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Pork ribs (with corn bread, coleslaw and southern greens) are served at Peckinpah BBQ, 2 Water St., in Vancouver. (Laura Leyshon for the Globe and Mail/Laura Leyshon for the Globe and Mail)
Pork ribs (with corn bread, coleslaw and southern greens) are served at Peckinpah BBQ, 2 Water St., in Vancouver. (Laura Leyshon for the Globe and Mail/Laura Leyshon for the Globe and Mail)

The cold, gristly truth about Peckinpah Add to ...

  • Name Peckinpah
  • Location 2 Water St.
  • Phone 604-681-5411
  • Website peckinpahbbq.com
  • Cuisine Barbecue

Sam Peckinpah was a nasty drunk and a revolutionary filmmaker who made savagely violent westerns about loners and losers who would rather charge into a hail of gunfire than compromise their principles.

An odd homage, some may say, for a smoky new Gastown joint that celebrates the grand old traditions of Eastern North Carolina barbecue.

Yet film experts will tell you that the grizzled old brute was widely misunderstood - and perhaps the same can be said for the beastly cold carnage now being dished out at Peckinpah.

In Canada, we often confuse barbecue with backyard grilling - a quick and convenient method of searing lean steaks and marinated chicken over high heat. To diehard "Q" fanatics south of the Mason-Dixon line, classic American barbecue is a "slow and low" process that involves tough, fatty cuts of meats smoked for many hours (often overnight) in a closed chamber or barbecue pit, where pork shoulders and beef briskets bathe in the vapours of a smouldering fire as the connective tissue and fat breaks down and the protein braises in its own ambrosial broth.

There are numerous regional variations of Southern-style barbecue. Peckinpah specializes (or at least purports to specialize) in Eastern North Carolina 'cue. The meat is cooked with a dry rub in a massive cookhouse smoker fuelled by Tennessee white oak and served with a thin chili-vinegar sauce.

This is a time-honoured tradition that harkens back to the first European settlers on the Eastern U.S. seaboard who used vinegar, salt, chili pepper and sugar to preserve their hogs this way.

And it's a very noble thing - trying to expand our appreciation of regional barbecue - that the owners of Peckinpah are doing. There's certainly more to life than sweet-and-sticky Texas-style ribs.

But do they have to be so arrogant about it?

When a staff member explains that they're forced to offer a more familiar tomato-based barbecue sauce alongside the authentic North Carolina vinegar sauce because Vancouverites "just don't understand," his tableside manner feels about as prickly as the chicken wire nets hanging from the ceiling of this otherwise cramped and cozy 35-seater saloon in the old Alhambra building.

And when he says that he hides two bottles of wine behind the counter - against his will - for people who aren't satisfied with the beer and bourbon drinks list, one can't help but roll their eyes at the mock indignation.

I mean, come on. If Peckinpah were really being true to Eastern North Carolina, it wouldn't serve any beef at all and the pork would be chopped whole hog.

Much like the director's early audiences, I walked out of Peckinpah after my first visit cringing in disgust.

The smoked meats are served in full and half-size orders, on large, round parchment-lined platters, with dense cornbread and two choices of fixings that include vinegary collard greens, salty French Fries, buttermilk biscuits, sweet creamed corn and soupy baked beans.

The pulled pork ($11.50 for about a cup-sized half-order) was cold and flavourless, with barely a hint of smoke. The beef short ribs ($15.50 for two) were also cold and chewy, with big hunks of congealed fat glued to the bone.

On the second visit, the pulled pork was slightly warmer, but not much tastier. The meat wasn't dried out - worse, it was all mixed up with gummy fat.

The pork ribs ($16.50 for a half-order) were nicely seasoned with a crisp crust and firm bite. (Good barbecue doesn't fall off the bone, an indication that it was overcooked or boiled).

Likewise, the fat cap on the beef brisket ($17.50 for six slices) had melted into a good, crisp bark. But there was no smoke ring on the meat, which was an unappetizing shade of grey and slightly tough. It reminded me of my grandma's cold pot roast leftovers.

The problem here is not the style of barbecue, and it would be a shame if customers shied away from North Carolina smoked meat because of the gorefest being served at Peckinpah. The problem is that the meat is all served cold.

"It is supposed to this cool?" I asked the server the second visit round. "Well, no," he hummed and hawed. But if it were reheated, he said, the meat would "lose all its lovely tenderness."


Sure, it's not easy to serve barbecue that is at its best when it comes hot and steaming straight out of the smoker. Unless a restaurant is doing 500 covers at dinner, it's difficult to serve the meat at its peak.

But there are ways of keeping the meat warm, and Peckinpah is going to have to figure it out fast. Because once it goes cold, all that lovely tenderness seizes up. The intense smoke flavour dissipates, the fat gets chewy and it tastes ghastly - no matter what type of sauce it's dipped in.

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