While there’s nothing that says that grilling should only occur in the summer months, there are certain factors that make it a warm-weather activity — like the multiple inches of snow that accumulate on the grill during the winter. As the snow melts and the sun shines, the call of the grill starts wafting on the springtime air.
Much like the call of the wild, this one involves meat. Barbecue, to be precise.
In order to properly talk about barbecue, it’s important to get some verbiage defined. Barbecue is the end result: a noun. It’s what happens after slow cooking big hunks of meat over a wood fire or charcoal.
Grilling, smoking and cooking are what happen to the meat: verbs. While the action can take place on a “barbecue” grill, and it might be consumed at a backyard “barbecue,” the term barbecue, for this article’s intents and purposes, is referring to the succulent chunks of pork and beef that are stuffed into one’s mouth, often with some sort of sauce accompaniment.
Though most barbecue is cooked in a smoker or on a grill, there are always new and inventive ways popping up.
“The basics of barbecue have to do with open fire, open smoke, open heat,” said David Sanchez, executive chef of the Osprey Hotel in Beaver Creek. “There are no artificial heat sources — no gas.”
Sanchez, who recently attended the Austin Food & Wine Festival, saw some unique iterations of barbecue that took the product to a (literal) higher level.
“There was one chef that did barbecue quail in a metal tree,” Sanchez described. “He put quail on the tree, then built a fire underneath and cooked the quail in the tree. That’s considered barbecue.”
Another chef had a sort of barbecue carousel, chickens attached to wires and the fire beneath, the entire contraption moving in a circle with succulent chickens finally achieving flight.
There are, loosely, five different regions of barbecue in the United States: Memphis, Kansas City, Texas, the Carolinas and Alabama. Though it’s possible to develop an appreciation for different types of barbecue, most people tend to favor the type that they grew up with or first experienced; changing minds is a difficult task.
“Being a judge, you have to be neutral when it comes to regional differences — my taste buds need to be receptive,” explained “Barbecue” Brad Austin, a local barbecue judge and barbecue aficionado. “My passion for barbecue has evolved into an open attitude.”
While different regions focus on different cuts and types of meats for barbecue, one of the most noticeable distinctions is in the sauce. Here’s a short rundown on what to expect.
Memphis, Tennessee: Sweet, tomato-based sauce.
Eastern North Carolina: Vinegar-based sauce.
Western North Carolina: Ketchup-based sauce.
South Carolina: Mustard-based sauce.
Kansas City: Kansas City straddles styles, much like it straddles state lines. Look for textured, peppery sauce or sweet, molasses and ketchup-based sauce on the ribs.
Texas: No sauce. Most Texas barbecue is dry-rubbed. If sauce is necessary, it’s hot sauce.
A bit of friendly advice: Don’t argue about where the best barbecue is located. That conversation usually ends with fightin’ words.
While different regions bring different meats and sauces, the primary elements of good barbecue remain the same.
“The characteristics of great barbecue, what everyone’s trying to achieve, are tenderness and moistness,” said Sanchez.
Barbecue Brad agrees.
“First impressions are important. I look for appearance — does it look good? If it’s less than ideal in my first impression, then I try to change my attitude by the taste and texture of it,” he said. “Texture: the first bite. Was it tender, was it moist?”
Then, of course, is the taste. Though palates may vary, good barbecue is, ultimately, in the mouth of the beholder.
SAMPLE THE GOODS
The unofficial start to summer, the annual Blues, Brews & BBQ festival, is taking place at Beaver Creek this weekend, so there are ample opportunities to sample the subtle (and not so subtle) differences in various barbecues.
Locally, both Moe’s Original Barbecue, with locations in Vail and Eagle, and Kirby Cosmo’s in Minturn serve up barbecue year-round.
The Osprey in Beaver Creek will be one of the newest barbecue outposts this summer. A “smoking gourmet grill,” according to Sanchez, the Osprey will operate a 12-foot smoker, with an offset firebox and multiple cooking chambers.
“This will allow us to do multiple things at one time,” Sanchez said. “We’re smoking and curing our own bacon, our own brisket. We’re going to be doing a homemade sausage and smoking a local, Colorado trout.”
Though the cuts and meats may look familiar, Sanchez promises a flavor unique to the Osprey.
“Take something like beef brisket, which is what they do in Texas,” said Sanchez. “Our flavor will be something unique, not what you would typically get in Texas or the Midwest. We may change it up a little, ethnically. Our spice blends will be our secret and will be signature to the Osprey.”
The Centennial lift, which is usually running for Beaver Creek mountain access during the summer, will closed to install the new chondola. The Strawberry Park lift, which is located just steps from the Osprey, will be running instead.
The Osprey is planning on opening its backyard area with seating and table service this summer. The menu will be comprised of more than just barbecue, but it will remain the focus.
“Barbecue is fun, casual and social,” said Sanchez. “We’ve been going around, picking the best brains in the country, and we have an opportunity to be bring something different and unique. It’s all very exciting.”
“The basics of barbecue have to do with open fire, open smoke, open heat. There are no artificial heat sources — no gas.”
Executive chef of the Osprey Hotel in Beaver Creek