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Barbecue: A revelation from Kermit Ruffins

One evening I posed this question to Kermit Ruffins, who in addition to being a great jazz musician is also a renowned barbecuer. “Kermit,” I asked, “do you like your barbecue with the sauce or without it?”

He didn’t hesitate. “I like it without the sauce,” he said, “but the ladies, they like the sauce.”

That answer seemed to transcend mere barbecue to become cosmic. Here then, if his answer was correct, was a gender differentiation to one of the great food debates of all time. There is no right answer between “to sauce” and “not to sauce,” just considerations perhaps of socialization and internal wiring.

Ruffins, whose band is called The Barbecue Swingers, is by reputation accomplished on both topics – barbecue and the ladies – so he does have perspective.

Here is some more: Recent studies reveal that certain colors on magazine covers work better by gender. According to a journalism professor who has studied these things, men react better to red and black while women prefer pink and pastels. Could this be a true to barbecue, too? Meat without the sauce is revealed as being charred, black and red on the inside. Perhaps the sauce gives more of a multitude of softer colors that women would prefer.

I know there are societal influences as well. When I was growing up, our idea of barbecue was chicken that my mom baked in an oven with Kraft’s barbecue sauce brushed on. This, of course, was heresy.

I was once invited on a barbecue tour of Houston where the art is taken quite seriously. We must have stopped at eight places, and at every one the fare was beef or pork. “What about chicken?” I asked a Barbecue Titan character who accompanied us. He scoffed. Barbecue is a slow cooking process; chicken cooks too fast, it isn’t considered by the pros to be a real barbecue food.

Real barbecue, of course, is cooked gradually in a pit with different woods added at the right moment to give flavor. Certainly the guys who do the cooking, and this is mostly a male domain, likely would find no use for the sauces. Yet it’s the sauce that defines different geographic styles: sweet, tart, spicy, can reveal what part of the country you’re from.

According to the journalism professor there’s one cover color that doesn’t work for either gender: green. (He says it had something to do with the way that light refracts off the color.) On this matter the genders are united at the table, too. No one wants green barbecue, but if Kermit’s around, they all like their music hot.

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