aka Remus Powers
BBQ Hall of Famer
Photos courtesy of Ardie Davis
…I have been present at gatherings of people who…are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics, law of entropy. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: ‘Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?’
– C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures (1959)
C.P. Snow’s “two cultures” essay provoked conflicting viewpoints then, in 1959, and now, almost 60 years later. Snow lamented that arts people knew little or nothing about science, and that science people knew little or nothing about the arts.
How much water does Snow’s essay hold today? Go online for current opinions.
Are there two barbecue cultures today?
Do practitioners of the art of barbecue know much about the science of barbecue? Do barbecue scientists know much about the art of barbecue? Is asking a barbecue artist to explain The Stall like asking a barbecue scientist, “Have you read works by Julia Child, James Beard, Craig Claiborne, M.F.K. Fisher, or James Lee Burke?”
Barbecue Artists cook meat the old-fashioned way in a hardwood/charcoal-fired pit with few if any lo-tech or hi-tech gadgets—just fire, meat and smoke, orchestrated with the artist’s signature seasonings, cooking style and presentation, which will vary from one plated feast to another. They value poetic license, luck and magic.
Barbecue Scientists bring a toolkit full of as much scientific research and gadgets as will fit in their pit or premises. They emphasize precision, conscientious attention to all meat, seasoning and cooking details, plus precise records on what works and doesn’t work. I have yet to meet a barbecue scientist who entirely rules out luck and magic. Both cultures value barbecue excellence.
Which culture are you in?
Are you a Barbecue Scientist or a Barbecue Artist? Odds are, you are both. There’s a middle ground, mixed with art and science. Most of us straddle both cultures, with one foot in each.
If you run barbecue restaurants, cater, engage in big-time competition, or do all three, the use of scientific methods and a scientific understanding of meats, heat, seasonings and all variables within your control should be important to you—plus a science-basedmarketing platform for reaching and keeping your targeted demographic with a consistent, appealing mix of aesthetics and flavors.
If your livelihood doesn’t depend on the consistent quality of your barbecue, you can benefit from barbecue science, but it’s your choice as to how much science you want to learn and put to use. Since barbecue science and art are not mutually exclusive, we each choose the degree to which science and art influences how we cook. The result is a glorious global family of millions of diverse cooks who share an eternal passion for barbecue. If it’s good, we’ll eat it!