-The rising cost of hardwood can make it extremely expensive to continuously smoke large quantities of meat.
-Health codes make it extremely difficult to nearly-impossible to build and/or refurbish a traditional Barbecue pit and/or large scale smoker.
-Modern farming practices slaughter pigs at a weight of over 250 pounds, making 100 lbs. pigs and shoats difficult and/or expensive to come by on a consistent basis. Smoking a 250+ pound hog is extremely difficult.
As a result of these three aspects, whole hog Barbecue is few and far between and many restaurants have switched from traditional Barbecue smokers and pits to electric and gas smoking/cooking methods. As a result, many critics argue that Barbecue is a dieing art (Robb Walsh cites Lexington, NC, ground zero of East Carolina Barbecue, having only 4 of 21 Barbecue joints using wood to cook their meat as a great example). At the same time, traditional means of smoking meat has taken root with a younger generation, hence the argument for a Renaissance.
On the Renaissance side of the equation is the fact that Barbecue of the South has finally began to garnish the culinary respect that it deserves. For an example of this respect, we need not look any further than a modest establishments such as Jones Bar-B-Q Diner receiving a prestigious award from the James Beard Foundation.
On a unusually cool and pleasant Saturday in July, we took a drive through the endless agricultural fields of the Arkansas Delta to Marianna, Arkansas to try some of this famed Barbecue. Jones doesn’t serve anything but pulled pork shoulder and slaw. No beans or other sides are available. Our pulled pork sandwiches arrived promptly and were served between two slices of sandwich bread.
Taste: Simplicity is king with regards to Barbecue. Similar to Helen’s Barbecue in Brownsville, it appears that Mr. Jones does little more than rub the meat with salt and let the magic of smoke do the rest. The meat has a very light, delicate flavor, yet maintains excellent depth.
Texture: For my personal preference, I found the meat to be just a little “mushy”, however, we all agreed that the depth of flavor more than made up for it. Our particular servings were a little short on bark, but the few pieces of bark that I got were excellent.
Color: Like the taste, the barbecue had simple, consistent coloring.
Sauce: The sauce here was more akin to East Carolina than Memphis with strong hints of vinegar. We all agreed that it was a masterful concoction.
After a second round of sandwiches, we each ordered a pound to go and, upon asking, got a short tour of the charcoal and pit facility.