If you have eaten barbecued ribs in Chicago and barbecued brisket in Texas, sweet-sauced pork in Tennessee and smoky mutton in northwestern Kentucky, it is still likely you will be shocked when you taste barbecue for the first time in the eastern half of North Carolina. It is hardly like barbecue anywhere else. But to North Carolinians who love it, this is the only right and good way to cook a piece of pig.
At Parker's in Wilson, not far from Interstate 95 (and in the heart of America's largest antique-furniture mart), throngs of customers come to feast on chopped and minced pork with a luscious, tender texture and a sharp vinegar tang. There is no sauce at all poured onto it, and the meat has none of the smoky pungency of barbecue that has slow-cooked over smoldering oak or hickory for hours. Instead, it is subtle-flavored, its chunks and shreds so pale and delicate that your tongue can savor the true flavors of the butter-tender pork. The vinegar sauce used to accent it is not at all like the ketchupy red stuff used on other kinds of barbecue. It is a subtle dressing designed to add merely a tangy halo of spice to the pork-focused taste experience.The chopped pork is heaped on a plate along with boiled potatoes, corn sticks, slaw and iced tea: a true Tarheel banquet, sold by the plate or family-style to groups who want seconds and thirds. We will warn you that Parker's-style barbecue is not for everyone, especially not for barbecue aficionados who actually like the sweet, red sauce more than they like the meat itself. In this part of North Carolina, the pork's the thing.
Because it doesn't require a six-foot pit in the ground, North Carolina barbecue is just about the easiest variety to fake in a home kitchen and on a back-yard grill. The first thing to do is make the sauce, which will be used to baste the meat as it cooks, then to moisten the chunks of meat just before serving. Our easy recipe for the pork calls for an outdoor barbecue kettle, but it can also be done in an oven broiler, 4 to 6 inches below the broiler element.
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Easy Tarheel Barbecue
(North Carolina Barbecue Sauce)
1 stick butter
1 cup cider vinegar
1 large sour pickle, minced
1 tablespoon minced onion
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon molasses
salt and pepper to taste Combine all ingredients except salt and pepper in a small saucepan. Heat over low flame just long enough to melt butter, stirring frequently. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use sparingly as a basting sauce while pork tenderloin is cooking. Add just enough of the remaining sauce to moisten chopped tenderloin just before serving.
North Carolina Barbecue
2 pork tenderloin strips (about 3/4 pound each)
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons salt
4 strips bacon Rub tenderloins with mixture of peppers and salt. Wrap strips of bacon around tenderloins and secure with toothpicks or string.
Ignite charcoal. When coals are white-hot, move them to the side and place tenderloins on rack NOT directly above coals. Baste with sauce of choice. Cover kettle and cook pork 15 to 20 minutes until it tests done (160 degrees), basting twice. (In an oven broiler, cooking time may be as little as 12 to 15 minutes.)
Remove bacon and discard. Hack pork into shreds or cut into bite-size chunks. Moisten with sauce and serve.