By Michael Arp
Recently, while relaxing at my favorite watering hole with a few of my closest comrades, a very interesting conversation developed. The question that started this drawn-out debate was simple yet complex: If you could eat only one type of cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be?
There were, of course, quite a few votes for Italian food, while others sided with Indian or French. While my cohorts were tossing out ideas as haphazardly as Shaquille O’Neal used to hurl free throws, I sat back and contemplated my answer.
I don’t believe that anyone would disagree with Peyton Manning when he uttered the now-iconic phrase, “Chicken parm, you taste so good,” or with the fact that French chefs can add butter to any dish and make it a gastronomic masterpiece. However, in the online community, I am known as the Blue-Collar Foodie, and there is a very good reason I have embraced that name and persona: I simply could not live the rest of my life without sinking my teeth into my personal favorite fare, good ol’-fashioned American barbecue.
I, much like most people in the world, enjoy the finer things in life. Who does not love to sip on a single-malt scotch, puff on a world-class cigar, or savor a lobster tail paired with a filet mignon? However, the thought of never biting into a rack of ribs, a pulled-pork sandwich, or a slice of beef brisket again makes me downright inconsolable.
Barbecue in America is inherently regional. Therefore its very existence creates contention between barbecue aficionados across our great country, much like the lines of demarcation that are formed by the fans of the many sports teams that litter our nation. Although there are innumerable variations of this cuisine, most experts agree that the four distinct styles of American barbecue come from the following locales: Carolina, Kansas City, Memphis, and Texas.
Carolina barbecue focuses mainly on, in my opinion, the tastiest animal ever to grace the great plains of this country, the pig. From the snout to the tail, this wunderkind of the meat world is usually paired with a thin sauce that includes notes of both the tangy and peppery variety. The acidity of the vinegar-based sauce not only adds a phenomenal flavor to the divine swine but also cuts through the considerable amount of fat that is present within these cuts of meat.
So, what to smoke along with this style of barbecue? A tart taste like that of a vinegar-based sauce is, in my opinion, best complemented by a smoke that is bold and somewhat bittersweet. And if you’re familiar with the fare of the Davidoff Nicaragua brand, then you’ve got your answer.
The Kansas City varietal also concentrates on the “other white meat,” but tends to add chicken to the repertoire. This style further separates itself from the typical Carolina fare by substituting the acidic vinegar-based sauce with an often thick, tomato-based accompaniment brewed with a healthy dose of sugar. When combined with dry rubs that usually contain brown sugar, this deep, sweet, and complex sauce adds tremendous flavor to the meat to create the perfect combination of savory, smoky, and sweet.
And what better to follow a rich sweetness than with a something in the same vein like the hearty H. Upmann Vintage Cameroon. With its thick and flavorful palate-engulfing smoke, the Vintage Cameroon makes a mouthwatering follow-up the Kansas City’s similarly described barbecue fare.
Memphis-style barbecue is like the tangier cousin of the Kansas City approach. Memphis pit masters tend to add more spice to their rubs and sauces while greatly reducing the amount of sugar used. Furthermore, the sauce is not usually slathered on the meat but served on the side, allowing the customer to decide the amount of awesome sauce added to the perfectly cooked meaty deliciousness. So, it makes sense that a cigar should follow suit. I suggest something from the Rocky Patel Fire selection. The blend in these cigars, while complex and flavorful, is in the middle in terms of strength and will not overpower the nuances of Memphis-style sauces.
Texas is all about its steers, and therefore the focal point of its barbecue style is beef. Texas sauces are thin yet bold, and are used as a mopping sauce or strictly for basting while the meat cooks. If you like your barbecue sloppy, the chef will dip each luscious piece of beef into these sauces before they are served to you, thus bestowing even more Texas-sized flavor to your dish. To stand up to Texas-style sauces, a smoker needs a cigar that is brash and bold but also crisp and complex, like the Oliva Serie V Melanio . Complementing that Texas flavor without competing with it is the trick, and the Melanio is the master.
Whether or not barbecue is your champion in this gastronomic debate, as the climate continues to get milder one cannot argue the sheer brilliance of American barbecue. I, for one, would be satiated by spending the rest of my days with a pair of tongs in one hand and a solid stogie in the other, inhaling the sweet aroma of sear, smoke, and sweet, sweet meat.