|A 1780 Barbecue in Tennessee from Stories of American History, 1913.|
John Sevier (from Virginia) often held VA style barbecues for the other early settlers in Tennessee.
Below is a first hand account of a typical antebellum southern barbecue. It was written by Martha McCulloch-Williams (born Susan Martha Ann Collins) in her book Dishes & Beverages of the Old South published in 1913. The author was born and raised in Northwestern Tennessee and lived there until she married and eventually moved to New York with her husband in 1887. A notable quote from her book is "The very best decoration for a table is something good in the plates." I agree wholeheartedly! And what could decorate a table better than barbecue?
... lambs, pigs, and kids, when barbecued, are split in half along the backbone. The animals, butchered at sundown, and cooled of animal heat, after washing down well, are laid upon clean, split sticks of green wood over a trench two feet deep, and a little wider, and as long as need be, in which green wood has previously been burned to coals. There the meat stays twelve hours - from midnight to noon next day, usually. It is basted steadily with salt water, applied with a clean mop, and turned over once only. Live coals are added as needed from the log fire kept burning a little way off. All this sounds simple, dead-easy. Try it - it is really an art.
The plantation barbecuer was a person of consequence - moreover, a few plantations could show a master of the art. Such an one could give himself lordly airs - the loan of him was an act of special friendship - profitable always to the personage lent. Then as now there were free barbecuers, mostly white - but somehow their handiwork lacked a little perfection. For one thing, they never found out the exact secret of "dipney," the sauce that savored the meat when it was crispy tender, brown all over, but free from the least scorching.
Daddy made it thus: Two pounds sweet lard, melted in a brass kettle, with one pound beaten, not ground, black pepper, a pint of small fiery red peppers, nubbed and stewed soft in water to barely cover, a spoonful of herbs in powder - he would never tell what they were, - and a quart and pint of the strongest apple vinegar, with a little salt. These were simmered together for half an hour, as the barbecue was getting done. Then a fresh, clean mop was dabbed lightly in the mixture, and as lightly smeared over the upper sides of the carcasses. Not a drop was permitted to fall on the coals - it would have sent up smoke, and films of light ashes. Then, tables being set, the meat was laid, hissing hot, within clean, tight wooden trays, deeply gashed upon the side that had been next the fire, and deluged with the sauce, which the mop-man smeared fully over it.
Hot! After eating it one wanted to lie down at the spring-side and let the water of it flow down the mouth. But the flavor, a savor, a tastiness, nothing else earthy approaches. Not food for the gods, perhaps, but certainly meat for men. Women loved it no less - witness the way they begged for a quarter lamb or shoat or kid to take home. The proper accompaniments to barbecue are sliced cucumbers in strong vinegar, sliced tomatoes, a great plenty of salt-rising light bread - and a greater plenty of cool ripe watermelons, by way of desert.