Southern barbecue pork lovers split over short and sweet or slow and sharp sauce

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The Independent US

They have a thing about tradition in the Deep South, and one of the best-loved traditions is barbecued pork. Nowhere is the love of slow-cooked pork, smoked for half a day over chips of oak and hickory, greater than in the state of North Carolina.

They have a thing about tradition in the Deep South, and one of the best-loved traditions is barbecued pork. Nowhere is the love of slow-cooked pork, smoked for half a day over chips of oak and hickory, greater than in the state of North Carolina.

But temperatures are suddenly rising among aficionados over whose barbecue is better. Is it the eastern half of the state, where they serve the meat in a simple but sharp vinegar-based sauce, or is it the west, where they add ketchup and ginger ale?

A gentle rivalry has existed for decades between the two methods: the traditional line of division between the two styles is known as the "Gnat Line", an invisible barrier that separates the sandy soil that attracts mosquitoes to the east and the denser, clay soil of the west. In North Carolina folklore, this line has taken on the importance of the Green Line between Greek and Turkish Cyprus.

But rivalry has intensified as the result of a new bill, put up by three state legislators, that proposes making the annual barbecue fair in the western city of Lexington North Carolina's "Official Barbecue Festival". Not only would the designation be used to attract tourists to a city that already claims to have the world's highest per capita concentration of barbecue consumption, but it would have officially said that western barbecue was better.

Pork lovers in the east reacted with outrage. As columnist and barbecue authority Dennis Rogers wrote in the News and Observer in the eastern city of Raleigh: "People who would put ketchup in the sauce they feed to innocent children are capable of most anything."

Commentators have suggested that the whole debate and the passion it arouses tells you much about North Carolina. They point out that people in South Carolina are content to enjoy an across-the-state sauce that uses mustard as the main flavouring. Tennessee, famous for its Memphis-style barbecue, uses a sweet, tomato-based sauce.

North Carolina, by contrast, appears to have a split personality - a division as marked as the landscape that stretches from the remote and wild Smoky Mountains in the west to the flatter land of the east, running all the way to the Atlantic coast. One thing that appears to unite east and west is the need to use real smokers rather than the gas or electric barbecues that are now so common.

Rick Monk, who with his father runs the Lexington Barbeque restaurant, long recognised as one of the state's finest, told the IoS: "I'm not going to say that our western style is better. What I will say is that what matters is how you cook it - if you use real wood fires. We cook our pork shoulders for 10-12 hours a day." Bruce Jones, whose family has owned the Skylight Inn restaurant in the eastern city of Ayden since 1830, agreed with his western rival on this point: "The wood is what gives it the taste."

EAST V WEST: WHOSE PORK'S BEST?

Western North Carolina Sauce:

2 cups cider vinegar

1 cup ginger ale

1/4 cup pepper flakes

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

3 tablespoons ketchup

Salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste

Mix together and pour on pork.

Eastern North Carolina Sauce:

1 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons salt

1/2 teaspoon red pepper

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Preparation: Combine all ingredients and leave to stand at least four hours... but preferably four weeks.

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