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For the first seventy thousand ages, mankind ate their meat raw. That is, they’d gnaw and tear at rubbery flesh to get the protein they needed to sustain themselves. Sounds like it would make for an awkward dinner party…
But then, quite by accident, someone discovered the art of barbecue. (A skim through “A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig” by Charles Lamb, 1888, will give you the full story). As the Chinese manuscripts would have it:
A swine-herdsman named Ho-ti ventured out to the woods one day, leaving his eldest son Bo-bo in charge of the cottage and his herd of swine. Like most kids his age, Bo-bo was fond of playing with fire; however, a playful spark escaped into a bundle of straw, which quickly consumed the house and his father’s livestock in flames. Once the fire had died, Bo-bo walked over the burning cinders in utter dismay. At that point, an unfamiliar odor teased his nostrils, followed by a moistening of his lips. Ho-ti returned to find Bo-bo hovered over a singed pig, shoveling handfuls of meat to his mouth, among the ashen remains of their home.
And so, ladies and gentleman, such is the supposed story of how barbecue came to be. Thankfully nowadays, we’ve learned to cook meat with a little more control. Nine times of ten, we can spare the house.
There’s that unmistakable aroma that can only come from hours of hickory smoking and savory rubs. The tender shredded meat always looks so picturesque atop a hoagie or cornbread. It’s the kind of thing that’s good enough to eat with your eyes. At least that’s what I usually do.
I’m not a serious barbecue girl. To be honest, I’m only a BBQ chicken eater. At a cookout, I beeline straight for the sides. At times, I consider it an advantage: I see beauty in things that others often overlook, namely the coleslaw and potato salad.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t love a good backyard barbecue as much as anyone else. The joy for me is in observing the preparation and then rapturous consumption that follows. You can’t make good barbecue without having a passion for it. Passion and a hint of cockiness—or should I say confidence—that your barbecue recipe is the best on the planet. And apparently it’s a passion you can acquire…
A good friend of mine, Andrew Evans, underwent a barbecue revelation a few years back. At the time, he was an esteemed fine-dining chef, trained in the likes of Asian-Australian fare. He accepted an invitation to serve as a judge for the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Barbecue Competition in Lynchberg, Tennessee. What he tasted that weekend, he says, changed his life.
The next seven years were devoted to competition barbecue and perfecting unrivaled barbecue recipes. Such a revelation was it that now, eight years later, his livelihood depends on his beloved barbecue restaurant up in Easton, Maryland. Quite fittingly, it’s called The BBQ Joint.
His savory-rubbed Boston butts and brisket are smoked over hickory and mesquite for hours at a time. Obviously, I can’t give you a personal recommendation for the barbecue, but just sayin’. It might be worth the trip to taste the barbecue that changed him. Barbecue expert and accomplished writer, Jim Shahin, wrote a wonderful story on Andrew in the Washington Post. His revelation: down-right great barbecue can come in all forms.
This past October, I truly gained a greater appreciation for barbecue at the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) Symposium in Oxford, Mississippi. The organization celebrates the diverse food culture of the changing American South, and last year’s theme was good ole BBQ. I met some masters of barbecue, from middle-of-nowhere towns, and learned of the time, care and tradition that went into their trade—something you can’t help but respect. (Check out my blog post from back in October: The Bonds of Barbecue).
I wonder who the barbecue masters would credit with the discovery of barbecue? Somehow I doubt they’d believe my little Chinese tale of Bo-bo and Ho-ti. All I know is that if I came home from work to a burnt down house, charred brisket wouldn’t be enough to make it up to me. But maybe for you barbecue lovers, it would.
And this weekend, in NYC, will be perhaps the greatest BBQ block party to date. Big Apple Barbecue is the best of live music and BBQ up in Madison Square Park. (I’d love to go this year, but a good friend’s 50th birthday is calling my name. We’re all gathering together to let her cross that line with pride. I’m New Orleans-bound, but I’ll have the barbecue lovers in my thoughts.)
Happy summer. And let the backyard barbecues begin!
I’m Simone. And this is what simone sez…