Without Strickland Propane, It's Just Not Barbecue


Just when you thought you'd heard every possible complaint against President Bush, Mr. Cutlets comes up with a new one. The Man From Crawford now stands accused of conspiring to ruin the Lone Star State's signature meal. Sez Mr. Cutlets:

The federal requirement that only meat that had reduced 70% in volume could be called "barbecue" was at once the most far-sighted and strictest guarantor of our barbecue liberties. At every turn, food-service grandees are seeking to enrich themselves, and their running-dog stockholders, by degrading the greatest of all American culinary traditions. Deplorable! And yet, Mr. Cutlets saw it coming. Once the bloodlust of deregulation set in, a frenzy of destructiveness by the Bush administration must eventually come too to the world of smoked meats.

At issue: a revision of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "standard of identity" that defines what can be called "beef or pork with barbecue sauce." The old standard required producers to use meat that had been cooked to 70 percent of its original weight, with the lost fat and moisture eventually combined with sauce and sold as a canned or frozen product. The American Meat Institute has argued that the standard is outdated: "The standard does not reflect current production practices, nor does it reflect current commercial marketability of these products given the increased reliance on leaner beef and pork." Arguing to retain the standard was Augusta, GA-based Castleberry/Snow's Brands Inc. "The key here is that for decades consumers have understood and expected a certain type of product in barbecue sauce," the company's vice president of marketing tells the Washington Post. "Consumers who purchase pork or beef in barbecue sauce won't get the same quality. There will be a lot of confusion." Now the USDA has sided with the Meat Institute and eliminated the weight requirement.

I know from long experience that where meat is concerned, Mr. Cutlets is, as celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain indicates in his blurb for the book Meat Me In Manhattan, an unimpeachable source. If he says 70-percent reduced is the only real barbecue, that's good enough for me. I'm also inclined to side with Castleberry just as an individual company standing against another big-ass trade group trying to define the standard of progress for its whole industry.

But isn't the real issue here that the USDA has a "standard of identity" in the first place? Better to have Castleberry spend some money on advertising to clear up the public's "confusion" than use the state's monopoly on violence and unfettered access to my income in order to protect its market share from less punctilious competitors. A people that needs the government to tell them what barbecue is cannot be considered free in any meaningful sense of the word.

I've even suggested to Mr. Cutlets that he is himself the perfect free market solution to this kind of challenge. Without the government's enforcement of definitions, meat-eating citizens will turn for guidance to a revered expert on carnology like Mr. Cutlets. Alas, Mr. Cutlets has never been a guy to relish the prospect of additional work.

NEXT: There Is Only One

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  1. While we’re carving the definition of BBQ in stone, could we also do something about changing the definition of “cat” to exclude those hairless things? They give me the willies.

    Since apparently the feds having nothing better to do …

  2. Canned or frozen barbeque? Why?

  3. I believe I can top the anti-Bush BBQ complaint: here. Bear in mind, there might be some nuggets of truth in that wide mouthed fish story.

  4. The discussion of cooked meat makes this the closest thing to an appropriate thread for this: A Happy Thanksgiving weekend to all my fellow cursorial impactors.

  5. The good news? I think Mr. Cutlets was speaking in jest. Barbecue liberties, indeed.

    The bad news? The USDA is as serious as — fittingly — a heart attack. “Department of Agriculture regulators … first proposed changing the rules seven years ago.” At such a rate of efficiency, they will have reviewed all 100 of their standards of identity every 700 years.

  6. Mr. Cutlet for President!

  7. I will probably remember this Cavanaugh quote for decades, if not for the rest of my life, and in my mind’s ear, it will be spoken by Hank Hill in the tones he usually reserves for discussions of Propane and Propane accessories:

    “A people that needs the government to tell them what barbecue is cannot be considered free in any meaningful sense of the word.”

    In fact, if that line doesn’t show up in “King of the Hill” one of these days, I will be sorely disappointed. Mike Judge, are you listening?

  8. James Anderson Merritt, you took the words from my mouth. That is a classic quote and deserves to be etched in stone. Unquestionably, that’s Tim at his finest.

    Aside from that if the government is going to define what is or isn’t BBQ then we need to outlaw propane BBQ’s altogether or at least label them as being incapable of producing, ahem, anything that remotely passes for BBQ.

    Real men do not use propane BBQ’s. Good Lord man, it’s just not done.

  9. I met your mama on a propane barbecue. So don’t talk to me about “real men” and barbecues.

  10. Mr. Cutlets is full of it.

    The Orgin Of Barbeque:

    A west Texas Rancher, Billy Bob Qunitero Mota,was clearing mesquite from his pasture. After piling the mesquite in large lomas he burnt it. One of his steers jumped into the burning mesquite.BB Qunitero determined that the smell from the steer was rico savarosa. he then combined the remaining contence of his mezcal bottle with four prickley pear tunas and some chili peppers(chili pepene)and invented the first BBQ sauce.He rubbed the steer carcus with the sauce and the rest is history.
    That`s the way it was NO GAS!Never–Never–Never

  11. I am awaiting B Beatty’s complaint about this thread. 🙂

  12. Hydroman,

    Origins of BBQ:

    owever, barbecue was not invented in America and no one knows who invented the barbecue. The word ‘Barbecue’ might come from the Taino Indian word ‘barbacoa’ meaning meat-smoking apparatus. ‘Barbecue’ could have also originated from the French word “Barbe a queue” which means “whiskers-to-tail.” No one is sure of the correct origins of the word.


    See the wikipedia article on the matter here:


  13. Hydrdoman, one clarification: Hank Hill, whom I quoted for the sake of a funny title, is the one who recommends Strickland Propane, not Mr. Cutlets.

  14. Tim Cavanaugh,

    I am afraid that “standards of identity” and “appellations of origin” are all the rage these days in TM law. I do think, however, that there is some argument to made for group certification marks (like the “wool” label found on wool items) since they serve what I see as the basic role of a TM – the quality assurance function – and of course anyone can join the group so long as they meet its quality assurance standards (this is assuming that said standards are based on something more than whim).

  15. Why don’t we quit thinking we’re so smart and just admit some goddamn cave man invented barbecue about 80,000 years ago, and that it was probably better than all the charred, smoked meat from Richmond to Brownsville. There’s nothing like fresh blood dripping on the fire, you know?

  16. Jason Bourne,
    Barbacoa in this part of Texas is a cow or goat head rapped in foil and buried in the ground on hot rocks overnight.The cheek meat is especially delicious wrapped in a corn tortilla.

  17. Hydroman, I had that back before I became a vegetarian. It was good (not part of the reason I became a vegetarian!!).

  18. Anybody else notice that there’s a whopping difference between “The federal requirement that only meat that had reduced 70% in volume” and “meat that had been cooked to 70 percent of its original weight?” I kind of think the former would be the definition of “cinder.”

  19. ‘no one knows who invented BBQ’ because people were cooking tasty meals over hot coals long before that guy in ancient China accidentally burned down his house with the pig inside and discovered slow roasted BBQ pork.

  20. The best barbecue I’ve ever had is pork shoulder marinaded in soy sauce and apple juice and grilled with fire-roasted bell peppers. Try it and you’ll see what I mean.

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