Barbecue sure ain’t what it used to be. Yes, you can still find humble roadside shacks and celebrated old-line pitmaster joints, but the face of barbecue is changing. Like other cult favorite foods—think pizza, burgers, breakfast sandwiches—barbecue has come in for a whole new look by an emerging generation of young chefs determined to put their stamp on a classic.
“With the advent of tech information, barbecue is no longer a secret science—the kind of thing you must stay up 24 hours with a barbecue master to learn,” says Stephen Gerike, director of foodservice marketing and innovation for the National Pork Board. “There’s still a great tradition of second- and third-generation pitmasters at the top of their craft, but there are also ambitious younger folks who are eager to do barbecue technically right as well as very innovatively.”
This has created a kind of parallel universe of barbecue between the traditional and the more forward-looking. “Once you’ve mastered the techniques, you can apply almost any flavor set or concept to it,” says Gerike. This includes:
- Deconstructed barbecue, where the elements (low-temperature smoking, balance of sweet/sour/spicy flavors) are taken apart and put back together in a creative style
- Global concepts, including Cantonese, Southeast Asian, Japanese, Caribbean and South American
- Applying better culinary techniques (such as resting meat), ingredients (niche proteins) and presentation (attention to side dishes) to traditional barbecue
- Experimentation with different regional styles
- Using barbecue in less traditional ways, such as salads, bowls, appetizers and bar bites, as well as more elaborate signature sandwich builds