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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Washington Post Article About Virginia Barbecue

Jim Shahin, Washington Post Barbecue Columnist, on the right with yours truly out and about enjoying a Virginia Barbecue Tour.
The Washington Post published an article entitled "Where did barbecue begin? Virginia, he says — and he stands by it." The author, my friend Jim Shahin, does a great job of writing about me and my book even though he couldn't resist mentioning my balding head. However, there were some edits made to the article, apparently after Jim submitted it to his editors, that don't accurately explain the thesis of my book.

For some reason, the phrase "southern barbecue" was left out of the title of the article. As I point out in my book, the barbecue cooking technique is ancient and no one really knows where it started. I believe that it started in Africa thousands of year ago, but there is no way to make a strong case either way.

In my book I assert that SOUTHERN barbecue was born in Virginia; not barbecue itself. There are many styles of barbecue in the world and even in the United States. In fact, in the first chapter I document the history of the four most popular styles of barbecue in the United States today which are Southern barbecue, California (or Western) barbecue, Backyard barbecue and Kitchen barbecue.

Southern barbecue is the kind of smoky, pull tender, mouthwatering barbecue that you can find all around the southern United States. California barbecue is the kind of barbecue that is most prevalent in California and the southwest where meats are slow cooked buried in a pit or broiled over hot coals such as California tri-tip or Santa Maria-style ribeyes. Backyard barbecue is generally hot dogs and hamburgers and steaks quickly broiled (grilled) on our backyard charcoal grills. Of course, people in the South have a hard time accepting grilling as a form of barbecuing but most areas of the United States today do call grilling in the backyard barbecuing. The fourth style of barbecue I write about isn't really a barbecuing technique either but its popularity has all but removed the stigma of calling it barbecue. People cook Kitchen barbecue inside their homes often using a crock pot. It consists of pulled pork cooked in a crock pot topped with a commercial barbecue sauce. Barbecued potato chips and barbecued beans are also in this category. Though Americans have their own ways of preparing barbecue and definitions of the word vary based upon region, the gold standard for American barbecue is and always has been Southern barbecue.

In my book, I show that Southern barbecue was born in seventeenth-century Virginia citing over 700 primary and secondary sources. So, please keep that in mind when you read titles in articles about my book such as the one in the most recent Washington Post article.

Overall, Jim did a great job of writing the article. He is a much better writer than I and I feel privileged to call him friend.

The Virginia Barbecue Revival is warming up! You can read the Washington Post article by clicking here. Where did barbecue begin? Virginia, he says — and he stands by it

You can read more about Virginia barbecue in my book available at online booksellers and on shelves on September 12, 2016.


  1. Hi Joe,

    I enjoyed the article about your studies regarding Virginia barbecue. I think you're right, but I also think that barbecue as it currently exists in the US has many sources.

    For background, my family is from Texas, and my mother's side is one of the early families of Austin. The Bertram that built the Bertram Store is my great-great-grandfather. I learned barbecue from my grandfather, and as you might imagine, what I learned first was beef barbecue as it's done in Texas.

    But I've lived most of my life in Virginia, and for a while nearly a half-century ago, my work took me to the back roads near Surry, Va.There I found country barbecue places and smokehouses that were run by families that had been around most of the century. Most of these folks were poor black pig farmers that needed a source of income more reliable than selling hogs to Smithfield. I visited many of these places and talked to their owners about their barbecue. What I found was clearly Virginia barbecue, done the old way as it had been since at least the civil war. I eventually learned to cook pork the way these folks did it. I don't really have the facilities to do large scale barbecue, but I still know how to cook a pork shoulder so that it tastes like what I found back there in the woods south of Surry.

    While I have no definite proof, what I learned then is consistent with what you're finding now. I think you're right.

    Wayne Rash

  2. Thanks for you comments, Wayne! What a great account of Virginia BBQ cooks and their BBQ.

  3. This is a great article! Texans (like myself) have always argued that it was invited during the cattle drives, and that's how we have gotten our low and slow cooked style that we have today. (If your ever in Dallas, Soulman's Bar-B-Que is a perfect example of this style! https://www.soulmans.com/the-soulmans-story/) I can't wait to get your book and see the different comparisons!