Earlier this week, Today.com ran a story asking the question, “Is barbecue getting too trendy for its own good?” We here at the blog thought it’d be great to ask our own little panel of experts what they thought about the story and for their own two cents on the subject.
Dave DeWitt (world renowned chile pepper expert, food author, and show promoter): In journalism circles, that’s called the “any excuse for a story” story! A staff writer gets an assignment to do a barbecue story for the 4th of July, but it’s all the same old, same old stories. The World War I veteran who cooks patriotic BBQ on Independence Day. Quick Barbecue Ribs–boil ’em before you grill ’em. So the writer just makes something up, trying to start a controversy. Trouble is, barbecue joint owners, smoker manufacturers, cookoff promoters–the entire industry–doesn’t care what you look like, dress like, drink like, or your semi-kinky lifestyle. If you love barbecue and got the bucks, you will be catered to extravagantly.
Mike Stines, Ph.B: A lot of upscale restaurants are offering “barbecue” on their menu but most of them don’t even have smokers and cook briskets, butts and ribs in a high-tech convection oven so it’s not authentic barbecue. If there’s not a cord of wood outside the restaurant, they are not doing barbecue!
I enjoy going to a “joint” and having real barbecue–it’s not fancy nor should it be. If your “barbecue” comes on fine china with utensils you need to go somewhere else.
Barbecue is more than just the food, it’s about the spending time with friends on a warm summer day carefully tending the cooker and enjoying the day. Unfortunately, a lot of the “trendy” restaurant chefs think all that needs to be done is cook the meat and slather it with sticky sweet sauce.
Making true barbecue is not inexpensive… meat costs are rising as are labor costs and then you factor in overhead. I believe a lot of places don’t charge enough for their barbecue but, on the other hand, who wants to pay $35 for a rack of ribs? Is it becoming “trendy?” Perhaps. But true barbecue will prevail.
George Hensler IV (author of Totally Q: An Insider’s Look at the Crazy World of Barbecue, barbecue team leader): I think the premise that “hipsters” are ruining barbecue is nothing but a bunch of hogwash. Pit masters using social media and having a taste for craft beers only shows me the barbecue world is evolving, just like everything else is in today’s fast paced world. A word of caution however; having some new fans that sport black rimmed glasses, skinny jeans and drink high end brewskis certainly doesn’t seem like a trend that will spread across the board to other, more seasoned aficionados of slow smoked goodness. There are certain players in the world of ‘que that I wouldn’t recommend even attempting to wear a pair of skinny jeans. If you have even seen my svelte figure or those of some the other, larger variety of pit masters, you will have to agree, lest you run screaming into the night sans your appetite.
Mark Masker (Burn! Blog managing editor): I’m not quite sure what this article is trying to say. I am fairly sure about what’s going to happen with the barbecue trend, though–the same thing that’s happened to all of my other college days interests that have fallen under the reality TV spotlight. It’ll follow the remaining steps in the reality fad step program, fade to a simmer on the back burner, and enjoy a larger number of enthusiasts than it did before the public eye shown upon it.
I started playing poker, enjoying good ribs, and riding motorcycles all in the late 1980s. Right around 2000, custom bikes started getting worldwide attention, then poker, and now barbecue. Here’s how the Reality TV Ten Step Program works as I see it:
Step 1: Some TV producer who’s too lazy to come up with good fiction decides one of my hobbies needs its own reality TV show.
Step 2: I get pissed off at myself for not thinking of the idea first. A hangover later, I remember I’m not the only person on Earth who likes the activity in question, that I don’t have the connections to pitch a reality show anyway, and all of a sudden feel better about myself.
Step 3: Several other lazy reality TV producers copy the first show after it succeeds. They change the original show format enough to generate more interest from the viewing public.
Step 4: I enjoy a fresh round of Step 2.
Step 5: A horde of new enthusiasts swell the ranks, creating an economic mini-bubble built on all the extra cash they bring into the industry in question. The professionals shown on TV pimp out their new fame to catch as many of these dollars as they can, via books, T-shirts, fantasy camps, and drink cozies.
Step 6: Another horde of new professionals magically appear claiming to be the future of custom motorcycles/poker/etc. A few of them are even right.
Step 7: In a vain effort to stay cutting edge, the reality show that started the mess gets desperate with new ideas. As time passes, the ideas suck more and more, eating the show from the inside out like so much TV ecoli. Some linger on after the fad has faded, others don’t.
Step 8: Public interest wanes as quickly as the TV show’s ratings. The wave of new enthusiasts, many of them shallow trend-following wankers, subsides as the shine wears off the penny.
Step 9: That mini-bubble bursts. A lot of new pros to the industry go broke since they really had no idea what they were doing in the first place and thought the boom would last forever. Some, though, have made their bones, learned from their experiences, and stick around.
Step 10: Following the economic fallout, there’s a bright spot–the next generation of enthusiasts who stuck around, survived the crash, and still enjoy their newfound pastime. Why? Because they honestly enjoy it for its own sake, not because everyone else was doing it and they just wanted to be one of the cool kids.
As for the line, “New York City, like Los Angeles, is no longer devoid of good barbecue, and it’s not just a fleeting trend.” Here’s where the article makes a common assumption. Good barbecue isn’t new to Los Angeles. It’s new to wealthy west Los Angeles. There’ve been great barbecue joints in ghetto LA for decades. I know, because I’ve eaten in many of them over the last twenty five years. Some of the best barbecue in town is found in South Central LA, which, sadly, is known more for gang violence than great food.