I have a dilemma. We have spent our first day exploring around Waynesville, the local sleepy town closest to our mountain retreat. It is just as I hoped it would be, full of thrift markets (which they seem to call primitives, which I think is a kinda word for vintage), guys in plaid driving pick ups with huge mud rider wheels, a visitors centre run by a man called "big John" (who talks at length about trails, hiking and elk.. you simply can not rush a Carolinian conversation), small bars, local beers and above all, high hopes for great food.
My first proper introduction to Southern food (minus the peanuts, which I just can't stop thinking about) is at Frogs Leap in Waynesville, and I'm extremely hungry and very greedy. It's pretty quiet, as we are in between seasons, but the kitchen leap into action at our arrival. Any worries I have about eating in a near empty restaurant (which I loathe) are completely banished as large cones of crisp, golden Frickles (fried pickles) with buttermilk dip arrive and disappear in seconds. Frickles, I decide, are goood. More deep fried Southern goodness follows in the shape of chilli spiked hushpuppies, and popcorn shrimp which comes with the lightest creamy pickled slaw, slow cooked bbq pork belly sliders and creole catfish fish fingers. This is my kind of food.
But here is where the dilemma comes in..... Eating out is amazing, there are, I know, many tasty morsels to be had in both Waynesville and the near by much larger town of Asheville. But we are a family who loves to cook, and I have my eye on a butcher that I'm just itching to go to. So, to cook or to be cooked for? that is the question.
The next day I can't resist the lures of The Chop Shop Butchery any longer. What is it about food shops in other countries that are so alluring? The Chop Shop has impeccable creds, all their meat is local (though in the States that can be an area of several hundred miles), sustainable and ethically reared. They do all their own butcher, smoking and curing on site and their butchers are the friendliest most knowledgeable bunch I've ever met.
I just can't tear myself away from the counters displaying the most beautifully butchered meat, perfectly minced beef and cuts I know little or nothing about. Luckily I have Farmer (yes, that is his name) on hand to give me the low down and to inform me that to be a true Southerner I have to learn the difference between by bbq's and my grills. What I'm after is meat for the grill... bbq meat is, he says, reserved for slow cooking, those big hunks of meat smoked and cooked low and slow over the coals. In short, if it's anything less than 24 hours, it's emphatically NOT bbq-ed.
After about an hour or perusing and intense meat education, we depart, our large brown bag fit to burst with cold smoked pork chops, Denver steaks, Wurst, Nuremburg sausages, English (back) bacon and most intriguingly of all... beef bacon.
I'm not normally a fan of a one of those bbq's (sorry... grill) that pits meat against meat, all fighting on the plate but I'm making an exception this time as I just can't decide what not to cook. So we are keeping it simple so the meat speaks for itself.
First up it's the cold smoked pork chops. These babies are what drew me to The Chop shop in the first place. They smell so amazing, lightly smokey, floral and sweet that I decide not to do anything to them. The amount of fat they have is impressive and causes some epic flames on the bbq giving them an extra boost of flavour.
The wurst too are just cooked straight up, a really good sausage needs no marinating or other flavours and these bad boys are thickly meaty with a good amount of fat for extra juiciness.
I'm excited too about the Denver steak. A trendy new cut that is only recently making its way into the butchery and restaurant scene. A continuation of the short rib to the chuck, this steak is well marbled and really flavourful, ideal for grilling.
thyme and garlic denver steaks
6 denver steaks
olive oil to drizzle
whole garlic cloves, bashed a bit
lots of sea salt and black pepper
put the steaks in a dish with lots of olive oil, then thyme, garlic and a good amount of salt and pepper and leave for at least an hour. Cook on a hot bbq for 2-3 minutes each side then allow to rest for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
There is so much amazing produce here in NC that we are spoilt for choice so for sides I go for simple baked spuds with lots of salt, butter and natural yoghurt, bbq-ed corn, a pickled slaw of cabbage and raddish, and a juicy tomato salad which needs very little other than a good drizzling of extra virgin olive oil and some sea salt.
Slaw of cabbage, radish and spring onions
1 white cabbage, finely shredded
a bunch of breakfast radishes, sliced
bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
200ml malt vinegar or cider vinegar
75g caster sugar
150ml Greek or natural yoghurt
good squeeze and lemon juice
mix the cabbage, radishes and spring onions together in a serving bowl. Heat the vinegar with a splash of water and the sugar over a low heat. Once the sugar has melted, bubble for a few minutes then pour over the top of the vegetables and toss well. Set aside for about an hour then stir in the yohurt, lemon juice and plenty of seasoning. Toss with fresh herbs such as parsley, tarragon or chives if you have them and serve.
The meat was every bit as good as as I had anticipated, the Denver was so tender and flavourful, the iron rich dish-gravy mingling with the smoky rich charred flavour of they pork chops and soaking into the fluffy innards of the baked potato. I may never go back to single meat bbq's again.