I’ve always enjoyed Anthony Bourdain‘s antics.
When I first encountered him on FoodTV, he was busy digesting the remnants of some sad mammal whilst commentating appropriately with grease-stained chin and mumbling narrative, extolling the virtues of the roadside “chef” who’d managed to handily hose the crap out of the wrong end of the deep-fried duodenum he was consuming.
I’ve furthered my appreciation for his unique style of ex-crackhead edginess, and enjoyed greatly his visceral verbiage as I devoured chapter after chapter of his books.
I’ve watched his numerous TV series, chortling in glee as he gently dropped bleeped-out F-Bombs, lambasted his producers on all topics imaginable, and struggled not to lose his foie-gras overboard when his check-writers sent him boating.
Oh, I follow him on Twitter also, as I’ve come to find his little quips quite amusing, as expected.
Yesterday, he went batshit crazy and started ranting about something that someone else I admire greatly, Steven Raichlen, innocently mentioned with regard to BBQ.
Brisket, to be specific. The holiest of holies in the BBQ world, especially if you’re from that oddly-shaped, but giant state of Texas.
Holy shit. This wasn’t going to end well.
I braced myself for the impact.
Basically, Raichlen was discussing the process, the Texas Crutch, in which upon a stall — the point wherein the collagen fails to continue to convert to gelatin because the temperature has reached an eponymous point in its cooking cycle wherein it refuses to budge — where one wraps it in foil to encourage it along some.
It’s really not that big a deal.
It’s not something I do often. It’s not something I even prefer to do. It’s something, when things just aren’t going my way and the Bourbon’s not helping, that I begrudgingly force upon my favorite bovine by-product. It usually helps and I ultimately unwrap it to allow the bark to crisp back up before becoming a black soggy mess resembling (and tasting) like a mushy, peaty bog.
THAT, it occurred to me, was Bourdain’s real complaint — or so I thought. He held in disdain the mismanagement of the process which would end up with an external, texturally-offensive crust.
I was wrong. Bourdain, it would unfold, accuses the entire process violation as something as impure as defiling a religious artifact, all the while missing the point that it is, by definition and title, generally done as a “crutch.”
He pushed forward, ignoring the contrariety, and rallied his culinary gendarme. He even managed to pull a “Crazy Ivan” and suggest that this sort of unpalatable madness was as evil as the now-trendy sous-vide that the top-players in the industry were all now cursing at in symphony. Many a slow-cooking, low temperature water bath shed a tear this day.
He righted HMS MadCow and then pratted on deliriously, desperately whipping up a frenzy, furiously retweeting supporters of his cause. The folks from Modernist Cuisine piped up. So did other zealots from the no foil camp. It seems that everyone who quipped was positioned behind their computers, burning mesquite, oak or hickory smudges, chanting rub recipes, whilst they sharpened their pitchforks and thongs.
Ultimately, and by name, he then called upon the Sorcerer himself, Alton Brown, for backup.
However, Monsieur Brown, being the scientific fellow he is and not one to engage in “faith-based cookery,” simply replied back with a common sense evaluation of “foil-gate in which he simply stated this was a matter of choice and preferred outcome.
Specifically, he mused, if one wanted more smoky, wood-imbued BBQ-flavor, don’t do the Crutch and deal with the added cooking time which can often lead to dryness. On the other hand, if one wanted moist brisket, go with the “Crutch” and use the braise method. He did, rather correctly, also note that “Real brisket (meaning Texas) is not like any other barbecue.”
Like, duh. But I’m not really sure that was Raichlen’s point in the first place.
Alton took the high road, but many others who would not have it joined the fray, frothing at the very thought of things like foil or injected “enhancers” such as beef broth. It seemed there was no place for common sense or scenarios tuned for alternative outcomes in the world of BBQ Brisket.
Or was there?
Others, like myself, simply blinked at the ensuing religious fervor with a mixture of bemusement and redress, shrugged incredulously and then chuckled when many of the very same naysayers went on to suggest that techniques such as foil and broth injection should only be utilized in and saved for “competition.”
You know, “competition,” wherein the product judged as the “best” amongst many is often produced with things like beef broth injection and tin foil crutching.
So purity, it seems, goes right out the window (or BBQ pit) when one is trying to win a BBQ contest, an argument or a popularity contest. Especially on the Internet.
I’m going to leave it to you to connect the ribs between this debate wherein “good enough” and “perfect” are ridiculously traded off and determine why I find such parallels deliciously ironic between BBQ and Security purists.
Suffice it to say, there are a lot of backseat “pitmasters” who will often tell you about “perfect” but likely can’t tell the difference between the creation of a smoke ring and blowing one.
Tin Foil hats, it seems, are equally as contentious (and funny) on the BBQ circuit as they are in the Security Circus.
I’ma let you finish, but my Backwoods is calling. I’m gonna go unwrap my brisket. Enjoy your tofu.
P.S. I left out many of the juicy bits from the argument, but I think it’s best summarized by following tweet:
Or: “Outcomes: Reason, not religion.”