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What Does Perfect Barbecue Taste Like?

Food writer Lynn Schwartzberg took her love of barbecue to the next level by becoming an official KCBS barbecue judge. She explains how to cook perfect ribs.

i heart memphis barbecue

Photo: ilovememphis (Flickr)

Which region's barbecue do you enjoy? Lynn Schwartzberg says Memphis is known for mustard in its barbecue.

“I have always thought of smoked meat and the burnt outer crusty edges and nirvana,” says food writer Lynn Schwartzberg.

She found a way to take her love of barbecue to the next level — she became a Certified Barbecue Judge through the Kansas City Barbeque Society.

Regions Of Barbecue

Barbecue can mean any number of things depending on where you’re eating it. Schwartzberg explains how tastes differ from region to region:

You’ve got the vinegar Carolinas and you’ve got the mustard Carolinas. South Carolina is vinegar-based — a clear, very peppery sauce.

Then you’ve got those north Alabama with the white sauce. It’s a mayonnaise-based sauce and I have never gotten my head around it. I think it requires travel, because I feel like I must get inside of the head of that barbecue.

Kansas City is ribs. Kansas City sauce is tomato-based, sometimes can be a little sweat. People think of what they buy in the grocery store — that big bottle of brown, sweetish, tangy stuff. That’s Kansas City.

Memphis is mustard. It’s classic, beautiful ribs, beautiful pork.

Texas is brisket country. When I think Texas, it’s beef.

salsa tasting contest

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

Lynn Schwartzberg (right) has experience judging all types of food contests. Here she discusses some of the specialty salsas entered in the annual Bloomingfoods Salsa Contest with Candace Finch.

The Perfect Rib

Schwartzberg isn’t just an expert taster — she can cook up some mean barbecue herself.

She learned these tips for cooking the perfect barbecue ribs from barbecue champion and educator Chris Marks:

  1. Start off by removing the silver skin from the back. That will expose the meat and allow it to absorb the seasoning and the flavor of the smoke.
  2. Pierce between all the rib bones with the end of a fork to add even more pores to where flavor can enter the meat.
  3. Lather the ribs with a layer of yellow mustard. Schwartzberg found this bit of advice pretty unusual. “That’s the one moment where I thought I am not doing this,” she says. But she eventually realized this is a key step for creating a crunchy bark on the ribs. Don’t worry — the yellow mustard burns off and it imparts no flavor.
  4. As for cooking — low and slow! “They always say that with barbecue, and it is true,” she says. Start the smoker with good quality hardwood charcoal and a few chunks of wood. (And no, you don’t have to soak the wood.) Heat the meat to an internal temperature of 140 degrees in a smoker at 225 degrees. After it reaches 140 degrees, you can finishing cooking the ribs in the oven if you like.

the perfect bite from the perfect rib

Photo: Sarah Gordon/WFIU

The meat on this perfectly cooked rib requires a firm bite and tug to pull it completely off the bone.

Take A Bite

But how does it taste?

Meat that is falling off the rib bone is over-cooked she says.

According to the KCBS standard of judging, “you should be able to take a clean bite but the rest of the meat should remain on the bone.”

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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