A New Home, Who'll Follow?*

Mostly, people ask about the food we serve at festivals and events, but there are two other types of conversations that also tend to take place.

I’ve mentioned the first type in an earlier blog post, but I love it enough to provide a repeat example:

Customer: You know, [I’m from INSERT STATE HERE] OR [I’ve spent a lot of time with my smoker at home], so I know good barbecue.

Then, the customer takes a bite out of the sandwich. This has happened enough that I no longer feel anxious or nosy studying the customer’s reaction. I’m not rolling my eyes when customers start this conversation, and I respect their experience making or eating barbecue. I’m looking for the head nod. It’s an eyes-closed head nod with the lips slightly pursed, and it means “Approved.” I live for the head nod.

The other type of conversation is far less exciting:

Customer: So where are you located?

There’s no head nod at the end of this one, which is kind of a bummer already. So, I launch into a small conciliatory speech that sounds like I am trying to point out a dark cloud’s silver lining, like I’m trying to pitch a product that they’re not interested in buying.

Me: [Well, we don’t actually have a brick-and-mortar location right now, but you can look us up online, where we have our schedule posted and regularly updated!] OR [We’re a mobile operation, which gives us a unique ability to address our customers’ needs across a wide area. A stationary location would prevent us from serving the shifting and dynamic customer base of a changing Indianapolis.] OR [Located… Huh… Well, we’re located here right now, right? “Located” is kind of a slippery word. I mean, where are you located? Where is anyone located? Please enjoy your meal.]

The customer doesn’t like any of these answers, and I also hate all of these answers. The only reason I’m writing about them is because they’ll be dead soon. We’re going to have a location. We’re locating ourselves right now. Soon, we’ll be completely located, and we’re very, very excited. It’s almost as good as a head nod.

*Blog post title taken from Caroline Kirkland’s 1835 early realist novel based on the settlement of Pinckney, Michigan

Matt Bastnagel has served barbecue alongside Michael Gomez at many events, and he writes the blog on this website as a way to spread the spirit of Gomez Barbecue and bring more people to our meats.

Sandwiches, Structurally

Context

Sandwiches are meant to be eaten. Most human beings cannot unhinge their jaws without injury.

Primary Claim

Sandwiches should not be too tall.

Supporting Evidence and Development

I'll start with a hypothetical. The owner of a neighborhood sandwich shop is beyond excited about his new creation. He gathers his employees into the kitchen and tells one of them, or maybe all of them, “you’re gonna flip.”

“I’m calling this one ‘The Ultimate.’ Corned beef, Monterey Jack, black forest ham, horseradish, honey mustard, three thick slices of tomatoes, salami, some red onions, and iceberg lettuce,” he says.

Since this is hypothetical, I’m going to put myself in the room as one of the employees in charge of serving this sandwich.

I am fired for angrily groaning when my boss gets to the tomatoes.

~

I understand that tall sandwiches are exciting, but I also think that tall sandwiches are very impractical. My hope is that science will show us the best way to make a sandwich.

Let's embrace the ubiquity of STEM fields and adopt an interdisciplinary model for the sandwich. Let's apply craniomandibular science to establish a vertical threshold for sandwich height.

The average Maximum Mouth Opening is about 1.9 inches for adults. I don't want people straining their mouth trying to eat a sandwich, and no one should have to forcibly squash a sandwich just to eat it. So, here's my figure: 1.75 inches. That's the tallest that the leading edge of your sandwich should be, give or take a few millimeters to account for bread or buns that might be a little taller in the middle. Basically, at the spot where you are going to take your first, next, or last bite, the height of the sandwich should not exceed 1.75 inches. 

Tall sandwiches are hard to eat. If you are worried that a sandwich will not satisfy your hunger, instead of ordering or making something that is "piled high," would it be so strange just to get a second one?

Summary of Main Points

Do not make your sandwich too tall. 

Concluding Remarks

I have not measured the height of Gomez BBQ's many different and delicious sandwiches, and I am in no way connected to the culinary decisions of Gomez BBQ. HOWEVER, based on my love for Gomez BBQ, it is safe to assume that their sandwich height is perfect.

Matt Bastnagel has served barbecue alongside Michael Gomez at many events, and he writes the blog on this website as a way to spread the spirit of Gomez Barbecue and bring more people to our meats.

That Maddening, Unmastered Map

I was not born in the South, but I suspect that some experts would blanch at the half-possible task of mapping out the crucial differences that make the ‘cue from one locale much different than others. The biggest challenge is that the tastes of customers are moving, changing, and blending together. You can find Memphis barbecue in Illinois and Mississippi BBQ in North Dakota. You can find Texas barbecue in Alaska. The problem, for someone like me, is that all of these regional variations, which can easily find passionate fans in all corners of America, are each so undeniably amazing. Would a Texas-style barbecue really refuse customers just because they wanted some sauce on their brisket? Can a Carolina BBQ joint sell a brisket sandwich? Yes and no, which roughly resembles all of the infuriating answers to my regional barbecue questions. Does Memphis serve their barbecue without sauce on it? Is Carolina BBQ defined by whole hog pork or do they favor smoke pork shoulders? Is Kansas City known more for wet rub than for dry rub meat? Yes and no. Or, if you’d prefer, “it depends.”

I've been thrown from this horse, but I'm going to stand up and get back on it. I have at least learned learned some things. The seasoning that makes up the dry rub is important. The ingredients that go into the barbecue sauce and the types of meat that go into the smoker are also important. Trying to figure out howwhen, and especially where these factors define barbecue? I will get back to you.

A Brief Coda: I do not write this to give the impression that Gomez BBQ is not aware of the broad strokes (and many of the minute differences) of regional American barbecue. We know the difference between Eastern NC pepper and vinegar sauce, Lexington style red sauce, and South Carolina mustard sauce. But we also know that, just as I am slowly learning, an Indianapolis-born barbecue that adheres to the traditions of another region may not be as authentic or tasty, and it may be better for my sanity and our food if we stuck to the Indianapolis Barbecue we work so hard to define. 

Matt Bastnagel has served barbecue alongside Michael Gomez at many events, and he writes the blog on this website as a way to spread the spirit of Gomez Barbecue and bring more people to our meats.

Barbecue Is America

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are the author’s own and do not reflect the official position(s) of Gomez Barbecue.

Barbecue is the definitive type of American food.

Wait!

Before you grab your pitchfork and create an outraged hashtag (#NOmezBBQ?), I would like to acknowledge/assert a few things:

1.       Burgers, and the diner/fast food cuisine formed around them, are the undisputed emperors of restaurant sales in America.

2.       Pizzas are popular and delicious.

3.       I contend that apple pie is considered to be the most American food because "American" and "apple pie" both start with the letter "A." We are just a single letter away from saying "as American as arbecue."

Barbecue is the American cuisine because it has an unassailable history in America and because "barbecue" means different things depending on where you're from. Future blog posts will explore the American-ness of these regional variations, but I’ll begin here by staking a claim to history.

The American History of Barbecue

Burgers can only really reach back to the late 1800s as a distinct food. Calling back to the minced horsemeat of 13th century Mongols is a bit of a stretch, and it’s safe to say that serving a ground beef patty between two pieces of bread only really became established in the 1900s.

With its Italian lineage, pizza is another story altogether, but pizza should not be discounted because it began in another country. America is a land of immigrants and innovators, and that’s what we did to the simple flatbread, cheese, and tomatoes of Italy. Because it’s America, we put whatever we want on top of it. But again, American pizza is a product of the 20th century, and its history in the US begins around the same time as the hamburger’s.

Barbecue has burgers and pizzas beat by at least one hundred years. Hamburgers and pizzas follow the same rough trajectory in that they were invented around 1900 and really came into their own around the 1940s and 50s. When Christopher Columbus arrived in the West Indies in 1492, barbecue was already there. To be sure, people have been slow roasting and smoking meat for hundreds of thousands of years, but the word “barbecue” is derived from the word “barbacoa” used to describe the West Indian meats that pre-date Columbus.

Barbecue is a specifically American form of slow roasted and smoked meat. Even McDonald's, which has done so much to bring the hamburger to all corners of the world, was originally a barbecue joint. It is only natural that the McDonald's hamburger was nurtured within such a quintessentially American establishment.

George Washington loved barbecue, as did Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Harrison, and Lyndon Johnson, among others. Barbecue is presidential. Barbecue is inspiring. 

There are no extant sources to back me up, but I have always imagined that during the harsh winter in Valley Forge, with food supplies low and his soldiers diseased and despairing, George Washington roused his troops by reminding them what they were fighting for. I'm sure he mentioned liberty and defense against tyranny, but what better symbol of the homes and lives they protected than barbecue? Fed with these images of tender, seasoned pork, how could a soldier not be ready to go to battle against the British troops who threatened to destroy this food and everything it stands for?

America (including me!) loves burgers, and there is not a person alive today who doesn't like pizza. Barbecue, however, has a history as storied as the country itself.  

Matt Bastnagel has served barbecue alongside Michael Gomez at many events, and he writes the blog on this website as a way to spread the spirit of Gomez Barbecue and bring more people to our meats.

Smoking Indiana Trees

Your food is not really barbecue if the meat has not been smoked. Yes, the meanings of words change over time, but that doesn’t mean that we should just roll over and accept that barbecue means cooking hot dogs on a propane grill. There’s already a word for that. It’s called “grilling.”

Barbecue needs smoke because smoke makes the food taste better. Smokeless methods like oven-roasting can manage the low temperature and long cooking times required to cook most of the cuts of meat popular with barbecue lovers, but the food will not taste good enough. It will not be barbecue. Charcoal may be a little better than gas, but the best smoked meat comes from a wood smoker. One of the most interesting and strange things about barbecue is how the fuel used for cooking gives the meat some of its flavor. No one’s going to eat an oak tree, but if you put a branch in your smoker, your food will taste different. That’s a little bit weird, and it prompted a little bit of research.

There are a lot of guides on the internet that will tell you the different tastes you can expect from using different kinds of wood. After reading these different charts and articles that all seem to contradict each other in one place or another, it seems that Meathead Goldwyn of AmazingRibs.com has the clearest view of the issue, and he does not go much further than listing whether a type of wood imparts a mild or a strong smoke flavor: “I would love nothing more than to tell you that a particular wood has ‘nuances of spice with an undertone of mushrooms.’ I just can't do it.” Goldwyn’s almost certainly right here, especially considering that the same kind of wood will taste differently if it has grown in different places with different soils and climates, but there has to be something happening to the meat that makes things different if you choose an apple log over a maple. Maybe that is best left unknown. The romance of barbecue would be ruined if we knew exactly what was happening in the smoker.

The upshot to all of this is that you will probably be safe using oak or hickory in your smoker. But what if your neighbors just cut down their hackberry tree? The list below will help as an unofficial guide to some of the trees native to Indiana and might help you decide whether your neighbor’s tree will be useful to you. There are a few words that describe the strength of the smoke flavor of each type of wood as well as the density of the wood, which is worth taking into account because denser woods burn longer. This guide does not include unreliable information about how “fruity” or “sweet” a particular wood tastes and instead provides an equally unreliable and probably impractical description of the tree itself.

 

Apple – Mild/Medium Smoke

Fairly dense wood. The world’s tallest apple tree only reaches about 40 feet.

 

Beech – Mild Smoke

Dense wood. Thin, blue-grey bark perfect for carving hearts with the initials of you and your sweetheart inside.

 

Cherry – Mild Smoke

Fairly dense wood. Flaky black bark. The black cherry trees that are most common in Indiana woods are not the ones that give you the cherries on top of your ice cream. Black Cherry trees are usually found at the edges of woods as opportunistic trees. Stronger, straighter trees like oaks and hickories usually out-compete cherry trees in older, mature forests.

 

Hackberry – Mild Smoke

About as dense as cherry/mulberry.  Like black cherry, this is another berry tree you’ll find on the edges of Hoosier woods. Has strange wart-like ridges on its bark.

 

Hickory – Strong Smoke

Dense. There are different varieties of hickory, (pecan, listed below, is one of them) but the traditional barbecue smoker hickory is shagbark hickory.

 

Mulberry – Mild Smoke

Wood about as dense as cherry and hackberry. These trees make a lot of edible berries once they are mature. These berries can be a pain to clean up. Do you need to take revenge on your neighbor? Plant a mulberry tree next to your neighbor's driveway and wait ten years for it to mature and bear fruit.

 

Oak – Strong Smoke

Dense wood. Do you ever get the feeling that an oak tree saves up its acorns for years, and then all at once it pelts down an infinity of acorns ? I get that feeling sometimes. Two more oak facts: Red oaks have pointy leaves and white oaks have rounded leaves.

 

Pecan – Medium/Strong Smoke

Dense wood. Closely related to hickory. The pecan tree in your backyard will probably not have the huge pecans you can use for making pies and Chex Mix.

 

Persimmon – Mild Smoke

One of the densest woods native to Indiana. These trees bear fruit but are less annoying than mulberry trees.

 

Sugar Maple – Mild/Medium Smoke

Dense wood. Tap this tree and wait till the weather moves in and out of freezing to collect the sap. Boil the sap and put some Eggos in the toaster because you just made syrup. This tree is also the best-looking fall foliage tree.

 

Walnut –Very Strong Smoke, can be bitter (try mixing with milder wood)

Moderately dense. The black walnut trees common to Indiana drop walnuts that are “technically” edible if you are willing to work through the stinky green husks on the outside of the nut. These trees seem to get their leaves much later in the spring than other trees, and they lose their leaves much earlier in the fall than other trees. If these trees are so put out by making leaves, why do they bother with those big green walnuts? I don’t know except that trees aren’t people, and I shouldn’t judge them like that.

Matt Bastnagel has served barbecue alongside Michael Gomez at many events, and he writes the blog on this website as a way to spread the spirit of Gomez Barbecue and bring more people to our meats.

Introducing Indianapolis Barbecue

A lot about barbecue depends on where you're coming from. Ingredients and preparation methods are understandably important, but geography looms large over the entire process. Sauces, rubs, smoking methods, and cuts of meat mean completely different things if you were making by-the-book Carolina or authentically Texan barbecue. Drill down even further, and you’ll find different barbecue served within Eastern and Western Texas, an equally strong contrast between different regions of the Carolinas, and stalwart connoisseurs who are insistent that their own local barbecue is the true, honest ideal.

Here’s the truth: They’re all great. The barbecue in Charlotte is just as honest and perfect as the meat they serve in Dallas. They all taste delicious.

Indianapolis may not receive as much attention from barbecue lovers, but we have many inspired, hardworking people tending Hoosier smokers and a city full of hungry patrons ready to eat Indianapolis barbecue. Our city does not have the long-furrowed tastes of Eastern North Carolina, Western North Carolina, Alabama, Central Texas, West Texas, South Carolina, Memphis, Kansas City, St. Louis, or Western Kentucky, but we do not need to be held back by well-worn traditions. This city is at the crossroads of America, and while Indianapolis is an amalgam of barbecue tradition, Gomez Barbecue is driven to serve you a unique style of barbecue that satisfies the tastes of this exceptional city.

Along with some accounts of the wonderful people who have given us an opportunity to refine our vision of Indianapolis Barbecue, this blog will include descriptions of the more established regional styles—the members of that barbecue pantheon among which Indianapolis will soon find a place.

Matt Bastnagel has served barbecue alongside Michael Gomez at many events, and he writes the blog on this website as a way to spread the spirit of Gomez Barbecue and bring more people to our meats.