Jacques Pépin

” What Is A Real BBQ ? ” Part 3

Originally posted by Russ Ito on Salon Piquant
Re-blogged with permission of Ross Ito
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The best thing about The Food Network in the summer is that you only have to watch 10 minutes of any show, and you’ll know what 95% of the programming that night will be: BBQ. The mind-numbing monotony of these shows is astonishing: Hour after hour devoted to this pit versus that smoker. After a few minutes, it’s all a blur of: rubs, rings, and burnt ends; of mops, barks, and slaws. And geographically, it’s as if The Food Network doesn’t know that the Louisiana Purchase happened: The coverage is stuck in the South-east and Deep South, as if no one west of the Mississippi ever cooks meat over fire.

As someone who grew up in a Japanese household, I’ve never been a big fan of “traditional,” American BBQ, finding it far too dense and cloying. I much prefer the lighter styles of BBQ from Asian cuisines, including: Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, and Indian. All of these cultures are part of American society – and make great BBQ, but they never appear in TFN’s summer programming. Perhaps TFN thinks they’re too exotic to appeal to their audience, or maybe it’s more ideological.
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The imu — the original “pit BBQ.” How about it TFN?

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The Taliban wing of the BBQ cult would, no doubt, sniff that the Asian approach is: “not true BBQ.” To them, BBQ means: “low and slow,” long cooking over low heat. By their reckoning, most Asian “BBQs” are just “grilling,” i.e., fast cooking over high heat. OK, fair enough, but even if you accept that, the Polynesians were slow-roasting whole pigs in hand-dug pits for centuries (maybe millennia) before anyone started warming up a pit in Kansas City or Charlotte. So why don’t you ever see that on TFN?
And does it really matter? Isn’t it just rhetorical? Every culture has its own way to cook meats over fire, whether that’s in an imu, on a grill in a hibachi, or on a skewer in a tandoor – and all of these are part of American cooking! Jacques Pépin often talks about the diversity of American food choices as something that still excites him about food here versus in his native France: “One day you can have Turkish, the next Vietnamese, the next Italian, the next… Ethiopian! It’s great!” BBQ/grilling isn’t the mono-culture TFN would have you believe; it’s as diverse as American culture itself. It’s time TFN woke up!
So come on, TFN, break out of your comfort zone, and mix it up! There’s a lot of great BBQ happening west of the Mississippi, and guess what? Those states are all part of the union, too! Asian flavors are part of the American palate, so include them!
Of course, TFN isn’t going to listen to my ravings. They’ll pack this summer’s schedule with hour after hour of rubs and mops, and familiar arguments over briskets versus pork shoulders. I’ll watch ten minutes, and know I’m not missing anything. And besides, I’ll be spending most of July watching the Tour de France, anyway!
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