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.
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.
If you make your way to St. Louis, Missouri, any time soon, ask a local to show you one of their barbecue specialties: snoots. In both editions of the classic guidebook Real Barbecue (1988 and 2007), authors Greg Johnson and Vince Staten put it this way: "First we'd better deal with 'snoots.' Snoots are part of the soul-food barbecue scene in St. Louis that will stare at you at the C & K, as well as any number of other places in town and across the river in East St. Louis. Snoots are deep-fried pig noses."
At Smoki O's, another St. Louis barbecue joint, they smoke their snoots for a couple of hours instead of frying them. Whether boiled, fried, or smoked, snoots get doused with barbecue sauce and are meant to be eaten right away.
For years, the history of barbecue has been shrouded in misty myths and tall tales, from angels delivering sauce recipes in dreams to convoluted explanations for the origins of barbecue terminology. A few weeks ago my fellow blogger Daniel Vaughn dug into the spelling and origins of the word “barbecue” itself, including the oft-repeated claim that the word comes from the French phrase barbe a queue, meaning “beard to tail”, a shorthand for cooking a whole hog. The Oxford English Dictionary, in what ranks as one of the all-time gems of lexicographical disdain, sniffs this derivation away as “an absurd conjecture suggested merely by the sound of the word.”
All barbecue fans have their favorite off-the-beaten-path barbecue restaurants, and there are plenty of legendary joints with a sufficient reputation for pilgrims to drive hundreds of miles to seek them out. But what about when you’re zipping down a lonely highway far from home and top a hill and spot an unfamiliar “BBQ” sign? Is it worth stopping and risking a precious meal, when you only have between three to five per day to spend? What if just ten miles down the road there’s an even more worthy contender? These sorts of decisions can drive a barbecue nut to acid stomach and night terrors.
The proper use of the word "barbecue" is a topic that stirs regional passions. Folks from northern climes think nothing of saying, "Come over this afternoon and we'll barbecue some brats."
Such a usage jars the ears of Southerners and can launch them into long speechifying on how barbecue is a noun, not a verb, and that you can only create such a noun by slow-roasting meat on a wood-fired pit.
In recent years, thanks to the arrival of the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party and the opening of serious barbecue joints like Blue Smoke and Hill Country, New York City has awakened to the joys of slow-smoked barbecue. But this is hardly the first time that Gothamites have enjoyed pit-cooked meat.
New York's first barbecue took place way back in 1860, during the presidential campaign that pitted Stephen A. Douglas against Abraham Lincoln. In early September, the Douglas Central Campaign Club announced that it had procured a hog, a heifer, two sheep, and a giant ox from Kentucky and would stage a "Monster Democratic Rally, Grand Political Carnival, and Ox Roast." The event was to be held at Jones's Wood at the edge of Manhattan, which stretched between what is now 66th and 75th Streets. The ox was paraded through the streets of New York for two days in advance to generate interest.