Featured Post

Now Shipping! Brunswick Stew: A Virginia Tradition & Virginia Barbecue: A History

Brunswick Stew: A Virginia Tradition and Virginia Barbecue: A History  available in stores and at online booksellers now! Virginia B...

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Stone Boilers

Assiniboine Warrior
The Assiniboine people, also known as the Nakota and originally from the Northern Great Plains, used to boil stews using stones. In fact, the name of Assinaboine means "Stone Boilers" or "those who cook with stones." They had no technology of making earthen pots so to boil water and make stews they would dig a hole in the ground and line it with the hide of an animal making a water tight basin. They would fill it with water, add the meat and to boil it they would put red hot stones in the water. They added stones as needed to maintain a simmer.

At some point, the Stone Boilers learned to make earthen vessels and also traded with Europeans for metal pots and gave up the practice of boiling stews with hot stones. But, the most interesting part of their story is, much like is done nowadays with Brunswick stew and Burgoo, for a long time the Assiniboin preserved their tradition of boiling stews with hot rocks at public festivals where they took pleasure in cherishing and perpetuating their ancient customs.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Struttin' with some Barbecue

Written by Louis Armstrong's wife in about 1927, this tune entitled "Struttin' with some Barbecue" isn't about food. The word barbecue in the jazz musician slang of that era meant pretty girl. Pay attention to the notes Armstrong hits playing that horn. It's quite amazing.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

South Carolina Barbecue Hash

Barbecue Hash & Grits

So, you like to cook, do you? How about a dish that takes about eight hours to prepare? Here is the recipe for South Carolina Barbecue Hash. It's pretty tasty, but I would recommend making several batches and freezing it because it's so time consuming.

This stew is made in the style that you would find at Midway Barbecue in Buffalo, South Carolina. Add a sweet mustard/vinegar based sauce at the end for a style similar to what you would find at Maurice's Piggy Park in West Columbia, South Carolina. Use cheap cuts of meat like chuck and pork shoulder.

3 pounds of cubed beef
2 pounds cubed pork
3 - 5 lbs chopped onions
32 - 48 ounces water
1/2 stick of butter
salt, pepper, cayenne to taste

Put meat and onions in a pot, cover with water (about 32 to 48 ounces) and simmer until the meat is tender and the onions can be easily mashed. This should take about 4 to 6 hours. Remove meat from the pot and let it cool enough to handle. Once the meat has cooled, put it through a meat grinder or just chop it fine. It should be at a consistency that a young child could eat without needing to chew. The onion pieces should be chopped too. Make sure that no onion pieces are recognizable. Return the chopped meat to the pot and continue to simmer until the meat and onions reach a thick consistency with little broth. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste. Add butter and stir until melted. Serve hot by itself or over rice or grits or bread. It can also be served on BBQ sandwiches.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Teres Major: Economical and Delicious Cut of Beef

Teres Major
Next time you are shopping for beef, keep an eye out for a cut called teres major. Sometimes it's also called mock tender. It's a delicious and tender cut from the shoulder (chuck). It rivals tri-tip in flavor and beef tenderloin in tenderness. I like to cook it in my smoker at about 225F until it reaches 125F internal. Then, I quickly sear the outside on my grill and let it rest before slicing. The only seasoning I use is salt, pepper, and garlic. While tri-tip was selling for about $8.00 a pound and ribeye at about $10.00 a pound, I got two teres major roasts for $5.49 per pound. Please don't tell the butcher that it's worth way more.

Old School Virginia Brunswick Stew

,You know the stew is done when your paddle stands up in the pot.

Recently, I had the privilege of hanging out with the Proclamation Stew Crew as they cooked a "little" pot of Brunswick Stew. Lots of fun and delicious Brunswick stew to boot!

A close up look at the stew.

Time to eat!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Old Virginia Barbecue Coming Soon to a TV Near You

Here I am spritzing the barbecue while being recorded by Charles Thomas of CVTV

It was a hot July day as filming (actually digital video, no film required) commenced of the first episode of a TV show featuring yours truly demonstrating how to cook Virginia barbecue as well as discussing its history and traditions.

In this episode, I demonstrated how to barbecue tri-tip, pork tenderloin, and baby back ribs using typical backyard grills such as a Weber kettle, a Chargriller Outlaw, and a home made barrel cooker. I shared a couple of Virginia barbecue recipes and also one or two tips and tricks for cooking top notch, high quality barbecue in your backyard.

The show will air on the Central Virginia TV station and may also be shown in other areas and states.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Shenandoah Valley Barbecued Chicken

Virginia's Shenandoah Valley Barbecued Chicken

The late Dave Shirkey is the Shenandoah Valley's most famous barbecue chicken cook. He cooked barbecued chicken for around 60 years before his death. He got his start cooking barbecue chicken doing fund raisers for his Sunday school class. Since then, his recipe is legendary in and around Dayton, Virginia.

Shirkey cooked his chicken over a long open pit.  He would fire up the pit, put the chicken on the grates about two feet above the coals and begin basting it with his famous chicken mop. He would turn the chicken about every half hour and baste after each turn. He knew the chicken was done when he could "twist a leg." Once finished cooking, the chicken was dipped in the mop and wrapped in foil to rest in a cooler. It's best after about an hour staying warm in the cooler bathed in the mop.

I don't have a pit that can raise meat two feet above the coals, so for my version I used my weber kettle setup for indirect cooking. I added a couple of chunks of hickory for smoke. I mixed up the mop in a repurposed ketchup bottle. Before putting the chicken on the grill, I just gave the bottle a good shake and poured a little of the mop over it. After putting the chicken on the grill with a good basting of the sauce on both sides, I flipped the bird every half hour and basted again each time I flipped it.

The Finished Product. That reddish color indicates that
the meat has been properly barbecued. It is not raw.
Here is the mop recipe -

1/2 cup peanut oil
2 cups apple cider vinegar
4 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp MSG is optional in Shirkey's recipe ( I don't use it,)
1 tsp red pepper flakes (my addition)

When the chicken was done after about 2 hours it reached an internal temperature of 170 F in the breast and about 180 F in the thigh (I could twist the leg but also used my trusty thermapen to be sure), I poured a little mop on it and wrapped in foil for 10 minutes. For best results, put chicken in foil, add some mop, wrap tightly and store in a cooler to keep it hot while it rests (or wrap in a blanket) for 45 minutes to an hour before serving.

The chicken will be juicy and tasty with a little tang from the vinegar and hint of smoke from the hickory.


1.) The USDA tells us that minimum safe internal temperature for chicken is 165 F. I like to cook the meat until the internal temperature is a little higher just to be safe. That being said, barbecued chicken often takes on a pinkish color. Don't be alarmed. That's normal as long as the meat has reached at least 170 degrees F internal temperature.
2.) The 4 tablespoons of salt may sound like a lot of salt, but actually it's perfect. Remember, this is a mop to be used while cooking not a sauce that is served on the side. To ensure best results, use kosher salt. If using table salt, reduce amount to 3 tablespoons.
3.) Beware of cross contamination! If you are planning on using some of the mop to put on the chicken after it is finished cooking, make sure you reserve some for that purpose. You don't raw chicken juices that will be transferred into the mop from the brush or other utensil you use to apply the mop to the meat with on your perfectly cooked chicken.
4.) If you are not cooking whole half chickens, you may want to increase the heat and possibly even grill the meat especially if you are cooking chicken breasts. Smaller cuts of chicken will dry out at low and slow temperatures that take a long time to cook the chicken.
5.) Mopping (basting) barbecue while it is cooking can be a messy job. You may want to place disposable aluminum pans under the chicken to protect your cooker from the excess mop that will fall through the grill grates.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Roots of California Barbecue

California Barbecue Cooks - c. 1890

In the latest issue of Smoke Signals Magazine is my article about the origins of California barbecue. In it I compare and contrast the unique California styles of barbecue with southern barbecue. Here is an excerpt:

"Now, let’s imagine that we select a typical southern barbecue lover and send him out to California for the first time and take him to a California barbecue. There, he very well may be served tri-tip barbecued to a perfect medium rare. Or, perhaps he will be served a rib-eye steak cooked Santa Maria barbecue style. The southerner’s likely reaction will be for him to declare that he is at a cookout, not a barbecue, and that all the meat has been grilled and not barbecued at all. And though he may enjoy the meal, deep within his southern heart he will be convinced that he is not eating “real” barbecue and might even be a little insulted that someone would dare use the word barbecue to refer to nothing more than grilled meat served at a cookout."

Regardless of the typical southerner's reaction to California barbecue, the barbecued tri-tip and Santa Maria grilled ribeyes are as much a part of American barbecue as pork shoulders slow cooked over hickory coals. Read all about it in this issue of Smoke Signals Magazine. Just click here.

And, if you want to try your hand at some California barbecued tri-tip, here is a pretty good recipe. California Barbecue Tri-tip.

California style barbecued tri-tip.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Virginia Smoked Ham - "A la Old Dominion"

P.D. Gwaltney Jr. in 1902 with the world's oldest country ham.
Photo courtesy of the Isle of Wight County Museum.
In a 1688 letter to the Royal Society of London, John Clayton declared that Virginia pork is "as good as any Westphalia (considered the finest hams in Europe at the time), certainly far exceeding our English [pork]." Clayton went on to explain that the secret of this superlative flavor was not due to just the pigs' unique diet but also the unique Virginia curing and smoking process of salting, smoking, and aging the meat.

Virginia smoked ham is a delicacy famous the world over. It has been rightly observed that “No self-respecting Southern pig can imagine a higher distinction than becoming, in due course, a Virginia ham – spicy as a woman’s tongue, sweet as her kiss, as tender as her love.” Even in early colonial times tons of Virginia hams were exported all over the world in order to meet demand. First in Virginia, then spreading throughout the world and other colonies, pork preserved by smoking it in the Virginia manner was uniquely Virginian as well as uniquely American.

An 1841 Pennsylvania newspaper writer wrote "smack their lips as heartily as I do over a good old Virginia ham, that fairly melts in your mouth". A writer for the Daily Dispatch of Richmond, Virginia wrote in 1858 "A delicious Virginia ham on its bed of greens, engirdled by its rim of eggs (a la Old Dominion), and a slice of chicken or turkey, might do very well for a plain country gentleman's dinner for two or three times a week, and these could be had for the asking on every Virginia farm."

No wonder George W. Bagby, with his tongue in his cheek, wrote in his famous 1877 essay The Old Virginia Gentleman “a Virginian could not be a Virginian without bacon and greens” which struck an amusing note of truth in me the first time I read it and thought of the many meals of smoked pork, greens and deviled eggs prepared for my family by my Mother when I was growing up in central Virginia.

An eyewitness account of how colonial Virginians preserved pork was recorded by Nicholas Cresswell in The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell. Nicholas Cresswell (1751-1804), of Derbyshire, England, came to America hoping to acquire land and settle permanently, but personal difficulties, the uncertain state of affairs, and the Revolutionary War, caused him to return to England. His journal was written from rough notes taken during his trip to America between the years 1774-1777. While traveling, he visited or lived in Barbados, Maryland, Virginia, western Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Philadelphia, and New York. He often includes lengthy observations on the towns he visited, frontier techniques and customs, and the social customs of both Indians and Europeans. His entry about Virginia for Tuesday July 26, 1774 is as follows:

"The bacon cured here is not to be equaled in any part of the world, their hams in particular. They first rub them over with brown sugar and let them lie all night. This extracts the watery particles. They let them lie in salt for 10 days or a fortnight. Some rub them with hickory ashes instead of saltpeter, it makes them red as saltpeter and gives them a pleasant taste.
Then they are hung up in the smoke-house and a slow smoky fire kept under them for three or four weeks, nothing but hickory wood is burnt in these smoke-houses. This gives them an agreeable flavor, far preferable to the Westphalia hams, not only that, but it prevents them from going rancid and will preserve them for several years by giving them a fresh smoking now and then."

In 1902, a smoked ham was overlooked and hung in one of P. D. Gwaltney Jr.'s packing houses for 20 years. Advertised as the world’s oldest Smithfield ham, Gwaltney fashioned a brass collar for the ham and took it to shows and expos to exhibit the preservative powers of his smoking method. The ham has also been featured in Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” in 1929, 1932 and 2003. Today, the ham resides in the Isle of Wight Museum and, we are told, it is still edible.

 During your summer travels, take the image of P.D. Gwaltney Jr. and his ham with you and document a great vacation moment with a photo of the image! Post your photo on the Isle of Wight County Museum and Historic Sites Facebook site or email it to them at jwilliams@isleofwightus.net. The contest runs through Sept. 4, and we’ll announce the winner on Sept. 10. All entrants will be entered into a random drawing for a prize. Whatever your plans are – the beach, the mountains, the south of France or a staycation in your own backyard – be sure to pack the world’s oldest ham. He is ready for an adventure! The link to the "Pan Ham" site is http://www.historicisleofwight.com/pan-ham.html.

So, after all that you still want to know how to prepare a smoked Virginia ham? My Dad used to raise his own hogs, slaughter them, butcher them, and cure and smoke the meat. Here is how my parents have prepared smoked ham for as long as I can remember.

Step 1 - Soak the ham in cool water for about 36 hours changing the water about every 4 hours. This is to remove excess salt. You will need a large food safe bucket in a cool area below 40 degrees.

Step 2 - Remove the ham from the water and rinse it. Brush or trim off any parts that you don't want to eat. Sometimes there is discoloration or mold on the outside that doesn't look appetizing. Mold is a common and natural occurrence on aged hams much like aged cheeses. It signifies proper curing and does not affect the taste or quality.

Step 3 - Slowly simmer the ham in enough water to cover it until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. My Dad used to boil his in a pot sitting on the wood stove he keeps in the basement. You will have to add water throughout the cook to keep the ham submerged.

Step 4 - Remove the skin and excess fat from the outside of the ham. Rub the ham liberally with brown sugar and black pepper.

Step 5 - Bake the ham in a 400 degree oven until the brown sugar melts and forms a glaze. It will take no longer than about 15 minutes.

Step 6 - Remove the ham from the oven and let rest for 30 minutes and then enjoy. My parents used to let the ham cool and they served it chilled with hot biscuits. So tasty!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

How Barbecue Helped Save Apollo Thirteen

Damaged Apollo 13 Module. Photo courtesy of www.nasa.gov.

So, the movie "Gravity" failed to win best picture at the 86th Academy Awards. The winner of best picture this year, "Twelve Years a Slave," was a very good movie and deserved it more anyway, in my opinon. But, if you are disappointed, here is some barbecue related space age information that may make you feel a little better.

Apollo thirteen was supposed to be the third landing on the moon by American astronauts. Two days into the journey to the moon, an oxygen tank exploded crippling the spacecraft and seriously endangering the lives of the astronauts James Lovell, Mission Commander, Jack Swigert, Command Module pilot and Fred Haise, the Lunar Module Pilot. There is no doubt that the tireless and heroic efforts of the astronauts and the ground support crew saved Apollo thirteen and safely returned it to earth six days after embarking on their ill-fated mission. But, there is one other "hero" in all this that you probably never heard about: American barbecue.

The proper courses of action to resolve the many crises that arose during the Apollo thirteen mission were not always clear or without dispute. For example, one discussion among mission control personnel became particularly heated after Max Faget suggested that the crew perform a maneuver required to manage the temperature of the spacecraft by pointing out "That ship's had one side pointing to the sun and one pointing out to space for hours." The reply was "Do you have any idea what kind of pressure it's going to put on the crew to ask them to execute a PTC (passive thermal control) roll now?" Another chimed in "Or what kind of pressure it's going to put on the available power? I'm not sure we can afford to try something like that at the moment."

For several minutes there was a lively argument at the flight director's station as each person fiercely argued their position. Finally, Flight Director Gene Kranz stepped in saying, "Gentlemen, I thank you for your input. The next job for this crew will be to execute a passive thermal roll. After that, they will power down their spacecraft. And finally, they will get some sleep. A tired crew can get over fatigue, but if we damage this ship any further, we're not going to get over that."

Max Faget's original suggestion that caused all of that lively debate was

"That ship's had one side pointing to the sun and one pointing out to space for hours. If we don't get some kind of barbecue roll going soon, we're going to freeze half our systems and cook the other half."

Apollo spacecraft were protected first by a mylar foil coating that was applied to most surfaces. The second level of protection was the barbecue roll. This was a maneuver the spacecraft made as it coasted to and from the moon. It rotated slowly along its roll axis in order to disperse the heat from the sun so that it evenly and gently heated the spacecraft. The idea for this maneuver was inspired by watching barbecue cooks turning meat to prevent it from scorching.

When cooking barbecue over hot coals, it is important to flip the meat or spin it on a spit as it cooks. This does the same for barbecue that it did for the Apollo spacecraft. It evenly disperses heat so that there is no overheating or under heating. The temperature is even on all sides. The thought for Apollo spacecraft was, if it worked for barbecue, it will work for the Apollo spacecraft too. And, it did.

Apollo astronauts had to perform many tasks in order to successfully complete their missions. There were times when they had to tend to fuel cells and eliminate water in some systems. One of the most important tasks was making sure the thermal operation of the spacecraft was being done well. In the Apollo program, that mode of operation was called barbecue mode. The technical name of the
maneuver is the Passive Thermal Control (PTC) maneuver. During an Apollo 7 test in 1968, NASA learned "During translunar and transearth flight on future missions, it would be necessary to put the spacecraft into a slow “barbecue” roll to maintain an even external temperature." This maneuver, called "the barbecue roll," was first successfully tested twice on Apollo 7.

After Apollo, the barbecue roll was also employed by space shuttle crews too.

So, that's how barbecue helped save Apollo thirteen. The same principle that barbecue cooks use to barbecue a pig on a spit over coals to ensure that it doesn't scorch was also what was chosen by NASA to protect astronauts and the spacecraft in which they were traveling.

A Virginia barbecue c. 1900 doing the "barbecue roll."

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Brother Lost and Found

This post isn't about food but, I did find it interesting. So, here you go.

On March 21, 1782 near Walker's Creek in what is now Bland County, Virginia, a band of Indians attacked settlers and their families in an attempt, apparently, to repel the foreigners that had invaded their land. Finding an entire family save one son at home in their cabin, they killed the father and took his wife and two of his children captive. Even though the band of Indians were immediately pursued by experienced woodsmen, they were never located.

A number of years later, General Rogers Clarke engaged in one of his several expeditions to quell the Indian threat in Kentucky was encamped on the banks of the Ohio river waiting for the return of a group of scouts led by a man named White. One account of the story claims that White was on an intelligence gathering mission looking to take an Indian prisoner for questioning. Another account claims that White was out looking for game. Most likely, he was out looking for game while on his mission for the General. Either way,  White discovered an Indian village after following "a faint trail." A short distance from where he and his group camped, he saw a solitary Indian sitting on a log mending his moccasins. White's first instinct was to shoot the Indian. But, after realizing that the sound of the discharging rifle might alert other Indians, he decided to stalk his prey instead.

Creeping softly up from behind, White "being remarkable for" his "size, strength, agility, courage and prudence" grasped the Indian by the throat and presented a pistol to his head. In a few hurried words in the language of the tribe, White explained that if he made any noise he would shoot him instantly through the head. This threat convinced the Indian to return to the General with White and his men. After returning to the General with their prize, upon beholding the Indian Clarke exclaimed, "This is no Indian!"

After interrogation, the "Indian" explained how he was kidnapped by Indians as a little boy near Walker's Creek. After attempts to confirm the truth of the many details of his story, White and the "Indian" realized that they were brothers. That "Indian" was his little brother that was kidnapped so many years earlier. White's brother would later serve in the Kentucky Legislature but was known to still spend months at a time in the woods.

Sources - A New and Comprehensive Gazetteer of Virginia, Joseph Martin, 1835 & History of Southwest Virginia, 1746-1786, Washington County, 1777-1870, Lewis Preston Summers, 1903