Friday, July 6, 2012

Barbecue Sauce & the Pig Hill of Fame

Col. Poole's Barbecue, East Ellijay, Georgia. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books.
Eating barbecue in the suburban South is kinda like being a Baptist. If you don’t like the preaching at First Baptist on Sunday morning, just cross the street and go to Second Baptist for the Sunday evening service. Barbecue restaurants are just as plentiful as churches around here, and everyone has their favorite, from family-owned businesses that have served up smoked meat for generations, to successful chains that produce the same.

(It’s funny to me that the big barbecue chain restaurants can do so well alongside the established family barbecue houses, but I’ve seen cars lined up at Taco Bells in Santa Fe, so go figure.)

Locally produced barbecue is, at least in my neck of the woods, the only local artisan food tradition I can name (and correct me if I’m wrong). My favorite restaurants smoke their own pork and beef, make their own sauces and Brunswick stew. They are known for housemade salad dressings and handmade fried fruit pies. And all for a price far lower than the usual family fare ~ my family of 4 can eat for under $25 at our neighborhood barbecue restaurant.

Each of these family barbecue houses has its own personality, usually porcine-inspired décor. In the next little town to where I live, my family’s pick for Best Barbecue is Wallace’s, decorated tip-to-toe with pig figurines and an homage to 50s vehicles and television. Elvis and Lucy memorabilia on the walls, classic kids’ pedal cars on display. 

Poole's Barbecue, East Ellijay, Georgia. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books.
In the crowded barbecue market sector, like the song says, you gotta have a gimmick, and few places are as quirky as Colonel Poole’s barbecue in East Ellijay, Georgia. Poole’s BBQ’s theme color is Center Line Yellow with accents of Ambulance Red, and in addition to the food, they are famous for their Pig Hill of Fame located behind the restaurant’s building, the Taj-ma-Hog. There are 3,000 pigs-on-sticks planted on the hillside behind the Taj-ma-Hog, and for $5, you can buy one, too, for a taste of roadside immortality.

Pig Hill of Fame. East Ellijay, Georgia. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Expressed another way:

Howard Finster's artistic flair + Colonel Harlan Sanders' genius for roadside promotion = Col. Poole's. 

For proof, just check out the official ride of Col. Poole's Barbecue: the Pig-Moby-Il. That's a 1976 Plymouth Volare under all that paint. (Talk about putting lipstick on a pig...)

Pig-Moby-Il. East Ellijay, Georgia. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Being within driving distance of top-quality barbecue means I rarely cook the stuff myself. (Although I recently tried a pulled pork recipe that knocked my socks off. I’ll write soon.) But I do have my own barbecue sauce recipe, a nicely-balanced ketchup and cider vinegar brew that will coat chicken breasts for a weeknight entrée, or glaze the ribs you grill on the weekend. My version has moderate heat to please all family members, but if you like more, by all means jazz it up. 

Lucy's Not-So-Secret Barbecue Sauce. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Not-So-Secret Sauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons chili powder (I use Penzey's "regular")
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, or to taste

1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over low heat, add onion and cook until translucent, stirring frequently. Add remaining ingredients, stirring well. Use on ribs, pork, chicken, peanut butter sandwiches, ice cream, you name it, it will change your world.

This post is part of #LetsLunch, a monthly Twitter party featuring food bloggers from across the globe. Look for other takes on barbecue from these writers:

Aleana‘s Home-made Ketchup, Relish & Mustard (BBQ-Friendly Condiments) at Eat My Blog
Charissa‘s Grilled Pulled-Pork Pizza with Roasted Corn (Gluten-Free) at Zest Bakery
Eleanor's BBQ Spicy Hoisin Ribs with Red Quinoa Salad at Wokstar
Emma‘s Miso-Glazed Grilled Veggies and Polenta at Dreaming of Pots and Pans
Grace‘s Working Mama’s Pork Tenderloin Bao at HapaMama
Jill‘s Steven Raichlen Ribs Interview at Eating My Words
Joe‘s Grilled Cabbage (and Smoky Cabbage and Udon Slaw) at Joe Yonan
Lisa‘s BBQ Salmon with Tahini Dressing and Fresh Herb Salad at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Nancie‘s Thai Grilled Chicken Wings with Sweet Hot Garlic Sauce at Nancie McDermott
Pat‘s Korean-Style Beef Shortribs (Kalbi) at The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook
Renee‘s Steamed Buns with BBQ Pork at My Kitchen And I

    If you'd like to join in the next #LetsLunch, follow Twitter hashtag #letslunch and jump right in!
     Text and images copyright 2012, Lucy Mercer.


    charissa (zest bakery) said...

    I love the photos you shared in this post. I can just feel the character from the Pig Hill of Fame. And the barbecue sauce sounds like a winner (I'd be a fool not to try one from a true Southerner!) :) thx for sharing.

    Nancie McDermott said...

    What a wonderful read. You had me at the pig visuals and Baptist church observation (yes, I was a Sunbeam, GA member, Memory Work Tournament champ and wearer of the patent leather shoes w lacey socks. Wonderfully educational for folks new to barbecue, and a feast for us 'lifer's'. I am making that sauce.

    Lucy Mercer said...

    Thanks for visiting, Nancie! Anyone who's been a part of sword drills knows that barbecue is next to godliness ~

    Renee said...

    Love the story of the roadside barbecue, great line about the vehicle, lipstick on a pig indeed! You're a great writer. :)

    Your sauce looks like a good one!

    Lucy Mercer said...

    Thanks, Renee, for visiting and getting my little jokes!

    Lucy said...

    My husband grew up in Austell, and Wallace Barbecue is his absolute favorite. Love your pictures and stories.

    Anonymous said...

    Great post, Lucy. I miss the myriad barbeque places in the South. Lipstick on a pig, indeed. :)


    Eleanor Hoh said...

    Love piggy and your not-so-secret sauce has all the makings of a good BBQ sauce, Lucy.

    Lucy Mercer said...

    Thanks for reading, Eleanor!

    Lucy Mercer said...

    Thanks for reading, Marcia! The porcine palaces are indeed something to love about the South.