Plain steamed white rice is the bedrock of a Chinese dinner. It is warm, filling and really bland. The intention of this dull starch is to be canvas in which more seasoned proteins and vegetables are painted on. The rice itself has a very specific intention and the eaters of the cuisine would not have it any other way. There is no desire to cook it in chicken stock, or add secret herbs and spices to it. So imagine how a Chinese person would feel, if you went to their favorite restaurant and ordered the white rice and wrote a bad review about it for being bland.
In the life of eating, most foods can be divided up into one of two camps. That which sustains and that which enhances. For foods that sustain i.e. foods that we eat twice a week or more, we seem to demand a certain level of pejorative qualities to it. Elements of dryness, blandness, single dimensional flavors etc. In West African nations this comes in the form of the pounded yams or cassavas known as Fufu. In Austria, dinner comes in the extremely not sexy boiled beef dish called Tafespitz (delicious btw). In Mexico chicken is boiled until it’s dry as a board, pulled and then sauced to add moisture back for tacos.
In a recent blog post, a writer visited Stamey’s BBQ and upon the recommendation of the waitress got the sliced BBQ. As I write on tomorrow, there’s several different ways you can order BBQ in Western North Carolina. Our writer was extremely disappointed in how dry it was. How could the “best” that the waitress recommended be so underwhelming?
When we’re visiting these “shrines” of BBQ, we’re expecting eyes rolled back, breath stopping, nearly sexually gratifying bites of food. For much of the country, BBQ is pretty much this way. It’s sweetly sauced, complexly seasoned and piled high. In North Carolina, BBQ is ingrained in life. No one makes special plans to eat BBQ any more than one would plot out a trip to get meatloaf. State citizens eat BBQ twice a week or more. It’s at highschool games, quick lunches, dinner etc. Thus the tourist and the citizen are starting at different points. One is seeking an experience and one is seeking sustenance. That which sustains life vs that which enhances life.
The Sliced BBQ is a holdout of an aging population. This older generation grew up in a generation that doesn’t value fat as much as we do now. Many BBQ joints in Georgia and South Carolina take pride in serving non-greasy BBQ which is a marked difference in what we enjoy now. We love fat so much that a local favorite BBQ joint actually collects all that grease and sells it as a separate menu item named “master fat”. When this older generation gets a white lean piece of meat, they see value and prefer it. This is why many joints in South Carolina and Georgia will smoke the leaner hams for BBQ rather than shoulders.
Western “Piedmont/Lexington” Carolina BBQ smokes only whole shoulders. Within a whole shoulder you get two primal cuts – the richer dark butt and the more white meat picnic. The sliced BBQ comes from the picnic which is not as tender or fatty thus giving older folk their preferred cut. I wouldn’t call it inferior BBQ just as it’s senseless to call boiled white rice inferior rice. It has a specific audience and intention. For people who are traveling around the state on a BBQ tour, I’d recommend that you skip it and just get the coarse chopped. If you’re open minded about trying what others enjoy, it might be worth your while to order it.