Craft Beer—The Secret to Southern Barbeque

By Karlos Knott

On a recent visit with my good friend, Dr. John Farrish, a professor at the University of Louisiana, I asked him for help with a few barbeque techniques I had been working on. Dr. Farrish has had a lifelong passion for good barbeque—his doctoral thesis is written on the subject—and he is quite the pitmaster himself.

When John was still a student researching his thesis, he toured the South interviewing renowned pitmasters celebrated for their barbequing prowess. He was interested in southern barbeque traditions, one of which was barbequed goat.

The old gentleman who was most famous for this Deep-South specialty lived in rural Arkansas. He had John show up to his country home quite a few hours before dawn, and judging by his age, this guy had several decades of goat barbequing know-how. He and John took turns digging an oblong pit in the rocky soil. Then they positioned kindling and logs in the pit and started the fire. The old gentleman offered John a cold beer from his ice chest and they sat there, watching the fire and occasionally gauging the heat from the coals with their outstretched hands. When the old man divined that everything was right—the goat was suspended over the pit.

The whole time, John peppered the old southerner with questions about barbequing goat. How long do you do this? How deep did you dig that? What temperature are the coals? How much dry rub and what are the ingredients? Between sips of beer, the old barbequer repeatedly answered him the same way, “Son, are you here to barbeque or to talk? When we’re done I’ll let you know the secret to barbeque.”

So John helped the old Southerner for many hours. They tended the coals and added more hickory when needed. They occasionally rotated and moved the barbeque away from and then closer to the coals so that the bark developed evenly on the increasingly aromatic meat. They also mopped the goat with a secret mix of liquids and spices. And they drank a lot of beer.

Goat is a very lean and unforgiving meat and therefore tests the skills of the true pitmaster. Nearing late afternoon, the meat was starting to pull away from the bones. Serving it up, John asked his elderly mentor if he could now tell him what the secret to great barbeque was.

The old man looked at him seriously and said in a deep Southern drawl, “Son, you been here watching me all day and you ain’t figured out yet that the secret to great barbeque is drinking beer?”

In addition to goat, John suggests four other Southern barbeques worth investigating, to which I’ve paired with some of the South’s finest craft beers. All are regional specialties cooked up in distant areas of the South—so you’ ll have to travel quite a bit for your research.

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North Carolina: Pulled Pork

The first is North Carolina pulled pork, which is a pork shoulder smoked for many hours until it is fall-off-the-bone tender and pulled or chopped into shreds. The pork is doused with a vinegary sauce and served on a hamburger bun with coleslaw—it makes for one of the best lunchtimes on the planet.

The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery

Paul Philippon, philosopher/brewer at The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery in Farmville told me that even within North Carolina there are regional styles to pulled pork—with the Eastern areas of the state having the highest proportion of vinegar in their sauce. Paul recommends pairing his brewery’s Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout with an Eastern North Carolina pulled pork lunch. He feels that their Milk Stout has the body to stand up to all of the vinegar and spices in the pork—there are a lot of competing flavors on a pulled pork sandwich and the Stout pulls them all together. He also feels that the subtle sweetness imparted by the Stout’s lactose addition produces a harmonizing effect with the barbeque, somewhat like that of a traditional barbeque sauce.

Tennessee: Pork Ribs

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Memphis is famous not only for its incredible Blues music scene but for the city’s signature style of barbequed pork ribs. Memphis-style ribs are not mopped with a lot of sugary sauces—here they prefer a dry rub of spices with just a touch of brown sugar added for a suggestion of sweetness. The spice blend is rubbed on the ribs the evening prior, and then more is shaken on just before they come off the grill. A Memphis-style rib joints’ twofold application of their signature rubs creates a depth of flavor that also enhances the natural succulence of pork.

Ghost River Brewing | Yazoo Brewing Company

There are many joints in Memphis renowned for their ribs, but Craig Blondes’ Central Barbeque probably has the best craft beer selection of all of them. Craig advises two Tennessee crafted beers to pair with his ribs—Glacial Pale Ale, from Memphis’ Ghost River Brewing, or one of Yazoo Brewing Company’s Hop Project beers from Nashville. Craig suggests that both beers are infused with an enjoyable amount of flavorsome hops which compliments Memphis’s spicy style of barbeque ribs.

Louisiana: Cochon de Lait

Cajun Louisiana’s contribution to the South’s lexicon of barbeque is Cochon de Lait (pig on milk or suckling pig). A Cochon de Lait is a centuries-old Cajun tradition—requiring live Cajun music and ice-chests full of cold beer as part of the ritual. A suckling pig is stuffed and well-seasoned with beaucoup amounts of chopped garlic and onions, black pepper, cayenne pepper and salt and then placed spread-eagle between two sheets of roofing tin. Then the contraption of tin and pork is perched over a smoking bed of logs. The pig encased in tin is rotated over the coals and smoked for well over half a day. This technique both barbeques the pork and also cooks it in the indirect heat sandwiched between the two sheets of tin. The cooking method allows for the grease to drip onto the outdoor fire and the skin (or what we call the couenne) of the pig is roasted to a beautiful golden-brown and becomes cracklin’ crisp.

Bayou Teche Brewing

At Bayou Teche Brewing, we like to pair our Cochon de Lait with LA-31 Boucanée, our cherry-wood smoked wheat beer. We drink the smoky beer during the barbequing, and also once the pig is taken down, removed from the sheets of tin and served.

Texas: Beef Brisket

Once you cross the Sabine River into Texas, beef is practically the sole meat on the Lone Star State’s barbeque pits. The desire for perfect barbequed brisket runs thick through the veins of Texans—brisket cooked so low and slow and for so long that the meat comes to the table moist, smoky and extraordinarily tender. Texas pitmasters spend years learning the right combination of smoke, temperature, and time that transforms the toughest part of the cow into smoked beef nirvana. Franklin Barbeque, located in a portable trailer in Austin, has the Texas barbeque scene all abuzz. Many brisket aficionados have credited Aaron Franklin’s brisket as the epitome of Texas barbeque brisket and his trailer serves it for lunch from Tuesday through Sunday (until they sellout for the day).

Saint Arnold Brewing Company

Frank Mancuso of Houston’s Saint Arnold Brewing Company recommends pairing a Texas brisket lunch with their St. Arnold’s Amber Ale. He feels that the beer’s well-balanced and malty backbone combined with the complex hop aroma compliments the national dish of Texas perfectly.

The old Southerner famed for his barbequed goat that Dr. Farrish quoted was right—the secret to great barbeque is drinking beer. Though he was referring to drinking beer while spending the hours needed to barbeque correctly, his advice is likewise relevant to pleasures of finding a beer to pair with a skillfully hand-crafted, barbequed meal as well. Craft beer from one of the South’s breweries is the perfect foil to this Southern regional delicacy.


Karlos KnottKarlos Knott, brewmaster of Bayou Teche, developed an appreciation for the finely brewed beers of Europe while serving as an Army Cavalry Scout in Germany in the 1990s. He was transferred to the Pacific Northwest just as that region’s microbrewery scene was starting to explode, and he began brewing beer at home. After his discharge, he came back to Acadiana, and began crafting beers for special family occasions and honing his brewing skills. Karlos enjoys playing his Cajun accordion, cooking for and spending time with his family, and cruising rural Acadiana highways on his Harley Springer looking for the elusive perfect link of boudin.