Barbecue Digest: Cook the opossum, spare the bear
July 12th, 2012
10:30 AM ET
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Editor's note: All summer long, the Southern Foodways Alliance will be delving deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of barbecue across the United States. Dig in.

Today's barbecue joints tend to serve just one or two kinds of meats, with pork predominate in the Carolinas and Georgia and beef the star out in Texas and Kansas City. Not so in the old days.

Back when barbecues were large-scale community affairs, the meat served was whatever people had on hand and could donate to the cause. Lists like the following, from a description of an 1868 barbecue in Spartanburg, South Carolina, were par for the course: "beef, mutton, pork, and fowls were provided in superabundance."

At the largest events, the menus could be eye-popping. Perhaps the most extensive is the selection served at the 1923 inauguration of Oklahoma governor Jack Walton. The event was held in January, and just before Christmas, Walton sent out a call to Oklahoma farmers to donate animals for the event.

And donate they did. The final tally, as printed in the Dallas Morning News, included thousands of cows, hogs, sheep, and chickens plus 103 turkeys, 1,363 rabbits, 26 squirrels, 134 opossums, 113 geese, 34 ducks, 15 deer, 2 buffalo, and 2 reindeer that had been "shipped in from the North."

A man from Sayre, Oklahoma, captured a live bear and offered him to the cause, too. But the bear won the sympathy of Oklahoma school children, who pooled their pocket change, bought him for $119.66, and donated him to the Wheeler Park Zoo. The bear was a crowd favorite for more than a decade.

The rest of the animals weren't so lucky.

Today's installment comes courtesy of Robert Moss, a food writer and restaurant critic for the Charleston City Paper and author of "Barbecue: the History of an American Institution". Follow him on Twitter at @mossr.

Delve into more barbecue goodness from the Southern Foodways Alliance blog

Previously - In praise of pork rinds and Give squirrel a whirl and Burgoo with a smidge of squirrel

soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. Heywood Jablome

    After you bbq the opossum are you supposed to kiss your sister/wife? (same person)

    July 13, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  2. Matt

    Be careful if buy a cleaned and dressed possum from someone else. Ask that they leave the feet on so you can be sure it's not a cat.

    July 13, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  3. notsopc

    Armadillos carry the virus that causes leprosy.

    July 12, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • alex

      No they do not. But, the bacterium (Mycobacterium leprae) can be grown in the armadillo.

      July 13, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  4. doughnuts

    The barbecued mutton at Moonlight BBQ in Ownsboro, KY is divine.

    July 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Agreed! Weirdly, I have a can of it at home, but it's far from the same thing.

      July 12, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  5. ok

    do whatever you want, just dont smoke chicken and burgers

    July 12, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  6. Fredrick

    Black people invented BBQ.

    July 12, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Squirrel hUNTER

      No they did not the Tienu (sp) indians in the Carribean invented it. The American Cowboys perfected it.

      July 12, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
      • doughnuts


        Also the Timucua people of Florida.

        July 12, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Bill Duke

      Another lie.

      July 12, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Eric

      Barbeque is a French word, which means "Beard to Tail", referring to the spit roasting of a wild boar.

      Barbe = Beard
      Queue = Tail

      Of course, BBQ is an art that has been practiced since man started cooking over open fire.

      July 13, 2012 at 1:03 pm |

    Jack Stack beans are the BEST !!! Been to Wabash & The Smokebox – Loved watching the Beverly Hillbillies :-) Granny & her fatback & rhumatis medicine !!

    July 12, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  8. Jeann

    Cooking opossum???
    American tastes are so undeveloped and unsophisticated...

    July 12, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Gene

      Perhaps it is your lack of gastronomic experiences that make you the one to be the culinary ignoranus.

      July 12, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
      • Texas Pete

        If you think opossum is good, then you should try BBQ armadillo. The part I like the best is it comes in its own shell that locks in juices. I've always wondered why some crazy Texican, maybe in the Waco area, hasn't started a armadillo ranch. They sure beat the taste of supermarket cardboard chicken.

        July 12, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
        • SouthernCelt

          Just don't serve any Lone Star Beer with it, unless you want the Revenge of the Giant Armadillo :-).

          July 12, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Bobb@Jeann

      I agree, how uncouth! Even with a glass of Rothschild, this could not be palatable...

      July 12, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • doughnuts

      Very few Americans would willingly eat possum. To me, it always looked like a giant pre-historic rat. But every cultural foodway has dishes that other cultures find repellent.

      Snails, for instance are a rather disgusting addition to any nation's cuisine.

      July 12, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
      • simon

        I gotta say, ive had opossum, and it was delicious. You gotta parboil it first – let the grease rise to the top, but then you take it out and smoke it, basting it as you go in a part vinegar part tomato sauce, kind of like piedmont of western NC style BBQ sauce. It might be ok with just a vinegar base like in eastern NC, but i havent tried that.

        Its a white meat, and tastes like chicken, but with a slight gamey flavor, a little like squirrel but more tender. I suggest folks try it – there s no great risk in over hunting the possum population any time soon, and it survives reasonably well near human habitats, making it a pretty ideal food source. Dont kill a mom with babies though, if you can avoid it...

        July 12, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
        • Kat Kinsman

          This comment pretty much made my week.

          July 12, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
        • Paul

          Hah! right there with you, Kat.

          I'd try it for sure if I could only catch the crazy things. They live in my yard for god(s)' sake. But man, they are some creepy little critters.

          July 13, 2012 at 10:36 am |
      • Sir Biddle@doughnuts

        You know what is reallllllyyyyyy good? Beaver. A nice lean piece of beaver if prepared and maintained just right is heavenly. Mouth watering in most cases. Don't think twice, give it a lick.

        July 12, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
        • effjay

          I have licked many a beaver. Smells like fish, though.

          July 12, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Burp

      Just by calling it opossum you have labeled yourself an outsider, not worthy of a taste of this southern delicacy. It's Possum, you damn Yankee. We have armadillo in Georgia too. We call it "possum on the half-shell"!

      July 12, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
      • effjay

        Outsider? Screw you, nothing wrong about being a Yankee. Being a southern dick is another story.

        July 12, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
        • Bill Duke

          Yankees are dumber than dirt. Your post just proved it.

          July 12, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
      • randoid1234

        Calm down Burp or we'll come through and burn Atlanta again and march to the sea.

        July 13, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Jeff Cox

      Where's Granny Clampett now that we need her possum recipes?

      July 13, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  9. Uhhhhdel

    The best BBQ I have had was Smoked Lamb Ribs from Jack Stack in KC. Made their beef brisket and pulled pork pale in comparison.

    July 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  10. Georgia BBQ Forever!

    I remember stumbling on the unexpected pleasure of Goat BBQ at a roadside stand (long gone) in Watkinsville, GA, back in the mid-60's. It was incredibly good. I haven't found anything to match it since.

    July 12, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • doughnuts

      If I'm going to eat goat, I prefer it in a nice cury.

      July 12, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
      • Kip

        You must try cabrito in a good Mexican restaurant.........unbelievably good.

        July 13, 2012 at 2:11 am |
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