Q: In the song "House of Blue Lights," they have "fryers, broilers and Detroit barbecue ribs." Can you explain what "Detroit barbecue ribs" are?
—Rick Shaftan, Sparta, N.J.
A: I fear "Detroit barbecue ribs" may be nothing more than a catchy song lyric rather than an unique style of barbecue.
My former Tribune colleague, Robin Mather, is Michigan-born and served as Detroit News food editor for nearly a decade. She's never heard of 'em.
"I'm listening to that song right now (Asleep at the Wheel's version) and I believe the Detroit reference there is just for emphasis and the amazing gutty-tough resonance that Detroit carries,'' she wrote in an e-mail.
"A lot of ribs in the Detroit metro area show clear influences from other places—North and South Carolina's thin, vinegary sauces, Memphis's dry rubs, St. Louis's reddish-brown sweet-tangy sauce, Kansas City's very red, very sweet sauce—but those influences come from the influx of people who moved to the Motor City from those places post-World War II and brought their favorite rib style with them," she added.
Now senior associate editor at Mother Earth News magazine and author of the soon-to-be-published "The Feast Nearby," Mather is a former barbecue competition judge who specialized in ribs.
"I'm fairly confident in my ability to spot a rib's influences from 20 paces. Nothing I've ever seen in Michigan is unique to Michigan, let alone to Detroit," she said.
Echoing Mather's comments is Gary Wiviott, author with Colleen Rush of "Low & Slow: Master the Art of Barbecue in 5 Easy Lessons."
"No specific Detroit barbecue style I'm aware of," said Wiviott, a founder of LTHForum, a Chicago-based culinary chat line. "Slows, the place that gets the most publicity, has a multi-regional menu. I've had direct cooked chicken and ribs at a few random street setups, but nothing the city could hang its hat on."
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