One of the great things about weekend-long barbecue tours is the drive time between stops when Posse members can discuss some of the big philosophical issues regarding smoked meat.
We had one of those experiences Saturday on the road to Houston after visiting Truth BBQ in Brenham.
We’ll post the full tour story later, but first, the big issue: tug or no tug on pork ribs?
There was almost no tug on Truth's ribs and they were excellent. In texture, they reminded me a lot of the great ribs Sherry Jacobson and I had a couple months ago in Des Moines at Smokey D's. It took no tug to get the meat off the bone, yet the meat itself wasn't mushy and it almost melted in your mouth, like great brisket.
I don’t know if Socrates was a fan of barbecue, but he would have felt right at home with our rolling dialogue about “the tug.” Strong opinions. Counterpoints. Questions. All in an effort to reach better barbecue understanding.
“The tug on ribs is overrated,” Jim Rossman said from the backseat.
“I was always taught fall-off-the-bone,” wheelman Chris Wilkins said, motoring to the Bayou City on Highway 290. “Once I tried becoming a barbecue snob, though, I realized, no, the meat is not supposed to fall off the bone. It’s supposed to come off the bone with one perfect tug.”
Rossman countered: “If there’s a tug, the rib is closer to not done than done. You can go a long way past the tug and still have a great rib.”
“Today, there was no tug and the meat didn’t fall off the bone,” Wilkins said. “To me, that’s perfection.”
Our discussion continued the next day after we ate at Pinkerton’s Barbecue in Houston and had a similar experience with the pork ribs. No tug, yet firm and tasty.
Grant Pinkerton, the young pit master impresario, pointed to the influence of competition cooks, such as Darren Warth at Smokey D’s, on how everyday barbecue joints now finish their ribs.
“A great competition rib, you almost have to suck off the bone,” Pinkerton said.
Judges fork their portion off the bone, he explained. The competitors are going for the full taste experience -- rub, mop, meat, melt-in-your-mouth texture-- in a single bite.
Pinkerton threw some plastic knives and forks near our plate of ribs. When in Rome — or, better, Athens, to stick with Socrates— as the saying goes. So, most of the Posse members obliged.
“The fork rib thing, I loved it,” Wilkins said after he took a bite. Then to me: “You won’t be able to do it.”
He was right. I couldn’t fork. It just didn’t seem right. I had to bite the rib. It was delicious.
Posse pit master Marshall Cooper, a competition veteran, didn’t make this tour with us. But I contacted him later for his views on tug or no tug on pork ribs.
“I can believe how the competition techniques have influenced the bbq joints for sure,” Cooper wrote in an email.
With the Internet, he said, there’s a lot more information widely available about cooking methods.
“Comp cookers own bbq joints and bring home the trophies and bragging rights to promote their joints,” Cooper continued. “But I think a lot of rib eaters still want them near falling off the bone and do not notice it mushy and could care less!”