In a few weeks, I’ll be headed to Birmingham - that’s the one in Alabama, not Old Blighty - to compete in the third annual “When Pigs Fly” Kosher BBQ Cook-Off.
Pigs and barbecue have a long and honorable history, but if you’re going to pay attention to the ancient laws of kashruth, you will not be involving any of the flesh of the swine. Beef is what’s for dinner. In the instant case, it will be kosher beef brisket and ribs, all happily provided by the main event sponsor, Piggly Wiggly.
Yes, Piggly Wiggly.
“Thou shalt love our barbecue with all your heart...” The award-winning Moshe Ribeinu team at last year’s kosher BBQ cook-off in Birmingham. Pictured (L to R): Hank, Barry, Job Johnny, Elisson, and Bartimus Magnificus.
I have competed in both previous When Pigs Fly events - the last time as captain of the Moshe Ribeinu team - and both times our team has brought back glory, honor, and trophies. For this, I can credit my worthy teammates - but most of the credit must go to Billie Bob, my worthy and esteemed father-in-law of blessèd memory. It was he, you see, who introduced me to the legend, lore, and technique of honest-to-Gawd Texas barbecue, a gift of immeasurable worth, second in value only to the hand of his daughter.
Like many of us who spent our formative years in the frozen wastes of the North, I associated the term “barbecue” with hamburgers and hot dogs grilled over a hot charcoal fire. But that’s not barbecue; that’s grilling. An honorable cooking technique, to be sure, but one more suited to meat patties, sausages, and steaks, all of which respond well to a short burst of searingly high temperatures. Barbecuing, though, is a whole ’nuther thing, involving spice rubs, relatively low heat, and wood smoke. It’s a slow, drawn-out process, but one that is far more suitable to tougher, larger chunks of protein.
Wherever barbecue lovers congregate, there will be inevitable discussion about technique and protein preference. These discussions, being that they concern matters of style that are held in people’s hearts with religious fervor, can rise to the level of outright warfare. Many of the differences are regional: the Southeast, Memphis, Kansas City, the Carolinas all have their own strongly held opinions concerning sauce composition and consistency, cooking techniques, and meat. But being that Billie Bob (and, consequently, the Missus) hailed from Texas, that needs must be where my barbecue allegiance lies.
In Texas, barbecue is all about the beef. A pig is considered too dinky to be worthy of the great barbecue pits of Texas, even be it a thousand-pound bull hog. No: In Texas, if you want to throw a slab of meat upon the smoker, that meat had best be beef. Anything else would just be Faux ’Cue.
That gives anyone with a background in Texas jiggery-smokery a huge advantage in a kosher BBQ cook-off. And with Billie Bob’s secret rub recipe in hand, we are - not to be too cocky about it - invincible.
Today is Billie Bob’s yahrzeit - the anniversary of his passing on to the Next World. He has been gone for twenty-six years, alas. Bill never got to see his younger son get married or meet his youngest two grandchildren, nor was he able to celebrate his elder granddaughters’ b’not mitzvah and college graduations with us.
And yet, whenever I place a perfectly seasoned hunk of brisket on the smoker, I know he is with us in spirit if not in body.
The late, great Billie Bob. Photograph taken circa 1946.
Update: Avrumel - the elder of SWMBO’s two brothers - has posted his own tribute here, providing a different perspective on this wonderful man. Go thou and read.