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High On Hog

Charlotte Shout has 'em grilling in the streets


Pigs running down Trade Street? Seriously, the ones with squiggly tails? You betcha and The Porcine Races are only part of the activities planned for the First Annual Smithfield Blues, Brews & BBQ event taking place during the Charlotte Shout Culinary Arts Experience September 25, 26, and 27 at Gateway Village.

While celebrated Food Network chefs Alton Brown and Sara Moulton and other talented chefs from Charlotte's upscale restaurants, Johnson & Wales University, and the Compass Group perform on the main stage and in the pavilion area of Gateway Village, down home food will also star. On Trade Street, local firefighters will compete in a chili cookoff, and the streets around Gateway will be blocked off for Charlotte's first Memphis in May sanctioned barbecue contest with 20 national level competitors, a smaller number of Pro-Am competitors, and prizes totaling over $17,500.

North Carolinian author and Tar Heel barbecue expert Bob Garner will be on hand as will Chris Lilly of Decatur, Alabama's Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, a restaurant selected by The Wall Street Journal as having the "best BBQ pork in the country". Hmmm. Sounds like fighting words to me.

Another celebrity in town for Charlotte's Blues, Brews & BBQ is the colorful Rick Browne, author of Grilling America, The Frequent Fryer Handbook, co-author of The Barbecue America Cookbook, and host and executive producer of Barbecue America, a 13-part public television series.

Browne, a Canadian, holds an honorary Doctorate of Barbecue Philosophy, bestowed by the Kansas City Barbecue Society.

Creative Loafing: Here in Charlotte, your "Beer Butt Chicken" recipe is well known.

Rick Browne: Well, I'm not the originator of that recipe, but I was the first to put it in a book. I made it on Regis. He called me the Godfather of Beer Butt Chicken.

OK, Godfather, how did you encounter this Beer Butt recipe?

I was going to do a story in Kansas City as a photographer. It was my first experience at a professional cook-off. One of the gals took me over to a place where people were cooking, not as part of the contest, but the food they were eating. There I saw a chicken sitting on a damn beer can on a grill. I filed it away in the recesses of my brain.

What key factors should a person consider when purchasing a grill?

First of all, the space. A small space can only take a small grill, like the electric grills. I've tried one and they work OK for the space. But if you have a backyard, I would suggest a combination gas grill with a charcoal insert. You can turn off the gas and then just use the hot coals. Multi-use grills are the wave of the future.

Wood, charcoal, gas or electric. How do you rate these fuel sources?

It's heresy, but how many years have we been using electric ovens as a source of heat? Barbecue is nothing more than an oven you take outdoors. The way the heat is provided doesn't make a difference.

What kinds of foods do you recommend to any novice griller? And which foods should a novice griller stay away from?

Don't stay away from anything. It's so easy to do -- fish, chicken, ribs. Just remember to put the sauce on only for the last five to ten minutes and let it caramelize. Serve the sauce on the side, nice and bubbling. I guess I'd say stay away from hamburgers and hot dogs. A beginner should get a good cookbook and play with it. I tell people to put stains on every page of my books. Scratch out ingredients, add your own. Have fun.

Historically men have controlled the grill and I venture to say that most of the contestants at Blues, Brews & BBQ will be men. What's up with that?

Men have traditionally done the cooking, but according to the Barbecue Hearth and Patio Association, women tell us what we should roast.

What are the hallmark characteristics of great barbecue?

Great flavor, and your level of smoke addiction, a little bit of the rub with sauce on the side, too. I went to the "best" barbecue place in Portland. Their best, by the way, could not even wash dishes in your worst. The meat was so covered with sauce you couldn't taste the meat. The meat has to be tender, smoked, and the sauce used to enhance the flavor, not cover it up.

Here in North Carolina "Barbecue" is a noun, refers to pork, and, until recently, meant a wood-smoked taste. We Carolinians refer to "cooking on an outside grill" as grilling. So you can understand a Carolinian's natural confusion reading about "barbecue" contests held across the US and Canada. Do these contests actually mean "grilling"?

No. The majority of these contests are about barbecue, your barbecue: pork cooked over low temperatures for a long time; over wood or charcoal; pork butt or whole hog.

What's your take on Carolinian barbecue? You don't have to takes sides, but Charlotte is located in the Piedmont, i.e., Lexington-styled barbecue part of the state.

Then I prefer the Western style.

Good answer.

Rick Browne will be demonstrating his "WOW Food" barbecue techniques on the main stage during the Culinary Arts Festival. He'll also be signing books at Barbeques Galore in the Arboretum Shopping Center (704-544-0788) on Thursday, September 25, from 11am-1:30pm and 5-7pm. His barbecue-sauce-stained website is www.barbecueamerica.com.

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