Barbecue Digest: Don't whitewash BBQ
June 21st, 2012
11:00 AM ET
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Editor's note: All summer long, the Southern Foodways Alliance - a member-supported organization of more than 800 chefs, academics, writers and eaters devoted to the documentation, study, and celebration the diverse food cultures of the changing American South - will be delving deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of barbecue across the United States. As a loud, proud SFA member, I'm pleased to say that Eatocracy will be partnering with them to share some of their stories. Dig in. - Kat Kinsman, Managing Editor

Today's installment comes courtesy of Adrian Miller, a culinary historian, certified barbecue judge and author of an upcoming book about soul food. Follow him on Twitter at @soulfoodscholar.

The coming and passing of National Barbecue Month (commonly called "May" by others) tends to leave a bad taste in my mouth. It's the month when a lot of media outlets (magazines, newspapers, and television) remind us that barbecue season has officially begun. They mark the occasion by profiling notable pitmasters, sharing recipes and tips, and, as a bonus, providing a roundup of the best barbecue joints in your area or in the entire country.

What's regularly missing in these features are shout-outs to African Americans. Such omissions are troubling given the overwhelming contribution that African Americans have made, and continue to make, to the American barbecue tradition. Like good barbecue, my annoyance over this subject has been burning like a slow fire, and it hit a flashpoint last year.

The Food Network aired Best in Smoke - a barbecue competition show that featured six contestants, six assistants, one host, three judges...and no black people. Think I'm hypersensitive? Then imagine watching a country music special that only featured interviews with Charley Pride and Darius Rucker. Wouldn't you think there was something wrong with that picture?

In contrast to mass media outlets like the Food Network, the SFA's oral history and documentary film initiatives have paid homage to many African-American pitmasters. Check out CUT/CHOP/COOK, a film by Joe York about Rodney Scott of Hemingway, South Carolina. And explore the oral history interviews on the Southern BBQ Trail. Many of them feature African American subjects, from Helen Turner of Tennessee to Gerri and Stephen Grady of North Carolina (and over a dozen more).

Delve into more barbecue goodness from the Southern Foodways Alliance blog

Previously - South Carolina hash and rice

soundoff (579 Responses)
  1. Niel Cohen

    Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thank you so much, However I am encountering problems with your RSS. I donít understand why I cannot join it. Is there anyone else getting the same RSS problems? Anyone that knows the solution will you kindly respond? Thanx!

    June 22, 2014 at 12:05 am |
  2. LD

    American BBQ=Black and that's why there is an issue. Whites love to steal and take credit for things they haven't invented or contributed towards, that's your nature.

    November 27, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
  3. CollinLeon

    BBQ is TEXAN and TEXAN only. If done by anyone else (regardless of ethic persuasion), it is just a bad imitation. Sorry folks, but that is just the way that it is.

    July 4, 2012 at 4:40 am |
    • JellyBean

      For crying out loud, please stop trolling.

      July 4, 2012 at 7:13 am |
  4. Bob

    If you are all so against affirmative action, why arent you against the affirmative action that us whites are obviously benefitting from in the context of this barbeque issue? I suppose when white people get recognized, and treated with unfair preference its okay...but when black people do then its just a dirty form of sinful affirmative action. If you are going to be fair, you should note the multitudes of societal benefits us white people enjoy because of the built-in affirmative action we get on a day to day basis from the make up of our society.

    July 3, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  5. Hungry

    Eminem is actually white. Sometimes ethnicity is not a factor

    July 3, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  6. Benny

    Using this "Logic"....there is a problem in the NBA. Basketball was invented by a white man, but now, the vast majority of the players are African-American. Living in KC and being on a BBQ Team, I understand the contributions African-Americans have made to BBQ. But this story....crazy talk.

    July 3, 2012 at 7:59 am |
  7. warsteiner

    Only a true Racist would think of writing and applying such nonsense to a barbecue. America is supposed to be freedom. Well the day I have to apply Affirmative Action OR The Equality act of 2010 to a barbecue guest list is the day I stop barbecuing. What a vicious idea to throw the race card at a party. Most outdoor parties I know of dont have a guest list they put up flyiers and all are welcome. Im willing to bet that if a black family showed up to anyone barbecue and asked to join they would be welcomed in with open arms and thanked for coming. Its this nonsense that ruins things and makes racist. The divides in races is because people like the one who wrote this keep throwing in everyones face these redundant figures that only a racist would come up with.

    July 3, 2012 at 7:01 am |
  8. Amanda Sovago-Royal

    I do believe that many of "you" (commentators- no matter the race) are missing the point behind the story. As soon as any black/ethnic person acknowledges the overwhelming absence of African-American (or other races) inclusion into the majority of US proudly proclaimed traditions its as if everyone's ears shut off, their eye's roll, and the argument is immediately and adamantly discounted when the facts have not been considered! Say what you want but it is very concerning when the VAST majority of all media in the US, no matter the content, is attributed to, presented by, and marketed/catered for non-ethnic people (white). If the article is read in it's entirety and fully comprehended, the journalist is not demanding that ALL or even HALF of BBQ culinary praises be given to African Americans, but that they be INCLUDED in the celebration as contributors (rightfully/factually/historically so) in the creation of one of America's favorite past times which is currently not being done. What I can't ever seem to understand is how America/Americans, a nation and populace built solely from immigrants of numerous cultures and ethnicities, can be so un-inclusiveness towards people of color on many facets of our society!

    July 2, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • warsteiner

      Why would anyone find it necessary to throw a race card at something so loved and shared by all. I personally dont care how anyone cooks or celebrates. I plan my barbecues food,thats it who ever comes, comes. I have had people from all sorts of races, colors ,religions etc etc and not once did I ever feel the need to count guest and apply the Affirmative Action laws or the Equality Act of 2010, . It is people like you that ruin all thing fun ,good, and healthy by forcing good people into having to analyze ridiculous simple minded things like this. Are you suggesting that a white person go to black neighbor hoods in search of residence willing to fill a quota for a Barbecue . Knock this incessant nonsense off

      July 3, 2012 at 6:52 am |
      • Amanda Sovago-Royal

        Sorry it took so long to respond, I rarely use wordpress anymore but you clearly missed everything I said during this post! First off I don't live in a "black neighborhood" as it seems you've assumed I do or should know where to locate one. And I highly doubt you know "people like me" because those people tend to be less ignorant and open minded. I'm very open to any race, in fact my husband is white, I have an Asian aunt, and Hispanic uncle and I agree that something sooo simple as BBQ shouldn't require race analyzing HOWEVER the point I made during about the cooking representation was that OFTEN times on television, in nearly every aspect there in under representation of minority involvement. Example: If you watching the cooking network, the majority of shows are hosted by Caucasians, HGTV has a majority of white host (when ATL for example has a HUGE community of African American interior designers or decorators), DIY network has majority white hosts, MTV, CMT, VH1, AMC, etc.....the list goes on and on! Happily I've noticed a change in television with shows like Scandal, Modern family, New Normal, etc that include a multi-racial cast which better represents America. Even television commericals like Cheerios (interracial parents), IKEA (interracial couple) , Kindle (male gay couple), and eHarmony (interracial couple) are becoming more inclusive which is good for ALL RACES in America and promotes tolerance and harmony. If you understood at all the point I was making about the BBQ story was that the majority of black people, or any minority race do not want to become dominant, we just hope to be included and the author of that story was highlighting an observation that the majority of the BBQ cookoff shows or shows highlighting BBQ and its history had not included other races besides white Americans. FYI, most of the times its the people that cry "false race card" that tends to have the most pent up racial issues. OPEN YOUR MIND before you make a comment please, and your the one bringing up Affirmative Action when that has NOTHING to do with what was being discussed.....ISSSSUESS!!!

        June 19, 2013 at 12:04 am |
  9. bernardmarxx

    Columnist Calvin Trillin (in a less politically correct time) once said, "In Kansas City, going to a white barbeque restaurant is like going to a Gentile internist, it might turn out okay, but why take the risk."

    July 2, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • CollinLeon

      Perhaps, but Kansas City does not know anything about TRUE BBQ. You can't find TRUE BBQ outside of the Republic of Texas. BBQ is a religion here in Texas, complete with animal sacrifices, vestments, and the anointing of the participants with various libations.

      July 4, 2012 at 4:45 am |
      • JustJay

        Ummm. The thing is that Texas in not a Western state. It is and always was a Southern state. If you will take the trouble to do just a l i t t l e research you will find that that Texas barbeque began with Blacks. Not on the open range, but at the plantations. Cooked by Blacks. The toughest cuts. Like the iconic Texas brisket. Sorry, that is just the truth. Of course, German immigrants are responsible for the great Texas tradition in sausages. Funny thing though, over a forth of Texas cowboys were Mexican or Blacks. Somehow Texas has managed to write slavery and Blacks in general out of their history. A person who has not studied history or spoken with the few living survivors of the time would think old Texas was comprised of only Whites and Mexicans.... I guess it makes for a more heroic image.

        July 4, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
  10. Way Wrong

    Cmon! The selction process for best in smoke was done over months with many contestants. So because the best BBQ wasnt done by an african american, they are being racist... Hypersensitive is being modest in what they should call you.

    Im a Latino, and can say I cook very delicious food. But if I go up against Bobby Flay (White), I lose.... Food Network is not about Race, its about good food cooked by Great Chefs.

    July 2, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • warsteiner

      You are so right, This is all about a dumb contest, Every time there is a competition in anything and a black dude doesnt win they throw in a BS racist nonsense comment. Man I have never even thought that it would go to this level. Thank your lucky stars I have to watch my language. African Americans have become the ultimate Racist in the US, They can never be held accountable for anything because they have convinced Liberal white America that they are so poorly done too. Its pathetic makes me sorry Im a white guy. How about you practice what you preach? You dont want the whole black race to be judged by their criminals, Well a hand full of white farmers used slaves and the majority of the country didnt believe in slavery and many died fighting to abolish it. So how about blacks stop judging all WHITES and condemning all whites as racist.

      July 3, 2012 at 7:14 am |
      • Adrock

        That's racist. Also, your grammar could use some work.

        July 4, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  11. Frank Mondana

    The writer makes a good point. However, the only way to get past racism is to stop thinking in terms of race. It is possible that the TV show went with finding "the best" and never took race into consideration at all.

    When blacks use the term "white people", do they consider that some of us had ancestry that had nothing to do with slavery? My family came to America in 1902. They came from a region where no slave trade occurred. I can trace my family history back to 1743. I have black relatives sprinkled throughout that time.

    My father was engaged to a black woman until her family objected. "You are not marrying a ^%$%*&%$ wop!" 10 years later he met my mother. Her family comes from Russia and were dirt poor farmers who fled after the revolution. None of them were slave traders/owners either.

    I look very white and because of my family, race never really enters into anything I do yet I get called names and assumed to be "just a typical white guy who hates black people.

    Racism occurs on both sides. Too often, blacks just label whites as slave owner KKK members. Too many people think that racism is literally a black and white issue.
    There are also many shades of gray.

    July 2, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  12. Todd

    People have been cooking meat over fire for as long as there have been people, meat, and fire. People have been eating outdoors and socializing in groups for just as long. I'm sensitive to racial issues as a general rule, but this one seems like a bit of a stretch to me.

    July 2, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • CollinLeon

      Yes, people have been cooking meat over a fire for tens of thousands of years, but that was more technically classified as "grilling", not "BBQing". It was perfected in Texas and called BBQing. If you do it outside of Texas, it's a poor imitation at best.

      July 4, 2012 at 4:52 am |
  13. Saidso

    Was the competition one where people entered themselves?

    July 2, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  14. Wilko

    Well you all may not like it, but the author is right. Blacks are an integral part of the hostory of BBQ, even though most of America would prefer not to talk about it. Don't be so offended and accept history for what it is.

    July 2, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  15. franderson gooper

    sounds like something LZ Granderson would write.

    July 2, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  16. Burbank

    It's not even called BBQ anymore. It's "grilling" now.

    July 2, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • frank

      Not in eastern North Carolina. If you order "Bar B Que" it's pit cooked hog, possibly from a "pig pickin". If you order grilled BBQ, we'll know you ain't from around here!

      July 2, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  17. Grant County BBQ Champion

    I just won the Grant County Fair BBQ championship, and I'm Hispanic. The tied runners up where Asian and Caucasian. And this is in the Deep South. Blacks don't own the BBQ world.

    July 2, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • bubba

      congratulations. Where do I sign up for a chopped beef sandwich?

      July 3, 2012 at 3:28 am |
    • JustJay

      Own it? They can't even get in it! Black BBQ restaurants may get rave reviews, but hell no they can't win BBQ contests. Just like they could not play baseball, basketball, golf or tennis. Until big money said "we want the best contender, damn their race". Blacks should form their own contests, that would shame the "mainstream" contests into real fairness.

      July 4, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
  18. fuqtard

    What a waste of time. CNN... seriously, I know it garners clicks, but this is pretty ridiculous. I can't enjoy bbq without considering the many storied and glorious contributions to society of African Americans? Seems a bit odd. I sure hope that every time a black family turns on the lights, they turn to each other to discuss the miracle of electricity (as well as those fantastic whities that invented it).Or perhaps each time they fly, they take note of those fantastic crackers Orville and Wilbur, without whom human flight would be impossible. I could go on, but quite honestly we'd run out of internets before all of the Caucasian contributions could be listed. Same could be said for each of the other races/ethnicities of the world... and yet, the only ones we're beat over the head with consistency are those of African Americans.

    Seriously, for a supposedly progressive institution that should aim to be colorblind, CNN seems to do nothing so much as inject racial overtones wherever possible.

    July 2, 2012 at 7:05 am |
  19. Bazoing

    This is a sick approach. Suppose some idiot wrote "Don't Black Your Stove." Then suppose this white racist went on about the contributions of whites to the black culture. They would not get away with it for one minute. Stop this racist rubbish!

    July 2, 2012 at 12:26 am |
  20. Pierce

    It grieves me to see painfully stupid stories and commentary like the one by CNN.

    The guy or gal (archaeilogical evidence suggests southern and eastern europeans discovered fire. So these were the first barbecuers), whoever it was, just adapted to necessity.
    African Americans, when kidnapped in Africa, didnt eat much meat. Their hunting was not so good and their weapons were crude and not the killing gadgets of europe.
    It is likely the first and then spreading rite of BBqing began in Eastern Europe and in China.
    In the Americas, the American indians - what we call Mexicans and Latin Americans before the Spaniards came - were first doing it.
    Blacks, it seems were johnnys come lately not only to this but to technology in general.
    Let us not deem ourselves advanced enough and elite enough to be willing to give out laurels like this, like a
    "participant" ribbon in kids competitive events, to those we see as deserving of a hug or of some credentials or claim to fame no matter how dubious the effort or result.
    All of us should be much better than that.

    July 1, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • JustJay

      The problem with your logic is that the Human Genome Project has proven that the Europeans and Chinese you so admire (including you) were/are all decendants of Africans. Funny thing; God told you the same thing. You know, Book of Genesis, the Bible...

      July 4, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
  21. Kat

    My ancestors cooked meat over fire, too. No one race or people 'owns' or 'pioneered' bbq'ing, grilling, smoking, etc. I believe people have been cooking meat over fire for quite some time, now.

    If there's some information you feel the rest of us would benefit from, or enjoy hearing about, then share it with us. Otherwise, stop making a mountain out of that molehill, stop feeling slighted by FoodNetwork and go to them with your ideas for educating the rest of us on the 'origins' of cooking meat over fire.

    What a boatload of whiny drivel.

    July 1, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • Grob Hahn

      You're wasting your time trying to speak logic to people who also feel they invented the stick! I do agree that it's odd for Food Network to omit black Americans in a piece on barbecue. Especially with all the pandering they have already done to blacks on that network. I have seen many Food Network "competitions" where blacks who can barely pronounce bechamel (or ask) correctly seem to win out over non-black contestants with plenty of real world experience. Instead the winner is someone with little or no formal training who learned it all from their grandmother. After all, why waste 8 years on schools to become a chef? When you can simply label yourself as one these days.

      July 1, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
      • JustJay

        What episode were you watching!? I am sorry I missed them! I was wondering "where the hell do they find these losers"? I was beginning to suspect that they were only selecting the dullards. The question really becomes do black people cook? If they do, I know of no reason why they would not have among them really good cooks. It seems that anytime they get the same breaks and shot as anyone else, they do as well as anyone else. Or bettter. It seems that when the winner is not subjective, (like whose food tastes better), but objective, (like who threw further) they do very well indeed.

        July 4, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
  22. Greg

    I get the point of the article, however, I am fine with Pride and Rucker on a Country Music special. What's the big deal? But good point, BBQ and my African American culinary experts should definitely be included!! Rock on BBQ-ers!

    July 1, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  23. JR

    The premise of the article is stupid and misses the point. Instead of writing an article complaining about the lack of showcasing of amazing African American pitmasters, how about an article that showcases the amazing African American pitmasters? LOL

    Seriously. You work for a media outlet and can do this, yet you don't do this, and instead complain about others not doing it.

    Btw, if you think that would be needed in order for the 'white' public to know that African Americans have made serious contributions to this food genre, you must not be talking to many 'white bbq lovers'. Honey, I'm from the west coast and everyone in Oakland knew that if you want Q, you go to Flints. Yep, people of every race, color or creed, lining up in front of that beat up old business, ready to dig into to some foil wrapped goodness. And btw, if your potato salad isn't Creole-esque, you're missing the best stuff on the damn planet.

    I'm blonde, blue eyed and love BBQ more than most anything, and I know this. So honey, start writing an article about AA bbq specialists, and if you include some recipes, I'll drop to my knees at your feet. Don't leave out addresses of businesses, I've been known to drive many miles for good food.

    Btw, if anyone has any midwest recommendations, I'm all ears.

    July 1, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  24. bbq bill

    As lover of all things cooked on a grill or in a smoker, I never have forgotten my fathers advice: If you have a choice, always buy your bbq from a black cook.
    From Pierces in Toano Va to Jazzy's in Tampa, it has been proven to be great advice.

    July 1, 2012 at 10:18 am |
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