The Great Barbecue Debate
Two days a week, Ralph Miller, fifty-seven, blinks his eyes open at 3:30 a.m., rolls out of bed, and drives up I-77 to his famed restaurant, Bubba's Barbecue. By now, the meat has been cooking for more than ten hours. He turns off the wood box and sets to work, pulling warm pork from the stainless steel pit. Miller and his crew pick and carve the meat by hand, then season it with crushed red pepper. Mmm.
Southerners love good pork barbecue, and many locals swear Bubba's serves the best. Yet a few old-time traditionalists don't consider Miller's signature dish to be barbecue at all.
Go online to foodie Web sites such as chowhound.com and you'll find plenty of 'cue connoiseurs who will tell you that if it's not cooked over live, open flames, then it's just not barbecue.
That doesn't sit well with Miller, who cooks with an electric pit, using a wood box only to add smoky flavor. Miller says that tending a live fire for eight hours would be needlessly time consuming.
Lynn Lathan, an environmental health supervisor with the Mecklenburg County Health Department, has additional concerns. When meat lingers between 45 and 145 degrees, it can breed bacteria. "We don't want something to be cooked so slowly that it incubates pathogens," she says.
To keep it safe, Miller measures the temperature of his 'cue frequently. He also flash freezes the meat and reheats it to order in a convection steamer, keeping it pathogen free.
Finding the real thing, per the traditional definition, requires a trip outside of the Queen City limits. But Miller stands by his modern methods. "My logic is, as long as the end product is good, you might as well cook the safe and legal way."