Tuesday, July 31

2012 Southern Foodways Symposium Details

James Willis.  Image courtesy of SFA Founder Al Clayton.

Barbecue: An Exploration of Pitmasters, 
Places, Smoke, and Sauce

Southern Foodways Symposium: October 19-21, 2012
Delta Divertissement: October 18-19, 2012


Click here for more details. 
Tickets go on sale to SFA members August 1.
SFA members have been sent an email with a link to the shopping cart.  Miss it? Contact us.

The fifteenth Southern Foodways Symposium will be held October 19–21, 2012, in and around the town of Oxford and on the campus of the University of Mississippi.

The Delta Divertissement, now in its tenth year, will take place October 18–19 in nearby Greenwood and Cleveland.

Both events will explore the culture of barbecue.

Ten years back, the SFA staged its first barbecue-focused symposium. (James Willis, whose portrait tops this page, won that year’s Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame Award.) In the intervening decade, we’ve learned a lot. And we’re ready to share that knowledge.

It’s still true that much dialogue about barbecue focuses on tradition and intransigence. Yet barbecue, like all products of culture, is not static. It evolves. And so do we. In that spirit, the SFA staff has dedicated 2012 to revisiting the subject, adding new oral histories and films to our archive, while immersing ourselves in continuing barbecue education.

Barbecue speaks to the past, present, and future of the South. Stories of pitmasters—of the places they work, the smoke they conjure, the sauces they stir—evoke larger-picture American narratives of race, class, gender, labor, power, and community.

This year we booked speakers who look at barbecue through lenses that include animal husbandry, workers’ rights, cultural geography, literature, food science, and identity politics.

Eaters at this year’s Southern Foodways Symposium will get schooled in Southern barbecue traditions. From Brunswick stew to banana pudding, we’ll hit the high notes, while traveling from Texas to the Carolinas and from Mexico to Memphis.

The pig will get its due. But so will other beasts. Join us as we revel in smoke-perfumed oysters, cows, fish, and fowl.

And yes, just in case you’re wondering—we will serve vegetables.

Adventurous drinkers will tipple Tennessee whiskey from a new-guard distiller, sip California rosé vinified to complement wood smoke, and slake their thirst with Arkansas-sourced sparkling water.  

Artistic expressions of food culture continue to enthrall your SFA programming team. This year, we’ve commissioned a puppet theater homage to pitmasters, with live orchestral accompaniment.

These events provide opportunities for thinkers, writers, cooks, and eaters to come to a better understanding of American regional culinary culture. Lectures and performances, staged on the University of Mississippi campus, and at locations around the city of Oxford, will be amplified by informal breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. 

Pictures From the Pit: Sam's Bar-B-Q Rebuild Photos Online

Photographs documenting day one of the SFA Skillet Brigade effort to rebuild fire-ravaged Sam's Bar-B-Q in Humboldt, TN, are now on our Flickr page.

Thanks, again, to everyone who volunteered.

Get on the Southern BBQ Trail: MISSISSIPPI



Next stop on the Southern BBQ Trail: MISSISSIPPI.

Mississippians joke that the best barbecue in the state can be found in Memphis. True, it’s hard to put a finger on the pulse of Mississippi’s barbecue tradition, if it has one. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t great stories. The late Deke Baskin of Oxford was a celebrated barbecue man. One of his first jobs was washing dishes at a fraternity house on the campus of the University of Mississippi. At the time, there was a fraternity tradition of cooking a whole hog on football weekends when Ole Miss would play Arkansas (their team mascot is a hog), and that’s how Deke learned to barbecue. But Deke also grew up in a community that held large picnics to celebrate holidays and family reunions. A traditional food for these kinds of gatherings in north Mississippi was barbecued goat. Deke recalls in his interview, “Family reunions and, you know, the Fourth of July was a big thing…In the old days we had Blues harmonica, you know, and good times—and the goat. You had to have a goat there.” As Deke became skilled at cooking hogs, he added goat to his repertoire. He operated a series of restaurants in and around Oxford, the last of which closed in 2005. Deke passed away in 2011. 

Meet Deke Baskin:


***

Visit the introduction to our state-by-state Southern BBQ Trail tour here.

Or, just visit the Southern BBQ Trail to meet the more than 100 people from 9 states who've shared their stories with us.

Grab a napkin and go!

Monday, July 30

SFA Skillet Brigade Helps Rebuild Sam's BBQ in Humboldt, TN

Day one of the rebuild: fire-ravaged Sam's Bar-B-Q is gutted.
Photo by Amy Evans.
Led by the SFA, the Fatback Collective, and Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q, a group of volunteers traveled to Humboldt, TN, last weekend to help rebuild Sam's Bar-B-Q.

Founder Sam Donald began smoking hogs in the 1940s. Through the years, Sam worked for other men, smoking their hogs and stirring their sauce. In 1988, Sam and his wife Mary opened their own place, Sam's Bar-B-Q, specializing in shoulder meat sandwiches and sweet potato pies.

Sam built a pit alongside his building, a dome-topped double-decker behemoth. Oak and hickory limbs burned down to coals on the bottom. Up top, those coals smoldered, cooking and perfuming pork shoulders.

When the SFA began its oral history work, Sam Donald was one of the first pitmasters interviewed.

Sam passed away in 2011. His daughter and son-in-law, Seresa and Jon Ivory, kept the pit going. In June of this year, Sam's was claimed by fire.

Remnants of the original pit.
Photo by Amy Evans.

The work was hard. It was hot. But last weekend, 20+ people did heir part to help resurrect this icon east Tennessee barbecue.

In the video below, pitmaster Rodney Scott of Scott's Bar-B-Q in Hemingway, SC, and Jim 'N Nick's employees, who came from locations across the country to lend a hand, help excavate the crumbled pit.


Seresa didn't want to let the day end before thanking those who came to help:


By Saturday afternoon, there was a new roof over the pit, new fire bricks inside, and a fresh coat of paint on the building's exterior.

Thanks to everyone who traveld to lend their time, tools, and labor.

Day one of the rebuild, volunteers from as far away as South Carolina
and Colorado traveled to Humboldt, TN, to pitch in.
Photo by Amy Evans.
Stay tuned for updates and news of 'cue from Sam's in Humboldt, TN.

Meet Sara Wood, 2012 SFA Oral History Intern

Sara Wood arrived to SFA World Headquarters today to begin her two-week oral history internship. She comes to us from UNC-Wilmington, where she's pursuing an MFA in creative writing (non-fiction). Armed with radio-documentary experience, Sara will be working with existing SFA oral history interviews to create short audio pieces for broadcast. She'll also be working directly with SFA oral historian Amy Evans to learn fieldwork techniques and hone her photography skills.

And, since this is her first-ever trip to Mississippi, we definitely plan on filling her up with proper amounts of kibbe and catfish.

Welcome, Sara!

Thursday, July 26

A Profile in Barbecue: Columbus B. Hill


From the sauce-splattered keyboard of guest blogger Adrian Miller. 

Last week, we heard about our nation's wildest barbecue, and in the middle of it all was Columbus B. Hill, the event's chef de cuisine. Chef Hill's reputation was sullied by the event, but before that, he was a well-known "barbecue man." The Greeley (CO) Tribune reported in 1894 that "Hill is a colored man and has a great reputation as a barbecue cook. He has officiated at more barbecues the past twelve years than any other man in the Union. From Missouri to the Lone Star State he has baked meat for hungry thousands and he thoroughly understands his business."

Illustration from the Denver Evening Post, January 27, 1898

In 1902, Hill was still working to rebuild his image from the 1898 Colorado catastrophe. He told the Denver Times, "This method of serving meat is descended from the sacrificial alters of the time of Moses when the priests of the temple got their fingers greasy and dared not wipe them on their Sunday clothes."

Chef Hill got good press in his era, but many African American pitmasters went unheralded outside of their immediate community. Still, these barbecue ambassadors played an important role in both maintaining barbecue culture in the South and spreading it to other parts of the country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Epilogue: The Food Network's recently debuted "Chopped: Grill Masters" mini-series has no African Americans among its host, three judges, and sixteen competitors. Chopped usually does a good job of representing a diverse cross-section of American chefs among its contestants. Of course, "grill master" isn't the same thing as pitmaster. But I continue to ask...what gives? 

You can follow Adrian Miller on Twitter at @SoulFoodScholar. 

Wednesday, July 25

Get on the Southern BBQ Trail: KENTUCKY

Next stop on the Southern BBQ Trail: KENTUCKY.



“In Western Kentucky, when we talk about barbecue, it’s mutton and lots of it,” says Jerry Thompson of Morganfield, pictured above. Jerry participates in St. Ann Catholic Church’s annual barbecue, a tradition throughout Western Kentucky. According to Jerry, church barbecues started during the Great Depression as a way for the community to come together and for each family to share what they had. Some families brought sheep. Some families brought wood. Some families brought corn. Together, they had a big barbecue, and the tradition continues today. “These churches, I mean…in the whole of Western Kentucky from Owensboro to the Tennessee Line to the Mississippi River…there’s probably 50 or so churches in this area, and the large majority of them will have a big barbecue,” Jerry says proudly. 


The St. Ann Catholic Church oral history is just one of the many interviews we'll be adding to the new Kentucky leg of the Southern BBQ Trail in the coming weeks.


Stay tuned for more!

***

Visit the introduction to our state-by-state Southern BBQ Trail tour here.

Or, just visit the Southern BBQ Trail to meet the more than 100 people from 9 states who've shared their stories with us.

Grab a napkin and go!

Tuesday, July 24

If it Happens in the Backyard, Is it Barbecue?

From the sauce-stained keyboard of guest blogger Robert Moss. 

The proper use of the word "barbecue" is a topic that stirs regional passions. Folks from northern climes think nothing of saying, "Come over this afternoon and we'll barbecue some brats." Such a usage jars the ears of Southerners and can launch them into long speechifying on how barbecue is a noun, not a verb, and that you can only create such a noun by slow-roasting meat on a wood-fired pit.

Historically, though, there is a direct link between the backyard barbecue and the pit tradition. In the 1920s, popular magazines ran articles describing outdoor barbecues in the South and West. They instructed readers on how to stage similar events at home—the first step was to dig a hole in the yard. In the 1930s, more affluent families began to install outdoor brick "barbecues"—more sophisticated fireplace than lowly pit.

During World War II, the backyard barbecue became popular with all social classes. In an era of gas and food rationing, it offered, as the New York Herald Tribune put it, "an economic means of entertainment al fresco." Manufacturers introduced barbecue grills, which evolved from simple braziers to more elaborate devices like the Weber kettle. To fit the smaller scale of a single family, pork shoulders gave way to chops and steaks, which in turn led to hamburgers and hotdogs. Wood was replaced by lump charcoal, which later was replaced by charcoal briquettes and, eventually, natural gas.

Image from the Better Homes and Gardens Barbecue Book, 1959.


By the 1950s, the backyard barbecue was an entrenched symbol of the good life in America, though not everyone was happy about it. "Many Georgia epicures insist that this is an insult to the honorable name of barbecue," Rufus Jarman wrote in The Saturday Evening Post in 1954. "You cannot barbecue hamburgers, roasting ears, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, or salami, and it is a shame and a disgrace to mention barbecue in connection with such foolishness.

Almost sixty years later, that issue still isn't resolved.

Robert Moss, a food writer and restaurant critic for the Charleston City Paper, is the author of Barbecue: The History of an American Institution. You can follow him on Twitter at @mossr.

Monday, July 23

Help Rebuild Sam's Bar-B-Q!

Sam's Bar-B-Q Rebuild Weekend
Friday and Saturday, July 27-28
Humboldt, Tennessee

Before
After
The Fatback Collective, along with the Southern Foodways Alliance, and Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q, invites you to volunteer your time, muscle, and skills to rebuild an institution, Sam's Bar-B-Q in Humboldt, Tennessee.

Founder Sam Donald began smoking hogs in the 1940s. Through the years, Sam worked for other men, smoking their hogs and stirring their sauce. In 1988, Sam and his wife Mary Donald, opened their own place, Sam's Bar-B-Q, specializing in shoulder meat sandwiches and sweet potato pies.

Sam built a pit alongside his building, a dome-topped double-decker behemoth. Oak and hickory limbs burned down to coals on the bottom. Up top, those coals smoldered, cooking and perfuming pork shoulders.

When the SFA began its oral history work, Sam Donald was one of the first pitmasters interviewed.

Through the years his family commitment, and that of other great American pitmasters, has inspired all of the hosts of this work weekend.

Now it's time to give back.

In June of this year, Sam's, now run by John Ivory, son-in-law of Sam Donald, was hit by fire. Hard.

The family does not have the means to rebuild, without help.

That's where you come in.

From 8-4 on Friday and Saturday, July 27 and 28, volunteers from SFA, Fatback, and Jim 'N Nick's will join together in Humboldt to help put Sam's back on the path to reopening.

Toby Rumbarger from Jim 'N Nick's has done a site survey and developed a plan of work.

Peter Brigham, a construction company owner from Birmingham, stands ready to lead work crews.

Mary Beth Lasseter of the SFA just ordered two construction dumpsters, which will be in place by Wednesday.

We need 30 volunteers to do demolition and haul debris, under the supervision of skilled foremen.

That translates to 15 per day. You may sign up for a shift HERE.

Already booked for a shift are John Currence, Angie Mosier, Drew Robinson, Melissa Hall, Jill Cooley, Amy Evans, John T Edge, Patrick Brigham, Sara Camp Arnold, and Nick Pihakis.

Only a few slots remain.

Join us.

One more thing: We know that barbecue restaurants burn fairly often. It's a hazard of an industry that relies on fire for smoke. We realize that we can't come to the aid of every barbecue restaurant that burns. But we can help this time. And we hope, that by lending a hand, we can inspire others to do similar good works to sustain our great American folk food.

John T Edge and Nick Pihakis


LOGISTICS

Humboldt is 16 miles northwest of Jackson, Tennessee, just off I-40 between Memphis and Nashville.

Sam's is located at 500 West Main Street in Humboldt.

Lunch will be provided gratis on site each day at 11:30 by Clark and Juanita Shaw of the Old County Store in Jackson.

We'll eat barbecue from Helen's in nearby Brownsville on the night of July 27.

After you sign up for a shift, SFA office manager Julie Pickett will email you with contact information for the hotel rooms we've reserved in Jackson. You will pay for your own hotel room.

If you volunteer, you should bring heavy work gloves, a hat, a mask, and a six-pack of water bottles. If you can, please bring wheelbarrows, crowbars, and large shovels.

If you try to volunteer and all spots are already taken, we'll put you on a wait list for this weekend, or, as needs are further defined, check with you about a future weekend.

Get on the Southern BBQ Trail: GEORGIA


Next stop on the Southern BBQ Trail: GEORGIA.

We have stories about Brunswick stew. We have stories from an all-female operated joint in Chamblee. And we have some incredible interviews from the family behind Fresh Air Bar-B-Que in Jackson. Hear about the restaurant that Dr. Joel Watkins, a veterinarian, opened in 1929 to serve the rabbits and goats he raised and barbecued on the weekends. Dr. Watkins never cooked pork. George “Toots” Caston brought in the hogs when he bought the place in 1952. Hear tell of the original pit that could hold nineteen whole hogs, the 25-gallon cast-iron pots for cooking Brunswick stew, and the family coleslaw recipe—which didn’t appear on the menu until the 1980s. Today, the third generation of the Caston family is at the helm, and they are proud of what their grandfather created. As George Barber, one of Toot’s grandsons puts it, “It’s something [our grandfather] instilled in us as children growing up, to have pride in what you did and to do the best job you could do at anything, no matter what it was.”




The Fresh Air Bar-B-Que oral history, is just one of the many interviews we'll be adding to the new Georgia leg of the Southern BBQ Trail in the coming weeks.

Stay tuned for more!


***

Visit the introduction to our state-by-state Southern BBQ Trail tour here.

Or, just visit the Southern BBQ Trail to meet the more than 100 people from 9 states who've shared their stories with us.

Grab a napkin and go!


Friday, July 20

Appalachia Comes to NOLA

Charles Dowell shows off the signature pork sandwich at Snappy Lunch in Mt. Airy, NC. 
If you're in New Orleans this weekend—or anytime soon—cool off at the Southern Food and Beverage Musuem (SoFAB). A new exhibit called "Lens on the Larder: The Foodways of Southern Appalachia in Focus" opens tomorrow (July 21) and runs through September 21.

Photographs by Larry Smith and oral histories collected by Fred Sauceman, both of East Tennessee State University, document traditional and emerging foodways of Southern Appalachia—from lard-fortified bowls of soup beans to artisanal goat cheese.

Get on the Southern BBQ Trail: ARKANSAS


Next stop on the Southern BBQ Trail: ARKANSAS.

Craig’s and McLard’s are the icons of Arkansas ’cue. We collected those stories. But we also have an interview with Barry Vaughan of J & N Barbecue in Bono. Barry’s grandparents, Jim and Nora Vaughan, opened the place in 1996, but they had a side business smoking meats for community gatherings for years. Barry does most of the barbecuing these days, smoking everything from ribs to butts. He also smokes wild game—turkey, deer, and even raccoons—for local hunters. Jim and Nora have attended “coon suppers” all their lives, so it wasn’t long before smoked raccoon became a J & N tradition. About his grandparents, Barry says, “This is all they do. They eat and live barbecue. They’re here six days a week from 7:00 to 7:00, so there ain't much life other than barbecue for them.”

Meet the Vaughan family of J & N Barbecue:


***

Visit the introduction to our state-by-state Southern BBQ Trail tour here.

Or, just visit the Southern BBQ Trail to meet the more than 100 people from 9 states who've shared their stories with us.

Grab a napkin and go!

Lone Star Dispatch: Linked In

From the keyboard of guest blogger Daniel Vaughn, whose computer smells vaguely of brisket. 


Texans are known for their beef barbecue, but our love of the steer goes deeper than just brisket. In southeast Texas, along the Gulf Coast, a few producers still turn out all-beef sausage links. Not even an oink's worth of pork is included in these sausages—known locally as "juicy links"—not even in the casings. Seasoned with plenty of garlic and enough paprika to dye the generous outflow of fat, these links are packed into beef casings.

A juicy link at Patillo's in Beaumont. Photo by Daniel Vaughn


A few old timers (and some who just don't know any better) expend the time and energy required to chew the tough casings. Most folks squeeze the filling right into their mouths like a Louisianan downing boudin, while others cut the links opened and consume the filling either with a fork or using a slice of white bread as a plate-to-palate conduit. In this situation, the bread should not be stout enough to withstand more than a few seconds of the saturated filling, as the impromptu fold-over sandwiches are meant to be consumed quickly and with gusto.

Patillo's Bar-B-Q in Beaumont is the first place I ever experienced these links. The restaurant turns one hundred this year, and I don't think they've touched the recipe in that time. Similar links can be found at Sonny's II (and presumably at Sonny's I, wherever that may be), also in Beaumont. At a Port Arthur hole in the wall called Comeaux's, Mr. Comeaux has been dishing out juicy links of his own recipe for a quarter of a century.

Back in Beaumont, a joint called Broussard's Links & Ribs still makes a great beef link, but the fat content—and therefore the succulent juiciness—have been reduced over time. Farther down the coast in Galveston, Leon's World's Finest Bar-B-Q bills juicy links as "Downtown Links" on its menu. Leon is proud to carry on the tradition, faithfully preparing them according to a 1930s recipe.

Let's hope today's fat-averse tendencies don't choke them out for good.

You can follow Daniel Vaughn on Twitter at @bbqsnob. 

Thursday, July 19

Our Nation's Wildest Barbecue

From the sauce-splattered keyboard of guest blogger Adrian Miller.

Fellow barbecue blogger Robert Moss recently told you about the largest barbecue in our nation's history. Now it's time to hear about the wildest: "The Last Buffalo Barbecue," held in Denver, Colorado, on January 27, 1898. A group of Denver's prominent citizens wanted the city to be the permanent home of the National Stock Growers Convention, where the biggest cattlemen gathered to buy, trade, and talk all things livestock. The concerned citizens seduced the conventions organizers and VIPs with barbecue—a lot of it. On the gargantuan menu for the 20,000 expected guests were 2 buffalo, 10 cows, 4 elk, 30 sheep, 2 bears, 15 antelope, and 200 possums. For the vegetarians in the crowd (okay, there probably weren't many of those), side dishes included 35 barrels of yams, 10,000 pickles, 3,000 loaves of bread, a half-ton of cheese, 300 kegs of beer, and 200 gallons of coffee. Due to the great anticipation for the event—and the aroma that wafted all through town—50,000 people showed up for the barbecue. And they were all hungry.

"Turning and Basting the Buffalo," from January 27, 1898 edition of the Denver Evening Post

Someone had the bright idea to serve the beer first, hoping to mollify the throng. A riot soon broke out, causing Colorado's governor and Denver's mayor to seek shelter. Many of the cooks were reduced to tears. With some hyperbole, the Littleton Independent editorialized, "It was probably the last time that buffalo meat, bears' meat, opossum, antelope steaks, and venison will be served in barbecue style on the American continent."

As far as we know, they were right until 1923, when Oklahoma Governor Jack Walton's inauguration barbecue boasted a similar menu and drew 125,000 attendees.

You can follow Adrian Miller on Twitter at @soulfoodscholar. 

Meet Daniel Vaughn, Barbecue Guest Blogger

Name: Daniel Vaughn

Home Base: Dallas, Texas

Barbecue Street Cred: Daniel is the author of the forthcoming book Prophets of Smoked Meat, which will be published in 2013 by Ecco's Anthony Bourdain imprint. In researching the book, Vaughn and photographer Nicholas McWhirter covered 10,000 miles of highway in Texas, exploring the state's regional barbecue variations. Vaughn's current personal tally of barbecue joints visited (all over the country, but primarily in Texas) is 573 and counting. They are reviewed on his blog, Full Custom Gospel BBQ.

Photo by David Woo


Preferred Style of Barbecue: "I love pork, mutton, sausage, and even the occasional cabrito (goat) leg, but there's nothing better than a slice of fatty brisket in the Central Texas style, slow-smoked over Post Oak."

Favorite Barbecue Accoutrements: "My first choice for a side item is more meat. Failing that, I have an occasional hankering for fried okra, spicy pinto beans, and banana pudding."

Triumphant Barbecue Moment: "I was sitting at a barbecue joint in Oklahoma with my brother-in-law, eating a plate of brisket and ribs. Sight unseen, I told him that they were smoking the meat in a gas-fired Ole Hickory Pit. Our server confirmed this hunch. My brother was appropriately impressed, and I was proud that I could tell a gasser from a real wood smoker just by the flavor."

 You can follow Daniel on Twitter at @bbqsnob. Stay tuned for his "Lone Star Dispatches," coming in every other week.

Wednesday, July 18

Get on the Southern BBQ Trail!

In this, our year of all things barbecue, we invite you to hit the Southern BBQ Trail.

Since 2005, we’ve collected more than 100 oral history interviews from 9 states that are all about the culture of ’cue. We’ve visited with pitmasters and restaurant owners, wood purveyors and hog processors, and more. This summer, we're adding loads of new oral history interviews from across the South: Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we'd like to highlight some of those interviews here. We'll travel state by state, introducing--or re-introducing--you to some of the people who have shared their stories with us. 

First up: ALABAMA.

We trace the history of Alabama’s unique white sauce. We have stories from Golden Rule Bar-B-Q, Alabama’s oldest restaurant continually in operation, open since 1891. But you won’t want to miss our interview with Dale Pettit of Top Hat Barbecue in Blount Springs. Opened in 1952, Dale’s father, Wilbur, a bread deliveryman, bought the place in 1967. The sauce recipe cost him extra. Dale took the reins from his father in 1971 and has been the pitmaster ever since. He prefers to do things the old-fashioned way: “When people like me stop barbecuing the old way, it will die. And people that don’t try it while they have the opportunity will be sorry because one day it won't be here anymore." 

Meet Dale Pettit of Top Hat Barbecue:


Visit the Southern BBQ Trail for more.

Grab a napkin and go!

One More from the Road: Dessert

Banana pudding is one of several desserts served on the buffet at Brown's Barbecue in Kingstree, South Carolina. The combination of sliced banana, pudding, and Nilla wafers is a favorite at barbecue joints in the Carolinas and beyond.

Photo by Denny Culbert. Click to enlarge

Thanks again to Rien Fertel and Denny Culbert for enthusiastically piloting The Barbecue Bus on behalf of the SFA's Southern BBQ Trail oral history initiative. The oral histories they gathered in South Carolina this summer will be available on our website in September. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 17

Stir the Pot, Stoke the Pits


On Sunday July 29 and Monday July 30, Chef Ashley Christensen of Poole's Diner (and Chuck's, and Beasley's Chicken + Honey, and Fox Liquor Bar) in Raleigh, NC, is hosting an eighth helping of Stir the Pot. This fundraising series, now with events in both Raleigh and Nashville, benefits the SFA's documentary projects.

Pat Martin of Martin's BBQ Joint in Nolensville, TN, is the first pitmaster to serve as a Stir the Pot guest chef.

So, asks Ashley, Is a pitmaster really a chef?

And she's ready with an answer:

"You bet your ass a pitmaster is a chef. Here in the South, the food we cook is telling of who we are and where we are. As chefs, we are narrators of place by way of the palate. And there has never been a more religiously practiced celebration of regional identity than in the barbecue pits of the South."

We can't argue with that. Here's what Ashley and Pat have in store: 

Dinner at Poole's on Sunday, July 29
Cocktails and snacks followed by a five-course dinner with wine pairings

Click here to purchase tickets

Sunday night's menu will celebrate smoke, meat, and Southern summer vegetables as interpreted by Pat Martin in collaboration with the Poole's team. There's talk of deviled eggs, candied and smoked pork belly, frog legs, piles of pickles, and even Mother Martin's coconut cake.

Potluck at Ashley Christensen's home on Monday, July 30


Click here to purchase tickets

Ashley and the Poole's team will provide a main course of beer-can-roasted, smoked chicken. Wine will be served, along with Fullsteam beer and cocktails from Panciuto in Hillsborough. Please bring a side dish or dessert that celebrates your sense of place. And come ready to visit with Pat Martin, who will have the evening off outside of DJ duties (expect Waylon Jennings).

Get your tickets before they sell out! We'll see you there.

"A Most Disgraceful Scene": Barbecue Comes to New York City

From the sauce-stained keyboard of guest blogger Robert Moss.

In recent years, thanks to the arrival of the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party and the opening of serious barbecue joints like Blue Smoke and Hill Country, New York City has awakened to the joys of slow-smoked barbecue. But this is hardly the first time that Gothamites have enjoyed pit-cooked meat.

New York's first barbecue took place way back in 1860, during the presidential campaign that pitted Stephen A. Douglas against Abraham Lincoln. In early September, the Douglas Central Campaign Club announced that it had procured a hog, a heifer, two sheep, and a giant ox from Kentucky and would stage a "Monster Democratic Rally, Grand Political Carnival, and Ox Roast." The event was to be held at Jones's Wood at the edge of Manhattan, which stretched between what is now 66th and 75th Streets. The ox was paraded through the streets of New York for two days in advance to generate interest.

A small man with a big appetite for barbecue. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress


Unfortunately, the barbecue quickly devolved into, as one newspaper put it, "a most disgraceful scene." The Douglas club had secured the services of Bryan Lawrence, a butcher from the Centre Market, to cook the animals. Lawrence, an Irish immigrant, would later become a bank executive, philanthropist, and prominent figure in the Democratic party. But it's not clear whether he had actually cooked barbecue before. One reporter described the product that emerged from Lawrence's pits as "the charred remains which are sometimes seen in this city after the destruction of an old tenement home."

The assembled crowd didn't seem to mind. When "feeding time" was announced, they degenerated into a shouting mob. Hungry men burst through the pine fences around the serving area, overturning tables, scattering bread and crackers, and seizing whatever hunks of meat they could get their hands on. It took three hundred policemen to restore order so that Stephen Douglas could take to the platform for his stump speech.

"Nothing like it in politics ever occurred here before," The New York Herald concluded. It would be many years before another political barbecue was attempted in the Big Apple.

Robert Moss, a food writer and restaurant critic for the Charleston City Paper, is the author of Barbecue: The History of an American Institution. You can follow him on Twitter at @mossr.

Friday, July 13

CN6 Book Club: Happy Hour Edition

If you're on the East Coast, cheers to you. It is, in the words of the immortal bard Robert Sylvester Kelly, the freakin' weekend. Fellow residents of the Central time zone, we are minutes away from the 5 o'clock whistle. (As for the rest of you...)

Image courtesy of The Homesick Texan


And is there a better happy hour food than chile con queso? "Why Chile con Queso Matters" is actually the opening piece in CN6. (If you don't have your own copy, click the length for full text via the Houston Chronicle.) Houston-based restaurant critic Alison Cook pens an ode to the luscious dip so loving, so full of respect for its lowbrow origins, that she stops just short of taking a Velveeta bath.

Which, come to think of it, might not be the worst thing in the world.

What's your favorite variety of queso?

Postcard from the Southern BBQ Trail

Sawdust, ready to soak up any spilled sauce, covers the floor of Midway BBQ in Buffalo, South Carolina.

Photo by Denny Culbert. Click to enlarge


Thursday, July 12

The Cornbread Nation 6 Book Club

Most of the articles in Cornbread Nation are essays, ranging from academic articles to long-form, narrative journalism. But CN guest editors like to mix things up from time to time, throwing in a poem here, a photo essay there, and even a morsel of fiction.

Take, for example, "St. Francine at the Café Max," by John Dufresne. The piece first appeared in the food-literature journal Alimentum, and is reprinted on p. 144 of CN6. Somewhere between prose poem and flash fiction, we include it here in its entirety because it is too beautifully strange not to share.



(Oh, and this would be the perfect time to tell you that John Dufresne will be joining us at our 2012 Southern Foodways Symposium here in Oxford in October. If you haven't read his fiction, let us suggest Louisiana Power and Light , especially for fans of Charles Portis–style humor. )

St. Francine at the Café Max
by John Dufresne

St. Francine of Delray Beach told me she rubs pepper on her face lest she succumb to the sin of vanity. All I had said was, I'm John, I'll be your waiter this afternoon. This was at the Café Max in Boca. Pepper, she said, or a scouring pad. I told her I don't mean to be impertinent, but isn't it already vain to think it was beauty she was corrupting—if only for the moment? I said, for example, I don't rub irritants into my skin. And if I did, would I think I was a saint? The woman she was with, her Aunt Nina, told me that her niece had an appetite for suffering. I said, Might I then suggest the Gaspachee or the Black Bean Soup? Francine scourged herself, chewed bitter herbs, scrubbed lime into her chapped hands, fasted unmercifully, denied herself sleep, wore a hair shirt studded with thorns, and dragged a wooden cross around her daddy's garden. I wondered if we weren't calling attention to ourselves, being, perhaps, a tad melodramatic. Francine said she'd have the Mariscada en Salsa Verde. Aunty would have the Txangurro. Very good, I said. Francine said shew as visited by the devil. I suggested a Woodward Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon. Full-bodied, I said. I may have overstepped my bounds. Aunt Nina said, Excuse me? I said, you'll enjoy the winery's full-bore oak treatment. Francine said she punished herself with a crown of nettle. She said during Lent she spends her days in a tiny room, a cell, with only the dummy of a corpse in a coffin as company. Sometimes she wears an iron girdle for mortification. I mentioned St. Agnes, breasts on a silver platter and all that. She said the Cabernet would do.

Wednesday, July 11

Join the Club

...the Cornbread Nation 6 book club, that is.

This edition of Cornbread Nation: The Best of Southern Food Writing was published in association with UGA Press and guest edited by Brett Anderson. A longtime New Orleanian, Brett is about to relocate to Cambridge, Massachusetts, for the coming year, as one of Harvard's totally badass* Nieman Fellows in journalism. 

Read along with us for the next few weeks as we discuss the stories in CN6 and chat with the authors. Join the conversation on our Facebook page if the Cornbread Nation spirit moves you.

The first meeting of the Cornbread Nation 6 book club is hereby called to order. 
*******
 In 2010, the SFA documented, studied, and celebrated "The Global South" leading up to our annual symposium.

Photo by Penny de los Santos

At that symposium, Andrea Nguyen told us of Vietnamese immigrants who relocated to the Louisiana Gulf Coast in the 1970s, fell in love with crawfish, and took the mudbugs with them as they moved across the country, finally settling in California. This is why, Nguyen explained, Vietnamese-owned crawfish joints like The Boiling Crab have exploded in popularity from Los Angeles to San Jose.

If you've got your own copy of CN6, Nguyen's "Bags, Butter, Surfboards, and Spice: Viet-Cajun in Cali"—adapted from her symposium talk—begins on page 263. If not, you can listen to a podcast of the talk from our symposium. Click here for the audio file of Nguyen's presentation, or visit our iTunesU page for that podcast and many more.

Are you a crawfish fan? Have you ever eaten them Viet-Cajun-Cali style: buttery, spicy, and served out of a plastic bag?

*Official Nieman Fellow designation. Okay, not really. But it should be.

Bison—Barbecue's Next Frontier?

From the sauce-splattered keyboard of guest blogger Adrian Miller. 

July is National Bison Month, and bison meat is roaming in from barbe-culture's fringes to its mainstream. However, barbecue purveyors tend to offer just bison ribs and forsake the rest of the animal. (You may have had a bison burger—they're pretty tasty for such a lean meat—but that is, of course, not barbecue.)

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

There's a lesson to be learned from Native Americans who developed a method for pit-cooking the entire animal. Chief Plenty-Coups of the Absarokees (Crow Indians) recalled in a 1930 interview:

Chief Plenty Coups, ca. 1880

We used to dig a hole in the ground as deep as my waist.... We would heat little boulders until they were nearly white and cover the bottom of the hole with these stones. Then we would cut many green boughs from the chokecherry trees and cover the hot stones a foot deep with them. Upon these we would place thick chunks of buffalo meat, fat and fresh from the plains, sprinkling them with water.... Finally we spread the animal's paunch over the hole, covered it all with its hide, put gravel on this, and kindled a log fire. Men kept the fire going all day and all night yet never burned the robe...every bit of good in the buffalo was in the pit. Little was wasted except the brains. I have made myself very hungry telling you this. I will talk of something else to forget meat-holes." *

Here's hoping that today's pitmasters will remember the meat-holes and rise to the challenge.

*Quote from American: The Life Story of a Great Indian by Frank B. Linderman (first published 1930).

You can follow Adrian Miller on Twitter at @soulfoodscholar.

Tuesday, July 10

The Meat of the Matter

From the sauce-stained keyboard of guest blogger Robert Moss. 


Today's barbecue joints tend to serve just one or two kinds of meats, with pork predominate in the Carolinas and Georgia and beef the star out in Texas and Kansas City. Not so in the old days. Back when barbecues were large-scale community affairs, the meat served was whatever people had on hand and could donate to the cause. Lists like the following, from a description of an 1868 barbecue in Spartanburg, South Carolina, were par for the course: "beef, mutton, pork, and fowls were provided in superabundance."

At the largest events, the menus could be eye-popping. Perhaps the most extensive is the selection served at the 1923 inauguration of Oklahoma governor Jack Walton. The event was held in January, and just before Christmas, Walton sent out a call to Oklahoma farmers to donate animals for the event.
Jack Walton stares off into distance; contemplates smoked meats. Photo courtesy of Oklahoma Historical Society.

And donate they did. The final tally, as printed in the Dallas Morning News, included thousands of cows, hogs, sheep, and chickens plus 103 turkeys, 1,363 rabbits, 26 squirrels, 134 opossums, 113 geese, 34 ducks, 15 deer, 2 buffalo, and 2 reindeer that had been "shipped in from the North." A man from Sayre, Oklahoma, captured a live bear and offered him to the cause, too. But the bear won the sympathy of Oklahoma school children, who pooled their pocket change, bought him for $119.66, and donated him to the Wheeler Park Zoo. The bear was a crowd favorite for more than a decade.

The rest of the animals weren't so lucky.

Robert Moss, a food writer and restaurant critic for the Charleston City Paper, is the author of Barbecue: The History of an American Institution. You can follow him on Twitter at @mossr. 

Hot Links, vol. 2

The Friday Southern Six-Pack is on summer vacation and will return next month. Meanwhile, enjoy this edition of Hot Links, a roundup of barbecue-related stories. (Don't be confused—it is, in fact, Tuesday. Hot Links are a tasty treat any day of the week.)


1. Can you get great barbecue in New York City even when it's not Big Apple Block Party weekend? Pete Wells thinks so, especially if you're craving Texas-style brisket.

2. Speaking of which, Austin, Texas–based pitmaster Aaron Franklin shares his top five "Crimes against Brisket"—with tips on how to correct them—at Food & Wine.

3. Vanity Fair borrows Adam Perry Lang's iPhone; shares his pix from a recent barbecue-fueled jaunt through Tennessee, Mississippi, and Texas.

4. If you're in or near Durham, North Carolina, head over to the Southwest branch of the Durham County Library (3605 Shannon Road, Durham) this evening at 7:00 for a talk and book signing by Bob Garner, author of Bob Garner's Book of Barbecue: North Carolina's Favorite Food. The event is free and open to the public.

Monday, July 9

Southern Foodways Symposium Registration -- and a cartoon

On October 19-21 we'll stage our 15th annual Southern Foodways Symposium-- Barbecue: An Exploration of Pitmasters, Places, Smoke, and Sauce.

Registration for members opens August 1. (You must be a current member on or before July 30 to receive email notice of registration.)

If you're not a member, or you're not sure of your status, NOW is the time to check. Please EMAIL us at sfadesk@olemiss.edu.

Until we gather in Oxford, please enjoy this cartoon diversion, which we commissioned as an appetite-whetter.

Friday, July 6

The Secret History of Barbecue Sauce

From the sauce-stained keyboard of guest blogger Robert Moss. 


If there's one issue that divides barbecue fans more deeply than any other, it's the kind of sauce that should be served on the meat—if, indeed, a sauce is to be served on it at all. Though it inspires passionate argument, the colorful variety of regional sauces—peppery vinegar-based in eastern North Carolina, orange tomato-based in Kansas City, yellow mustard in South Carolina—is actually a rather recent phenomenon.

Regional sauce variations originated in the early 20th century with the rise of barbecue restaurants. Before then, barbecue sauce was pretty much the same from state to state. It was generally not a condiment applied at the table, but rather used to baste the meat just before it was served.

From Virginia to Texas, 19th century accounts of barbecues are remarkably similar in their descriptions of the sauce. In 1882, a reporter from the Baltimore Sun visited a Virginia barbecue and noted male cooks mopping the meat with "a gravy of butter, salt, vinegar, and black pepper." A guest at a San Antonio barbecue in 1883 recorded the sauce as, "Butter, with a mixture of pepper, salt, and vinegar." In 1884, the Telegraph and Messenger of Macon, Georgia, described the sauce of noted barbecue cook Berry Eubanks of Columbus as, "made of homemade butter, seasoned with red pepper from the garden and apple vinegar." Similar descriptions can be found of sauces in Kentucky and the Carolinas, too. Sweeteners—be they brown sugar, molasses, or honey—were notably absent from any 19th-century formulas.

Vinegar-based sauce at Grady's BBQ in Dudley, NC. Photo by Denny Culbert.


Based on these descriptions, could one conclude that the eastern North Carolina–style sauce—which consists of vinegar, salt, black and red peppers, and not a trace of sugar—is the closest to the original? I'll let readers decide for themselves; that's not an argument I want to get in the middle of.

Robert Moss, a food writer and restaurant critic for the Charleston City Paper, is the author of Barbecue: The History of an American Institution. You can follow him on Twitter at @mossr.