What do you look for in a good barbecue restaurant? I’ve heard people rave about a place because the portions were “huge” or because a famous person once enjoyed a meal there. Barbecue books are published in which the writer raves endlessly about the metal chair and folding table atmosphere. Some aficionados wax endlessly about how “real” barbecue is always enjoyed with sweet tea and others insist upon enjoying theirs with a cold beer.
Pork barbecue is a honored tradition in the south. According to the North Carolina Barbecue Society, our state is the “Cradle of Cue”. North Carolinians are passionate about their barbecue. But there are two different styles here. Easterners will cook the entire pig, chop it fine, and generously douse it with a vinegar-based sauce. Here in Western North Carolina, barbecue often means cooking meaty pork shoulders, chopping it a little coarser, then serve it with a darker, sweeter tomato-based sauce.
Lora and I kind of fell on the idea of adding barbecue to our menu. The Café has always been known for fresh garden fare, homemade soups and such. But the opportunity was there and we enjoyed playing with different methods, meats and ingredients.
Our “smoker” at the café is actually a wood fired grill with a traditional chimney and damper. After creating a fire in the early morning we bank the hickory coals and pull the damper about three quarters of the way down. This makes the fire hotter & creates smoke in the grill box above the fire pit. It’s a quiet morning ritual during which I have an opportunity to talk with my neighbors out for their morning walk or just simply sip coffee and read last month’s paper piled up in the corner awaiting its use in the next fire. We smoke 20 pork butts every other day. First they are rubbed with a mixture of 12 herbs and spices, then smoked over well seasoned hickory. Lora’s Texas influence has always included a little kick of heat in many of her recipes and this rub is no exception.
We keep the smoker temp at around 200 degrees for 10-12 hours until the meat falls off the bone. To me, the pork is delicious at this stage and would go great in a roasted corn tortilla with a good salsa fresca or just enjoyed by itself.
It’s usually very late in the day when we take the pork off the smoker, so we cool it down and the next day the meat is hand pulled and then slowly simmered in our vinegar and tomato ”que” sauce.
So we have a 2 day, labor intensive process. Our BBQ is always fresh, never frozen, which makes planning to keep enough on hand can be a little tricky.
I know that most Chefs do not dream of becoming a BBQ expert and Lora was no exception. However, we both enjoy pleasing people with a meal that is fresh and familiar, a dish that can be made better with a little hard work, patience and skill.
The Western North Carolina mountains and the Asheville area in general have become an amazing place for good food. The average Mountain traveler however is looking for comfort and an experience that is both delicious and authentic. I hope we bring that flavor to Little Switzerland. I think this barbecue meets those standards.