I Like Big Butts … And I Cannot Lie
By Sheryl McAlister, a writer based in South Carolina
Every Christmas Eve as far back as I can remember, we had BBQ as the centerpiece of our “Night before Christmas” meal. For those unenlightened, the BBQ process starts long before the eating begins, usually takes days and lots of patience before the meat is ready to eat. The slow cooking process can be an overnight butt basting party if you let it. Pulling the meat off the bones, chopping it up and preparing it for its special sauce, however, can get messy and ain’t much fun.
Me? I like my BBQ chopped, on a bun with sauce – sometimes ketchup based. Sometimes mustard based. And I am not a big fan of the end to end process (no pun intended) of getting to that point.
But there I was in my kitchen. I had a kitchen towel over my left shoulder. I was holding my best carving knife and giant fork. I had my Boston Butt on the biggest cutting board I could find, and I began to slice away. Had that butt been a London Broil, it would have been a nice and tidy job. But it didn’t work out that way.
Then I remembered. This is not a job for the easily queasy. There are no utensils involved if you do it the right way: grab a hunk of meat and bone and dig in, pulling every piece of pork off every conceivable place a piece of meat might be. Discarding the fat, the bones, and the gooey stuff that doesn’t even look like a body part. You really have to to dig in and dig deep.
Up to my elbows in pork remains, all of a sudden I died laughing. I was my Dad on Christmas Eve. Towel over my shoulder, big cutting board and knife, and a huge slab of pork.
Now, BBQ around these parts is serious business. First of all, here it’s a noun – not a verb. Sauces can vary depending on where you live and how you roll. And the purists will defend which is better as strongly as they declare their political or religious affiliations. You do not want to be on the wrong side of a BBQ sauce fight. Mustard based. Tomato based. Vinegar sauce. White sauce. My favorite is a combination of mustard and tomato. My Dad’s favorite was vinegar-based.
The joke in my family was that while we loved Dad’s BBQ, we hated the vinegar sauce. The more we hated it, the more he added to the cue. I remember the smell like it was yesterday, emanating from his workbench in my parents’ garage. The big yellow plastic gloves he wore when he mixed the special sauce. In my wildest dreams, I didn’t realize I would miss that smell so much.
Tonight I did. As I dug deep for all the meat I could pull off the bones of that Boston Butt, I found myself searching for that familiar, vinegary smell. But, of course, it never came. The last bag of Dad’s BBQ I had in my freezer I’d served to my Supper Club two years after Dad died. I knew I had to serve it to a group of friends who would appreciate its significance. I saved the empty baggie with the last of the sweet vinegar smell in my freezer for another few months. And then the smell was gone.
I doubt I can ever figure out how to make Dad’s special vinegar sauce for one reason. I still hate vinegar. But when I opened my freezer tonight and saw 5 baggies of freshly chopped Carolina BBQ with the date April 2018 written in black Sharpie, I had to giggle.
I knew he was all around me.
©Copyright Sheryl McAlister 2018.