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Llamatism is the website of Richmond, Va-based artist and musician, Gary Llama. Be sure to checkout the essays, howtos, and his Reviews. Enjoy!

‘Virginia Style’ Pulled Tofu BBQ

Long before Texas, Kansas City, or even North Carolina had barbecue, Virginia was cranking out the prototypical barbecue. Over time though, it’s role in the development has fallen into obscurity. Some barbecue maps don’t even list Virginia. Why? I don’t know. But when you realize that the most popular BBQ places in our city currently are serving Texas or Louisiana-style, you start to see part of the problem. And with the influx of new people moving to places like Richmond for schools like VCU, and shitty Forbes articles talking about our great new gentrification, well, that shit doesn’t help.

Why did Virginia have barbecue in the first place, you may wonder? Well, the answer is Slavery and Tobacco, hence why the oldest traditions are all occurring in the south. See, Tobacco is a finicky crop, and when it’s time to harvest, it has to be harvested quickly. So on these old slave plantations, all available hands would be called upon to pull the tobacco from the fields and begin curing it. So when they’d do this, they’d already have a fire going to dry the tobacco leaves, so at some point, they started cooking hogs. The odd thing was, it was one of the few times that slaves and slave-owners, their families, and every other available person, would eat together. The urgency necessitated it. So while it was born in a time of oppression, it also represented something of a leveling of humanities, though indeed, not remotely enough of a leveling to have cured the ills of the slavery practice.

Of course, I didn’t know this growing up. And overtime, people just kept making it, sans the tobacco harvest, and sans slavery. And I grew up on the Virginia style of Barbecue. Bills barbecue here in the city, and King’s barbecue in Petersburg. When you said ‘Barbecue Sauce’ in our house, it meant Sauer’s, which was the original recipe of Kings (and vegan, accidentally). And when I had a special occasion be it a birth day, or my dad just wanting to take use out for a treat, it was barbecue. Hell, even at home, somehow my mom would manage a pulled pork, and my earliest memories of lunch would be eating around the table, my Dad home on his lunch break, eating pork barbecue.

So what is ‘Virginia Barbecue’? Well, it starts with the cooking.

Traditionally, it was a roast of an entire pig, usually slathered in salt, then left to smoke for around 24 hours. And once cooked, was chopped up (‘minced’ as we called it) and served altogether: shoulder with leg, etc, just all cut up and mixed together. This resulted in a varied mix of the meat, some dark, some white, some soft, some hard, some lean, some fat.

The sauce, which is what a lot of folks think of when they think of barbecue, was vinegar-based, apple cider vinegar usually, with pepper. It’s a
very basic thing. Where Kansas City may depend on a thick molasses sauce that gives flavor, Virginia depended on the actually smoking of the pig, and used light sauce to accentuate it.

Well, along the way I developed an ethical distaste for meat, and dairy products, and became a vegan. And twenty something years later, I’m still pretty devoted to this. But I think the taste, the style of Virginia Barbecue is important to preserve, and to my palate and standards, it’s the only kind I can endorse. So when I wanted to make some barbecue for my vegetarian daughter, I figured I’d give it a shot in the the Virginia style.

Now, cooking a block of tofu to taste like a pig, well it’s not going to happen. But I can cook the ‘general idea’, the tradition.

So first thing first, I prep the tofu by cutting it thickness ways into half, then draining it under pressure for about 30 minutes. Then once that was done, we gotta do something to differentiate the interior from the exterior. So I lightly oil the exterior, then roll it in cornstarch. Once that is done, I transfer it to a baking sheet. And then I salt the shit out of it. Basic table salt, just cover it with it.

Then it’s into a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Then it’s flipped, and put back in for another 10.

By this time, my grill outside is heating up. If you wanted to be authentic, oak or oak and hickory could be used, and smoked for a long time. But for this, it’s kingsford and 10 minutes on each side, or until theres some blackening on the edges. You’d preferablly want to burn the shit out of the exterior, but the way tofu works, you’d probably end up too dry inside.

Once you’ve put the tofu on the grill, you can start mixing up a sauce. I tried a few different mixes, just adjusting to taste, but here is what I ended up with. In relative measurements, poured into a cup: about a 1/3 cup of cold water, around 1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar, a thick layer of pepper on the water, a tablespoon of mustard, and about 8-10 shakes of a milder hot sauce (I used Choulula, but Texas Pete would be more traditional). Then mix.

Once the tofu comes in, you just put the blocks on top of each other, and with a sharp knife, start cutting it up. Just butcher the shit out of it, while mixing in a little of the sauce here and there. Once it’s obliterated cutting wise, it’s good to go. I didn’t use more than half of the sauce. It should be mostly dry, with light saucing. If it’s dripping, you fucked up.

Now ‘sides’ are a thing with barbecue, and with Virginia style, it’s treated as normal food, so it’s never fancy. Save fancy for desert. So if you put out some bread, make it cheap white bread. If you offer anything on the side, make it plain. It’s about the taste of the barbecue. Nothing else. Even Bill’s coleslaw was about as plain as you could get. Compliment the existing meal, don’t add to it. Accordingly, I served it with white rice, with some salt and pepper.

Now my daughter hates ‘hot things’ and is skeptical of anything new. But with a side of peppered rice, she LOVED this. Hell, even my spouse liked it, and she generally doesn’t like this kind of barbecue. She threw on more Cholula. Because it’s a little bland. It’s not ‘savory’, there is no Umami, none of that shit. It’s a meal. You fucking eat it.

Overall, it’s a little labor intensive, but worth it.

Benchmark DAC 1

Make / Model: Benchmark DAC 1
Year: ?

Build Quality

Excellent

Functionality

Exccellent

Impressions

This was my primary DAC at my MortarWorks Mastering studio. The reason: It is an excellent DAC. I picked one up again recently, and even with the 15 years between it’s introduction and now, it is still one of the best DACs on the market. This has to do with a couple reasons: 1) The chip is great 2) the analog stages are excellent designs and 3) the headphone amp is very good.

The importance of a good DAC is that all DACs colour (essentially, EQ) the sound. So, if as in mastering, you are making critical adjustments to a recording, the DAC you use will cause you to either be correct, or in error, in your judgement of the EQ of the material.

Nowadays, most DACs on the market, or in devices are decent, and so the differences between an average DAC and a great DAC are not as obvious as they were in the 2000s, and no where near the differences in the 80s and 90s. However, there are still quite large differences in certain applications.

Overall, this was a landmark product, bringing high DAC quality to middle level studios for a 1/3 of the cost of competing devices.

AKG c414 B ULS

Make / Model: AKG c414 B ULS
Year: ?

Build Quality

Decent

Functionality

Decent

Impressions

The C414 is a microphone derived from the C12. The late versions of the C12 used a body similar to the 414, but the 414 uses a reworked capsule. Comparatively, the c414 is a duller sounding microphone than the C12. This makes the 414 a bit less useful on vocals, and was addressed with the c414 TLII.

What the 414 does do well, is that of an all around microphone. While it may not have the magic for vocals, it is very good for acoustic string instruments, and drum applications such as overheads and room mic. It has a selectable pickup pattern that makes it extremely versatile.

Overall, not a bad mic, but if buying a 414-type mic, i’d opt for the TLII version.

Focusrite Saffire Pro 40

Make / Model: Focusrite Saffire Pro 40
Year: ?

Build Quality

Decent

Functionality

Decent

Impressions

The Focusrite Saffire line of interfaces runs across Fireweire, instead of the USB of the later Scarlett range. The Saffire also has different mic preamps, that are different than the Scarlett. The Saffire preamps have more headroom, but sound a little duller. However, they seem to be higher quality overall.

The Saffire Pro 40 and Pro 20 tend to feel much more solidly constructed than the Scarlett devices, and seem to be aimed more towards working studios, than individual musicians. Accordingly, the Saffire mix software offers features more conducive to studios than the very simplisitic device software of the Scarlett.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

Make / Model: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
Year: ?

Build Quality

Ok

Functionality

Ok

Impressions

This is one of the most inexpensive audio interfaces available that is well built. It is very simple, and It will do what you need it to do, decently. The mic preamps are decent. However, they don’t have much headroom, and it’s easy to overload them.

The biggest issue with the focusrite USB stuff is that it tends to generate lots of recording errors on my setup, and from what I’ve read online, it’s typical. There were two versions of each of the Focusrite Scarlett models, with the latter version of each having better USB performance, but even then they still had issues.

For what this device is, it really is amazing to get the quality available of mic-preamp and ad/da for the price it is. A much different situation than the interfaces I grew up on in the 2000s.

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