Nothing excites me more than a good BBQ. I’ve traveled all over these United States, and to date, there are only 7 States that I have not yet managed to frequent, but on my travels, I’ve eaten some of the best food I’ve ever seen and also some of the worst. Before I begin, let me reiterate that my least favorite country for eating anything, be it cooked or raw, is China, so with that in mind, what I am about to say here, has no reflection on how poor the food is in that particular country. And BTW, Chinese food here in the USA or in GB is NOTHING like real Chinese food. The difference is dramatic and the food we tend to eat here is catered to an American taste, not Chinese authenticity. I am of course only discussing regular Chinese restaurants and not the specialized few that are available in certain parts of certain cities. Chinese food cooked authentically, sucks! In China, anything you eat tastes the same. It doesn’t matter if it’s street food, Micky D’s, KFC, or gourmet Italian. They all just taste like shit. There’s a flavor that’s common to all food cooked in mainland China, and that flavor reminds me of a Glasgow sewer. And you have to understand, I have eaten in many different establishments all of that country, good, bad and indifferent, and nothing, I mean NOTHING, tastes anything different no matter what the meat, vegetable or starch. They all just taste like crap. I have eaten snake, crocodile, slug, you name it, I have eaten it, mostly without knowing I was munching on that particular animal until finished. The Chinese have a fascination in letting foreigners partake of certain delicacies, without telling them what it is until it’s all gone. I hate that, but I’ve become accustomed to their little ‘games’ and so now I only eat rice and vegetables when I travel there, and yes, even those two simple staples taste like shit!
Back to BBQ. In Scotland, the closet I ever came to BBQ was on Guy Fawkes night. November the 5th each year hosts that particular event, the anniversary of the gunpowder plot, when Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament, but got caught. So, on the 5th, we light fireworks, just as you do here on July 4, plus we gather lots of wood, and make a huge bonfire, with a ‘scarecrow’ like version of Guy, on the very top of the fire. And that, my friends, is as close as the Scots used to come to BBQ. As a kid, even though I hated the fireworks,(I honestly don’t like the ‘bangs and explosions’ from the fireworks. Don’t know why, but I just don’t and even today I run a mile when fireworks are on display), I would be forced by my parents to attend the biggest of displays we had in Glasgow, with a huge bonfire to boot. People used to bring sausages, NOT hot dogs, y’all, to these events and stick them on skewers, which were then held over the flames, flames that often reached up more than 20 ft, just so they could get a taste of a real BBQ! In Scotland, most of the food is fried, even the Mars bars, hence our ability to brag that we have the worst heart disease on the entire planet earth! So, a little ‘improvised’ BBQ on a wet cold and often windy Guy Fawkes night, was always a welcome change from a fried fish supper, a fried black pudding or indeed a fried chicken mess taken out from a local ‘Southern’ fried chicken shop, where the ONLY thing that came close to be southern, was the owner who hailed from the South side of the city! Scottish BBQ also consisted of the following: burning one’s own wrist, singeing one’s own hair, and setting fire to the beer can in one’s left hand, providing one wasn’t left handed, in which case substitute right hand in that last example. Ah, yes, those were the days!
Then came America, gas grills, real charcoal and an ability to compete locally with anything you had over here in the USA. When I was 17, my friend in London, Andrew, had a ‘real’ BBQ in his parents garden. Yes, this was the closest I’d ever come to cooking food like they did in the cowboy movies and without John Wayne riding his horse from the street into Andrew’s parent’s garden, I believed that this was the best and closest I could ever come to experiencing what it was really like to live in the States. Judith, his mother, cooked us chicken and sausages while we watched the planes going into Heathrow airport circle overhead. It was delicious and it just enhanced my desires to experience what a good BBQ would really taste like, if I ever received the opportunity to venture across the ‘pond’ to America. That grill had an incredible effect on my untrained and ‘fried food’ stained taste buds. It opened up a new world, a different world and it also increased my desire to hunt down and taste the ‘best’ burger in the world. I know in previous blogs I have mentioned this quest, and so, here we are again, back at the origins of my curiosity, which, today, still seeks perfection in burgerland. At that point in time, ribs, brisket, pulled pork, and turkey legs, were so far off my radar and culinary register, that it mattered only how well the burgers were BBQ’d, the steaks, and the chicken too. That was the extent of my BBQ experience, oh, and of course, back up in Glasgow, we would stick the occasional marshmallow into the fireplace, just to say we did it! Eating it was entirely another experience. With real coal in our fireplace, the stench and taste of carbon on each marshmallow was just disgusting. No wonder my grandfather used to say, “we keep a picture of me without my teeth in, above the fireplace, just to make sure the kids stay back from the flames!” Yes, the only man I ever know who was completely toothless, but who could murder a ‘wine’ gum, read hard candy for all you Yanks out there, with little effort and no bruising to his bare gums, while trying hard not to let that candy slip haphazardly down his unprotected throat, only to choke him to death! He was a true pro, God rest his soul!
Moving quickly on and into modern times.
Rudy’s in Austin, advertised as being the ‘worst BBQ in Texas’ is now my most favorite of haunts. They have perfected my now most favorite of cuisines, into an art, and an art that would shame Rembrant, Picasso, Delia Smith and Emril, et al. They have 23 locations, all of which are in Shell gas stations, and I have to tell you, there is a line outside, all day, all night and in fact, all year, every year. It is BBQ with a ‘kick’, it is magnificent, it is delicious, it is THE best I have ever tasted. But yet, there is more. In the 43 States I have had the pleasure of visiting, contrary to popular belief, and apologies to all of you in Louisiana, when I think back to my childhood, growing up in those rain soaked streets of Glasgow, with bonfires roaring on November the 5th each year, there was something tangy and outstanding about the sausages and chicken we used to ‘cremate’ on those ‘out of control’bonfires. Or, perhaps it was just the stench of burnt flesh, which populated the, less than fresh air, while all my friends drunken fathers and mothers tried to cook while inebriated, high, or perhaps both, that instilled into my soul that BBQ in Scotland was never actually that bad. Or, perhaps I have just become sentimental or blinded by a desire to return to a childhood that seems so close, but is yet, so very far away. In any event, things in Scotland are not the same as they were back then, other than it pisses down with rain every day! Most people I know have proper gas or charcoal grills and their meat, well their meat is better that any meat you can buy in the USA, because it’s REAL Aberdeen ANGUS, and not the ‘fake’ impersonator that adorns our kitchen tables here in the USA. Yes, things might be different, but the smell and taste of Rudy’s is unmatched and and has yet to ‘waft’ it’s way across the Atlantic to find a new home in the hills and dales of my country of birth.
Time to get back to my ribs and stop reminiscing.