Barbecue Digest: How L.B.J. nearly brought BBQ to NYC
August 28th, 2012
03:00 PM 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.

There's been some big food and drink news on the campaign trail of late, from Paul Ryan's catfish-noodling hobby to President Obama's home-brewed "White House Honey Ale." They got me wondering if barbecue had ever taken center stage in a presidential campaign. (Well, since this one.)

Barbecues as a social event/fundraiser have a deep tradition in U.S. politics, but I think that Lyndon Johnson took things to another level in his effort to make barbecue a symbol of his 1964 re-election campaign. That summer, the Baton Rouge State-Times reported that Johnson had a "plan to turn Texas barbecue into a political weapon" with a "cross-country series of barbecues supervised by the barbecue chef from the president's LBJ ranch in Johnson City, Texas." The "barbecue chef" in question was Walter Jetton, a pitmaster and caterer from Fort Worth.

What distinguished this ambitious plan from past campaigns was that it aspired to take Texas barbecue to the uninitiated masses in cities like Beverly Hills, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis. The St. Albans (Vermont) Messenger reported in October 1964 that Johnson even contemplated occupying Wall Street with a massive, open-air barbecue where "several or more blocks of the nation's financial center would be roped off."

The idea was nixed by New York Democrats, who felt it was "too corny for Manhattan, especially for the President of the United States." I wonder what they - and LBJ himself - would have made of today's Big Apple Barbecue Block Party that draws a crowd of over 140,000 guests to Madison Square Park over the course of two days.

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.

Delve into more barbecue goodness from the Southern Foodways Alliance blog.

Previously - Speaking in tongues: a barbecue communion and Obama chows down at an Atlanta classic



soundoff (98 Responses)
  1. Tom

    OK. I've had it.

    What was a simple, fun story about President Johnson having a big barbecue in downtown Manhattan has turned, in the comments, into a poltiical free-for-all. Which happens for every damned comment thread on CNN.com.

    We've had one guy (after the totally necessary political swipe) come after those believing sauce makes barbecue. We've had another suggesting that Obama and Romney have barbecues of their own. And one other guy made a crack about LBJ picking up a dog by its ears (which, while off topic, is kind of funny - and no, I am not advocating cruelty to animals or anything like that).

    Everything else has been damned useless.

    So: I'm done. Until I hear CNN has either taken these things down, or brings in moderators to knock out legitimately off-topic horsedung, I'm not coming here again. For anything. At all. Not like it will change anything, but it's the only weapon I have on me. (And no, this does not mean that I somehow oppose concealed carry laws, or that I'm an anti-gun... you know, skip it. I don't want to say anything else.)

    Anybody out there with me on this, or am I alone in this world?

    August 30, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • jmr1965

      Well, not sure if you were referencing or didn't know, but LBJ did, in fact, pick up his beagle (I believe it was "Him", but it might have been "Her") by his ears, so that's funny on a few levels (he got slammed when he said the poor pup liked it). Anyway, everything else you said is right on, and I believe in my heart that the vast majority of us feel the same way- we're just less likely to comment on these things because we're (pick one) less angry, immature, ignorant, or otherwise troll-like. Hang in there, the pendulum will swing back to common sense and intelligence... someday.

      August 30, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • crappygovernment

      Take off comrade! Censor somewhere else...

      August 30, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  2. crappygovernment

    Israel got nuclear weapons under LBJ. JFK did not want them to have them. Some claim they threaten Europe with them nowadays.

    August 29, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  3. DM

    Dear Editor,

    LBJ's ranch was in Stonewall Texas! Not Jhonson City!
    You should really know your facts.
    Shoutout to STONEWALL!!!

    August 29, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  4. eroteme

    The great LBJ, a school teacher who graduated to government employment, married a moderately wealthy woman, then became a multi-millionaire while serving his government paid career in Washington.

    August 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Steve

      yes, a conflicted figure indeed. The Civil Rights Act and the Great Society and then Vietnam. A brilliant politician who did not listen to his own inner council about a foreign entanglement. So much to admire and so much tragedy.

      August 29, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  5. Doug

    Before we BBQ LBJ over the Vietnam fire, let's remember that a vast majority of the country supported the war until the Tet Offensive in January 1968. Johnson, quite rightly, deserves a lot of blame for the debacle, but he didn't do it by himself. Tragic as it all was, there was no World War III with the Chinese and Soviets (suppliers and supporters of the Viet Cong) and southeast Asis isn't a glowing nuclear wasteland; policies that Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and other republicans of the era advocated. Anyone with half an understanding of contemporary history would know that a lot of blame for that war is shared by both major political parties.

    August 29, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Steve

      I am glad you pointed that out. Looking back, it is easy to overlook that wide support our intervention in Vietnam had until late in Johnson's presidency. He would have been considered one of our greatest presidents – up there with the Roosevelts, had it not been for Vietnam. But life is like that.

      August 29, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  6. Bill, Bloomington Il

    LBJ also brought us class warfare.

    August 29, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  7. Benn

    I've been to Texas and found the BBQ to be WAY overrated. Much like Texas itself.

    And for the record, LBJ was an idiot.

    August 29, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • Skibo2000

      That's a shame, cause it really is quite delicious if you know where to go. Best brisket in the nation.

      August 29, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • The real Benn@Copycat

      Congratulations on your sense of originality. Another screen name bites the dust.

      August 29, 2012 at 10:52 am |
      • JellyBean@ The real Benn

        I can't stand name stealing, humorless trolls.

        August 29, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  8. VladT

    For freakin sakes people, this is an article on food history. How you people turn this into Obama vs Romney shows the sorry state of politics this country truly is in. When politics turns into a total "us vs them" bunker mentality, nothing will get accomplished.
    I am not Obama's biggest fan, and will educate myself a little more before who I decide on who to vote, but if Obama and/or Romney hosted a local BBQ to meet and greet, I would happily attend both to see where they stand.

    August 29, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • Seriouslybud

      Dear lord!!! What are you THINKING!!!! Rather than voting blindly based on party affiliation, you intend to educate yourself to the candidates positions and attempt to get a measure of the person by listening to them in speak??? IN PERSON????? Do you have any idea what might happen to this country if EVERYBODY were to do that??? Shame on you VladT, shame on you...

      August 29, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
      • Jerv

        Haha! Had to read that twice to get the sarcasm.

        August 29, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
        • Seriouslybud

          Frequently I will enter into discussions like these just to see if there is even one person who might actually fall into what I call a "Moderate" position. My definition of moderate is someone who is willing to hear all outlooks on a particular issue and genuinely give each some consideration. (Maybe even have enough fortitude to accept that their current outlook might be flawed.) When I find an individual that actually does that my response is usually either total surprise or sarcasm.

          August 29, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • ™©JbJiNg!eŚ®™

      I hate it when people get political on a food blog (nod to Truth).

      August 29, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Steve

      good for you.

      August 29, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  9. TruTexan

    The chef who makes John Henry's BBQ cooked for George Bush's Inaugural dinner.

    August 29, 2012 at 6:59 am |
  10. Gail D

    and Bush Sr. had a Texas BBQ the night of the Nemitz collapse

    August 29, 2012 at 6:56 am |
  11. DK

    LBJ was involved in the conspiracy to kill JFK, and then covered it up after the fact. A traitor, who should not be worshiped.

    August 29, 2012 at 4:02 am |
    • Rob

      LOL

      August 29, 2012 at 6:29 am |
    • ejw

      Sorry, but you have no evidence to back up your conspiracy claim. Besides, what does this have to do with Texas BBQ?

      August 29, 2012 at 6:31 am |
    • Flatsguide

      Time to up your meds, DK. You might want to replace your tin foil hst too, the government can read your mind.

      August 29, 2012 at 6:41 am |
  12. ArchieDeBunker

    LBJ – front runner for the dumbest (and stupidest) president – – ever. Didn't even have brains enough to realize that when he started giving away money to "poor" people, the number of people who claimed to be poor would multiply by factors of 10. Did more damage to the USA with his "War on Prosperity" program than any other president until Bark Obama and his Odumbocare program.

    August 28, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • JanetMermaid

      Ah, I see the actual problem. It's simply that you are an i d i o t!

      Perhaps you should turn off Fox and study a bit of actual, you know, HISTORY. And maybe absorb a few real facts while you are at it.

      August 28, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
      • dave

        While Archie's comment were somewhat crude in their delivery, the observations seem accurate based upon the exponential increase of the national debt under the current administration, lack of transparency, lies (to the people – "The Obamacare program is NOT a tax", while in front of the US Supreme Court "It's a TAX!!!"), and the attack on the current energy companies in this country and distain for businesses – large and small.
        Obama is taxing and spending the US into oblivion. In case no one has noticed......no one has EVER been taxed INTO prosperity!!!

        August 28, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
        • Olaf Big

          Actually, you could say some nations were. Look at Sweden, or even better Germany. Back to Sweden, IKEA owner was the richest man in the world for many years, and IKEA generated huge number of jobs for a country the size of Sweden despite heavy taxation. Taxes are not the issue. The real issue is how we spend the tax revenue, but that's too complex for a productive national discussion. It is naive to think that if you have $100 more in your pocket your life will get so much better, or if a huge corporation saves $10M in taxes it will invest the money into new jobs and lead us all to prosperity.

          August 29, 2012 at 2:22 am |
        • Doug

          Look up the facts dave. The overall tax burden as a percentage of GDP is the lowest it's been in over 50 years. The cost of the Bush tax cuts is the biggest component of the deficit; more than the cost of two wars, the bank bailout, the auto indutry bailout and the stimulus bill combined.

          History repeats. Hoover handed FDR a mess and then faulted him for every effort to save capitalism and freedom (which he did). W and the GOP have and are doing the same thing to a good President. The republicans haven't had a new idea in 80 years!

          August 29, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
      • wildwildwest

        It won't work. Asking those guys to turn off Fox socalled News is like asking them to stop breathing. Nice idea, though.

        August 29, 2012 at 4:24 am |
        • Rob

          sort of like people to stop being st upid and voting democrat even though they can see it is destroying this country.

          August 29, 2012 at 6:31 am |
    • pattysboi

      Archie, LBJ did the best he could in a horrific situation. He has to ascend to the Presidency after JFK is killed, and go from there. He also pushed the Civil Rights Bill through, and his program was the War on Poverty, not "Prosperity". Please sign up for a kindergarten history course.

      August 29, 2012 at 1:19 am |
      • DK

        LBJ was directly involved in planning the murder of JFK. He was worse than evil.

        August 29, 2012 at 4:00 am |
        • Rob

          LOL. enjoy your tin foil.

          August 29, 2012 at 6:33 am |
        • ejw

          B.S. Sorry, but you have no evidence to back up your conspiracy claim. Besides, what does this have to do with Texas BBQ?

          August 29, 2012 at 6:35 am |
      • MasterWooten

        LBJ's so called War on Poverty ended up creating the ghettos and ghastly ublic housing crisis which plague our innercities today. NOBODY in their right minds even DEMOCRATS hail that as a victory. Detroit, the Bronx, any innercity you can think of did NOT look the way it does today until the Great Society programs took off as they did!

        August 29, 2012 at 6:35 am |
    • Johan S

      He got the civil rights act passed so that fools in the modern republican party (not the sane Republican party of the 60s) like Herman Cain and Alan West wouldn't have to sit In the back of the bus. That's was by no means easier l. Think of how ignorant you are and double it l. That's who he was dealing with. He also continued Kennedy's vision of landing a man on the moon and made sure NASA was properly funded and didn't give up when they had setbacks. Alospqhen Nixon came info power he destroyed NASA.

      August 29, 2012 at 2:14 am |
    • Olaf Big

      LBJ is a badly underappreciated president. He took the helm at a diffiicult time and did a lot to raise America from middle ages to modernity, in social terms. Unfortunately, Vietnam war did him in, and overshadowed all the achievements of his administration. Americans have a black-and-white vision, and that's really bad for the future of the nation. Contrary, to popular belief, Richard Nixon was a very successful president, especially in the sphere of foreign policy, but that's all forgotten because of Watergate. And, again contrary to the popular belief JFK was a huge failure, just did not measure up to the task of being a president, despite boyish good looks and all the Camelot lore. That, of course was all before republicans degenerated into religious extremism and democrats lost any resemblance of a spine.

      August 29, 2012 at 2:35 am |
      • wildwildwest

        Your point is moot, I'm afraid. Most people, even the educated ones, understand little about economics.

        August 29, 2012 at 4:26 am |
        • That's what I'm saying

          [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLwYpSCrlHU&w=640&h=390]

          August 29, 2012 at 6:55 am |
    • Richard

      "Great Societies" don't encourage their lower classes to breed, thus causing even more problems and a society's "greatness" to wane. Witness the U.S. today.

      August 29, 2012 at 2:46 am |
      • Olaf Big

        Great societies try to educate their lower classes so that the lower classes raise from the bottom. The breeding thing will slow down as a corollary benefit.

        August 29, 2012 at 2:54 am |
        • Richard

          Only for the few that are capable of bettering themselves. 40 years of progressive ideas about shuttling people through universities to either flunk out or get worthless B.A.s instead of at least allowing them to get trained in skills they can use has hurt the U.S. not helped it. You now (as in much of the West) face a skilled trade's worker shortage and a glut of people with worthless degrees.

          August 29, 2012 at 3:00 am |
    • Flatsguide

      Carter and obama have that honor. And not in that order.

      August 29, 2012 at 6:42 am |
  13. Ed T Duck

    I thought LBJ was what you got at a spanish massage parlor

    August 28, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • rick

      now thats funny

      August 28, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • Olaf Big

      Nah, that's JFK or maybe STD, I forget.

      August 29, 2012 at 2:37 am |
  14. Bbkingz

    after the bar-b-que LBJ was going to visit everybody who owned a beagle, and pick the dog up by its' ears.

    August 28, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  15. Bribarian

    LBJ is one of the greatest traitors in American history.

    August 28, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • crappygovernment

      LBJ sowed the seeds of today's problems in the USA...

      August 28, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  16. MC Spammer

    Wait, this article isn't about Lebron James??

    August 28, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  17. Caitlyn

    How LBJ bought BBQ to NYC. Seriously? He colludes with a segment of the CIA and Dallas-Houston oil men to have President John F. Kennedy killed and all you can report on is BBQ? Disgusting and shameful. Pick up and read Family of Secrets. Learn a little bit and stop the ignorance.

    August 28, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Brian

      Caitlyn,

      This is a story in the eatocracy section of CNN.

      August 28, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • Bill

      Caitlyn.....you sound dumb

      August 28, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
      • Walker

        She does!

        August 28, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
      • Jaybird

        these conspiracy nuts never cease to amaze me...

        August 28, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • dundem

      Would it not be ignorant to ignore that LBJ's campaigns and activities were multi-faceted, and had many impacts across our country's history. Would it not be ignorant to harp on one angle of the history of an individual to the point that one can't even talk about whether or not they wanted BBQ at their convention. Your assertion is both hypocritical and histrionic, to say the least.

      August 28, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • ejw

      Sorry Caitlyn, but you have no evidence to back up your conspiracy claim. Besides, what does this have to do with Texas BBQ?

      August 29, 2012 at 6:39 am |
  18. Chollaberry

    I bought Walter Jetton's little cookbook for my father in the 60's, still have it. My dad turned into a master of smoked ribs, baby backs, 4 and under. He would Fed X them to me all over the country and I would have to hide them from friends and my boss! Mr. Jetton was an accomplished chef but Q was his specialty and that little book had a plethora of information about BBQ. It was a pitmaster's bible.

    August 28, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • pattysboi

      Thanks for the heads-up about the cookbook! I found his recipes on google, and bookmarked it for future reference.

      August 29, 2012 at 1:20 am |
  19. dan

    Actually I believe Romney is a little to young to have served in Vietnam just like Obama is.

    August 28, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • GayAtheist

      There is no military service in the Romney "family".

      Five boys and not one of them served an hour of military service.

      It figures...Mormon Mitt has no job, yet he makes an estimated $14,000 a day. What? He gets rich doing nothing? Can that be good for the economy, or the morality of a nation? What happened to hard work?
      An honest dollar for an honest day's work?

      Mitt the Twit is a poor example for children. Americans should have a work ethic.

      August 28, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
      • WDinDallas

        GayAtheist=Useless....well, we could strap some C4 on you and send you somewhere.

        August 28, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
        • GayAtheist

          You already did. I'm a US Marine down at BAMC recovering from an IED wound.

          You're welcome, sir.

          August 28, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
        • PC

          What a stupid thing for you to say Dallas. You're an embarrassment.

          August 28, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
        • Rick

          Looks like Gay Atheist just ripped your balz off Dallas. No comment? And Gay Atheist, thank you for your service!

          August 28, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
        • Mark

          GayAtheist......You are a liar.

          August 28, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
      • mike johnson

        ... it is called investment income .. and he makes more than that , more like 40 – 50K every day of the year ... and what is wrong with that? would you turn it down if you had the opportunity? ... I doubt it

        August 28, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
        • David

          Actor Sterling Hayden told interviewers that he didn't invest any of his acting pay because he didn't believe in unearned income.

          August 28, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
      • GG

        Are you suggesting that the 40% of the population who are on government assistance are better examples of good citizenship behavior? Did you serve in the military? I'd rather serve under Mit than rule with Obama.

        August 28, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
        • GayAtheist

          Why don't you ever buy a computer that was made in Minnesota?

          August 28, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
        • kotchi

          You should learn how to spell his name...it has 2 t's at the end doofus

          August 28, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
      • ArchieDeBunker

        Let me get this straight . . . . Bark Obama refuses to stand in front of the American Flag for any of his appearances until he is forced to do so by his own party . . . Bark Obama foists the biggest, most wasteful, and most expensive socialist program ever proposed on the American people . . . Bark Obama runs the national debt up by 5 trillion dollars in less than 4 years . . . And MITT ROMNEY is a BAD EXAMPLE . . . How much crack did you smoke today, idjit?

        August 28, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
      • Huh?

        So working until you get to the point of your money working for you is a ...bad thing?

        Just making sure you are saying....being successful...is a BAD THING? Is that right Devil Dog?

        August 29, 2012 at 3:56 am |
    • Caitlyn

      You believe...? Dude, these are simple facts which you can look up online in less than a minute. Are you really that ignorant and lazy? For God's sake educate yourself. He was the ideal age to be drafted to Vietnam when he graduated high school, but he wanted "to be a minister" and jetted off to France to successfully avoid the draft. All the while being for the war. Of course he soon ditched the theology BS and went to Wall Street. But we elected George W. Bush, so this kind of behavior would be an improvement.

      August 28, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • WVCrone

      no he was born in 46 I believe. he got a college deferment, unlike many of my friends, and then a missionary deferrment...having money, and a dad in politics didn't hurt either.

      August 28, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • Jaybird

      Mitt Romney was born in 1947–a year before my dad who was in the army during Vietnam. He was the perfect age to serve and didn't because he was a coward now trying to run for President.

      August 28, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Betrayus

      Not so. Romney was draft age during the Vietnam war. He took a religious exemption and was a missionary in France during the war. He said his sons were" serving their country" by helping him get elected president.

      August 30, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  20. crappygovernment

    LBJ was the first Occupation president after Hollywood and the Military Industrial Complex had JFK killed and took over the USA.

    August 28, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • texan

      According to Billie Sol Estes, LBJ had JFK killed because JFK was starting to look into the questionable death of Henry Marshall.

      August 28, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  21. thedandyman

    I clicked on this article because I thought it's about LeBron James grilling BBQ outside the MSG

    August 28, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  22. Citizen

    There is a black marble wall in DC that lists the first 58,000 reasons why LBJ was the worst president in history.

    Hopefully, he is being BBQ'd in Hades right now.

    August 28, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • GayAtheist

      Presidential success is mesured by what they get thru congress. LBJ got massive civil rights legislation thru, along with voting rights and medicare. LBJ is the most successful president since FDR, who got everything he wanted thru the congress. Check his WIKI page.

      Success is measured by how well one does his job. LBJ was a political master.
      Americans love war, and in 1964, they were terrified of the bad guys...war made them feel secure. They wanted no wimps in the white house...they wanted war. War drives the economy like a robust auto industry...war makes people rich. LBJ didn't go to war, the multi-national corporations went to war. Americans were watching Bonanza and eating hamburgers thinking they were the smartest, luckiest people ever...turned out, the Americans were kinda stupid and lazy...and after several more wars, it now looks like Americans are finally tired of it....but the bills still keep rolling in...the Vietnam war is still not paid for...notes come due every year for that war.

      As far as the BBQ goes, LBJ ALL THE WAY! Brilliant idea...use comfort food to get people interested...

      The sad news is that most Americans think the BBQ is in the sauce...just put sauce on some meat and it's magically "BBQ".

      That is a lie from the deepest pits of Hell.

      BBQ is the cooking method (slow and low), and in south Texas, real BBQ comes sans sauce...sauce is not permitted.
      You get a pickle, cole slaw, and BBQ brisket with no sauce.

      LBJ ALL THE WAY!

      August 28, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
      • WVCrone

        good deal ! Agree with all you say!

        August 28, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
      • Kip

        You forgot the pickled jalapeno and raw onions..........

        August 28, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
      • crappygovernment

        Most Americans don't think like you comrade! Go back to Eastern Europe. LBJ also flipped our immigration policies and let in all the 3rd world scab laborers in 1965.

        August 29, 2012 at 5:35 am |
      • Skipper Sam

        LBJ sucks

        Go Crockett Cougars !

        August 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
      • JellyBean@GayAtheist

        Agreed. But I still can't stand that carpet baggin' s o b.

        August 29, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Cuervo Jones

      yea save about 6 years names worth for ol Tricky Dick, president of Pepsi, refiner of Golden Triangle heroin in SE Asia, present in Dallas the night before JFK got it. LBJ on a bbq spitt does seem appropriate though.

      August 28, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • GG

      Amen!

      August 28, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  23. Rex33

    What's the difference between Romney and LBJ?

    Romney found a way out of Vietnam.

    August 28, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
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