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Monday, May 28, 2018

Competition Barbecue Secrets Revealed

Photo courtesy of The Free Lance Star.
The number of barbecue competitions across the U.S. has exploded over the past few years. The Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) alone sanctions about 500 competitions. Add to that the Memphis Barbecue Network (MBN) sanctioned events along with local sanctioning board events and non-sanctioned events that are held each year and it’s easy to see that barbecue contests have become a cultural phenomenon in the U.S. The competition barbecue craze is a two-edged sword. With the good comes the bad. Here are some things that you should know about competition barbecue.

The proliferation of barbecue contests has reawakened American’s love for their oldest and most unique cuisine which is southern barbecue. In addition, barbecue contests are also a lot of fun. It’s great to get outside, fire up the barbecue pit, cook some tasty food while spending time with old friends and making new friends in the process. Even though cooking an entire KCBS or MBN contest is a tremendous amount of work, it’s also a lot of fun; especially when you hear your team’s name called at awards time.

 On the flip-side, entering and competing in a KCBS barbecue competition is an expensive and time-consuming venture. Just about any wood or charcoal powered barbecue pit can be used in the contests. However, if you are going to cook multiple contests each year you will face a variety of weather conditions that are not ideal for cooking barbecue. High winds, drenching rains, cold and extreme heat can be expected. To deal with the unpredictable conditions, you should invest in a professional-quality pit. Professional pits are expensive but you get what you pay for. Professional pits are usually insulted which helps to reduce the negative effects of unpredictable weather. Generally, they are also much heavier than your typical backyard-style pit. I’ve seen consumer-grade pits blow away in the wind meat, fire and all. That doesn’t happen to a 350 pound or heavier professional-grade pit.

You also have the cost of the food. Many competition cooks use grades of meat that are far too
expensive for the typical restaurant to serve. Compart Duroc pork runs about $200.00 plus $50.00 shipping for the minimum amount needed for a competition. Wagyu brisket runs about $200.00 to $250.00 per brisket after the cost of the meat and shipping costs. Add to that the cost of wood, charcoal, rubs, sauces, pans, utensils, fire extinguishers (which are required by sanctioning bodies), shelter (tents, trailers, RVs, hotel, etc.), gasoline for vehicles, entry fees for contests, thermometers (Thermapens run $60 to $105), time off from work and the other miscellaneous costs, it can run upwards of $2000.00 to compete in a single event. Then you have the time preparing for the contest while making injections, practicing techniques, etc. That makes competition barbecue an expensive hobby for some and profession for others.

Popup Tents Destroyed by Wind at a BBQ Competition in Virginia
A result of competition barbecue is the notion that competition barbecue is the best tasting and most delicious barbecue that you can serve. That is simply not true. Now, don’t get me wrong. Some competition barbecue is very tasty. However, some of it is average or worse. While judging, I have tasted competition barbecue that was almost perfect. It was tender, juicy, flavorful and everything one would expect from good competition barbecue. But, I have also tasted competition barbecue that is just, plain bad. I have seen ribs that were obviously dropped before being put in the box. The pine needle and leaf fragments on the bottom betrayed that fact. I have seen ribs with blood running out of them; chicken that was still cool in the center, brisket that was so tough it was literally impossible to take a bite and on one or two occasions I’ve judge pork that I had to spit out. Everyone has a bad day at the office every once in a while, and competition barbecue cooks are no exception.

You should also know that competition barbecue ingredients and techniques used to produce it often are far outside the realm of the American tradition of cooking southern barbecue. One of those ingredients is something called “phosphates.” Phosphates increase the moisture holding capacity of meat in a way that allows water to move in between protein molecules and stay there during the cooking process. Phosphates are used by the majority of competition cooks. The ingredient is necessary simply because so many other cooks use them. If a cook doesn’t use them, they are often at a disadvantage to the cooks that do use them. Regardless of any benefits phosphates may provide, there is growing concern over their safety.  Some experts believe that over consumption of phosphates may lead to osteoporosis, damaged blood vessels and impaired kidney function. I’m not an expert on the subject, so do your own research on it.

Phosphates are usually introduced with the use of injections. Injections are not used in traditional
southern barbecue. Neither are computer-controlled barbecue pits. Nowadays, it’s not unusual to see a professional “pitmaster” at a contest plug in his barbecue pit, add some pellets to the hopper, press a few buttons to set the temperature, put meat in the pit and then walk away. So much for the art of tending a fire, I guess. Compare that to the pitmaster at your local barbecue restaurant who gets up well before the sun, starts a fire, tends it all night and much of the day. That is the southern barbecue tradition.

Competition barbecue is often braised as much as it is barbecued. Braising is a cooking method whereby meat is cooked in a covered container while simmering in a small amount of liquid. Most competition barbecue cooks place ribs in the pit for about two hours until the ribs acquire the color they are looking for. After that, they wrap the ribs in foil that contains a little butter or margarine, honey, brown sugar and other ingredients. The butter or margarine and honey make a braising liquid. The ribs are then braised for about another two hours until they are tender.

The same is true of chicken, pork and brisket. Competition chicken is usually braised in butter or margarine. Pork is braised in apple juice or marinade. Brisket is braised in beef broth (often containing phosphates) or a mixture containing things like beer, Worcestershire sauce, beef broth and barbecue sauce. The original way of cooking southern barbecue does not include braising. In fact, braising is a crutch. Ask any chef worth her salt and she will tell you that the easiest way to preserve moisture in a cut of meat while tenderizing it is to braise it. But, braising is not barbecuing.

Another thing about competition barbecue that you may find surprising includes the fact that many competition barbecue cooks don’t cook entire pork butts or briskets to perfection. There are only a few muscles in a pork butt that are truly competition worthy. Most people have heard of the “money muscle” on a pork butt and competition barbecue cooks' love of it. It’s actually part of the pig’s neck muscle. It is delicious and flavorful when well cooked. Then you have what is called “the tubes.” These are two or three muscles just behind the money muscle. They are surrounded by layers of fat that protect them while they cook. They too are tender and juicy. The third most popular part of the pork butt is called the “horn” meat. This is the muscle on the bone end of the butt. Lastly, we have the “butt bacon.” Butt bacon is the thin, long strands of meat on the bottom of the butt. They are surrounded by fat which needs to be gently scrapped way before the meat is served to barbecue judges.

Because most meat on the pork butt will not be turned in to the judges, many competition cooks only cook pork butts until the money muscle is tender. Because the money muscle cooks quicker than the leaner parts of the pork butt, those leaner parts are often still tough by the time the pork butts are removed from the pit. Basically, competition cooks ignore the parts of the butt they won’t be turning in and concentrate only on the few parts they will turn in. That’s certainly not something your local restaurateur can get away with doing. Restaurant owners have to cook the entire pork butt because they have to sell all of it. It is also not uncommon for part of a competition brisket to be perfectly tender while other parts remain tough. All the competition barbecue cook needs to cook to perfection is the portion from which comes six slices for the judges.

Competition barbecue requires copious amounts of sugar. North Carolina’s vinegar sauce loaded with salt and red pepper would fail miserably at a barbecue contest; so would Virginia’s tangy sauces. Competition barbecue judges love sugar on barbecue. Brown sugar, turbinado sugar, agave nectar, honey and corn syrup are generously doused on competition barbecue. In fact, many barbecue judges agree that proper competition barbecue is simply too rich to enjoy for an entire meal. One or two bites is enough.

The next three things you must know about competition barbecue concerns the sauces, rubs and the judges. Few competition barbecue cooks create their own sauces and rubs. Check out the major barbecue supply businesses. They sell a plethora of commercial sauces and rubs. People like Myron Mixon, Chris Lilly, Melissa Cookston, Bill Arnold and Heath Riles have created rubs and sauces that are used by competition barbecue cooks. I’ve seen people turn in commercial sauces that they didn’t make at barbecue sauce competitions and win with them. I’ll let you be judge on whether that is something to brag about or not.

Lastly, you may be surprised to know that competition barbecue isn’t always judged according to the
rules. From personal experience, I have seen KCBS judges deviate from the published rules of judging. KCBS rules call for judging barbecue based upon appearance, taste and tenderness. The scale is 2 to 9. 1 is given only if an entry is disqualified (called a DQ). When a judge gives an entry a 2, it means the entry is inedible. Fortunately, in my experience at least, it is extremely rare for any entry to get a 2. Most judges understand very well what a score of 2 – 6 means which is inedible to bad to poor to below average to average. A score of 7 is above average, a score of 8 is very good and a score of 9 is excellent.

All that being said, KCBS rules require the judge to judge the appearance of the meat that is in the turn-in box in terms of how appetizing the barbecue looks. However, some judges score based upon how the turn-in box itself looks. They look for how symmetric the meat looks, is the garnish neatly placed in the box?, are any of the slices of the meat slightly out of place?, etc. They look at the box like it’s a work of art rather than looking at the barbecue that’s in the box. Honestly, the Sistine Chapel is beautiful to look at but I’ve never wanted to eat it. The same is true of an artistic barbecue turn-in box. The meat can be perfectly arranged and the garnish placed in the box impeccably but if the meat doesn’t look appetizing, I have to score accordingly. Conversely, if the meat isn't arranged well or the garnish is poorly placed but the meat looks delicious, the judge must score based upon the appearance of the meat and ignore the garnish or sloppy arrangement of the box's contents and give a high score for the meat. The only consideration a KCBS judge needs to give the garnish is whether or not it's legal. KCBS judges judge barbecue not boxes or garnish, which is optional in KCBS contests. Therefore, it is a non-factor unless it is illegal to use such as is the case with red-tip lettuce.

Most KCBS judges that I know do a great job. However, every once in a while, there is one discovered that needs some additional training. On rare occasions I have witnessed judges trying to judge meat that isn’t in the box. For example, if a brisket entry doesn’t include burnt ends a judge might take a point away because of their absence. Or, a judge might take a point away because there is no white meat with the chicken entry. I think such notions might have come from the TV show “BBQ Pitmasters.” Often the famous, celebrity judges on that show will make a comment like, “I want to see white and dark meat in that box!” Or, “If the pitmaster doesn’t put burnt ends in the box, he must not know what he is doing.” And, even cooks on that show have said things like, “I’m gonna put chopped, sliced and pulled meat in my box to show the judges what I can do!” All of that may be well and good for a TV show, but that kind of criteria for judging is not in keeping with KCBS rules. To the KCBS’s credit, I have also witnessed cases where the KCBS representative has removed a judge from judging because of inappropriate comments about how they judge barbecue. The KCBS continue to take steps to prevent that poor and improper judging practices among certified KCBS judges and that's proof that they take the art and craft of competition barbecue very seriously, as they should.

Lastly, the most important rule of competition barbecue is to have fun. That's a rule that's easy for everyone to observe.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The First White House Barbecue

If you search the Internet, you will find several claims for which president was the first to host a barbecue at the White House. Most claim Lyndon Johnson was the first White House barbecue host. A few others claim Dwight D. Eisenhower hosted the first White House barbecue and a few others claim that it was Thomas Jefferson who first fired up a barbecue pit on the lawn of the "pleasant country residence," as Jefferson called it. However, history doesn’t support any of those claims. 

In 1791, George Washington selected the site for the White House in Washington, D.C.  Within just a few months, the cornerstone was laid in 1792 and Irish-born architect James Hoban was chosen to design the building. President John Adams and his wife, Abigail, moved into the unfinished house eight years later in 1800. The Aquia Creek sandstone used to construct the White House came from Government Island, Virginia. 

Prime candidates for the first president to host a barbecue at the "president's palace" include the first five presidents: George Washington, 1789-1797, John Adams, 1797-1801, Thomas Jefferson, 1801-1809, James Madison, 1809-1817, and James Monroe, 1817-1825. Four of these five presidents were Virginians. Of course, the political barbecue was born in Virginia and all Virginian politicians of that era hosted barbecues as a part of their political campaigns. However, even though John Adams was not a Virginian, he was no stranger to barbecues.

Of course, George Washington was an avid Virginia-style barbecue enthusiast. There are numerous records of his barbecue adventures. He often hosted barbecues and attended barbecues held by others. His parents celebrated their marriage with several Virginia barbecues and he even fed his soldiers with Virginia-style barbecue at the end of the Revolutionary War. When the cornerstone of the Capitol building was laid, George Washington presided over the event that was celebrated with a Virginia barbecue. A 500-pound ox was barbecued old Virginia-style and was served to an eager crowd. Though it is possible that a barbecue was held during the laying of the White House cornerstone, there is no record of it. Further, George Washington never lived in the White House, therefore he is not the first president to host a barbecue there.
Government Island Rock 
A section of large sandstone at the
public quarry of
Government Island, Virginia.

John Adams was the first president to live in the White House. Even though he was from Massachusetts, he was known to have attended barbecues from time to time. He, like his Virginian colleagues, came to understand how effective barbecues could be in reaching rural populations. In 1769, Adams attended a barbecue at Dorchester Heights in Boston hosted by the Sons of Liberty. He wrote in his diary that barbecues, “tinge the Minds of the People, they impregnate them with the sentiments of Liberty. They render the People fond of their Leaders in the Cause, and averse and bitter against all opposers.” Even so, there is no record that John Adams ever hosted a barbecue anywhere including at the White House.

Thomas Jefferson was the second president to reside in the White House. Being a Virginian, Jefferson was very familiar with barbecues. He had at least one spring on his property at Monticello that was a popular place to host them. Even so, there is no record of Jefferson ever hosting a barbecue at the White House. The following account from the July 26, 1808, Enquirer is of a barbecue to which Jefferson was invited but didn’t attend choosing instead to stay at the White House where, apparently, no barbecue was being hosted.

“The citizens of Albemarle County convened in Charlottesville to celebrate the 4th of July. The Declaration of American Independence was read to a large assembly in the Courthouse. At three o'clock the company animated by the presence of many of the most accomplished ladies in the vicinity, sat down to a handsome barbecue provided by Mr. Elijah Garth. After dinner, on the retiring of the ladies, the gentlemen drank toasts to July fourth, the People, the Constitution, America ‘the world’s best hope,’ George Washington, the Patriots of ’76 and to Virginia saying ‘In the war of the revolution she led the van. In the dark period of the reign of terror, she fanned the decaying flame, and cheered the drooping sons of freedom. She will never tarnish the luster of her fame.’”

By 1820, Jefferson had abandoned barbecue events all together. In an 1820 letter written by Elizabeth House Trist to Nicholas P. Trist she wrote, “Mr. Jefferson had an invitation to a barbecue near Charlottesville which he declined as he had long given up attending these festivals.”

James Madison (the father of the U.S. Constitution) was an avid lover of Virginia barbecues. There are numerous records of the events hosted by him and his wife, Dolly. Some of Madison’s old Virginia barbecues were private events and others were official dinners with hundreds of guests in attendance including foreign leaders and dignitaries. At the official barbecues, male servants would dress in colorful clothing with shiny brass buttons and clean aprons, and women servants would dress in impressive and colorful dresses. Dolly Madison’s niece, Mary Cutts, wrote of barbecues at Montpelier (Madison’s plantation in Orange, Virginia):
“Barbecues were then at their height of popularity. To see the sumptuous board spread under the forest oaks, the growth of centuries, animals roasted whole, everything that a luxurious country could produce, wines, and the well filled punch bowl, to say nothing of the invigorating mountain air, was enough to fill the heart . . . with joy! . . . At these feasts the woods were alive with guests, carriages, horses, servants and children—for all went—often more than a hundred guests. All happy at the prospect of a meeting, which was a scene of pleasure and hilarity. The laugh with hearty good will, the jest, after the crops, ‘farmer’s topics’ and politics had been discussed. If not too late, these meetings were terminated by a dance.”
Recently, archaeologists discovered a barbecue pit on the south lawn of Montpelier that was in use during Madison’s lifetime. Remains included several fragments of animal bones including those from pigs. In spite of Madison’s obvious fondness for Virginia barbecues, there is no record of him hosting one at the White House. It appears that the closest to a barbecue held at the White House during Madison’s tenure as president was during the War of 1812 when the British set fire to the President’s House in 1814.

James Monroe lived in the White House between the years 1817 and 1825. He too was a Virginian and many records describe old Virginia barbecues that he attended or hosted. However, there are no records that he hosted a barbecue at the White House. 

The Political Barbecue by Henry Robinson, 1834.
Surprisingly, history records that the first president to host a barbecue at the White House was Andrew Jackson. I discovered this fact when reading the transcript of an address made by Kentucky Congressman John Kincaid in August 1829. In that address, Kincaid mentioned “the barbecue at the White House on the 4th of July.”

Andrew Jackson was the president between March 4, 1829 and March 3, 1837. Therefore, history records that he was the first president to host a barbecue at the White House.

President Jackson had a long history with barbecues. The city of Fredericksburg, Virginia, rolled out the red carpet when President Andrew Jackson visited to reside over the laying of the original Mary Washington, Mother of George Washington, monument cornerstone in 1833. Music filled the air as military processions, parades, dignitaries and crowds of admirers filled the streets. The occasion drew more people to Fredericksburg than Lafayette's visit to the town in 1824. The event was celebrated with a barbecue "in the old-fashioned Virginia style . . . prepared under an ample awning, in the beautiful grounds of Hazel Hill." Five hundred attendees partook of the Virginia-style barbecued beef.

Andrew Jackson has always been a controversial figure. Some love him. Some hate him. As President Jackson was travelling to Fredericksburg to attend the barbecue, the first recorded instance of physical assault on an American president occurred. Lieutenant R. B. Randolph had been severely reprimanded for misconduct. Encountering the President on a road between Quantico and Fredericksburg, the lieutenant decided to administer some personal retribution because of the court martial.  As the discussion between Randolph and the President became heated, he grabbed President Jackson’s nose and violently wrung it before fleeing away. No doubt this assault by a young man against a man in his seventies was painful. As the Bible tells us, “the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood,” and reports of the assault describe it as “reckless and brutal” even though President Jackson played down the event.

An 1834 political cartoon titled "The Political Barbecue" satirized the controversy surrounding
Jackson's withdrawal of federal funds from the Second Bank of the United States. In the cartoon Jackson is depicted as being barbecued like a hog on the fires of public opinion. Martin Van Buren (depicted almost like a rodent) scampers away with a hoard of Treasury Notes. The barbecue cooks are depictions of five vocal critics of Jackson's bank policy—Senators Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, William B. Preston, Bank president Nicholas Biddle, and an unidentified fifth man.

Controversy aside, perhaps Jackson’s most significant contributions to the history of barbecue in the United States were the barbecue trees planted during his presidency. An old newspaper account tells us,
The "Barbecue Trees" can be seen in the lower left corner
of this 1860 pencil drawing of the U.S. Capitol.
“South of the Washington Elm are the Barbecue Trees planted during Jackson’s Administration by James Maher, a Jolly Irishman who owed his appointment as superintendent of the Capitol Grounds to the President’s personal friendship. These trees are relics of two circular groves intended for barbecue celebrations one for Democrats the other for Whigs.”
Images of the “barbecue trees” were captured by an artist in 1860. The pencil drawing shows two oval groves just outside the Capitol building.

To read more, see Virginia Barbecue: A History available in bookstores and online now.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Georgia Barbecue in the 1870s

John Herring's account of a barbecue in Georgia sometime in the 1870s is a fascinating look into the history of southern barbecue. John Lewis Herring was born on December 8, 1866, in Albany, Georgia. He was the son of William Jasper Herring and Rebecca Paul Herring. In 1886, he married Martha Susan Greene. They had 10 children. Herring was the editor of the Tifton Gazette newspaper for 26 years. In 1912, Herring briefly left the Gazette under the management of his sons to work as an associate editor with the Savannah Morning News. While in Savannah, he began writing a series of articles titled "Saturday Night Sketches" which describe life in the Wiregrass area of Georgia during the last half of the 19th century. The articles were published in the Gazette for several years. In 1918, they were published in Herring’s book titled Saturday Night Sketches; Stories of Old Wiregrass Georgia. Herring died in 1923. This account of a Georgia barbecue in the 1870s is from the chapter of Herring’s book titled “Fourth of July in the Olden Time.”

Herring makes it clear that Brunswick stew was not widely served at Georgia barbecues until after the Reconstruction era. In the book Brunswick Stew: A Virginia Tradition, I show in great detail with documented sources that Brunswick stew was most certainly born in Brunswick County, Virginia, not Brunswick, Georgia, as is claimed by some today. Herring also points out that by the early 1900s, southern barbecue had changed. I document and describe the changes to southern barbecue after the end of the Civil War and some of the causes in the book Virginia Barbecue: A History. Stating, "barbecue in those days was seasoned in the cooking," Herring was referring to the emerging use of barbecue sauces served on the side and the use of rubs to season the meat before placing it on the pit. In the 1870s, unseasoned animal carcasses were placed  on a grill set over a pit dug in the ground filled with hot coals. The only seasoning put on the meat came from the vinegar-based basting mixture that was applied as it cooked. By the early 20th century, barbecue with sauce served on the side was becoming a common offering. At any rate, the account of the old time barbecue is well worth the read.

"Oh, Lordy, Ma; Jack Kilcrease has drunk seventeen cups o' coffee, and now it's all gone."  The plaintive wail of the bereaved caused some of the eaters nearby to turn their heads and look, but their attention was brief. Four or five deep, they stood by long lines of tables, the men outside, the women inside, with hands full of barbecued meat and cornbread, jaws working, and pocket-knives cutting from time to time liberal portions to supply the vacancy the expanded swallows created. 
The one feature of the festival of forty years ago in which time has wrought little change is the barbecue. There is a difference in detail now, but the essentials are about the same as half a century gone. 
Then there was not much of a display of Old Glory, for too many men were alive to whom the flag brought unpleasant memories; but the speech was pretty much the same; the barbecue almost the same — only the people were different.  
The beeves, the hogs, the goats and the sheep had been killed the day before, and brought in by the contributors during the afternoon. In the long pits fires of oak wood, hauled from a distant grove, had been burning all day; now a bed of embers glowed their length.  
Nearby there was a burning heap of oak logs, to replace the coals from time to time.
On spits of oak laid across the pits, the meat rested — usually a quarter of beef cut in half; a hog, sheep or goat split lengthwise. Under this, all night the fires were kept going, the meat being turned occasionally as it slowly cooked. It was this deliberate, gradually broiling process, that gave the barbecue its flavor. From time to time the chief cook's first assistant passed up one side and down the other of the pits, and with a mop on a short handle basted the roasting meat from a bucket containing salt, pepper, and various seasoning condiments. For barbecue in those days was seasoned in the cooking.  
All night long the cooks kept their vigil, for constant supervision was the price of well-cooked meats, and on the cook the success of the day depended.  Many were the yarns told — principally personal recollections of the war just passed, for usually it was veterans who were supervising the cooking — during the night around the fire. When morning came, the cooks were gaunt-faced and egg-eyed, but their task was not done, for the meat must be cooked up to the hour the tables were placed, and then the fire withdrawn just in time to allow the meat to cool enough to cut. 
About nine o'clock the crowd began to arrive. They came in buggies, a few in two-horse wagons, but a great many in horse-carts, the man on the horse, the family balanced In the cart over the axle; still others on horseback, but a great many, hundreds in fact, on foot, for little was thought of a ten-mile walk in those days.  
After each newcomer had made a round of inspection of the barbecue pits, each expressing his opinion of how it ought to be done, they gathered under the shade of the pines, to swap gossip and neighborhood news, trade horses, or crack jokes. 
There was a lemonade stand with its hard-worked force, for ice had been hauled many miles, at great expense, and the weak compound was swallowed more for the cooling "kick" than for any ingredients it was supposed to contain. Of watermelons there were none, for they did not ripen so early then.  
Near the stand were many boys, with long breeches and watering mouths, gazing on what they had not the money to buy. They had been the rounds of the pits. Inhaling the savory odor of the cooking meats until hunger drove away even the smart from bare feet that had incautiously stepped on live coals. Only too close by was the grocery, where stronger liquors were sold, and where later in the day a row started which afterwards bereaved two families.  
A small platform had been built, covered with brush and floored with borrowed plank. Here the orator of the day held forth. The Fourth of July speech then was much the speech of to-day. The tail feathers of the eagle were yanked until the bird of freedom screamed, and the adherents of the more or less famous politician applauded according to their devotion or enthusiasm, liquid or mental, while the urchins looking on and understanding not, wished he would quit, so dinner could come. The babies cried, the young folks courted, a group nearby laughed at a joke, sundry matrons swapped confidences and dipped snuff — all within plain hearing of the speaker, who heroically stuck to the job.  
Everything must end, and at last the speaking was over. Up from the pits, tubs and cedar piggins [small wooden pails] of the meat were carried and distributed along the tables, these innocent of even paper covering. There was no Brunswick stew in those days; no pickles, nor trimmings, but the cue was there in abundance for every man to eat his fill, and for many of the provident to carry off a supply against the day to come.  
The housewives had brought great stacks of pone cornbread — there was no baker's bread to be had — and this was cut and distributed with the meats. Then the wives brought forward trunks and baskets and from these what looked like an inexhaustible supply of good things to eat, and added them to the cue on the tables. Many could not miss, even for a meal, the cup of coffee, and to supply them, pots had been set on the coals near the pits until their contents boiled. It was when he diminished the supply in sight that a thirsty citizen provoked the boy to protest.  
Those people did not know much of the delicacies, but they brought to the meal appetites of plow hands and the digestions of rail-splitters. It was no small task to feed them but the men in charge knew what to provide for, and at last they were fed. Then hot-foot for the well, and crowd and push for the water that after all is the only perfect quencher of thirst.  
After dinner, the speaker gone, the platform gave place to the fiddlers, the straw-beaters, the caller and the dancing couples. Despite the July heat, despite the perspiration that made rags of the home-laundered shirts and collars and caused the color to "run" in many a beloved calico dress, until the shades of evening drove them home, the dancing went on, ever-changing individuals, but the same thing in form. There we leave them, the old folks hitching up for the homeward journey, the young folks still stepping lively to the jingling tune of the "Arkansaw [sic] Traveler," or one of his many kindred, or: 
"Johnny, get your hair cut, hair cut, hair cut,
Johnny, get your hair cut, shave and shine,
Johnny, get your hair cut, hair cut, hair cut;
Johnny, get your hair cut, just like mine." 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Modern Myth of the Word "Barbecue"

One of the biggest myths surrounding barbecue is the meaning and origin of the word "barbecue." The myth is repeated so often that people have started believing it. The myth is even propagated by a very famous TV personality who hosts his own popular cooking show (Alton Brown; Good Eats). He once said, "The word "barbecue" derives from a very old Caribbean word, "barbacoa," meaning to cook on green sticks directly over a smoldering fire."

Though it may be true in our times that "barbacoa" refers to cooking over smoldering coals, few, if any, use green sticks as a grill nowadays. Alton Brown may be confusing what we call "barbacoa," or "barbecue," today, with how 16th-century Native Americans prepared meat that was resting on green sticks. However, the word "barbacoa" had a very different meaning in those days. Originally, the word "barbacoa" had nothing to do specifically with cooking. The word "barbacoa" started as a noun. Only after European mangling of the word in the 17th century did it become a verb referring to cooking.

Deceased Native American Bodies
Resting on Hurdles a.k.a. Barbacoas.
Circa 1900.
History teaches us that the word "barbacoa" referred to “The Haitian name for a framework of sticks set upon posts"; no more, no less. From the 16th through 17th centuries, a barbacoa, a.k.a. barbecue, was nothing more than what English writers referred to as an American Indian hurdle and most often it had nothing to do with cooking over a fire.

Native American hurdles were used for many different purposes. Corn cribs, dinner tables, beds, chairs, food dehydrators, bridges and even above ground graves were all made with hurdles or what we would call a wooden barbecue grill. Those kinds of non-cooking uses of the word "barbacoa" or "barbecue" represent the vast majority of the word's appearances in old writings. Overall, very few of the 16th through 17th century references to "barbacoa" or "barbecue" refer to food being cooked over fire. For example, in 1699, William Dampier used the word "barbecue" to refer to beds and chairs.

16th and 17th century Europeans didn't always have words to describe what they witnessed in the New World. Therefore, they often adopted Native American words. That's how we get our words succotash, opossum, raccoon, hominy and barbecue.
Powhatan Indian Bed made using a Hurdle

Our English word "barbecue" comes from the Spanish word "barbacoa."  17th-century Taino people in Haiti used to call wooden hurdles "barabacoa." The Spanish adopted the word from the Taino Indians changing it to "barbacoa." The English, like so many other New World words, adopted the word "barbacoa" from the Spanish but Anglicized it into "barbecue."

Different Native American tribes used their own words to refer to hurdles. In parts of the New World explored by the French, Native tribes called their hurdles "boucan." Native Americans in Guyana called their hurdles "barbacot." The Island Carribs, neighbors to the Taino in Haiti, called their hurdles "aribel." Powhatan Indians called their hurdles "petaosawin" (pronounced “petō-saw-ween”). However, the word "barbecue" is the one that English speakers adopted.

French speakers adopted "boucan" from the Tupi Indian word "mukem" (possibly "bukem"). Spanish speakers adopted "barbacoa" from the Taino word "barabacoa." By the 1630's, the English word "barbycu" was adopted by English speakers. Virginia Barbecue: A History  documents that the first use of an Anglicized version of the word "barbecue" used as a verb in English literature occurred in 1648. That is thirteen years earlier than The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and just about every other barbecue history book in existence. Those sources wrongly claim that the first use of the word "barbecue" in English literature was in 1661. The first use in English literature of the word "barbecue" as a noun occurred in 1657. Again, that is earlier than the OED and all other barbecue history books that I have ever read claim except for Virginia Barbecue: A History.

Virginia Powhatan Indian-style Hurdle.
So, you may be wondering, when did the word "barbecue" acquire its modern meanings? That happened in Virginia in the 17th century. Sometime in the late 1500s or early 1600s, English speakers started using words they learned from Spanish writings about the New World. And, why wouldn't they? Englishmen of that era were interested in making money from the New World. Therefore, they used the terminology that the Spanish had already established in the 1500s.

For example, Powhatan Indians in Virginia grew tobacco. However, they called it "apook." When English colonists started growing tobacco in Virginia using techniques they learned from Powhatan Indians (not the Taino in Haiti who taught the Spanish how to grow tobacco) they called it "tobacco" when marketing it for sale rather than "apook." They did that because that's what people who previously bought it from the Spanish called it. The adoption of the word "tobacco" doesn't mean that tobacco was "invented" in Haiti by the Taino and spread to the North American colonies. It just means that the same plant was grown by Natives in Taino and Powhatans in Virginia but the commerce of the day dictated what Europeans called it. If the English were the first to go to market with tobacco we very may well be calling it an Anglicized version of "apook" today.

The English adoption of New World Spanish words in that era was often driven by business requirements. After all, what European hooked on Spanish tobacco would want to switch over to something called "apook"? No one would and the English knew that. In the case of the word "barbecue," it became well known among the English as a New World word so they accepted it too; not because they learned to use a barbecue from people in the Caribbean but because that was the already accepted New World word for the device.

So, after toying with the words roasting, carbonadoing and barbecadoing, early Virginian colonists finally started calling the wooden Powhatan grills "barbecues." From there, Virginians started calling events where barbecued meats were served a "barbecue"; the act of cooking on a barbecue they called "barbecuing"; and the meat so cooked was "barbecued" and called "barbecue." That's how and where the modern usages of the word barbecue were born. James Hammond Trumbull, a renowned 19th century American scholar and philologist, plainly stated that the word barbecue is a “Virginian word” due to the fact that it was first used in the British North American colonies in Virginia and was transformed into the word we know today.

Drying Meat on a Hurdle. Circa 1900.
A similar myth to this one claims that barbecue the food and cooking technique originated in the Caribbean and was imported into North Carolina where it spread to the rest of the South. That tired, old myth is engrained in so many poorly researched barbecue TV shows and magazine articles that it is a tough one to dislodge. However, just because it is often repeated doesn't make it true. I will tackle that myth in my next "Barbecue Myths" post.

Read more in Virginia Barbecue: A History.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Delicious Virginia-style Barbecue Brisket Recipe

Virginians have been barbecuing beef since at least 1645. That's no less than 35 years before the first Spanish colony was established in Texas.
If Texans think they are the only ones who know how to expertly barbecue beef, as Yoda would say, "No, there is another."
Here is an authentic, Virginia-style barbecued brisket recipe that's easy to barbecue at home and delicious.