AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Our final story this hour is also about travel, but there's no tragedy, just a lot of pork. Last fall, 23-year-old Molly Baz traded in her job as a chef at a Michelin-starred French restaurant for a - three-week road trip. She set out to learn all she could about American barbecue and she brought her father along for the ride, professional photographer Doug Baz.
The two of them documented their travels on a blog called Adventures in BBQ and they both joined us to explain why they took the journey.
MOLLY BAZ: I've always been, I guess you could say, ferociously obsessed with pork. I find the pig to be an incredible animal in terms of its versatility in the cooking world and that's the world that I live in.
CORNISH: And, Doug, what made you want to basically drop everything and go on this little adventure? I mean, I don't know if you even like barbecue.
DOUG BAZ: Oh, I do. I do share her interest in pork and, although I have to say that I think, up until that point, barbecue wasn't something that I was intensely interested in, but when your 23-year-old chef daughter asks you to go on a road trip with her, I think it took me maybe three or four seconds to answer, yes, I'm there.
CORNISH: So you guys decide that not only are you going to go on a little food tour, but this isn't just any foodie tour, right? You planned on learning from the experts, from the pit masters.
Molly, tell us, what is a pit master?
BAZ: So, a pit master is the man who tends the fire, generally speaking, in the back of the barbecue shack. He will be there from 2:00 in the morning 'til 2:00 in the afternoon, shoveling coals into a fire and tending to whole hogs and pork shoulders all night.
CORNISH: And, Doug, Molly got to work some of these pits and I was wondering, since you've got the photographer's eye, if you could describe some of them, what they look like or one that struck you in particular.
BAZ: In North Carolina, we went to Allen and Son's and were invited to come at whatever hour we wanted to, so we arrived at around 6:30 in the morning and Keith Allen's pit is very dark. I think the only light in that room was the light of the fire itself. He would open the exterior doors in order to control the draft in order to pull a lot of smoke out of the room or to allow it to collect. It was a very smoky environment.
CORNISH: Now, people feel pretty strongly about barbecue and I'm wondering, by the end of the trip, what you learned about the different regions and what was your favorite, if you would deign to come down on a particular side.
BAZ: Personally - and I think I speak for myself and my father - I think that we pretty much hit the jackpot in Texas.
BAZ: Without a doubt.
BAZ: Truly, Texas blew our minds. I have never tasted a more delicious piece of unadulterated meat in my life.
CORNISH: And what are some of the regional differences, like what makes Texas barbecue Texas barbecue?
BAZ: Well, because Texas is cattle land, you see the appearance of beef in Texas as opposed to in North Carolina and South Carolina, where it's primarily pork. So, beef brisket, beef sausage, also pork sausage, massive beef ribs. That's the kind of food that you find down there.
And we went to one small town in Texas called Lockhart, which is supposedly the barbecue capital of Texas. And we ordered one sausage known as a hot ring and bit into the sausage, which was so juicy inside that, as soon as you bit into it, it literally popped and fat and juices from the meat were actually dripping down my arm. And it was so bursting with flavor and with moisture, I have never tasted a sausage like this before.
BAZ: And the texture was unusual. It was coarsely ground.
BAZ: Coarsely ground. Yeah.
CORNISH: Now, forgive the pun, but of course I have a bone to pick with you guys. My favorite barbecue place is Rondezvous in Memphis. And I see you did not go to Kansas City, which some would think would render the whole trip moot.
BAZ: Well, that's going to have to wait, I suppose, to part two.
BAZ: We do plan on picking this trip up where we left off and hitting up all the spots that we weren't able to make it to, so fear not, Kansas City is in the near future.
CORNISH: Molly and Doug, thank you so much for talking with us.
BAZ: Thank you.
BAZ: Our pleasure.
CORNISH: That's chef Molly Baz and her father, photographer Doug Baz. They spoke to us from NPR New York. They traveled more than 4,000 miles by car from New York to Texas and back to learn about regional variations in American barbecue. They documented their journey on the blog, Adventures in BBQ. You can find a link to that blog and see photos from their trip on our website, NPR.org.