The following is a short story pieced together from experiences over the last four years. Some of it is true, some of it may not be completely true but it's exactly how I choose to remember it.
I remember the very first time I ate pulled pork like it was yesterday. I was a few days in to my first trip to the States, my first trip to
One thing that struck me about food in
Fat Tire is to me an interesting beer. I mean it doesn't really taste very interesting but the concept of it fascinates me. It's everywhere in
That wasn't the best pulled pork I've ever had though, I wouldn't experience that taste sensation for another two years. In that time, I changed as a person. I became madly obsessed with beer, it's all I talked about so I started writing about it in order to try and get some of the lust out of my system. That didn't work, still I rambled on at anyone who I at least thought was listening. Perhaps the same level of obsession wasn't there so I didn't notice it as much but I was starting to become as critical of my food as I was with my beer. When I had that first bite of pulled pork back in 2010 I thought to myself 'hey, this could really catch on back home!' It didn't surprise me when American style BBQ 'joints' (for that is apparently what we call restaurants these days) started springing up all over the place.
I was excited by the emergence of these new places to eat and the new found British love for American food. I would get to eat all of the things that I enjoyed to eat when in the
Over the next two years I'd started visiting my Dad in
I must have been two nights into this trip because I had a stonking hangover. I know this because the first night I always go in hard with so much good beer there for the drinking but the flight takes it out of me and I'm usually in bed before I've even given myself the chance to get tipsy. The second night I always manage to go in hard, there's usually more beer on offer than I know what to do with and I feebly attempt to drink as much of it as possible. Then I start on the whisky. Some people say that the mile high altitude of
Then there's the hangovers. Those gut wrenching, cranium shattering, soul destroying high altitude hangovers that completely stop you in your tracks. You'll be cursing the primeval forces that smashed those two continental plates together forcing the
My girlfriend Dianne is obsessed with tat. She'll be scowling as she reads this but inside she knows that she cannot wait to find some more tat to gather dust on our shelves. I must confess that I actually like that she likes tat. I'm far too lazy to bother decorating our tiny North London flat so if we have a bit of shelf or a corner of bookcase that looks a bit too empty she will at some point locate an ideal piece of tat to occupy it. My Dad was driving us down Antique Alley, the southernmost stretch of
It wasn't that bad, in fact I found that these stores were all quite interesting in their own quirky way. A lot of them had old, useless, beat up guitars that looked cool but were almost unplayable. One had a really knackered looking Fender Bassman guitar amplifier that was far more than I could afford but would have loved to own. One thing that all of these stores had in common was that they had free coffee, some of them even had free biscuits (cookies, they called them) so I was happily plodding along topping up my sugar and caffeine levels as we roamed around. Dad had promised that when we got to the end of Antique Alley we would all meet up and have lunch at Crazy Jack's the diner at the very end of the street. There, I thought, lied my salvation. I was one pint away from being completely fixed or totally fucked but right then and there I didn't really care.
As we neared the end of our shopping experience (Dianne had purchased a surprising amount of dead animal parts) I went outside to wait for her to finish. This was a bad idea as in the baking Sun the dryness began to return. If I didn't get a pint down me soon it would be curtains I was sure of that. Thankfully my Dad rolled up in his shiny Lincoln SUV and drove us the rest of the distance to Crazy Jack's. Outside there was a big sign that simply said '$1
Eventually the server came to take our order and I inevitably asked what beers were on tap. "We've got dollar
Hangover? What hangover.
I'd been concentrating solely on beer, of course I had and so I'd ordered a pulled pork sandwich plus some fries without really thinking about it while I was enthusing about my pint of Dig. It turned up looking pretty ordinary, liquid pig fat was oozing out of a sesame seed bun and into a paper lined red plastic basket. I ate a couple of fries, took a sip of my beer and then casually bit into the bun. This was something else, a eureka moment, the very essence of salt, pepper and mesquite had been magically infused into this meat that was the perfect texture, the perfect consistency but that wasn't all. The home-made barbecue sauce lifted it to another plain entirely. It cut through the fat and added zing and zest and spice. I practically inhaled it and within minutes it was gone. When our server came to collect our empty baskets I told her that was the best pulled pork I'd ever had so she went and got the owner, Crazy Jack***** himself and I told him that was the best pulled pork I'd ever had.
'Jack' was thrilled and perhaps a little perplexed that a party of Brits had descended on his diner and told him that he cooks the best pulled pork they'd ever had. He was obviously taken back by these compliments so decided to take us out back and show us his smoker (not a euphemism.) He told us how he chooses the finest pork shoulder he can get his hands on, he told us how he embalms the meat with spices and seasoning before slow smoking it with mesquite for sixteen hours. SIXTEEN HOURS. He then went on for quite some time about his interest in British history, especially the wars. A few too many "Dub-ya, Dub-ya's" later and the soothing effect of the beer was starting to wear off. I was desperate to go for a bit of a lie down. Eventually we bid our goodbyes to Crazy Jack. I've been back once since, I had the pulled pork, it was brilliant but not quite like that first time. I don't think it'll ever be quite that good again. It was as much about the moment as it was about the meat.
I've still never had great pulled pork on this side of the Atlantic. I've had some decent shoulder, ribs, belly and knuckle, in fact some of it has been really, really good but not slow smoked for 16 hours over mesquite by a magician good. My main disappointment is always the barbecue sauce, in Britain it's either not good enough or not there at all. Why would you serve pulled pork without barbecue sauce? It's like having a hot dog with no ketchup or mustard or roast beef without gravy and horseradish, it lifts the dish. I don't understand why there is no barbecue sauce. Those that served it with sauce at least made the effort but many attempts fell short with the sauce being sickly sweet or too acidic. It's too late for me now though, I've changed, I've moved on. Vietnamese cuisine is what I'm all about now. I can't stop thinking about deep, spicy bowls of Pho with lashings of lime and coriander. Imagine that paired with a crisp and dry Saison Dupont, just imagine, there you go.
Over the past two decades beer has been changed forever. We're riding a big wave now and yes one day it will crash when the fad drinkers move on but when that happens there will be a lot more people still swimming than you'd expect. I'm not sure that American barbecue will hold up as well in the
*The Brewers Association of
**Lupulin Threshold Shift or as no one ever calls it 'LTS' is a condition wherein your tolerance to very bitter beer increases the more you expose yourself to it. I have exposed myself to so much hop bitterness that I now only drink beer that has been dry hopped with Uranium rods.
***Forget what you know, the best Reuben in the world is the
****All of the wonderful photographs on this post were shot on real, actual film by Dianne and if you really like them you can buy them as prints! Just visit her website www.diannetanner.co.uk for details.
*****He did tell us his real name and it wasn't Jack or Crazy Jack but despite being able to remember how good a sandwich I ate two years ago tasted I am unable to recall something so simple as a person’s name. I do remember thinking he wasn't particularly crazy, by my standards at least.