The United States is the third largest country in the world, more than twice the size of the European Union, giving rise to regional variations and cultural influences that are largely reflected in the food that people eat in that region. While many abroad have thought of American food as hamburgers and hotdogs, perception is changing to recognize the emergence of smoked meats as a staple of American cuisine. As is true of most famous dishes around the world, barbecue developed regionally depending on what was available and plentiful to disenfranchised communities such as former slaves and recent immigrants. Pork shoulder in North Carolina, beef brisket in Texas, and pork ribs in Kansas City and Memphis are part of what makes up the American barbecue landscape. At Pit Fiend barbecue, we are inspired by these traditions and the flavors imbued in the preferred cuts of the regions as we aim to make our version of those meats.
Texas is the second largest state in the United States by both area and population, with a rich and diverse history of barbecue. Texas still produces the most cattle in the US, and as such their barbecue has traditionally featured beef more than pork. Beef brisket as we know it gained prominence in central Texas, but the origins of smoked brisket date back to Jewish immigrants from central Europe who settled in the region. As opposed to other more tender cuts of meat from the hindquarters, brisket has a lot of connective tissue, making it a tough piece of meat that lends itself to a low-and-slow method of cooking. At Pit Fiend Barbecue, we cook brisket with a pepper-heavy rub in offset smokers using white oak, as made famous by central Texas restaurants such as Franklin Barbecue and Black’s Barbecue. The convective heat and smoke that passes over the brisket for several hours is what helps us produce the thick bark and smoky flavor that is emblematic of the quality our customers have come to expect. When our guests arrive at Pit Fiend Barbecue, they are usually greeted with a small sample of one of our delicious smoked meats, a practice made famous by Arthur Bryant’s BBQ in Kansas City. Meat cutters at Arthur Bryant’s would cut off the burnt ends of the brisket and set them aside for customers to snack on as they placed their order. The demand for these burnt end pieces soon grew beyond what was available, so they cut the entire point of the brisket into small chunks, sauced them, and placed them back in the smoker to finish, which came to be known as Kansas City-style burnt ends. At Pit Fiend Barbecue, we only serve the original version of burnt ends as we cut the ends of the brisket point and make them available upon request. Kansas City barbecue’s influence can primarily be found in our pork spare ribs.
Smoked pork ribs are very popular throughout the United States, with many iterations and styles being made in cities throughout the country. Memphis is known for making smoked pork ribs with a dry rub that can include many spices including paprika, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, brown sugar and salt.
Memphis ribs typically do not include sauce, as opposed to the saucy Kansas City pork ribs. Because Kansas City has been a meat-packing hub for much of its history, their barbecue has many different meats as part of their culinary tradition, rather than being more specialized on a single cut as it is in many other parts of the country. Kansas City-style pork ribs are dry-rubbed with seasoning, but finished with a thick, sweet sauce that adheres to the ribs like a glaze. This sauce, based on tomato and molasses, is what ties it all together in Kansas City. At Pit Fiend Barbecue, we use a dry rub to flavor the ribs and build the smoky bark, adding sauce to glaze them right before wrapping them to seal in the moisture resulting in a perfect combination of well-spiced and saucy ribs. Pulling from different influences is how we approach our cooking, and nowhere is this more true than with our pulled pork.
North Carolina has a long tradition of smoked pork that is pulled apart and finished with a vinegar-based sauce. What we think of as barbecue pulled pork in the US is largely based on the influence of North Carolina’s style of pulled pork. While North Carolina has two competing versions of pulled pork, Eastern and Lexington style, we at Pit Fiend barbecue borrow from both of these traditions. We offer a vinegar and pepper sauce with no tomato whatsoever, emblematic of the Eastern style where the whole hog is cooked. As opposed to cooking the whole hog, we cook only the pork shoulder with a seasoned bark, which is known as Lexington style. However, our favorite variation of pulled pork is seasoned with mojo, a recipe brought to the US by Cuban exiles that involves braising the butt in citrus, garlic, onion and other spices. This is the pulled pork you will most often find on our menu. For a taste that is closer to home, we look to Colorado’s contribution to US barbecue.
Colorado does not have a barbecue tradition as rich as that of many other states along the BBQ belt. Despite Colorado being the fourth largest exporter of beef in the country, the altitude of the high plains make it challenging to cook barbecue well. For this reason, most of the commercial meat produced in Colorado is shipped east, where it is smoked and enjoyed in lower altitude regions with a stronger barbecue tradition. At Pit Fiend Barbecue, we embrace the challenge of smoking meats at high altitude and look to take advantage of the excellent lamb for which Colorado is particularly well known. Bison is also prevalent here in Colorado, and its lean meat makes for an excellent alternative to beef brisket. Ultimately, our goal is to incorporate all of the regional influences and distill them into our brand of high-altitude cooking.
At Pit Fiend Barbecue, we believe in exploring different nuances of the different traditions to arrive at our favorite version of the smoked meats and share them with our guests. People often ask us which regional barbecue we cook, and are surprised to learn that we borrow from many different traditions and styles. This affords us the opportunity to take our guests on a meaty journey to the different places around the country. Come join us at Pit Fiend Barbecue, where we bring the world of barbecue to your plate.