors with hay-smoking. It covered the openings of big restaurants such as Hill Country Barbecue Market in Penn Quarter and the yet-to-open Pork Barrel BBQ in Del Ray — as well as smaller joints like Standard in the U Street area and Chuck’s Wagon in Upper Marlboro — and reported on the opening of barbecue trucks.
It touched on trends nationwide, from the Detroit Free Press naming a barbecue eatery its Restaurant of the Year to a Q&A with Austin’s pit prodigy Aaron Franklin. In May, it spearheaded the inaugural Smoke Signals Barbecue Sauce Recipe contest, which received lots of great and interesting recipes. (We hope to get even more next year.)
In the coming year, I hope to include even more national goings-on. I want to do something on the mobile barbecue scene. On the recipe front, the territory is vast. I haven’t done anything yet on pulled pork or whole hog or that great barbecue mainstay, side dishes.
There are some trends that would be interesting to look at, such as butchering classes. And you may have heard the rumblings of a presidential campaign gearing up; with food playing a role in political fortunes (see Gerald Ford eating an unhusked tamale in San Antonio and John Kerry ordering Swiss cheese at a cheesesteak joint in Philly) and barbecue, in particular, becoming evermore popular, I have some ideas, not yet fully formed, about covering the candidates vis-a-vis the blowing smoke.
But enough about me. Barbecue, it’s been said, is more than a food. It’s a community. I want to thank you for your input. Your ideas, suggestions, opinions and scuttlebutt fuel this column’s smoker.
Whether you are a restaurateur, a competitor, a blogger, a backyard enthusiast, an industry insider or just someone who likes to eat barbecue, please continue to tell me what you think I should know.
Tell me about the roadside joint you happened upon on your trip to the coast. Clue me in on a new method for grilling chicken. Give me the skinny about your restaurant’s special menus and activities. Provide me the lowdown about the triumphs (and travails) of your barbecue team.
In short, pretend we’re out back swapping stories while waiting for the food to come off the smoker.
See ya ‘round the pit.