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Grim's Grub: BBQ's ancestry and tastes mixed, much like America.

What's more American than mixed heritage?

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Illustration / Shutterstock.com
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Different states and regions have latched onto food traditions over the years, and there are quite a few dishes that will cause fights if you aren't careful about how you talk about them.

In Minnesota, it's hot dish, not casserole. New York and Chicago are constantly duking it out over pizza.

And if you call a cheesesteak sandwich a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, even though it's from somewhere else, you better hope nobody from Philly is within earshot.

There is one food, however, that has been the subject of constant arguments and head-to-head competitions to identify the best - and that's barbecue.

The word barbecue alone encompasses so many things. It's a tomato and sugar based sauce. It's a mustard and vinegar based sauce. It's a type of grilling. It's a type of smoking.

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Ask anyone - it's one of the most American things out there.

Not so fast, because it turns out barbecue didn't just leap out of Davy Crockett's brain while he slept like Athena.

There are two major influences that brought us the barbecue we love today.

Barbecue was one of the first foods that Christopher Columbus would have encountered when he landed in the Caribbean. The New World where Columbus landed was inhabited by the Taino-Arawak, an indigenous group in that region.

The Arawak people ate many different foods. As is the case with most tribes living in hot places, their diet was likely largely plant based. But living on an island, these people would have had fewer resources than those on the mainland. So meat would have been more common there than, say, in Florida where natives were almost strictly vegetarian.

The Arawak liked their meat cooked so it was tender and flavorful, so the deer and alligators would be cooked over smoky fires made of green wood for up to 12 hours. The true definition of "low and slow."

The native word for this cooking was barbacoa. Conquerors in that region brought this cooking technique with them when they moved to the mainland.

The natives were not the only influence. Much of our barbecue tradition today (especially sides) comes from a particular pork-loving country. Across the sea there is a culture that thrives on pork like no other.

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They have more sausages than Inuit supposedly have words for snow. They have perfected several ways to make a smoked ham. And they have no shortage of other famous dishes from porcine cuts of meat.

As for the sausages and the ham, these required salt and smoke houses.

In Germany, there is an abundance of both. While Caribbean barbacoa featured meat meticulously cooked for endless hours over an open, smoky fire, Germans used enclosed buildings to trap the smoke, allowing for more smoke flavor with lower temperatures and less babysitting.

Like barbacoa, they used smoke inducing wood. In one region this included pine from the Black Forest, hence providing a name for a particularly famous ham that takes as much as six weeks of constant smoking.

German immigrants brought their cooking traditions with them when they came to the United States. A surprising number immigrated to the Carolinas and Texas. In some places, beef is the king of barbecue, but where German tradition took hold it's all about pork.

Pigs, after all, will eat almost anything, require far less care and will even fend for themselves if let out (much to the South's dismay).

It seems the German tradition melded at some point with the Caribbean tradition and created what we think of when we think barbecue today. If you really think about what is traditionally served, that becomes fairly obvious.

For meats you might have ribs (Caribbean), pulled pork (Caribbean and German), brats (German), hot dogs (German) or hamburgers (arguably also German).

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For sides we have potato salad (German), mustard (German), sauerkraut (German), grilled asparagus (German) and coleslaw (German) along with fruit salads (Caribbean) and other treats.

So barbecue might not have been exclusively invented in the United States, but in a way that makes it more American instead of less.

When it comes down to it, the American people didn't just pop out of the soil like corn. So in a way, barbecue has a pedigree almost like that of the people who enjoy it, and that's kind of poetic.

Barbecued Pulled Pork

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Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com

  • 8 pounds Boston pork butt, bone in
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons crushed celery seed
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • Wood chips of your choice

Place the pork roast on a rimmed baking sheet or large dish. Pat the roast dry with paper towels.
Combine all the seasonings and then cover all sides of the pork with the rub, gently massaging it into the roast. Cover the roast with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Remove from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before cooking to bring it to room temperature.

Bring your grill up to 225 degrees and place the pork roast on the grill.

If grilling on charcoal, fill a metal pan with water and place that in the center of the grill with the coals surrounding it, then sprinkle the wood chips over the coals.

If using a gas grill, place the wood chips in a foil packet with holes punched in it and place it over a gas burner.

Keep the lid closed as much as possible. Cook the pork for the first two hours at 225 degrees, then increase the temperature to 275 degrees. The full cook time may take up to 6 hours or more.

At around 5 hours check to see if the meat temperature is between 180-190 degrees. Once it reaches this temperature, remove it from the grill and wrap it in aluminum foil before returning it to the grill to cook to a temperature of 205-210 degrees. This could take an additional 2 or more hours.

Remove the pork from the grill and allow it to sit wrapped in foil for 45-60 minutes. Some people like to wrap it in a towel and place it in a cooler at this stage.

Once done, place this in a large bowl. Carefully remove the bone and use two forks to shred the roast.

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Knockoff KFC Coleslaw

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Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com

Courtesy of "Top Secret Recipes" by Todd Wilbur

  • 8 cups finely chopped cabbage (1 head)
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrot (1 medium carrot)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine the cabbage and carrots, mixing to distribute the carrots evenly. Next, mix the remaining ingredients in a separate bowl until smooth and evenly distributed.
Combine the dressing with the cabbage mixture and serve.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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