I love a big plate piled high with chopped pork barbecue - tender meat redolent with wood smoke, vinegar and sharp cayenne - and sides of hot, crisp hushpuppies, thick, rich Brunswick stew and cool, creamy coleslaw.
When my Dad and brother cook a pig, they cook the whole behemoth - everything but the squeal. Cooking a whole pig over coals is a lengthy process, with an average cooking time of between 10 and 12 hours. My Dad and brother used to cook pigs in lined earth pits but later fashioned cookers from metal drums.
These days barbecue enthusiasts can buy cookers and smokers in a range of price points with every bell and whistle imaginable. Of course, not every one who wants to cook eastern North Carolina style barbecue will want to cook the whole pig. A pork shoulder makes some mighty fine barbecue too.
There are two things critical to good barbecue - the sauce and the method of cooking.
Eastern North Carolina barbecue sauce is simple but piquant, made from apple cider vinegar, crushed red pepper, a pinch of cayenne, a pinch of salt and a dash of tomato sauce. Some people add a little brown sugar to temper the acid of the vinegar.
The best barbecue is pit cooked, but the reality is that this method isn't always practical. Unless you're planning on a big gathering, cooking a whole pig is obviously impractical. Good thing the same flavor can be achieved with a gas or charcoal grill and smoked wood chips.
Traditional Eastern NC Barbecue Sauce
1 gallon apple cider vinegar
1 1/3 cup crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
4 ounces of tomato sauce
1/4 cup salt
Mix the ingredients and let stand for at least 4 hours before use.