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Friday, August 26, 2016

No Forks Required

This signs greets customers when they walk into Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas.
Several central Texas barbecue restaurants make it clear that barbecue should be eaten with your fingers rather than forks. Of course, that central Texas practice was born when meat markets (butchers) in that area started barbecuing meats for sale at around the end of the 1800s in order to move more product with less waste. However, the tradition of eating barbecue with our fingers rather than utensils is much older than the central Texas tradition.

Old accounts of barbecues (some of which go back hundreds of years) in Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia and even New York City tell of how the barbecue was eaten with fingers or, as one put it, “nature’s gifts of teeth and fingers.”

The reason for this practice goes back to colonial times in Virginia. As people in frontier regions would hold barbecues and people from all over the region would attend, there was simply no way of providing everyone with eating utensils. Metal forks and spoons were luxury items in those days and, of course, there were no convenience stores around that sold cheap plastic forks and spoons. Therefore, attendees of those old barbecues would bring their own cup and spoon so that they could enjoy the Brunswick stew and ate the barbecue with their fingers. In an advertisement for a barbecue held in Augusta, Georgia, in 1840, we find:

"The Barbecue today, will be strictly after the old Virginia style, in the olden time, those therefore who intend to participate should not go unprovided with a knife, with which to, 'cut their way,' into the delicious legs of mutton &c., which will be served for the occasion."

So, put those forks down and eat your barbecue the right way . . . the Virginian way . . . even if you are in central Texas.

You can read more in my upcoming book Virginia Barbecue: A History available for pre-order at online booksellers. Click here for Amazon.com.

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