Barbecue Bros Film Club: Ugly Delicious – “BBQ” (S1E5)

Ugly Delicious is a new Netflix series brought to us by Chef David Chang of Momofuku and food writer Peter Meehan. Like many shows of this ilk, each episode explores a different food or concept – from tacos to fried chicken to pizza and more. Though technically titled “BBQ”, this episode does explore the food-over-flame customs of other cultures – Korean BBQ in Los Angeles, greens over flame in Noma in Copenhagen (huh?), Peking Duck in Beijing, and yakitori chicken from Tokyo. Those are nice and all (and well worth watching the entire episode) but I’ll focus on the barbecue I’m used to in this write-up.

The episode kicks off with Adam Perry Lang prepping and starting a beef rib smoke at 4am in the morning in Los Angeles. 10 hours later, he pulls the beef rib out of the smoker and serves it up to David, Peter, and novelist Amelia Gray. The conversation over the meat that ensues discusses traditional vs. new and whether barbecue is uniquely American, setting the table for later segments in the episode.

Choice quote from Adam Perry Lang:

“I think the traditional barbecue is freaking unbelievable and I don’t want to change that…but I really look at it as live fire cooking. Beef and pork with fire creates a super flavor.”

The episode then moves to the Whole Hog Extravaganza, a pitmaster convention at the famed 17th Street Barbecue in Murphysboro, IL with some serious talent in attendance from Asheville (Buxton Hall Barbecue), Nashville (Martin’s Bar-B-Q Joint, Peg Leg Porker), and Austin (Micklethwait Craft Meats).

At 8:50, they go back to the discussion in Los Angeles on the regionalization of barbecue but I honestly don’t understand the point that David Chang is making here:

“That’s what bothers me is that it became regional because someone decided to take a chance to do something a little bit different. And I hate when things become an institution”.

Huh? Is he saying that he wishes barbecue was somehow more homogeneous throughout the South? How does “things becoming an institution” fit into that at all? And what’s wrong with something becoming an institution? This is not a coherent argument to me.

The episode then takes a detour to Koreatown and Copenhagen from 9:55 until 16:21 before returning back to the Whole Hog Extravaganza in Murphysboro.

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You may recall that Carey Bringle railed against the True ‘Cue pledge in 2015, rejecting their claim that true barbecue is only smoked over wood only because he himself uses both wood-assisted gas smoker as well as wood-fired pits in his restaurants. Well, it seems as if he is still at it in 2017:

People get caught up in pits and people get caught up in fuels. And they get really passionate about it. I’m passionate about telling people: “Don’t tell me how to cook my shit.” It’s about what ends up on your plate.

Next, we get an extended scene of Elliot Moss breaking down a pig and explaining his story behind Buxton Hall and why he does what he does (“it’s always been in my heart”). He mentions that being in Asheville means people care about where their food comes from so he uses pasture-raised hogs which are quite expensive. Which for Moss, just means that he uses every part of the animal.

For the amount of labor and love and how many people’s hands touch it, it should be one of the most expensive things you can buy for food.

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Barbecue Bros Film Club: Barbecue

Similar to books, we’re not anywhere close to being qualified enough to evaluate films but as a public service we will periodically discuss barbecue-related films.

Monk: Barbecue is a documentary film that explores the meat-over-fire customs of thirteen countries around the world and premiered earlier this year at SXSW in Austin (an apt location if their ever was one). It was promptly was snatched up by Netflix and released a few weeks ago back in August.

The images are presented simply (in stunning 4K video if you have a compatible set) and accompanied by the native language of the country where each segment is filmed with an orchestral backing that flourishes appropriately and beautifully. My favorite segments were Mongolia (24:05) and its “boodog” tradition of stuffing scorching hot rocks down animal carcasses to internally cook the meat of marmots and goats, the Philippines (40:20) and their traditions of whole hog lechon (that in many ways resembles eastern NC whole hog), and of course the lone US segment on Texas barbecue (1:08:45). The Texas segment featured many heavy hitters that have been around for a while – Smitty’s, Louie Mueller, Snow’s, Black’s – as well as lesser known joints such as Patillo’s and Prine’s.

Barbecue is clearly an astonishing feat in terms of scope and size. While the focus of the film is the ritual of putting meat over fire and how it varies from country to country, it ultimately comes to much more than simply exploring food customs. Barbecue explores race, class, life, and death in a beautiful peace of documentary film making.

Director: Matthew Saleh
Available: Netflix
Runtime: 102 minutes