A trail of smoke guided me through a neighborhood to Dreamland Bar-B-Que in Birmingham. The smell of smoke was my lighthouse. White bricks with red lettering were the only sign of decoration to the building. As I walked into the restaurant, license plates and beer signs supplied hints of color to the dark booths and tables. The clientele was a mixture of businessmen and blue-collar workers elbow deep in ribs and conversation.
Behind me, there was a man tending to a plethora of ribs in a brick pit. The smell of wood and meat took me back to my grandparent’s house on a Saturday afternoon. My waiter greeted me and I ordered a rack of ribs and fries. Seconds later, a Styrofoam plate filled with white bread and their signature sauce appeared on the table. Such a humble presentation for the most addictive sauce in the universe; spicy, vinegary, with a tomato base.
Shortly after, ribs and fries were piled in front of me. The ribs were drenched in the signature piquant sauce, crispy at the ends, tender on the inside. I dunked the crispy, perfectly seasoned fries in the sauce (I would have drunk it if I weren’t a lady). Full and content, I gazed outside and there was a haze from the smoke billowing away from the restaurant. As I got up to leave, I noticed the paper that my ribs were served on and it read, “Ain’t nothing like ‘em nowhere.” What an appropriate assertion as I venture through the smoke, wake up and get back to reality. Thank you, Dreamland.
Growing up in Louisiana, every season was barbecue season. The weather was never too cold to throw open the pit, pile on a colossal amount of marinated meat, and let all the flavors socialize for hours under a blanket of smoke. I have watched my grandmother and grandfather (whom I lovingly refer to as paw-paw) barbecue since I can remember. Grandma was like a magician with barbecue. We would drive down her driveway, and I would spot the silver, barrel-like pit next to the house. I knew automatically it was going to be a fantastic day. I would walk into her kitchen and the smell of sweet rolls and smoked meat met me at the threshold. There, on the counter, was a pile of chicken, sausage and brisket that had been covered in a cloud of smoke until perfectly cooked, juicy and scrumptious.
Paw-paw, being the most patient man I know, treated barbecue like a work of art. He would baste the meat every thirty minutes or so with Jack Miller’s Bar-B-Que Sauce to add even more flavor to the meat. The women would be in the kitchen fixing all of the trimmings: potato salad, garlic bread, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, and baked beans. There would be a picnic table with red-checkered tablecloth set up under the oak tree with all of the barbeque and fixings stacked high. That’s how I remember barbecue. The warmth of the pit would be like the warmth of the oven in the kitchen. It brought people together. The barbecue pit was as much of a hearth for my family as the kitchen was.
Recipe: Serves 12
3 racks of baby back ribs
2 slices of bacon
Extra- virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
2 cups of ketchup
1 Tbs. of dry mustard
1 Tbs. of red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 285o
Season ribs and wrap the ribs in heavy-duty aluminum foil and place them on a baking sheet. Cook them low and slow for about 3 hours.
To make the sauce:
Cook bacon on a saucepot until brown. Add onion and garlic. Cook until translucent. Add ketchup, dry mustard and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until all of the ingredients are melded together. Slather the sauce on the ribs when they come out of the oven. Put them back in the oven for 15 minutes until sticky and delicious.