Our Most Divisive Post
The sharing of food is a universal human bond. Our best memories of food are connected to time spent with friends, family, even strangers around the dinner table. Food brings people together in ways that nothing else can, especially around the Holidays. The celebration of Hanukkah brings latkes to the table. England has been eating mince pies around the Christmas table since the 13th century. Brazil, despite being one of the world's largest beef producers, serves up turkey at Christmas time. If turkey isn't on your Christmas table in the United States, you're probably eating a ham. Italians eat stuffed pig feet (zampone) and beans for good luck in the New Year. Muslims the world over celebrate 'Eid ul Fitr at the end of Ramadan, some with biryani, others with kebob. Food is the ultimate uniter.
But food can also be a great divider. People are passionate about food and quick to defend their beliefs. These beliefs can be rooted in religion with strict rules against eating beef, pork, shellfish, or any animals at all. They can be controversial cultural beliefs holding onto traditions like hunting whales, seals, bears, or dogs. Or, they can be beliefs based on certain ethical principles, such as the notion that killing animals is wrong, as is harvesting eggs, and picking living fruit or vegetables. There's a GMO vs. organic debate. And now a Non-GMO vs. organic one too. We are often a product of our surroundings, and eating habits that are born of religion, tradition, and cultural upbringing die hard. But for the most part we have come to accept each other's differences and get along - mostly.
There are a few areas of no compromise - where tolerance is dead and only trolls survive. Areas where the brave must go, knowing that there be dragons. As a chef, you must go. You must drag your knife across the sand, stand behind your line, and dig your heels in. Not one step back. You must fight for what you know is right. And you must never surrender.
Of course, we are talking about the culinary world's most divisive issues. Issues on which the lukewarmness of pacificity can not be condoned, and the working-class chef must either approve or decry. The answers to these questions are what separate us, despite our love for food, for our industry, and for each other. Let's explore these questions and then ask... Where do you stand, chef?
The Questions That Divide Us:
1. Is there ever an excuse to use truffle oil?
2. Chicago or New York-style pizza?
3. Charcoal or Gas?
4. Is liquid smoke OK to use?
5. Everyone OK with pineapple on the pizza?
6. Is ketchup an acceptable hotdog condiment?
7. Is a taco is sandwich?
We recently spoke with NY Times food editor, Sam Sifton, about the always polarizing issue of Charcoal vs. Gas. Here's a more in-depth look into the pros and cons of charcoal and gas the way we see it:
Any chef will agree that the flavor imparted by charcoal is superb. But there are a few exceptions where gas has an advantage.
Charcoal burns much hotter than gas, which is great for hard sears and char marks on lean cuts of meat like steak and chops. But fatty or well-marbled cuts of meat can drip into coals causing flare-ups, which can impart a burnt, greasy flavor on meats. Usually, on gas grills the source of flame is covered by plates that keep fat from having direct contact with fire. Pork shoulders, briskets, and other large fatty cuts of meat can be cooked more evenly on gas, and without a the watchful eye that charcoal requires. That's a big benefit when you're down here under the Florida sun, slow-grilling something that might take six hours. The forgiving nature of the gas grill offers up air conditioning to those who don't care to stand over the hot coals.
Charcoal grills will take more time to get going, but for some (myself included), the act of starting a fire and then controlling it scratches a primal itch that propane can't seem to reach. Another one of our favorite uses for charcoal in true primal fashion is for fueling our La Caja China. For those outside of the loop, La Caja China is a large wooden box capable of roasting large cuts of meat. A layer of charcoal is placed on a metal sheet over the top of the box, providing enough high heat to render pig skin perfectly crispy and delicious. And while we're on the topic of pig skin... We've included a 2018 Superbowl LII whole La Caja China pig roast as one of the many rewards of our recently launched Kickstarter campaign. Have a snoop at the other offerings here.
La Caja China Roasted Whole Hog
The clean-up of gas grills is much easier than having to deal with charcoal ash. But we do like that charcoal grills are easier to maintain, with no gas lines to replace or propane tanks to refill.
We use the gas grill most of the time for it's predictable results, even heat, ease of use, and easiness to clean. But the charcoal usually comes out when we plan on standing around the grill with a crowd of friends, no matter what we're cooking.
Want to know where we stand on the rest of these divisive issues? Join Hinckley's Fancy Meats mailing list and we'll share our biases. We'll also be a sounding board for any opinionated chef friends on these matters. Just email us answers to these 7 questions and we'll include your opinions (after placing judgement on you, of course) in our next post. And you obviously don't need to be a chef to have an opinion. We want to hear from home cooks too! What do you consider the ultimate food taboo? Why?