For most people, a barbecue emergency would entail running out of buns or over-charring the chicken wings. For the men and women of Operation BBQ Relief, that means it's time to drive into a disaster zone, fire up their smokers and serve hot meals to people on worst day of their lives.
There is something about barbecue that brings out the best in humankind. It's an inherently generous undertaking. No one makes just enough for a couple of plates; the time and effort just wouldn't be worth it. A giant hunk of meat - a shoulder, brisket, slab or ribs or even a whole, delicious beast - is cause for celebration and camaraderie.
It also presents a built-in invitation in the form of a smoky, meaty scent that acts as a homing beacon to your backyard. If you 'cue it up, they will come.
But after tornadoes laid waste to the town of Moore, Oklahoma, earlier this week, many residents were left without a backyard to call their own - let alone a smoker, tongs or even a plate from which to eat. That's when Operation BBQ Relief rolled in.
Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of barbecue across the United States. SFA filmmaker Joe York wrote this remembrance of pitmaster Ricky Parker after attending Parker's funeral on Wednesday, May 1, in Lexington, Tennessee.
They buried Ricky Parker yesterday. A few miles down the road from the cinder block pits where he cooked whole hogs for more than half his life, from the sliding glass window where he sold sandwiches, from the creosote-stained door where he hung the “SOLD OUT” sign every afternoon to let the latecomers know not to bother, they gathered to say they were sorry, to say goodbye, to say that they didn’t know what to say.
They dressed him as he dressed himself. In blue Dickies, a tan work shirt with a pack of Swisher Sweets peeking from the breast pocket, and his burgundy and brown ball cap resting on the ledge of coffin, he went to his reward. The only thing missing was his greasy apron. I imagine it hangs on a nail somewhere back by the pits where he left it.
5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.
Daniel Vaughn may be the most envied man in America right now. Not only is his book "The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue" coming out next month as the debut title in the Anthony Bourdain Books line, he's also taking up a post as the barbecue editor of Texas Monthly magazine. It's the first position of its kind in the country, and the 35-year-old Ohio-born Vaughn left his job as an architect to pursue his fiery passion for smoked meat full time.
The self-proclaimed "BBQ snob" has eaten at over 600 barbecue joints across the nation. He makes it his business to sniff out the best of the best and help his carnivorous brethren avoid potential pitfalls along the way with reviews on his website Full Custom Gospel BBQ.
As such, Mr. Vaughn has a bone to pick with some commonly-held barbecue beliefs.
Five Barbecue Myths That Should Be Dispelled: Daniel Vaughn
This is the seventh installment of "Eat This List" - a regularly recurring list of things chefs, farmers, writers and other food experts think you ought to know about.
Last week, I found myself hanging out with five whole hogs, three briskets and a whole lot of barbecue legends (and their faithful disciples) near some fire pits in freezing cold Murphysboro, Illinois. We'd congregated there for the second annual Whole Hog Extravaganza and BBQ MBA program, and when I wasn't stuffing my mouth with some of the best pork and brisket on the planet, I was slamming it shut and soaking up what these venerable pitmasters had to say.
Here's a taste.
The world lost an important teacher, poet and excellent, barbecue-loving soul this weekend in the form of Jake Adam York. He passed away at the age of 40 from the effects of a massive stroke, and we can't help but think about having heard him read his stunning work in person this past October at the Southern Foodways Alliance annual symposium in Oxford, Mississippi.
No matter who you are or where you live, rituals are an intrinsic element to human life. Whether they’re based in religion, home, work, the kitchen or elsewhere, people rely on rituals to bring rhythm and order to their lives. They are the place where tradition and superstition intersect, and this is as much the case with tailgating as with any other ritual I can think of.
There is not a more superstitious group of people than sports fans who typically develop their own rituals and turn to traditions to assist them in helping carry their team to victory. Arguably, the cornerstone of every tailgating ritual is the food.
At the best tailgates, preparing the food is as important as the act of eating itself. Because my friends and I at Jim ‘N Nick’s love football passionately (Roll Tide!), we tailgate often - and it almost always involves barbecue. At a recent tailgate, someone asked me, "What is it about barbecue that lends itself so perfectly to the circumstance?"
Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of barbecue across the United States. We've been sharing dispatches live from their 15th annual Symposium "Barbecue: An Exploration of Pitmaster, Places, Smoke, and Sauce" in Oxford, Mississippi, over the past few days. Dig in.
North Carolina writer Randall Kenan delivers the opening keynote address at the 2012 SFA symposium, a literary meditation on the importance of the hog in Southern culture. Kenan is introduced by Ted Ownby of the University of Mississippi. It's saucy.
Previously - Alton Brown on the science of cooking whole hogs
Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of barbecue across the United States. We'll be sharing dispatches from their 15th annual Symposium "Barbecue: An Exploration of Pitmaster, Places, Smoke, and Sauce" over the nest few days. Dig in.
Kentuckians have barbecued on a grand scale since our land became a state in 1792, and that tradition continues today with such massive events as the annual political picnic at Fancy Farm (where in 2011 the team at St. Jerome Catholic Church cooked 19,000 pounds of pork and mutton), and at Owensboro’ s International Bar-B-Q Festival, a charity event where cooks stir 75-gallon cauldrons of burgoo and tend open pits groaning with mutton quarters and whole chickens.
Did pirates barbecue? Arrrrgh, of course they did, though the barbecuing may actually have come before the buccaneering.
Around 1630, the small island of Tortuga off the northwestern coast of Hispaniola (today, the Dominican Republic and Haiti) became a haven for a motley lot of vagabonds and refugees - deserters, escaped slaves, and shipwrecked sailors of all nationalities. They would sneak over to Hispaniola to hunt the wild cattle and pigs that roamed the sparsely populated coast, taking whatever they bagged back to Tortuga to avoid the local authorities.
These hunters discovered they could sell dried meat, hides, and lard to planters and ship captains, and soon they became known as “boucaniers.” The term derived from the Tupi word boucan, meaning a grate on which meat was slowly cured over a small fire. The hunters of Tortuga used such grates to dry their meat for sale and to cook feasts for themselves.
Like everything in South Carolina, we cook barbeque cantankerously. We smoke our meat with hundreds of opinions and often with a sense of injured pride. Otherwise, it’s just different in South Carolina - all the way down to the way we spell it, more often with the garish and trashy “q” rather than the upwardly mobile and buttoned-down “c.”
When you mention S.C., people usually want to start a fight about sauces. The whole state is a big messy spill of sauces - there’s at least four of them. As anyone who's driven south on Highway 17 knows, though, that vinegar and spices blend famously found all over eastern North Carolina is really more of a culinary wedge that plunges way down the Carolina shore, down past Scott’s in Hemingway and certainly as far south as Brown’s Bar-B-Que in Kingstree and even further south with the pulled pork at Cooper’s Country Store in Salters.