Wednesday, May 14, 2008

From April 24, 2006

Wherein originally written for They've since gone to a forum only format and I recovered this using the Wayback machine

...with a couple of small edits.

Pink is Good

Posted by Bill
Let's start this off with the most divisive issue I can think of. No, not politics or religion or even why Family Guy sucks so bad. Nope, let's do barbeque.

"Crap, I'm going to North Carolina and I forgot about barbeque," I yelled to myself about 10pm on a Thursday night. I was leaving at 6am to drive to Raleigh and needed some sleep, and that didn't leave me a lot of time for research. When it comes to barbeque, I'm more a fan than an aficionado, but I know what I like and I'm partial to big slabs of ribs - beef or pork. Texas style or Kansas City, smoked and slathered in sauce. Southern-style ribs are usually to sickly sweet for my taste, but what really threw me the first time I ordered barbeque in Georgia was receiving a plate of dry, chopped pork. Barely smoked, with no sauce, I took it back and suggested I had been given the wrong order. "No honey, and the sauce is on the table." And it was, not that it helped. This is the norm and if you find yourself in Atlanta I recommend avoiding the insult to pig flesh that is Williamson Brothers. I have not made a survey of bbq joints in town, but I can recommend Fatt Matt's Rib Shack and Swallow at the Hollow. But I don't mean to argue about the appropriate barbeque styles. [since this was written, I have discovered Sam and Dave's, quite possibly the best bbq --nonEastern NC variety -- I've ever had.] I like smoked, dry rubs, wet rubs, and any combination there of. I'm also quite fond of Vietnamese barbeque.

But going to North Carolina was something different.

This was an opportunity to hunt down the elusive Eastern Carolina bbq. Rarely seen outside its native habitat, this style has not much in common with other regional barbeque. It's smoked pig, chopped, and further cooked in a vinegary sauce with a more than passing acquaintance with hot pepper. The best way to eat it is in a sandwich topped with cole slaw?a cool sweet slaw is a perfect counterpoint to a hot and spicy bbq. Living in Charlotte, NC through early middle school, this was a staple of dinner out and school fundraisers. Now driving to Raleigh for a function and driving right back, I'd have very little time for barbeque sampling.

I found a couple lists for the Triangle area and on one Allen & Son was mentioned as having Eastern Carolina style. Checking Google, the address (6203 Millhouse Rd) was just off I-40. Not too far from the exit and I could hit it in time for lunch and get back on the road without missing a beat. No time to scope out any reviews -- it said East Carolina and I can find it. Go.

Luckily, it was tremendous. Everything I remembered this style being. Maybe a little spicier, but wonderful moist chunks of pork with enough vinegar to almost take your breath away. Service was nonexistant, so after sitting at a table for 10 minutes I went to the counter to get it go and ate it in my car. After checking into the hotel I realized I had enough time to go back; so I did, and bought another quart to take home. Yum. Now, if someone would like to make other recommendations for the area, feel free. You know, in case I ever go back.

Once I got home I did some searching on Allen & Son. Oddly, I found not a lot of middle ground in the opinions. Reviews tended towards them being among the best in the state or the worst. Hey, it's barbeque, one of the last refuges of the fanatical. Also discovered that it technically isn't authentic Eastern style. Eastern should smoke the whole pig, while Allen & Son just do shoulders; and Allen & Son add butter to the sauce (butter=fat=flavor, so I'm not complaining). I'd consider these minor points, but depending on your level of fanaticism it might be worth knowing. For a completely different take I offer a vegan who porked out at Allen & Son.

Which brings me to H. Kent Craig. Researching North Carolina barbeque is a hobby many have taken up and you'll find many who have travelled the state. H. Kent has an impressive list of reviews, but his review of Allen & Son is so mean-spirited that either he has a personal feud with the restaurant or knows nothing about food. While the latter is a possibility, it seems odd for someone who has devoted as much time and space as he has to reviewing restaurants. Let's look at what he has to say:
...because all three times I could see pink meat where it was woefully undercooked, a severe health risk (parasites in pig flesh) as well as flat-out cosmetically grossing one out. Going there a Tuesday night, a Thursday night, and a Saturday afternoon late over a period of months, each time we were served undercooked BBQ that had pink in it, and was so full of huge unchewable pieces of undercooked fat globules that it made it even further impossible to eat.

Obviously, he didn't like it, but you can't please everyone, so no big deal. I didn't see any fat, but it's possible, and he also was unhappy, as I was, with the service. What I do have a problem with is his claim that pink meat means undercooked meat and that eating at Allen & Son puts you at parasitical risk. This is so wrong that I have to seriously wonder about his intentions and knowledge.

Has he never had a ham sandwich? It's pink. Why is it pink? Because it is smoked; pork often retains a pinkish color when smoked. But even a pork chop can be pink and still be perfectly safe. The problem is most pork is labeled to cook to a minimum internal temperature of 160F. Even the USDA recommends cooking pork past the point of practicality. Governmental nannyism is erring too much on the side of precaution and is ruining many a taste bud and dinner. Just so there's no misunderstanding, let's take a look at what safely cooking pork entails. Whipping out the bedside copy of On Food and Cooking: The Science & Lore of the Kitchen, Harold McGee tells us:
Uncooked garbage was banned as pork feed in 1980, and since then the incidence of trichinosis in the United States has declined to fewer than ten cases annually. Most of these are not from pork, but from such game meats as bear, boar, and walrus.

For many years it was recommended that pork be cooked past well done to ensure the elimination of trichnae. It's now known that a temperature of 137F/58C a medium doneness, is sufficient to kill the parasite in meat; aiming for 150F/65C gives reasonable safety margin. Trichinae can also be eliminated by frozen storage for a period of at least 20 days at or lower than 5F/-15C.

And concerning barbeque:
...barbeques meat, stew meat, a pot roast, or a confit can be surprisingly pink or read inside -- if it was heated very gradually and gently....Meats cooked over wood, charcoal, or gas flames -- barbecued pork or beef, for example, or even poultry cooked in a gas oven -- often develop "pink ring..."

Another problem with following the USDA recommendations, is that people often forget about carryover heat. If you cook a pork roast until the internal thermometer read 160F -- and you are using a probe thermometer aren't you? Cooking by time is very imprecise -- it will continue cooking to 160F-168F while sitting on your counter. If you're particularly paranoid, cook until the low 150Fs and carryover should get you past 160F. Me, I'm cooking to around 145F, so if you're at my house for dinner, expect a very pink pork roast. If you've been cooking to 160F, try the lower temperature and see how much more flavor your meat has. You wouldn't ruin a ribeye or a beef tenderloin by ordering it well-done, so why do the same to the pig?

Where was I? Oh yeah:

  • Barbeque good
  • Eastern Carolina barbeque better
  • Pink is good; stop overcooking your pork
  • Allen & Son - eat there or not, just don't listen to H. Kent Craig

12:39 PM | Link | Food and Recipes | Comments (4)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Better late than never, I guess. I just ran across this post and must say that you're absolutely right. Keith Allen's place is the real deal and how Craig missed that is beyond me.
By the way, if you don't know it check out a new-ish NC barbecue site called -- to my mind, the smartest and funniest barbecue site on the web, bar none.

2/06/2012 03:52:00 PM  

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