Bob Bringhurst is the barbecue man at Becky’s BBQ, a small restaurant in Middletown. He continues to bring southern barbecuing flair to the Bay and all the deliciousness that comes with it.
Some people say that New Englanders are confused about barbecue. What is ‘real’ barbecue, as opposed to what you typically find around here?
In the northeast, people tend to meld together grilling and barbecuing. A lot of times, when people here grill, they call it barbecue, and technically, it’s really not. There are a couple of requirements for real barbecue. First is that you need some kind of wood. The other is heat. Barbecue is cooked between 180 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit, and grilling tends to be a lot hotter than that. I wouldn’t say they’re wrong, but it’s technically grilling and not barbecue.
What’s your background in barbecue?
I worked for Motorola for 12 years, and they’re based in Alabama. While I was working for them, I lived there for a while. That’s where I got introduced to barbecue and I loved it. I ended up becoming friends with a third generation owner of two barbecue places there. That’s where I learned how to barbecue.
Why did you to open Becky’s BBQ in a barbecue desert such as Rhode Island?
Well Becky and I lived here, and I had a smoker. You couldn’t find any real barbecue around here, so I used to make it, and Becky would make sides. We would have people over and they all loved it. Becky always wanted to open a business, but I didn’t see myself in the restaurant industry, to be perfectly honest. At that time, about 75% of new restaurants didn’t make it, but I thought that if you had a niche, then you might have a shot. Since there was no one else around at that time, we decided to give it a try.
Do you think we’ll be seeing more ‘real barbecue’ popping up?
Absolutely. I had someone come in yesterday who was talking about opening a barbecue restaurant in Tiverton. Also, a couple of places have opened in the Providence area since we started.
What are some tips you can give to Rhode Islanders about choosing good barbecue?
One thing to look for, although you can’t always see it, is a smoke pit. If you see smoke coming from outside, that’s usually a good sign. Although you can’t really know until you taste it.
How about barbecue at home? Do you have any tips for aspiring pit-masters?
Well nowadays, with the internet, you can learn almost anything. You need a dry rub, and these days you can even find dry rubs in some grocery stores. I could go on for hours with tips, but the most important thing is that it needs to be done with indirect heat from burning wood. Barbecue is all about “slow ‘n’ low.”
How long do you smoke your meats before they’re ready to serve?
When I do the pork shoulders and beef brisket, I cook them at around 205 degrees for about 16 or 17 hours. Ribs and chicken, I cook at around 225, and they really only take four hours or so.
Where do you stand on the wet versus dry rub argument?
I use dry rubs. Almost all good barbecue is done with dry rubs.
What about barbecue sauce? What do you prefer on your barbecue?
I prefer a cider vinegar-based sauce. I typically use hickory wood, and the cider vinegar complements the hickory very well. But at Becky’s BBQ, we have three kinds of barbecue sauces. We have a sweeter Kansas City/Texas kind of sauce, we have a vinegar based sauce and we also have a mustard based one, because in parts of Kentucky and central South Carolina, they like mustard-based sauce.