Barbecue kings!

John Birmingham writes from Australia:

Even, and this is gonna hurt, the Americans have it all over us when it comes to cooking with fire, iron and tongs. In fact it’s arguable the American barbecue, or rather its plethora of regional variations on barbecue, set the gold standard worldwide for applying heat to meat while out of doors. While the popular image of American cooking, at least as practised by average Americans, involves squeezing a plastic sauce packet over something nasty in a chain restaurant, the truth is their barbecue specialists would put ours to shame. Undying, unutterable shame.

Alas, John, it is so. I have eaten barbecue all over the U.S. and the world, and the kings of the genre are in this country. Not in my part of it; I’m a Boston-born northerner and most barbecue where I live is as bland and bad as you describe. As a general rule in the U.S. the further south you go the better the barbeque gets, with the acme reached in south Texas. (Though the area around Memphis, further north, is a contender.)

Internationally, almost nobody even competes with the Southern U.S. for the barbecue crown. Brazilian churrasco is the one exception I can think of – that stuff can give good ol’ Texas ‘cue a run for its money. But you ex-British-Empire types aren’t even properly in the running. I’ve been to a backyard braai in South Africa and, while the spirit was there, the seasoning and cooking technique was sadly lacking, much like what you describe.

American cooking in general gets a bad rap internationally that it doesn’t deserve. It’s as though foreigners think it’s still 1965 here or something. I can remember a time in my childhood when the slams were richly deserved — heck, I remember returning here from Europe in 1971 and having to wait more than a decade before I saw a decent piece of bread! But Americans got a clue about food in the 1980s and haven’t lost it since. I learned this when I was traveling intensively around the turn of the century; most places I visited, even the “high-quality” food was inferior to what I ate at home.

UPDATE: I suppose it’s worth noting that Brazilian-style churrascarias have become the most recent high-end restaurant fad in the U.S., suggesting that other Americans generally agree with me that the style competes well with native ‘cue. Sadly, Korean barbecue failed to become naturalized here when that was tried in the 1990s.

145 thoughts on “Barbecue kings!

  1. I would stack the best of Korean barbecue with American and Brazilian. Otherwise strong agreement.

  2. I’d say Korean barbecue is about the best of the second string, Internationally – not as good as the best Southern U.S, but pretty damn tasty and way better than the northern U.S. norm.

  3. Is it really necessary to eat all that meat? Good God, 32 oz of pig at one sitting? Haven’t you guys heard of vegetables?

  4. Of course we’ve heard of vegetables….after all the pigs and cows have to eat something….

  5. I find it quite sad that I live in Seattle where you can find the best of any kind of food you wish, with a major exception for barbeque. There are 3.3 million people here and not one has decided to open a good barbeque restaurant. In the northernly states of Idaho and Montana, good barbeque is easy to find. So perhaps it is the republicans that make excellent barbeque?

  6. Yeah, from about 1945 to 1980 the United States was in the grip of the most massively bad food….and (proportionally) almost no one who lived here knew it, particularly in the WASP demographic. If you can dig up a copy of the book “Monstrous Depravity” by John Gould, you can see a perspective on it from about 1960 from someone born before the war and who lived in rural Maine. Like many odd things in the US, I suspect it was partly backlash from war rationing and the re-industrialization of the US. As one friend put it: “My dad could have gotten his new car in 1950 without an axle and he probably still would have been happy to have it, so wonderful it was to be able to actually buy things again”. I suspect the same applied to food.

    I’d argue that is is something we can actually thank the %^*&^% boomers for….as hippies they started to explore alternate food choices and ethnic cuisine. Later some of them became foodies, and their demand for better options seemed to start the process of developing a market for more tasty food choices.

    I still remember the horror that was 1970′s ice cream in the US. yuck.

  7. >Later some of them became foodies, and their demand for better options seemed to start the process of developing a market for more tasty food choices.

    Exactly. I lived through this transition in the early 1980s, with the trend being driven by people who were 5 to 10 years older than me.

  8. >So perhaps it is the republicans that make excellent barbeque?

    I dunno about Republicans, but I have noticed that the quality of a region’s barbecue is closely correlated with the percentage of people who routinely carry firearms. No, I’m not joking!

  9. esr says:
    >but I have noticed that the quality of a region’s barbecue is closely
    > correlated with the percentage of people who routinely carry firearms.

    Well duh! Obviously barbecue needs really fresh meat.

  10. lgbr:

    You can’t find decent BBQ in Seattle? Have you’ve tried the usual BBQ suspects there: Bourbon & Barbeque Grill in Fremont and Smokin’ Pete’s BBQ in Ballard. Or even Dixies (“Have You Met The Man?”), which was good when I lived in the region but I’ve heard claims since that suggest that it may have gone downhill.

    If you’re willing to drive a few hours or find yourself in Vancouver, Canada for some other reason, look up Memphis Blues BBQ. It is the only decent BBQ joint in the area, but I think it’s very good.

  11. >Is it really necessary to eat all that meat?

    Well, since you ask, no. But most sex isn’t ‘necessary’, either.

  12. # esr Says:
    > Well, since you ask, no. But most sex isn’t ‘necessary’, either.

    Sure, but sex is good for your health, big hunks of sauce covered meat: not so much.

  13. John Dougan:

    Thanks for the tips. I guess I haven’t spent that much time on the north end.

  14. There’s nothing I won’t attempt to BBQ. If I don’t know how to make it on a BBQ, I’ll experiment until I have success. (I’m still failing with broiled scallops.)

    On an everyday basis I use a Weber gas grill. From March ’til October, we never use the kitchen stove or oven. I prefer the charcoal, overwhelmingly, but it’s just not practical for everyday use. I have a (Weber) kettle BBQ, which I only use as extra capacity when I “throw” a BBQ for guests.

  15. >Sure, but sex is good for your health, big hunks of sauce covered meat: not so much.

    What a sad victim of vegetarian propaganda you are! :-)

    The refutation of this absurd notion is written in our biology – specifically, our dentition and the conformation of the human digestive tract. If you compare it to those of other mammals, it is *extremely* clear that we’re designed as unspecialized omnivores, like bears. In fact vegetarianism is only possible for human beings because we’ve spent 4000 years breeding high-calorie food crops that didn’t exist in the ancestral environment. Hell yes, large hunks of meat are good for you – in fact, over most of the lifetime of our species it’s been that or starve to death, and still would be over much of the Earth’s surface but for artificial heating; vegetables just can’t supply enough energy density for cold climates.

  16. More of a tangent, really, but Korean bulgogi, eaten on a leaf of lettuce with rock salt, has a certain primitive rightness about it that escapes the written word.

  17. Eric, check out a book called The China Study.

    In general, vegetarians live about three to four years longer than heavy meat eaters when other factors are corrected for. The root data gathering for this? People living in Western China and Northwestern China. Places with cold climates, short growing seasons and dry winters, and many of them are vegetarians due to both economic necessity (animal products are expensive) and religion.

    They have lower instances of most of the things that kill Americans…and Americans eat WAAAAAY more meat than is generally healthy for them.

    Me, I’m generally a low-meat omnivore. You KNOW I’m not preaching vegetarianism.

  18. In this age of good American food, how do the awful chain restaurants stay in business? What ghastly blot in our culture gets people to eat salt and grease within the particleboard walls of the Olive Garden? Do similar horrors blight the landscape of other countries?

  19. >In general, vegetarians live about three to four years longer than heavy meat eaters when other factors are corrected for. The root data gathering for this? People living in Western China and Northwestern China. Places with cold climates, short growing seasons and dry winters, and many of them are vegetarians due to both economic necessity (animal products are expensive) and religion.

    Much of this may be due to the fact that many meat-eaters do eat more than is good for them, at least when mated with a modern level of physical activity. Eating as much meat as a nomad of 8000 BCE while living the life of a desk worker today, exercise routines or not, can’t really be good.

  20. >> Hell yes, large hunks of meat are good for you
    As you admit, in the ancestral environment, the limiting factor for human survival was consuming enough calories to survive. This is obviously untrue for us modern humans. Additionally, evolution primarily selects for decreased mortality early in life. If you are post-menopausal, for instance, your survival would probably contribute negligibly – even negatively – to the propagation of your genetic line. So appealing to the ancestral environment fails, because the answer to the question “What can keep me from dying of starvation at age 30?” does not answer the question “What can keep me from dying of cancer and heart disease at age 80?”

  21. I have to agree. After living in SE Asia for 4 1/2 years, I’d pit anything you could buy off the street here against any typical `burb BBQ. There are always exceptions to a sweeping statement, but in this case I would argue they are few. I’m a little biased, I rarely enjoy mixing more than a hint of sweet with savory.

    The Spanish influence (especially in The Philippines) delivers a taste of real chili + cumin smokey goodness at a level that most taste buds can tolerate. Twist in some interesting ingredients from China .. like black vinegar (no, not balsamic, completely different) and you have a very interesting symphony going on with every bite.

    Korean BBQ is also delicious and best accompanied by more delicate pickled dishes like kimchi.

  22. esr Says:
    > What a sad victim of vegetarian propaganda you are! :-)

    Ah, Eric, what a sad victim of “stuck in the past” you are. Caveman is so over, it is time to apply strategies for the modern world.

  23. > Ah, Eric, what a sad victim of “stuck in the past” you are. Caveman is so over, it is time to apply
    > strategies for the modern world.

    Exactly, when we’re no longer born with incisors, its probably because the world ran out of meat.

  24. What a sad victim of vegetarian propaganda you are! :-)

    I know you’re being facetious here, but she may have simply been referring to preparing meat with vegetables.

    I know I can’t readily consume large amounts of meat on its own, but wrap some bread and veggies around it and I’ll scarf it down. Aside from the obvious (to Americans) method of doing so, the trusty hamburger, I’ve recently become fond of the Mediterranean approach: the gyro, the shawarma, the donner-kebab. There’s even a variation (called simply a donair) that is peculiar to certain parts of Canada that I hear is particularly delicious.

    In this age of good American food, how do the awful chain restaurants stay in business? What ghastly blot in our culture gets people to eat salt and grease within the particleboard walls of the Olive Garden?

    It’s called marketing.

    Americans tend not to design for elegance or even utility, but for marketability. It’s all about finding the nerve centers of desire and tweaking them in order get people to buy and increase profit margins. For dining, that means food that’s rich in salt, sugar, and/or fat and so is overwhelmingly flavorful.

    It’s the same reason why our cars suck, except there the tweak factors involve overwhelmingly powerful engines and overmassive frames. Virtually no one needs to drive Bigfoot to work each morning, but everyone wants to, and the fact that one guy commandeers a land behemoth means that everybody else on the road feels they need to in order to compete/feel safe, resulting in a race to the bottom.

    Do similar horrors blight the landscape of other countries?

    Yes, but they are mainly American exports.

  25. The refutation of this absurd notion is written in our biology – specifically, our dentition and the conformation of the human digestive tract.

    it’s been that or starve to death, and still would be over much of the Earth’s surface but for artificial heating; vegetables just can’t supply enough energy density for cold climates.

    Forward-looking, stereoscopic vision is also indication of an evolved predator. Meat is a staple of the human diet.

    However, even with a high-protein meat diet, humans never evolved *physically* to withstand going beyond the subtropics without the aid of technologies (i.e., clothing, fire, and shelter).

  26. >the answer to the question “What can keep me from dying of starvation at age 30?” does not answer the question “What can keep me from dying of cancer and heart disease at age 80?”

    True, but the “diet” answer we’ve all been trained to leap for doesn’t hold up under actual experimental examination, Ken’s “China Study” notwithstanding. When you control properly for variables including the genetic mix of the population, dietary effects almost disappear. Yes, yes, American Indians still get absurd levels of diabetes on a Western diet and so forth, but that’s exactly why the diet of ancestral adaptation is still relevant despite Jessica’s airy dismissal. You can’t even feed milk to 75% of the world’s population because they don’t secrete lactose.

    The smart thing to do is figure out what most of your ancestors ate and try to replicate that – it’s probably what you’re adapted for, within general human omnivorousness. I’ve been consciously applying this heuristic since about 1973; my diet includes a lot of meat, a preference for leafy and green vegetables over starchy ones, and very little processed sugar or heavily procssed foods in general (I basically don’t touch anything with HFCS in it). This seems to have served me very well.

  27. For dining, that means food that’s rich in salt, sugar, and/or fat and so is overwhelmingly flavorful.

    What? It is inedible. Who likes this stuff? How did they get that way?

  28. The nice thing about living in Arizona, I BBQ year-round. I have a combo grill, that has a gas side, with burner and a charcoal side. I even added a fire box for ‘real’ barbecue. In fact, for Thanksgiving, I’ll be smoking a turkey. :-) I used Steven Raichlen’s ‘Barbecue! Bible’ to inspire my own recipes. It is a collection of food, drinks, side dishes and desserts from around the world, using everything imaginable. Our favorites from the book are matambre (beef roll with peppers, boiled egg, cheese and kielbasa) and Thai Chicken sates (the chicken is marinated in coconut milk, turmeric, garlic and lime juice) served in lettuce leaves with a homemade Thai peanut sauce. I cook entire meals on my rig, from the main course, to the veggies and most side dishes, even grilled bread.
    @Jessica, there is a vegetarian section in the book. You may want to check it out.

  29. >Yes, but they are mainly American exports.

    I have bad news for you. American chain-restaurant food is often better than what you can get at street level in Europe. The ingredients are better quality, for one thing – you’d be shocked at what passes for a salad in, say, Denmark. Try finding fresh orange juice anyhere outside the U.S. and you’ll find out you…usually can’t. Things we take for granted, like high-quality fresh mushrooms and well-marbled meat, are elsewhere specialty items available only in small quantities at gourmet restaurants. There are some exceptions – European bread is still generally way superior to American at comparable price and availability levels, European chocolate likewise – but they’re growing more isolated.

    Having said this, I’ll note that it’s a development of the last couple of decades. A couple months ago, my wife and I went to a “retro” restaurant called the Barbecue Pit that has deliberately retrained the menus, ambience, and style of 1955-1971. It was authentic, all right – and awful. Eating the same food, unfiltered through memories from when we didn’t know any better, was actually a rather nasty experience.

    I’ll also qualify this by admitting that my notion of American “chain restaurant” may not be representative. I have foodie tendencies and avoid places like Olive Garden and Red Lobster by instinct; in my notion of “chain”, Outback and Le Bon Pain are at the lower end of the continuum. And I haven’t even set foot in a McDonalds, much less eaten their alleged food, since 1974.

  30. My aunt recently spent some time in Italy, and even went to an Italian cooking school. And you know what she said? The Italian food you can get here in the states is actually better than that in Italy. It sounds impossible to believe but it is true.

    And don’t be such a snob. Olive Garden is actually quite tasty, and Buca de Bepo is delicious.

    Why does everyone seem to think that if something is a chain restaurant it must somehow be bad? This is merely an ignorant stereotype.

    If these chains were really that bad they would disappear.
    Here in Louisville we have excellent barbeque btw.

  31. esr Says:
    > The smart thing to do is figure out what most of your ancestors
    > ate and try to replicate that

    Seriously? Just because great grandpa did it that makes it right? I guess I kind of see where you are coming from: our bodies have evolved a particular diet and so we should eat that way, however don’t you give any credence to the advances in modern technology that allows us to eat much better food that the capricious diet of our forefathers? Our reproductive systems are designed to produce as many babies as possible, starting with puberty. The environmental circumstances dictated that that was the right thing to do. I presume that you are not opposed to birth control, and that you are in favor of preventing teenage pregnancy?

    You sound like one of those people who think that if something is “natural” then it is necessarily good. I reject that Luddite argument completely. Technology, including food technology and sex technology makes the world a better place.

  32. So what’s your opinion on caloric restriction? Our ancestors (even recent ones) ate much less than we do now.

    ESR says: I agree that the caloric-restriction folks may have a point. But I’m a little more skeptical since I found out that to get good metabolic effects from caloric restriction you have to skim really close to the edge of actual starvation, enough so to interfere with reproductive capacity.

  33. >You sound like one of those people who think that if something is “natural” then it is necessarily good.

    You should know me better than that by now. Diet is a special case, because what’s good for us is usually what our ancestors coevolved with. Usually, not always — it would be silly, for example, to live with goiters because our ancestors didn’t get enough iodine.

  34. David Brin has noted that, since we already live so long compared to other mammals, it’s likely that the metabolic switches activated by caloric restriction in mice have already been thrown in humans.

    ESR is talking about what diet is good for an individual. It sounds like JessicaBoxer might be talking about what diet is good for human civilization in the long term.

    I was cajoled into going to Olive Garden the other day.

    I ordered “Caprese bread” on the theory that it could not be made without fresh ingredients. This dish should be simply bread topped with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. (This delicious combination, and a variant with brie, seems to be a café staple in at least London and Paris.) What I got was Domino’s-style bread and cheese, topped with canned tomatoes and dried basil. And, of course, enough salt to hurt the tongue and enough grease to hurt the gut.

    I also ordered gnocchi soup; it was obviously straight out of a can, and it had only two pieces of questionable gnocchi in the whole flavorless bowl.

    For less money, I could have had home-made soup and food with fresh ingredients (organic and local, too, though I’m not that picky), at a good local restaurant. Furthermore—and I say this purely for the snob-value—the surroundings would not consist of vinyl, badly-painted MDF, and loud, ugly child-breeders. So, Darrencardinal, I say that you are off your rocker.

    Cheesecake Factory, another offender though one tenth as severe, has already been discussed here.

  35. David McCabe Says:
    > It sounds like JessicaBoxer might be talking about what
    > diet is good for human civilization in the long term.

    Errr, no, that doesn’t sound like the sort of thing I would say.

  36. One other thing worthy of note, I’m no expert on the statistics, but even if I take your position that all other variables controlled, large consumption of meat is a match for a less meat focused diet, I am reminded that generally speaking all other variables are not controlled. That is to say that barbecue slab of 32oz of meat is accompanied by the beans with huge amounts of sugar, the slaw with piles of mayo, and the large slab of white bread with no fiber to speak of.

    When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

  37. Diet is a special case, because what’s good for us is usually what our ancestors coevolved with.

    Evidence that humans haven’t evolved for a grain diet since the advent of agriculture? Pure conjecture stated as fact yet again. I have lived on a _pure_ meat/vegetable/fruit diet (800g+ of meat every day, and I weigh ~60KG). Yes, this diet is was quite livable for me, and I in fact lost weight in spite of doomsaying to the contrary. However, I then reintroduced grain to my diet, eating a balance of meat, vegetables and grain, and I found that I had considerably more energy than on the previous diet.

  38. I repent of contributing to a tone of righteous indignation in this thread, which is probably unhelpful for discovering truths about good food.

    Regarding your analogy between food technology and contraception: We use contraception because our goals for ourselves are not aligned with natural selection. With food, however, our goal is the same as natural selection’s: for us to be healthy. (We might add addition goals such as pleasure and sustainability, but we seem to be arguing about health here).

  39. Thomas Covallo, there’s evidence that maternal grandmothers contribute to their grandchildren’s survival.

    As for barbecue, I assumed it was tradition that goes back farther than 1980, but mainstream culture didn’t find out about it till recently. No?

  40. >As for barbecue, I assumed it was tradition that goes back farther than 1980, but mainstream culture didn’t find out about it till recently. No?

    Depended on where you lived. If in the rural South or one of its major catchment cities, you probably had a clue. Where you and I live? No, not really. I remember a decent ‘cue place (Audrey’s) opening up in West Philly when I was a student at Penn in the 1970s, and how alien it seemed to the rest of the food culture – this would have been four or five years before the good-food explosion of the early 1980s. It didn’t last long. Northerners weren’t ready yet.

  41. >Evidence that humans haven’t evolved for a grain diet since the advent of agriculture?

    There’s plenty. Where we can observe the transition in the archeological record, the shift from a more meat-intensive diet to a grain-centered one is accompanied by a fall in height and weight and a sharp rise in skeletal indications of deficiency diseases. In pre-Columbian North America, from which we have the most detailed evidence, the populations that underwent this never seemed to quite recover from it.

  42. >When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

    Or you’re like me, and just don’t eat the white bread and mayonnaisey potato salad. Bleh.

    Now, a nice tossed green salad with a light Italian dressing, that would be different. That’s what I *like* with barbecue. Or with anything else meaty, actually. Other excellent accompaniments: cold pickled asparagus or Cuban-style strips of bell pepper.

  43. Indeed, is not Cuban food a wonder? They can take rice and beans and make it good.

  44. >I have bad news for you. American chain-restaurant food is often better than what you can get at street level in Europe. The ingredients are better quality, for one thing – you’d be shocked at what passes for a salad in, say, Denmark. Try finding fresh orange juice anyhere outside the U.S. and you’ll find out you…usually can’t. Things we take for granted, like high-quality fresh mushrooms and well-marbled meat, are elsewhere specialty items available only in small quantities at gourmet restaurants.

    Mmm. I must be living in a different Europe (and I’ve lived in three different countries) than the one ESR regularly visits. Most supermarktets I know have fresh orange juice. Yes, you sometimes won’t find fresh orange juice in a restaurant, but in Europe orange juice is for kids. Adults drink beer or wine with their meals.
    Getting fresh vegetables and good salad is never a problem, as to mushrooms: How much fresher than “picked a couple of hours ago” can you get them?
    The meat is a different story though. US beef is often raised using methods that are not allowed in the EU. Is this stupidity on the part of Europe, or carelessness on the part of the US? Well, that’s another debate.
    That said, I had the best chicken ever in Sicily a month ago. It was obviously from an animal that had been allowed to run around and grow to a larger size than usual. Sometimes old fashioned does taste better.

  45. >Mmm. I must be living in a different Europe (and I’ve lived in three different countries) than the one ESR regularly visits.

    Can’t match that, I’ve only lived in two (the U.K. and Italy); possibly this distorted my sample. There are some things I miss – there was a kind of fish canned in oil, not a sardine but larger and meatier and usually packed fileted, that Italians ate as a snack and I’ve never seen or tasted since – I think someone told me once it was Mediterranean bass. Mmm…pine nuts fresh from the cone. And it took me 35 years after first returning to the U.S. to find American-made chocolate candy that wasn’t a sad joke. (It’s called “Wilbur’s”, and is made not 60 miles from me in PA.)

  46. Nancy: As for barbecue, I assumed it was tradition that goes back farther than 1980, but mainstream culture didn’t find out about it till recently. No?

    ESR: Depended on where you lived. If in the rural South or one of its major catchment cities, you probably had a clue.
    I don’t remember not having access to good barbecue growing up in Houston. The secret, then and now, was in finding the seediest, most run-down joints you could spot. The worse the facility looked, the better the food. Big and brightly lit was a place to stay away from; it’s only in the last 15 years or so, with the rise of places like Austin’s Rudy’s and Houston’s Goode Company, that that’s changed (and the original Goode Company on Kirby Drive in Houston is a bit upscale, in keeping with the neighborhood, but decorated as though it’s not – and tiny, too).

  47. Mmmmm, have you heard of the spanish “parilla”?

    You know, we cook in parillas from long long time ago(before USA even existed), as far as Portuguese (in fact, we are neighbours and share costumes).

    Have you been in the north of Spain(that’s important, the north coast, not the south, that is completely different). We have “parrilladas” with seafood there that are simply delicious. Have you tasted a good “chorizo a la sidra” a la parrilla. If not, you just simply can’t say USA barbecues are the best. We use parillas for everything, from chestnuts to fish to meat.

  48. > American cooking in general gets a bad rap internationally that it doesn’t deserve. It’s as though foreigners think it’s still 1965 here or something.

    The same is true for beer. Yes, we have a lot of lousy megabrew in this country, but nowadays we also have many, many world-class craft beers. Foreign visitors (especially from beer-intensive regions such as the British Isles or Germany) sometimes won’t believe it until they taste it for themselves.

    John Dougan’s suggestion that war-time rationing may have contributed to making food bad reminds me of a theory that our bad beer had its origins in Prohibition — people would drink any kind of swill during and after that unfortunate period.

  49. just don’t eat the white bread and mayonnaisey potato salad

    I should think the mayonnaise (eggs and oil) would be the safe part from your point of view. Admittedly, mayonnaise without a lot of additives (I don’t know if you have an opinion on those) isn’t likely anywhere that isn’t pretty expensive.

    In re caloric restriction: I find it plausible that most of the longevity switches are already in use in people, but I’ll wait for evidence. However, it’s clear that CR optimizes for waiting until there’s enough food for reproduction, not for anything else. Thanks to human variation, there are a few people who like living that way, and maintain it for the long haul.

    CR isn’t consistent with any serious amount of exercise.

  50. >> Mmm. I must be living in a different Europe (and I’ve lived in three different countries) than the one ESR regularly visits.
    > Can’t match that, I’ve only lived in two (the U.K. and Italy); possibly this distorted my sample.

    I’ve lived in Italy, and I never had any trouble eating really well. Not beef, mind, because good Italian meat is very hard to find and expensive, and I was a student, but the salami, the ham and other pork produce are fantastic. And also the wines. And the cheeses. And I can also vouch that, if you wanted, you could find plenty of sicilian oranges to make juice with.

    >There are some things I miss – there was a kind of fish canned in oil, not a sardine but larger and meatier and usually packed fileted, that Italians ate as a snack

    The ‘pedia suggests the European Seabass (redirected from Mediterranean Seabass) is called bronzino, branzino or spigola in Italy. We Spanish speakers would call it róbalo.

    And of course, going back to the topic, I’d have to mention Argentine asado, if only because we think it’s the best in the world. Tried it?

  51. Ah! Barbecue! I am, literally, a barbecue master. When it comes to barbecue, I am an A-lister. No, no. I don’t mean cooking with that flavor-killing propane those weird suburbanites cook with. Yuck. I cook on wood and/or charcoal. No, no, not that Kingsford compressed sawdust garbage filled with odd, cancer-causing, flavor destroying chemicals, I mean lump charcoal — fired pieces of hardwood. You’ve never had barbecue until you’ve had barbecue that’s cooked over a wood fire.

    My Thanksgiving turkey will be smoked on my offsite-firebox barrel-style grill/smoker. It will be tender and juicy, not dry and nasty. (I live in Florida where doing such things without freezing your ass off is possible). With a nice hickory finish. Mmmmm.

    I also cook medium rare steaks (fillet and New York strip, mostly and some sirloin), glazed swordfish, pork ribs, Gulf jumbo shrimp, chicken, tilapia, grouper….mmmmmmm…. some used in dishes, some plain. (Getting good fresh seafood in Florida isn’t very difficult, I must say)

    As for beer: yes, we’ve got good beer and have had it for a while. There are many very good American microbrews and even mass-produced beer that started out as microbrews (like Sam Adams). I like various German beers, Belgian ales (real Belgian ales, not that crap they sell at the supermarket), English bitters, etc., and I’ve tried many. However, I don’t think the Europeans have anything on us anymore when it comes to beer. By beer I mean real beer, not that piss water Anhaeuser-Busch and Miller Brewing company label as “beer” on their bottles..

  52. # David McCabe Says:
    > I repent …

    I absolve you. :-)

    >We use contraception because our goals for ourselves
    > are not aligned with natural selection. With food,
    > however, our goal is the same as natural selection’s: for
    > us to be healthy.

    Not really true except at a very high level. Our nutritional needs today are completely different than they were in early human history, especially so for men. Additionally, the types of food readily available and the easy access to them we have are also completely different. Eric mentioned later that there is evidence that grain based diets were not sufficiently nutritionally adequate. I don’t know much about that, and he didn’t offer any citations, however, the fact is that today people can survive and flourish on diets of a very narrow restrictions. For example, there are many people who survive eating vegan raw foods only.

    Let me offer an example. In the historical past getting very fat was a good (and rare) thing. Consuming large quantities of food when it was available and using our fat storage mechanisms to release it in times of dearth allowed higher survival rates till the time of conception, and perhaps child rearing. Consequently, our bodies are designed to store fat, and designed to be strongly attracted to food that has a high fat content. (Donuts, mmmmmmh.)

    However, today storing large amounts of fat is quite bad for our health. This is true for four reasons:

    Firstly because we try to live longer than 45, and the damage associated with it (such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, joint damage, cancer etc.) tends to accumulate later in life. Cancer and heart attack death rates amongst the neolithic were undoubtedly very low.

    Secondly, we have a very, very ready supply of very high calorie food. So we can easily store massive amounts of fat for a dearth than never comes. That is why in America the main problem for the poor, without historical precedent, is obesity.

    Thirdly, our caloric requirements are much lower since most people spend most of their lives not moving very much (I am sure there is a significant portion of our population that never runs for more than one minute, not even one time, after leaving high school.)

    Fourthly the type of food we eat today, even on the barbecue, is quite different than we are evolved to eat. Early diets consisted of some meat, lots of fruits and vegetables, and little if any cooking. The barbecue is in a sense the antithesis of our evolutionary digestive tracts.

    Since our bodies are designed for different circumstances, and since fat storage is designed to support those original circumstances, this is the reason why it is so very hard for people to loose weight — they are fighting the basic core mechanisms in their bodies.

    As I say, food technology makes the world a better place. Personally, I look forward to the day when food technology eliminates the need for us to keep and kill animals for our own sustenance.

  53. > Big and brightly lit was a place to stay away from; it’s only in the last 15 years or so, with the rise of places like Austin’s Rudy’s and Houston’s Goode Company, that that’s changed

    As an Austinite, I can say that while Rudy’s is good, it still doesn’t compete with the smaller joints, especially south of town and out west in hill country. The best places are the kind you go to on a Sunday morning in a quiet little town before the Churchy crowd lets out, and you still wait in line for 30 minutes. : )

  54. Clearly, ESR has not been to KC if he can claim that BBQ quality improves as the latitude decreases. The pioneers of KC BBQ came from Memphis, so you’ll find many similarities.

    Anthony Bourdain listed as one of the 13 places you should eat before you die an unassuming joint a half mile from my home, which was where Monsterette 1 had her first job:

    13) Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue (Kansas City, Kansas) People may disagree on who has the best BBQ. Here, the brisket (particularly the burnt ends), pulled pork, and ribs are all of a quality that meet the high standards even of Kansas City natives. It’s the best BBQ in Kansas City, which makes it the best BBQ in the world.

    And Rosedale BBQ down the hill isn’t shabby either. Jack Stack, Zarda, Gates and Bryant’s are all excellent as well. Is it any wonder I’m so damn fat?

  55. Intermittent fasting permits heavy exercise (water fast on rest days), seems to be better for people than caloric restriction, and is tolerable even to foodies; weekly caloric consumption doesn’t really drop much, but body fat percentage does.

  56. Not really true except at a very high level. Our nutritional needs today are completely different than they were in early human history, especially so for men. Additionally, the types of food readily available and the easy access to them we have are also completely different. Eric mentioned later that there is evidence that grain based diets were not sufficiently nutritionally adequate. I don’t know much about that, and he didn’t offer any citations, however, the fact is that today people can survive and flourish on diets of a very narrow restrictions. For example, there are many people who survive eating vegan raw foods only.

    Hey, Jessica: Actually I know quite a bit about this. The differences in our nutritional needs are based mostly on lifestyle and activity levels, not on any sort of evolutionary changes. If you’re very active and do a lot of intense labor (say, you live and work on a working farm), then your caloric needs are going to be much greater than those of us with sedentary office jobs.

    Furthermore, there is real medical evidence that suggests that people who eat strict vegan diets suffer from a number of maladies, most common among them resulting from serious deficiencies in vitamin B12. It is my belief that those who claim to do well on strict vegan diets do so because they do not actually follow the vegan diet very strictly. I’ve known probably at least a dozen vegans and every last one has either admitted to me or has been directly observed by me to be not following the diet.

  57. # Morgan Greywolf Says:
    > people who eat strict vegan diets…
    > suffer from … deficiencies in vitamin B12.

    Oh Morgan, really? Who’s buying the propaganda now. Lack of B12 in a vegan diet is a well known issue that is easily handled by supplementing with tiny amounts of bacteria derived B12. This would be the aforementioned food technology.

    > It is my belief that those who claim to do well on
    > strict vegan diets do so because they do not
    > actually follow the vegan diet very strictly.

    Just because your friends are all cheaters doesn’t mean everyone is. I respect you as an obviously smart person, but you can’t really think this is a serious argument?

    Just as an FYI, I am neither a vegan nor a vegetarian, however, I still think the SAD is absolutely horrible.

  58. I wonder if all good cuisines are internally diverse? Barbecue in particular seems prone to religious debate but maybe that’s only apparent to me because I’m closer to that culture. Beyond the beef/pork divide (we can hardly even discuss those chicken heretics), there’s the critical matter of rubs vs sauces, and sauce-base (tomato, vinegar, mustard at least are options).

    (For the record, as all right-thinking people know, the correct answer is smoked pork/vinegar in the NC style, though I will confess to finding some of the others quite acceptable in a pinch).

  59. BTW, UK people don’t know how to cook. period.

    There are a lot of different countries restaurants there, but living in Scotland, London Dublin and Galway I can tell you, food is so bad, unless you consider food sweets.

    esr, if you want cooking experience in europe go to France, Spain(north), Italy(north too).

  60. “…Personally, I look forward to the day when food technology eliminates the need for us to keep and kill animals for our own sustenance…”

    Logically, you would then advocate going out and hunting, should this marvelous fantasy man-made artificial supply chain ever suffer an economic collapse of some sort….? Even if your fantasy comes to fruition, would you then advocate criminalizing my hunting? “Need” is a very subjective thing….all your fantasy world will accomplish is providing a total range of options.

    You have the luxury of choice in your diet. A luxury afforded by the vast logistics of our food supply network (which I don’t begrudge you at all). You don’t have to go too far back in time (< century) to find a time when vegetarianism/veganism would have been a very detrimental choice for your health.

    Personally, I'd like your magical food-supply to provide me with a stock of 2 years-worth of artificial food with a long shelf-life (10 years would be nice), so I could continue to hunt and eat the finest food nature offers, yet have a bulletproof backup should times ever be tough.

    Wild meat is a joy for much the same reasons that home-grown, fully ripened herbs, fruits and vegetables are. A deep, visceral joy….and a source of profound contentment.

  61. 1) I was in Italy a few years back, and everything was good, even the prefab sandwiches at the freeway oasis.

    2) Much of the “science” promoting low-fat diet is based on a handful of data cherrypicked from very limited sources many years ago. A lot of it comes through the “Center for Science in the Public Interest”, which is actually a crypto-vegetarian front group.

    3) Metabolisms vary dramatically between ethnic groups and between individuals. The orthodox “healthy diet” (minimum fat, lotsa carbs) is good for some people and bad for many others, But most physicians and dietitians are locked into it, and won’t even acknowledge it when someone does better on a different diet.

    4) A lot of the alleged diet wisdom is driven by other agendas. Vegetarianism, in the case of the CSPI (noted above). Or a kind of weird asceticism. Ex-FDA head David Kessler has a book out in which he denounces Big Food for selling Americans food that tastes really good. (He also promotes his proprietary, trademarked diet system.)

  62. Neanderthal diet FTW!

    Macro nutrients – 40:40:20 (protein : carb : fat)
    Micro nutrients – fruits & vegetables

  63. Seriously… we’ve gone 50 comments into this whole thread and no-one has helped our poor benighted european friends with how they can make their own delicious barbecue at home?

    For shame people!

    http://anarchangel.blogspot.com/2008/05/recipes-for-real-men-volume-26-hot.html

    I happen to do my smoking in a Landmann Black Dog 42 that I’ve modified slightly. Put an exit chimney on it and seal the seams and even a relatively cheap (for it’s size anyway. It was only $300) smoker like this one can really do the job.

    Or you can do what Alton brown does and make one out of two giant flower pots. Cheap, works, makes good food… what could be better.

  64. @Jessica:

    Oh Morgan, really? Who’s buying the propaganda now. Lack of B12 in a vegan diet is a well known issue that is easily handled by supplementing with tiny amounts of bacteria derived B12. This would be the aforementioned food technology.

    It’s not the only issue. Children are particularly vulnerable to vegan diets and medical evidence has shown stunted physical and mental development in vegan children, even those who have taken B12 supplement. (And remember, my wife is a psychologist!)

    I’m not so sure there is a ‘standard American diet’, but many Americans do eat poorly. Stuffing your face with McDonald’s and lots of junk food is likely to kill you, but I think this is a stereotype more than aanything. Americans as a general rule also take in too many calories. That’s not really a surprise in a country where food is plentiful and cheap; however, it’s a problem that’s easily corrected.

    @Rich: Much alleged “diet wisdom” is the result of people who want to eat everything they want and still lose weight, others really are the result of medical science and logic. The orthodox “healthy diet” is bad for people with diabetes, yes, but it will work for most people.

    Look at it this way: weight loss is a matter of math. It’s a biological engineering problem whose basic equation is expressed as delta(K) = kcalConsumed – kcalBurned. If delta(K) is maintained as a negative value, overt ime weight loss will occur, typically at a rate of 1 lb/week per 3500 kilocalories of shortfall in delta(K). Protein and carbs are 4 kilocalories per gram, alcohol is 7 kilocalories per gram, and fat is 9 kilocalories per gram. Do the math! Fat calories are expensive in your budget.

  65. Oh and in my experience Irish food and English food have also improved dramatically in the last fifteen years (having both lived a not insignificant amount of time in both places). I think it’s primarily the result of four things:

    1. Better quality ingredients being available at lower prices due to more globalized markets

    2. The influences of immigrant culture

    3. The rise in popularity of “celebrity chefs” and food media in general

    4. A renewed appreciation of what is actually GOOD in the traditional “poor peoples food” of both places.

    For example, good beef is certainly to be had in Ireland (though it is expensive); but absolutely spectacular pork, lamb, and salmon are available quite easily.

    Actually all throughout Europe, you can now get really spectacular ham, relatively cheaply (in comparison to the 80s anyway), because the Poles flooded the market with cheap decent quality ham, which caused the italians and spanish (true masters of cured pork products), and even the Germans, to up their volume, and lower their prices somewhat.

    Oh and dried sausages? Spain, Italy, Germany, rural France… I could go for weeks in any of them with nothing but sausage, bread, and cheese and I’d be happy.

  66. admittedly, there seems to have been at least a little evolution towards tolerating carbs. certainly the populations that have been eating grains for 10,000 years don’t seem to be affected quite as badly as those that have only gotten them in the last 500 or so (american indians, eskimos, australian aborigines, etc.). that said, 10,000 years of grain isn’t much compared to one to three million years of mixed meat and fruit.

  67. Seriously… we’ve gone 50 comments into this whole thread and no-one has helped our poor benighted european friends with how they can make their own delicious barbecue at home?

    I already did, it just looked like I was bragging. You need wood and/or lump charcoal. A decent smoker/grill with an offset firebox this one can be had for about $100 in the U.S., and works quite well even if it is a little on the smallish side. You can even make one out of a couple of steel barrels and some wire grate if you are enterprising enough. Some knowledge about how fast or slow you should cook various meats to get the flavor you want. A lot of patience and practice.

    Basically, grilling is fast cooking. Smoking is slow cooking. Barbecuing is usually somewhere in between the two. You learn how to control the fire by modifying the amount and type of wood and charcoal you are using. It isn’t rocket science, but takes more skill than one might think if one has never done it before.

  68. It should be pointed out that Eric doesn’t drink alcohol voluntarily…and is either allergic to cheese or intensely dislikes it. So talking about brie or beer to him is almost as alien as say, advocating proprietary software. He’ll think you are, at best, delusional. :)

    What I’ve noticed is that if I have a meal that’s heavy in carbs, I get very sleepy within 30-45 minutes. Same size meal that’s mostly meat and cheese? The sleepiness doesn’t get me. Eating a bowl of rice with some chickpeas is a reliable way for me to ‘put myself under’ to adjust my sleep schedule.

  69. Some cultural groups most definitely have evolved different metabolisms.

    Americans consume volumes of food that are almost ludicrous, and when that food is high in fat (like bbq) we get fat.

  70. Morgan Greywolf Says:
    > Children are particularly vulnerable to vegan diets

    Children are completely different than adults in their nutritional need. I wasn’t talking about children at all.

    > I’m not so sure there is a ’standard American diet’, but
    > many Americans do eat poorly.

    SAD, is a pretty standard term in nutrition. I don’t think it is precisely defined, but it means roughly, large amounts of red meat, sugar and fat. Insufficient vitamins.

    >Look at it this way: weight loss is a matter of math.
    > delta(K) = kcalConsumed – kcalBurned.

    I’m afraid it is nowhere near that simple. Not all calories are necessarily absorbed, and different types of calories are converted to fat and/or energy at different levels of efficiency. Additionally, there is a complex relationship between calories consumed and calories burned (for example, if you are fatter, you take more calories to move around, and if you are fatter you are less inclined to move around.)

    Personally, I think the whole “number of calories in a snickers bar” is extremely deceptive.

  71. Why has no-one mentioned Carolina BBQ? In my unbiased opinion, it is the best.

    But seriously, what do all of you “experts” think about it?

  72. >But seriously, what do all of you “experts” think about [Carolina BBQ]?

    I’ll eat it, and enjoy it. But I don’t like it as much as Texas-style slow-cooked ribs, or Oklahoma burnt ends.

  73. Carolina barbecue? It’s not bad, but it’s not barbecue to this Texan. Gimme beef with a good, high-potency tomato-based sauce. Pork isn’t bad, but it ain’t beef. Vinegar is just too wimpy, and if I want sweet, I’ll eat a piece of cheesecake for dessert.

  74. >Gimme beef with a good, high-potency tomato-based sauce.

    My preferences differ from yours, Jay. Beef is fine and I like it but for me the center of the Texas ‘cue experience is pork ribs. And my only quibble with the Texas style is that I think it leans on sauces a bit too much – they can obscure the taste of the meat. Really, the ideal for me would be a combination of Texas-style slow cooking with a spicy dry rub a la Memphis. But these are matters on which reasonable men may differ.

    In truth, for beef I think I prefer the minimalist Brazilian style. Though I’m not a purist about that, either; I’ll put hot sauce on Brazilian beef if it’s one that doesn’t fight with the taste of the meat, a move churrasco traditionalists would disdain.

  75. Barbecue a “genre”? Ouch. Best leave that language-mangling to the cultural studies types for

    I can’t be the only Australian chortling a little at this. I’m sure Birmingham (who writes for The Monthly, a “progessive” magazine) will be enjoying his increased readership thanks to Eric.

  76. Generally speaking in Europe the “Latin/Catholic” countries have better food than the “Germanic/Protestant” ones. I’ve lived both in Belgium and in the Netherlands, and I now live in Switzerland, more or less on the Latin/German divide. The differences in attitudes towars food are quite significant. In a Catholic Italian family a housewive will try to put the best food possible on the table on a sunday. In a Dutch Reformed family however they won’t even cook on a sunday, as it’s considered working.

    But there are also a lot of other factors at play. Don’t confuse “lack of what you’re used to at home” with “lack of availability of quality food”. When I hear and american complaining about the lack of his favorite softdrink in a European restaurant my first thought is “why does an adult want a softdrink with his meal?” :-).

    You won’t find big steaks in Europe, mostly because beef is _expensive_. There are a lot of reasons for that, and the EU is only partly to blame. Anyway, my alltime favorite for BBQ is spare ribs. Most of the people around me however seem to prefer sausages. The Swiss constantly worry about Cervelat shortages.

    Having a good BBQ requires having room. I wouldn’t be surprised if the qualtiy of local BBQ also inversely correlates with population density. Places were detached family houses with big yards are the norm might well have a better BBQ culture than areas where apartments are more common. The latter might have more choices in good take-out food though…

  77. The corollary of the estimated 3-4 years of median life for vegetarians is the quality of those extra years. We can all hope that significant life extension happens…but there’s at least a chance that life extension may either not happen, or will happen with ethical prices that are too high.

    Or that it may happen, but that the repair of wear and tear on the body doesn’t progress at a comparable rate (this is happening now). Do you really want to live to 120 years if your body can’t regenerate cartilage, and you’re walking solely through the use of painkillers?

    But back to BBQ:

    I prefer the western Missouri school of ‘cue. I’ve had Texas ‘cue in Amarillo, and it consistently made me squat with diarrhea two hours later. I also have acid reflux. This puts a premium on not triggering heartburn.

    Used to be, fire in the belly meant a man had ambition. Now, it mostly means I’ve had something with baking soda or peppers.

  78. >Generally speaking in Europe the “Latin/Catholic” countries have better food than the “Germanic/Protestant” ones.

    Agreed, that’s been my observation as well. With perhaps one exception; the Germanic-Protestant ones tend to have more advanced dessert technology :-)

    >Don’t confuse “lack of what you’re used to at home” with “lack of availability of quality food”. When I hear and american complaining about the lack of his favorite softdrink in a European restaurant my first thought is “why does an adult want a softdrink with his meal?” :-)

    Well, in my case, I loathe the smell and taste of alcohol. But I’m not much keener on most soft drinks. One German custom I really like is mixing apple juice with sparkling water, what they call Apfelschorle. And trust me, I wasn’t pining for burgers or something; I grew up in an upper-middle-class family that hopped continents a lot, and my mother is a really superb cook who was willing to learn from local cuisine, so my notion of “good food” is quite a bit more cosmopolitan than that of almost any other American you’re likely to meet.

    Hmmm, actually that’s no longer quite accurate. Nowadays, American foodies in the coastal metroplexes have about caught up with me. But they’re a small elite possessed of some very silly ideas, including a tendency to undervalue American regional food (or, actually, anything American) relative to European cuisine that I think often fails to live up to its hype.

    >I wouldn’t be surprised if the qualtiy of local BBQ also inversely correlates with population density.

    Astute of you. I think this is true.

  79. Ken, would it be worth it to live to be 120 if the last 20 years are getting worse down to very bad, but the first 100 are pretty healthy?

    I’m very concerned about short-run quality of live. I start feeling uncomfortable very fast (within a day or less) if I don’t eat a fair amount of fat, and animal protein seems to work better for me than plant.

    In re cuisines: as far as I can tell, all the great cuisines are from places that don’t have severe winters. *Very* tentative theory: thinking of food as immediate life and death fuel makes you less likely to fine-tune the flavors.

  80. So essentially the Armed and Dangerous tag line needs to become:

    Sex, software, politics, BBQ, and firearms. Life’s simple pleasures…

  81. It should be pointed out that Eric doesn’t drink alcohol voluntarily…and is either allergic to cheese or intensely dislikes it. So talking about brie or beer to him is almost as alien as say, advocating proprietary software. He’ll think you are, at best, delusional. :)

    That’s his problem, not that of the cuisine. Should I have to eliminate a whole category of food from a nation’s heritage from this discussion just because (say) Morgan Greywolf doesn’t like it or is lactose intolerant? What if Eric was vegetarian (ok, we wouldn’t be having this discussion at all, but still)? Do we abandon all discussion of meat-based dishes? What about Indian dishes marinated in yogurth?

  82. That’s his problem, not that of the cuisine. Should I have to eliminate a whole category of food from a nation’s heritage from this discussion just because (say) Morgan Greywolf doesn’t like it or is lactose intolerant?

    I’m certainly not lactose intolerant, and there is very, very little in the way of food that does not appeal to me. Like Eric, my tastes are pretty cosmopolitan; I have regularly enjoyed everything from (very authentic) Mediterranean-style (Greek/Arabic/Maltese) cuisine to Thai, Japanese, (eastern) Indian, etc. Good Mexican,Cuban and Jamaican food are plentiful down here in Florida as well. Jamaican barbecue is to die for! One of these days I’ll figure out how to make my own jerk sauce.

    I know, I know you were just using an example, but I might have left the impression that my tastes are more typical small-town American where they really are not. Not that there’s anything wrong with small-town American food, either. Some of that is pretty good, too. :)

  83. @esr:

    Well, in my case, I loathe the smell and taste of alcohol. But I’m not much keener on most soft drinks.

    Blasphemer! I can’t write a line of code until I’ve wired up with my (diet) Pepsi Max! Or coffee. Espresso or even a nice, mellow Americano will do just fine; but it has to be fresh ground (preferrably by a nice burr grinder) from beans that were roasted within the last week or so to around “full city” level for me. And made by someone with a clue.

  84. @Morgan Greywolf: I just threw a name as a random example, yes. I should have used ‘J. Random Foodie’, perhaps.

  85. We Argentines without means season our asado in two main ways:
    - Just rub some grain salt (by this I mean that the salt crystals are bigger and rougher than those in common table salt) on the meat. If the meat is good, this is the only thing it really needs to bring out the flavor.
    - Add some sauce or what you call ‘rub’. The most popular of these is chimichurri (sp. approx. cheemeechOOrree here).

    I’ve learned to build the fire from wood, but burnt coal is also used. I’m not really very good at it, but I did manage to make one for a birthday which included, along with the usual suspects (sausages, black pudding, ribs, flank steak, matambre) some vegs and fruit wrapped in aluminum foil and put on the grill for a couple of vegetarian friends. Went rather well.

  86. I remember a rather passionate defense of American cuisine in a Nero Wolfe novel, by Nero himself (I think in ‘Too many cooks’). Mentioned several interesting dishes, too.

  87. Morgan Greywolf Says:
    > I might have left the impression that my tastes are more
    > typical small-town American where they really are not.

    This reminded me of a fact that I have observed with vegetarians, and, as a matter of fact, all people who have some extrinsic restriction on their diet (Orthodox Jews being another example.) I have noticed that people in that circumstance are often more adventurous in their experimentation with food. Obviously some of the commentators here are also quite willing to look at off the beaten track food too. However, the saddest part of the “Standard American Diet” is that it is so amazingly narrow. Are there any vegetables besides carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers? Can you put anything in your salad beside iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and “American” cheese? Are there any fruits in the world besides apples, bananas and oranges? If you are into meat, are their any meats beyond beef, pork and chicken? I would bet that 90% of the meals of 90% of the US population consists of ingredients from a list shorter than 20 items.

    I am sure there is some subtle principle of psychology in play here, that I don’t quite understand. It seems the extrinsic restriction causes people to look beyond their limited experience to broader pastures.

  88. But they’re a small elite possessed of some very silly ideas, including a tendency to undervalue American regional food (or, actually, anything American) relative to European cuisine that I think often fails to live up to its hype.

    That’s because, as Jessica stated, the standard American diet suffers from overly narrow scope in addition to being a nutritional disaster. There’s a reason for the obesity epidemic.

  89. Texas? Memphis?

    Apparently you haven’t had Eastern North Carolina barbecue. Cook a whole pig over hickory; season with a mixture of vinegar and hot spices. No tomato products need apply. Absolutely delicious, and not found elsewhere except for a few places where someone moved away from ENC and started a BBQ joint.

    As far as the diet controversy, most people have so little idea what health means in the first place that their views on nutrition range from meaningless to laughable. Folks would be ten times better off if they ate whatever they felt and cut Fear out of their habits. But, since fear is so deeply entrenched into the prevailing medical model, most people don’t even have the equipment to stand back and understand what that means. I have seen intelligent people indicate that they grasped, intellectually, the concept to which I have just referred, and go back within seconds to a fear-based discussion of diet and health, without the least recognition of what they had just done.

    This is not snark; it is a sad situation, not something to feel superior or sarcastic about.

  90. “…If you are into meat, are their any meats beyond beef, pork and chicken?…”

    Sure – duck, goose, pheasant, quail, dove, turkey, squirrel die bastard squirrel, wabbit, venison, horse, snake, gator, shark, tuna, salmons, trouts (a host of other fish and shellfish)….to name but a few ;)

    Yummy yummy.

  91. I mostly blame refined flour and sugar (e.g. HFCS) as the obvious examples of the trend toward cheaper, tastier food, consequence of which should be obvious.

    My most recent experiment was at Outback: teriyaki sirloin, salad, water; full. Bread, teriyaki sirloin, french fries, salad, lemonade; hungry for (and finished) big dessert. Refined carbs, man; yikes.

  92. >Let’s not let things like say, actual data get in the way of our beliefs Eric.

    I’ll have to read the study, but I’ve found in the past that claims like these often ignore confounding variables.

  93. >Apparently you haven’t had Eastern North Carolina barbecue. Cook a whole pig over hickory; season with a mixture of vinegar and hot spices

    I’ve had food that was claimed to be in this style, but I’m skeptical that it was done right. Too much vinegar; it fought with the meat taste.

  94. Reading this, I realise I definitely don’t have a very sofisitcated taste pallette. Chicken loaded with hotsauce is the only meal I really give a damn about. Rice if anything on the side.

  95. The only experience I have with American cooking is the Friday’s diner chain here in Europe, it’s simple but indeed good. My only gripe is the huge portion sizes – I think America should somehow try to drop the “bigger is better” aspect of the culture which is observable in portion sizes, in cars, in houses… it’s unhealthy in all sorts of ways.

    I’ve never understood this sort of thing, to be honest, but it seems to be very old and very traditional, thus very entrenched. The Statue of Liberty is an interesting example because it was made by the French as a present but they’ve never ever made any statue as huge for themselves. So it seems it was well-known even in the 18. century that Americans tend to appreciate bigness.

    It seems to me as if American culture appreciates quantity for quantity’s sake – that there seems to be a kind of enthusiasism about stuff like the biggest/largest/deepest/tallest/most expensive mountain/canyon/building/project/movie/whatever in the world, even when it’s not actually in America. And the same goes for food portion sizes.

    Isn’t this aspect of culture a kind of a bastard child of Enlightenment Rationalism – that you shouldn’t just subjectively like things just because you find them pretty, but also be able prove objectively i.e. by _measurement_ that whatever you like is indeed worthy? And hence the enthusiasm about quantity and size and measurement?

  96. “…I think America should somehow try to drop the “bigger is better” aspect of the culture which is observable in portion sizes, in cars, in houses… it’s unhealthy in all sorts of ways…”
    I think Europe should drop the “nanny knows best” aspect of the culture….it’s unhealthy in all sorts of ways ;)

  97. >The only experience I have with American cooking is the Friday’s diner chain here in Europe, it’s simple but indeed good.

    Yes. Friday’s is a decent middle-of-the-range chain in the U.S. – not to be compared with (say) P.F. Chang’s or Arthur’s Steaks, but far better than grease palaces like the Olive Garden. Not the best American food but it at least gives you some sense of what actual American food can be like.

  98. > In re cuisines: as far as I can tell, all the great cuisines are from places that don’t have severe winters. *Very* tentative theory: thinking of food as immediate life and death fuel makes you less likely to fine-tune the flavors.

    I guess you could check this theory by analyzing what happens when you take people from a warmer/latin culture with a traditioj of fine cuisine and plunk them down in a cold part of the world. The only example of this I can think of offhand is Quebec.

  99. ….or consider the frozen Inuit people that enjoy eating rotten fish heads….

  100. I find the whole concept of “American cuisine” very misleading. It is, after all, a woodchipper-culture of cuisine…..that’s the beauty of America – there’s so much wonderful variety that has been fused and grafted in so many ways.

    Sure, there’s the basic bland pioneer meat’n’potatoes diet, but this exists practically everywhere.

    If there is an ‘authentic’ American cuisine, it may well be jerky.

    Which is godlike-awesome, by the way.

  101. >The only example of this I can think of offhand is Quebec.

    And street-level cuisine in Quebec is awful. Yes, I’ve had a few good meals in Montreal, but…poutines…*shudder*

    After that I understood why the French think Quebecois are rude peasants. The knock on their dialect is undeserved (I think the archaisms are rather charming, myself) but the knock on their taste in food is, alas, justified.

  102. Ms. Boxer:

    “””
    Eric mentioned later that there is evidence that grain based diets were not sufficiently nutritionally adequate. I don’t know much about that, and he didn’t offer any citations,…
    “””

    I don’t have the cites to hand, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seem stuff referenced on http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/ and http://conditioningresearch.blogspot.com/ and on Art Devany’s site before he put up a pay wall.

    The stuff that I’ve seen (which is probably a bit biased by where I’ve looked) suggests that we really *didn’t* have grain based diets until fairly recently, and that even those diets were significantly different than a grain based diet would be today because of the nature both of the grains ( hybrids containing few micronutrients etc) and processing methods (ranging from bleaching etc. to the way things are cooked–long rise yeasts tend to destroy more phytic acid (From wikipedia: Phytic acid is a strong chelator of important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc, and can therefore contribute to mineral deficiencies in people whose diets rely on these foods for their mineral intake, such as those in developing countries) however industrial bread production uses short rise yeasts and bleached/overly process flours etc.

    “…however, the fact is that today people can survive and flourish on diets of a very narrow restrictions. For example, there are many people who survive eating vegan raw foods only.”

    There are also some populations that can thrive on almost no carb/vegetable diets (Inuit eating a traditional diet of basically fresh meat and fat). Researchers who have gone to live with them have reported that after the first couple weeks they felt fine and were able to fuction normally. Those first couple weeks suck though.

    There is more and more evidence that it is not fat that causes health problems like diabetes and CHD, but excessive amounts of sugar and other “unbound carbohydrates” (meaning highly processed corn and wheat based foods with strongly carb based energy sources and low in micro-nutrients).

    There’s also a growing body of evidence that vegetable oils (which in this case really means industrially processed corn oils), which is high in Omega-6s is at least partially a cause of higher levels of LDLs in the blood, and especially the more damaging (again apparently) oxidized LDLs.

    It really seems like the best diet is lean meats (including fish and etc.), fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, a glass of wine and the occasional dark chocolate.

    Couple that with daily exercise of some kind (not “working out”, must moving your body through space in some enjoyable fashion) and that’s probably about as healthy as you’re going to get without genetic revisions.

    Our bodies weren’t designed to be industrial production machines. We evolved to work, eat, and play intermittently. I find that fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week–even here in Baghdad where my primary source of sustenance is the Army’s chow halls–isn’t all that onerous and seems to have some limited protective effect against infections (when I’m fasting once or twice a week I don’t seem to get colds, and I think it helped clear up some minor dysentery this summer, but the latter may have been coincidence).

  103. >There is more and more evidence that it is not fat that causes health problems like diabetes and CHD, but excessive amounts of sugar and other “unbound carbohydrates” (meaning highly processed corn and wheat based foods with strongly carb based energy sources and low in micro-nutrients).

    Or, as one advocate of the Atkins diet memorably put it the grain-centered diet recommended by the U.S. govrnment’s food pyramid is “what you feed pigs to fatten them”.

    >It really seems like the best diet is lean meats (including fish and etc.), fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, a glass of wine and the occasional dark chocolate.

    That would be a pretty good description of my normal diet if I drank wine. Well, except that I eat a small amount of fried potatoes in my normal weekend breakfast.

  104. esr Says:
    > “what you feed pigs to fatten them”.

    This reminds me of Pascal’s argument in favor of believing in god, or the anthropic principle. It is one of those cheap aphorisms that are designed to make the disciples feel better, not to actually put forward a substantial argument.

    Clearly, animals are fed grain to fatten them because the price per absorbed calorie is lowest with grains. Furthermore, it is generally either not allowed, or not standard practice to feed animals with meat products, because there can be many unpleasant consequences (BSE for example.)

    So I could offer the equally cheesy aphorism: “Standard American Diet? So bad the government won’t even allow pigs to eat it.”

    Billy Oblivion Says:
    > Our bodies weren’t designed to be industrial production
    > machines. We evolved to work, eat, and play intermittently.

    We use our bodies today very differently than they are designed for, and so we need to feed them differently. Most of the comments you make are outside the views taught by most nutritionists I know. That doesn’t make them wrong, and I am not familiar enough with the research data to comment. However, this I will say; in my own life, if I eat a diet low in fat and meat, and high in vegetables (not so much grains), and if i exercise HARD almost daily (cardio and resistance) I feel great. If I do not, I feel sluggish, heavy, and unable to think clearly. What the long term effects are I do not know, but the short term effects are reward enough.

    BTW Billy, from your comment, I guess you are serving in our military in Baghdad. If so, let me offer my thanks for your service to our nation. Although, apparently, you and I disagree about this matter, you apparently are the manifestation of the statement “I don’t agree with you viewpoint, but will fight to the death for your right to hold it.” for this I offer a sincere and hearty thanks.

  105. I cannot comment on meat eating because I don’t eat meat and don’t consider myself qualified to do so. However, where I live, I must say that being a vegetarian is almost natural considering the variety of foods we have access to and thousands of recipes handed down from the ages.

    I myself am a vegetarian and a teetotaler from birth, because I am a Hindu and born and live in India. However, I think the way we cook in India is totally different from the “vegetarian food’ that is marketed in the west because our methods produce some very tasty dishes and we have probably the biggest list of vegetarian recipes in the world. We have both wheat and rice (mostly rice in South India while wheat is more common in North india) with a huge variety of side dishes using vegetables (fried, boiled, roasted or cooked with a bit of vegetable oil and seasoning on a slow fire).

    Our vegetarian dishes rely mostly on a variety of local and imported vegetables (obviously), but also rice, wheat, maize, lentils, different varieties of cereals, roots, seeds, vegetable oils, butter, boiled butter (also known as ghee), chillies both red and green, chilli powders, and a variety of spices. Most of the food is well cooked and we hardly ever serve anything raw or half cooked. Many dishes can be very rich in fat, carbohydrate and protein and extremely tough on an unaccustomed stomach though.

    Again the meat-eaters of India differ so much from the meat-eaters of the West. In fact, when we went on a European tour some time ago, many of my non-vegetarian friends found the food adjustment much tougher, because I was able to survive on a few loaves of bread (at a crunch) which they wanted highly spiced and oily, well cooked dishes like Chicken Biryani and mutton biryani and so on. Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes in India rely heavily on spices (both local and imported) and we use a lot of salt and seasoning and rely a lot on frying. We also don’t shy away from milk and milk based products

    To me I believe that food habits are a very biologically conditioned aspect of our lives and it is hard to change a system of eating which you have got used to over your childhood and early adulthood.

  106. I definitely echo the comments made by others about food in Europe vs. US. In most cases, food in the US is superior, if you’re talking about the kinds of food we make well (BBQ, steak, fried chicken, etc.) My experiences with food in Italy:

    - beef is awful, unless it’s either ground into meatballs or pounded flat into cutlets. In fact, every meat I had there was inferior, except pork, which is tougher but more flavorful there. Also, ground wild boar is great in pasta.
    - the produce, though there was less variety, was amazing. They only cook/eat what’s in season. What I had that was particularly good: eggplant, artichoke, radicchio, various lettuces, tomato, figs, oranges, apples, and olives.
    - the beer was terrible. The wine was all over the place, from sublime to crap. Much like here.
    - the cheese was better. I chalk this up to being able to use unpasturized milk in young cheeses like mozzerella and ricotta. Also, the styles of cheeses are probably adapted to the milk they get from their specific breeds of cow, which are different from American cattle.
    - as Eric suggested, their bread was better than ours. They just have more of a culture around fresh baked bread. Pastas, ditto, but about 75% of the pasta there used American wheat.
    - the single biggest standout was the olive oil. I could have done shots of the stuff. They don’t export the really good stuff — they eat it. I’ve never had anything like it.
    - the espresso was orgasmic, but only in Rome. Elsewhere it was good, but you can get equivalent in even the US northeast, which is known for having terrible coffee.

    The home-made food I’ve had in peoples’ houses typically blew away food in restaurants, with the exception of a few high-priced dining establishments my wife and I went to in Florence. We found it impossible to get a good beer, good steak, good burgers, or good cigars. The dishes tended to be very light on meat in general. Out-of-region food tended to be poor. Other ethnic foods tended to be of much lower quality (Chinese, Indian, Greek, Spanish, and French) than American versions. Neapolitan-style street pizza was crap, outside of Naples — much better in the NY metro area.

  107. > My aunt recently spent some time in Italy, and even went to an Italian cooking school. And
    > you know what she said? The Italian food you can get here in the states is actually better
    > than that in Italy. It sounds impossible to believe but it is true.

    Depends on what Italian food and where. You can’t get good Florentine food in Rome and vise versa.

    > And don’t be such a snob. Olive Garden is actually quite tasty, and Buca de Bepo is delicious.

    Gross and double gross. Eaten at both. Both have disgusting tomato sauce, and OK white sauces. I can make tomato sauce that trounces either in 30 minutes with mediocre canned tomatoes, cheap olive oil, garlic, onions, salt, and dry dry basil.

    Not all chains are bad, but all Italian ones happen to be. The best chains in the US focus on meat. Frankly, given a halfway decent cut, steak is surprisingly easy to make at lease acceptably.

  108. “…Furthermore, it is generally either not allowed, or not standard practice to feed animals with meat products, because there can be many unpleasant consequences (BSE for example.)…”

    Wrong. There are plenty of animal foods that contain processed meat by-products. The restriction you are alluding to regards central nervous system tissues such as the brain and spine.

  109. Dan Says:
    > Wrong. There are plenty of animal foods that contain processed meat by-product

    Thanks for the correction Dan. It is so great to know that my bacon used to dine on ground up testicles, noses, eyeballs and toenails. Yum, yum!

    I am thinking you are a shill for the meat industry :-)

  110. >The smart thing to do is figure out what most of your ancestors ate and try to replicate that.

    I totally agree with this.

    The question then becomes ‘which’ ancestors. For the last 2000 or 3000 years my ancestors ate lots of whole grains (wheat and barley mostly) and drank lots of milk. Meat (unless you were rich) was very expensive and was generally reserved for special occasions. They got their protein from peas, milk and grains.

    Before that, as hunter/gatherers, they probably ate a lot more meat. Which ancestors should I emulate. The hunter/gathers were around for a long time. However, I’d be willing to bet that 40 or 50 starvation cycles (once they had settled down to an agrarian life style) weeded out the genotypes that couldn’t live pretty well off plants and dairy products. On the other hand, if I were a direct descendant of William the Conqueror, maybe I should be inhaling meat.

  111. On the other hand, when you consider how William died, maybe not.

    Have to agree about Korean barbeque. Their barbequed beef is extremely good. They sort of have a reputation for barbeque in Asia that the South has in North America.

  112. To be fair, Northern Europeans that lived near larbe bodies of water (many Scandinavians in particular) have always eaten a lot of seafood, at least to my knowledge. As to my reference to starvation cycles, perhaps hunger cycle is a better phrase that isn’t so stark and coldly clinical. I don’t wish any of them had been hungry and I’m kind of tired of cold, stark thoughts and language right now. This isn’t a reference to anything anyone has written on this particular thread. I love this thread. It is kind of nice to just talk about food every once in a while.

  113. >[Koreans] sort of have a reputation for barbeque in Asia that the South has in North America.

    Deservedly. Japanese cities are full of bulgoki grills – they were a survival resource for me when the native Japanese diet was starting to drive me batty. There’s only so much tofu, seafood, and noodles a man can take…and don’t get me wrong, I like Japanese food as long as I don’t have to eat it constantly.

  114. While we are at the topic of nutritionists, I’ve actually met a person who has a degree in it, and she had a very unusual suggestion: the most important rule is, whatever you do, do not mix ethnic foods.

    According to her, each ethnic diet has evolved to have a near-optimal balance of different kinds of nutrition and as long as you stick to one in one meal or one day (not forever of course), you are doing all right. The problems begin when you put Indian curry on a German sausage and put it all into an American hamburger bun or hot dog (popular in Central Europe, called currywurst). Or American slices of steak on Italian pizza, or Turkish kebab with British-style fried potatoes (called chips there). Mixing ethic food means breaking these evolved balances and usually not for the better.

    What do you think?

  115. saw a show recently where a guy showed the Japanese barbecue style where he put chicken on shish kabobs and dipped them in a sauce when done cooking. He said the restaurants would use the same sauce over and over for months, with it getting better the whole time.

    ESR, what does that stuff taste like?

    ESR says: I don’t know. I have not to my knowledge been to a place where they do this. Korean BBQ joints in Japan tend to do beef and pork; that’s what I ate.

  116. “….I am thinking you are a shill for the meat industry :-) “

    Oooh….low blow ;)

    The ‘meat products’ used in certain animal feeds are so heavily processed they are unrecognizable as meat – no flavor, no smell….they just provide needed protein. It’s part of why the Chinese melamine scandal was so insidious.

  117. (With apologies to Julie Andrews…)

    Eyeballs and testicles
    ground up with butt holes,
    ass cheeks and penises,
    ear hair and feet soles,
    Pig snouts and kneecaps,
    with pig guts, and balls;
    These are a few of my favorite meals…

  118. Damned if I know what wine to pair with that….but you’ve got a double helping of balls in there, so I’m thinking you might just want a minty toothpick.

  119. Caucasus, One word. Their “shashlyk” is a best thing that a man can get with a piece of meat. Moscow->Sochi->Mountains,

  120. >Caucasus, One word. Their “shashlyk” is a best thing that a man can get with a piece of meat. Moscow->Sochi->Mountains,

    Now, I’ve never had Caucasian barbecue, but I’m tempted to believe you. Heavily-armed barbarians make the best ‘cue.

  121. They don’t like westerners. Even if you get there, chances are, you wouldn’t taste the right thing. BTW I can help.

  122. Ivan, can you describe the type of meat and cooking technique so that I can attempt to reproduce “shashlyk” for myself?

    Pretty please?

    :)

  123. PS. I live near many Russian immigrants, and I would love to invite them to a “shashlyk” party :)

  124. I realize it’s only a single data point, but I live in a place where there are a lot of armed people, and the BBQ sucks here. And by “sucks” I mean mostly nonexistent, and lackluster when found. Then again, I live in California, excellent for many things (weather, jobs) but sucky for BBQ. Except Korean BBQ in San Francisco.

    I will state a generic opinion—truly good BBQ does not come from a restaurant. And I’m saying that with a ton of relatives in Kansas City.

  125. >I realize it’s only a single data point, but I live in a place where there are a lot of armed people, and the BBQ sucks here.

    Maybe they aren’t barbaric enough.

    Um, California. Yeah, definitely not barbaric enough. Just decadent.

  126. Are there really a lot of armed people in California, or is it just that the armed people there are relatively flashy and visible, compared to armed people elsewhere?

    Hmm. A little googling suggests that California is one of the less-well armed States in the US.

  127. Actually, Lurker, even the much maligned Commiefornia has vivid red pro-gun blotches all over its more rural areas ;)

    Ivan – thanks for pointing me in the right direction. I did not realize you were talking about a shish kebab style dish, of which I am familiar. The soviet-style version is something I am going to enjoy preparing :) Я благодарен

  128. It reminds me of another recipe: try a grilled shish-kebab or shashlik made of skewering several alternating layers of fatty, white bacon, pork or chicken breast and onions. Optionally add some sort of a dry and peppery-tasting sausage (f.e. Spanish-style chorizons), garlic, and big slices of potato. This a Hungarian specialty called robber’s meat. Pics: http://gesztenyegusztika.hu/konyha/Nyars-nagy.jpg http://www.nosalty.hu/files/recept_kepek/rabl%C3%B3h%C3%BAs_0.jpg

  129. >>But seriously, what do all of you “experts” think about [Carolina BBQ]?
    esr replied:
    >I’ll eat it, and enjoy it. But I don’t like it as much as Texas-style slow-cooked ribs,
    > or Oklahoma burnt ends

    ESR,
    Try KC burnt ends. Best place is Smoking Guns on Swift Street in North Kansas City. The chains, e.g. Arthur Bryant’s, Jack Stack, OK Joe’s, etc.; are edible but the smaller places are much better.

    Jack Stack does have a rack of lamb that is an interesting dish although not what I’d eat on a regular basis.

  130. I beg to differ. The gradient of barbeque quality doesn’t simply run north-south, since barbeque in florida is wretched, and Chicago offers some of the finest ribs known to civilization. (They have the world’s best pizza too, but that’s a different matter.)

  131. If you want some fresh meat you are welcome to visit me. I took a deer last week. I’ll welcome the company. I won’t promise to not hit on your wife, but that’s because women who can play Munchkin like that are few and far between.

    Well, OK, I won’t hit on her. The MiB I met that same weekend at Philcon would probably slap me upside the head. She has a massive right hook.

  132. >esr- a little hurt you can’t find good BBQ in your neighborhood.

    Did I say that?

    Seriously, folks, Jimmy makes the best ‘cue I’ve ever had north of the Mason-Dixon line. His stuff would be competitive in Austin, Texas, which is a serious compliment if you know your barbecue. Not quite on a level with Rudy’s – it would take divine intervention for that – but easily as good as, say, County Line (which natives generally put among the top three places in the city).

  133. If the subject is barbeque, or any aspect of the fine art of burning beef (substitute your quadruped of choice), one must include Argentina in the highest rank.

    Vegans weep!

  134. I agree the further south, the better – except for Chicago, Illinois. The rib joints on the South side of Chicago are absolutely the best! The more I think about, though, the more I realize the cooks were more than likely born and bred in the south…lol.
    Coleman RoadTrip Grill

  135. The best “home” cooking I’ve ever had was when I traveled throughout the south – even the fast food joints tasted like “home cooking”. The best BBQ ribs I had were down south in Gulfport, Ms

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