Mention the word BBQ to any red-blooded male and you are likely to open a Pandora’s Box of fervent verbal oaths on how to make the absolute best version of America’s beloved meat dish. And those opinions vary so vast and widely that “perfect” BBQ has been debated as far and wide as the lowbrow college football tailgate to a recent in-depth essay in the supposedly higher brow New Yorker called In Defense of the True ‘Cue. When I met the Cute Gardener, he was a confessed BBQ-aholic and had his own set of mandates on what kind of rub, smoke and meat were best suited to earn that hallowed title of “superior” on the good old palate of the USA. He preferred his seasoning dry rather than saucy, didn’t fancy all kinds of adornments, and eschewed many a restaurants’ claim to offering real BBQ if there was an absence of the honorable smoke ring between the charred edge of a cut of meat and its fleshier insides.
Our first four years together weaved together a chain of BBQ enlightenment. We found excellent down home pulled pork sandwiches on simple slices of white bread at a picnic bench strewn chain called Rudy’s in New Mexico. But a string of ensuing places in Los Angeles turned up nothing but bite after bite of failure. Trendy spots that offered real BBQ tri-tip and chicken and brisket were merely offering braised meats with soupy, oversweet or tangy sauces. The CG resorted to fantasizing about his earlier days in Kansas City and we agreed to basically eschew any sort of BBQ unless we’d someday in the future get down to those parts. Why deal with disappointment over and over again, he’d say, especially when one has truly tasted the best? There was only one problem, I had never tasted the best yet but who wanted to waste money trying in Southern California; we both agreed.
But one recent early evening in our own backyard inspiration hit and the CG pulled a rack of pork ribs out of the fridge that he had been marinating in a dry rub of his own for over a day. The simple yet deep rub of salt, pepper, paprika, garlic salt, onion salt, cayenne and cumin was further emphasized by a trip outdoors to the domed Weber where the meat was smoked atop coals mingling with bits of oak barrel and peach tree woods. The result was incredible juicy and tender BBQ ribs that oozed with flavor while boasting an immaculately pink smoke ring. I finally found my perfect BBQ joint after all.