You don't have to be from Texas to know what good barbecue tastes like -- as Canadian restaurants and backyard barbecue mavericks are proving across Canada. Barbecue may have its roots in the American South, but the Great White North also has its fair share of grill masters.
Canadians know very well that an unbearable winter makes it difficult to barbecue year round. Difficult, but not impossible. I have friends who barbecue through the winter but, let's be honest, they're crazy people. Or they live in Vancouver. My friends, you don't have to freeze -- or move across the country -- to eat barbecue all year-round. When sun-starved Canadians crave that nostalgic taste of summer in the bleary winter months, all we have to do is turn to our favourite local barbecue joint. Problem solved.
So what's with the Canadian obsession with barbecue? I think it's a combination of our long winters and summer nostalgia that makes us crave the smoky meat. Imagine your perfect summer day. Does it end with a barbecue in your backyard or cottage? So does mine! Well, if they could find a way to barbecue pasta, that would be a perfect day for me.
Great barbecue can be simple or complicated -- that's up to you. But, it's the smoke that imparts a depth of flavour that make it anything but boring. More than just a cooking technique, barbecuing is an event in itself.
What do you do during the May Two-Four, a.k.a. Victoria Day, weekend? For many Canadians, it marks the beginning of barbecue season and the unofficial start to summer. With luck from Mother Nature, the weekend offers the perfect weather to be outside with good company and great food.
I think there's a connection that many people make between barbecue and happy feelings. You don't have to have a fancy smoker or a huge barbecue -- all you need is passion, patience and some hungry people to feed. I remember being a kid and sitting in my Zia's (aunt's) kitchen, smelling the charcoal smoke coming through the back door as my Zio (uncle) grilled on a little, tiny, round hibachi barbecue. That was back in the 1970s and I can still picture that scene perfectly -- all of us waiting in anticipation for Zio to finish. He would take his celery stalk and use the leaves to brush oil and red wine vinegar onto the meat. I can recall the smell of the vinegar hitting the meat and getting that char flavour. That's the moment I'll always remember; sitting in that kitchen and just seeing the smoke come in every time the back door would open.
Great barbecue is about so much more than meat on a grill -- it's about the experience. The sunshine, the smells, and four or five family members lurking over your shoulder telling you what to do. "The flame's too high!" "Not enough heat!" "Flip that steak!" "Don't drop the asparagus!" "Get me another beer!"
Basically, barbecuing is full of great times, and some annoying times. When I don't want uncles telling me how to grill, or mosquitos buzzing around my burgers, I take a trip to my favourite barbecue joint, tie on a bib, and eat like it's summer.
I eat barbecue like it's my job. Seriously, I get paid to eat. (I know, I know, I'm a lucky bastard.) And I've been fortunate enough to eat at some of the best barbecue joints in Canada. I've eaten ribs on the west coast, pulled pork in the maritimes, and even a barbecued dessert or two in the middle part of the country. I've had the pleasure of meeting some amazing barbecue chefs, true artists with wood, spice, and smoke. These folks will grill anything! Trust me, anything. (Pig tails, anyone?) If it's delicious, Canadian pit masters will find a way to barbecue it.
I've had the chance to taste some of the greatest barbecue this country has to offer. And when I'm not eating barbecue, I'm thinking about it. So I've created my ultimate fantasy barbecue day menu. All I need is a bottomless pit for a stomach, a pair of super stretchy pants, and a teleporter. Let's go!
Breakfast: Our first stop on our all-barbecue-all-day adventure is Barque in Toronto. Order the Barque Benedict: smoked beef brisket piled high on cornbread, topped with two poached eggs and smothered in smoky barbecue Hollandaise sauce. The brunch here is enough to fill you up for the rest of the weekend. But I'm just getting started.
Lunch: In my dream scenario, it's Bacon Explosion Day at PIG BBQ Joint in Victoria, BC. This is ground pork sausage wrapped in a lattice of bacon, sprinkled with more bacon, then smoked, sliced, and piled on a sandwich with tangy barbecue sauce. BOOM.
Dinner: Now this is where the stretchy pants come into play. In Calgary, Alberta Big T's famous Elvis Platter is bigger than my car. It's a ridiculous amount of food, and it's all meaty and delicious. There are six different types of meat here: brisket, pulled pork, huge St. Louis-style ribs, a whole smoked chicken, crispy rib ends, and Andouille sausage. Barbecue is meant to feed a crowd!
Dessert: You left room for dessert, didn't you? Of course you did. We're back to Ontario to D&S Southern BBQ just outside of Ottawa in Carlsbad Springs. How do you barbecue dessert, you ask? Excellent question. The answer is their Smoky Chocolate Cheesecake and Pecans. A tall, creamy chocolate cheesecake that gets hickory smoked low and slow, cooled, and then covered with a rich chocolate ganache. Topped with roasted pecans and caramel sauce, they serve it with some homemade strawberry chutney. The chocolate sucks in the smoke like a little sponge, resulting in one of the creamiest and craziest cheesecakes I've ever tasted.
And of course my "dream" barbecue day would end in a really long nap.
No matter where you eat your barbecue, all you need is great company and a little smoke and you have the recipe for a fantastic time!
Barbecue on, Canada!
You Gotta Eat Here! airs on Food Network Canada on Fridays at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
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