I grew up in Arkansas, in a small town that was half an hour away from an even smaller town that had the best BBQ in the galaxy: Craig’s Bar-B-Q. The food is so good there that when John Edwards was running for president he had his tour bus go out of the way to make a stop at this place. And DeVall’s Bluff (where Craig’s is located) is not the sort of town you accidentally go through. It’s out of the way no matter where you’re going. But, the BBQ at Craig’s is so good that it’s totally worth it.
It’s the kind of place that the term “hole in the wall” was made for. If you didn’t know what it was, there’s no way you’d stop there and think, “I’ll buy something from this place and put it in my mouth.” It looks like a complete dive on the outside, and the inside isn’t any better, with old dark wood panelling and tables that wobble without the random things shoved under the legs, and a general atmosphere of shabbiness.
But once you bite into one of their sandwiches, you don’t give a fig about the wobbly tables or the grease-stained walls. You just want another one.
This is my husband enjoying his Craig’s BBQ. He grew up in Pennsylvania, and had literally never had a proper BBQ sandwich before this moment. He didn’t KNOW he’d never had proper BBQ before, but he knew it the minute he bit into one of these babies. (Incidentally, why is it impossible to find decent BBQ north of the Mason Dixon line? I have never understood this. But it’s true.)
I miss those BBQ sandwiches. Fiercely. It’s probably just as well that living in the Northeast only leaves me with pale imitations of BBQ, because this way I’m not really tempted by anything. The sugars in these sauces are pretty over the top. I tried to make my own BBQ sauce without (or with greatly reduced) sweeteners, and it was just not worth it. At least not when I’m remembering the magic that was Craig’s.
So I decided to try to go a completely different route and attempt a Carolina BBQ instead.
Carolina BBQ is vinegar based, instead of ketchup/molasses based, so it’s much easier to figure out a reduced-sweetener version. Also, I don’t have fond childhood memories of Carolina BBQ embedded in my head making me dissatisfied with anything that’s not exactly authentic, so I can play around a bit more.
(If you have fond childhood memories of Carolina BBQ dancing around in your head, I have no idea how this will hold up for you. We thought it was delish. But you’ll have to judge for yourself!)
This recipe does have some whole food sweeteners in it, but not much. What makes BBQ good is that combination of sweet and tangy, and so it’s impossible to leave it out altogether. However, it’s not much, and this recipe will be just fine for people who aren’t affected as much by whole food sweeteners, or who have gotten their inflammation under control and are just maintaining now. This recipe is simple in that it doesn’t take much work at all. But it’s time consuming since it involves a lot of brining and slow cooking. So plan ahead!