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A Bit of BBQ History

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    A Bit of BBQ History

    Wasn't sure the best channel in which to post this, but thought I might share. I will paste below what I wrote about an article I just finished on another forum:

    A while back, I reached out to Dr. Howard Conyers, a NASA rocket scientist, pitmaster, and SC BBQ advocate, for a recipe to include in the cookbook that I hope to finish updating/expanding/revising by the end of the month. (Yeah, right. We'll see...)

    He was happy to oblige, but he challenged me to look into the role that African Americans played in the evolution of barbecue and to include what I found in the book. So, that’s just what I did.

    I spent time on and off over the last year and a half researching to learn what I could. Some 6000 words later, the results are now published on the website:

    Beneath Its Whitewashed Veneer: The Darker History of Barbecue

    I hope you will find it historically based. It is certainly not intended to be a political (or politically correct) post, but rather an honest interpretation of the available data.

    Honestly, it was one of those lingering things that I knew I wanted to get done for the cookbook, but also something I didn't want to tackle at the same time. I just knew writing it would be a challenge. So, I would put it off, and since I put it off, I took the excuse that I could put off working on the cookbook. Mutual procrastination works well for me.

    Among the cooler things I discovered along the way was a recipe for a vinegar-based sauce described by Mr. Wesley Jones, a formerly enslaved South Carolinian, discussing his work in the BBQ pits during slavery. This was in some of the "Slave Narratives" completed by the Federal Writer's Project during the Depression.

    Another was a recipe for a “Game Sauce” from Mrs. Abby Fisher, also formerly enslaved working in plantation kitchens in SC and one of the first African American cookbook authors.

    Both recipes will eventually be published on the website and in the cookbook.

    #2
    Super interesting read. Thank you for sharing.

    Comment


    • jroller
      jroller commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks for reading!

    #3
    The history of great BBQ is really fascinating. See the "Cook Book" Legends of Texas Barbecue.
    Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pitmasters, Revised & Updated with 32 New Recipes!: Walsh, Robb, Savell, Jeffrey W.: 9781452139982: Amazon.com: Books

    Comment


    • jroller
      jroller commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks for the heads up. I'll check it out.

    • bbqLuv
      bbqLuv commented
      Editing a comment
      welcome

    #4
    Great article and indeed an important part of barbecue history. However, the story seems to concentrate on the contributions slavery and ex-slaves have made to the craft without truly telling the whole story. Indeed cooking on a spit or in a pit is not new to either the new or indigenous populations of North America. As he points out in the article, the European explorers found the Taino peoples in the Caribbean cooking this way back in the 15th century. But I think he's missing an important link and a hinge to the history of barbecue when he says in a conversation with Moss, and I quote....

    "Not a lot, unfortunately—there’s a sort of “missing link” between the Native American technique and what we would think of a Southern-style pit barbecue. The problem is there is almost nothing written in the 18th century (surviving, at least) that captures how barbecue was cooked nor how it might have evolved from the rack of sticks to the in-ground pit method."

    What he's referring to is the perceived definition of the word barbacoa meaning cooked over a rack. That's debatable and I would argue it's as much about the cooking style (slow roasting tough meat) as it is about the mechanics of cooking. Cooking in a pit (or the Mexican term pib) goes back to the Aztecs and Mayans and probably further than that. The current Mexican dish barbacoa (note same word) is derived from slow roasting in an open pit or oven. Grilling meat on an overhead rack was probably fine for animals that were tender to begin with, but as we know today we really need to cook tough cuts low and slow to properly render them. Thus an oven or a barbecue pit is employed.

    Click image for larger version  Name:	Barbacoa_México.jpg Views:	0 Size:	258.3 KB ID:	1105871



    Bottom line the technique of oven cooking in an earthen pit is as old as man. Barbacoa to the Mexicans is a way of cooking any type of protein in an oven, not just pork. Thus I think his conclusion that barbacoa is defined as cooking on an overhead rack is deficient and doesn't capture the whole essence of what it truly refers to.

    In fact one only needs to look at similar roasting techniques from the South Pacific islanders to see similar ways of cooking pork. Think of the traditional Hawaiian luau where they bury a whole hog in a pit and roast over night, same thing. Or the Filipino tradition of roasting pigs over an open spit (going back to the original Taino techniques) called Lechon.

    Click image for larger version  Name:	Lechon-pit 02.jpg Views:	0 Size:	16.2 KB ID:	1105872



    Indeed the whole premise of the article is well researched and presented. African slaves and their furtherance of the craft of cooking pork barbecue either in open pits or in an earthen oven, is an important part of barbecue history. We can see it today from the Carolinas to as far west as the East Texas Piney Woods. Or as far north as Chicago or Detroit where they carried those traditions.

    I just think the article fell short in acting like these techniques were mired in some sort of mystery from ancient times. Indeed, as I've said, you can trace this back to indigenous populations probably all the way back to when cavemen first learned how to build a fire in the first place and cook the meat they just killed, to find the true origins of barbecue.

    But I digress. Again it's an excellent article about an important part of our heritage in this craft. Thanks for sharing, well worth the read. It just so happens I did a lot of similar research in my Taco Chronicle Series and had it fresh on my mind. Carry on !!!
    Last edited by Troutman; October 6, 2021, 09:11 AM.

    Comment


    • troymeister
      troymeister commented
      Editing a comment
      Troutman Well said in addition to the featured article. In my travels as a young man around the world...Many many countries and cultures....Cooking outdoors far superseded any cooking indoors...I think it's just part of the human condition....Because we're smart...We get good at it no matter where, when or the weather....Gotta have cooked protein!

    • jroller
      jroller commented
      Editing a comment
      Great info. You're right, my focus was limited. Conyer's challenged me to look at one aspect of barbecue, not its overall evolution. In fact, my working title for the piece all along was "African American Contributions to BBQ" so that provided the framework for my research. You can even sense that focus in the intro. I edited the final title for publication, which I'll admit suggests the focus might have been wider. Thanks again for the kind words and the additional info.

    • Debra
      Debra commented
      Editing a comment
      I personally found the title of the article to be very telling as to what I would read in the content
      I was not disappointed.
      Thank you jroller and Troutman for the read and further enlightenment.
      Last edited by Debra; October 7, 2021, 09:15 PM.

    #5
    Very interesting article. Thank you for sharing, jroller . And thank you, Troutman , for your excellent review.

    Comment


    • jroller
      jroller commented
      Editing a comment
      Thank you!

    #6
    Also Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue, by Adrian Miller. Miller has several great books about food.

    Comment


    • Texas Larry
      Texas Larry commented
      Editing a comment
      Miller takes the story back to the Native Americans who influenced early African American BBQ. An excellent read.

    • jroller
      jroller commented
      Editing a comment
      Adrian's book came out kind of in that in-between time after I had done all the research I cared to do, but before I started writing. I debated purchasing it, but held off because I was certain it would send me down another rabbit hole and I needed to get my piece done so I could, in turn, work on my cookbook update that I hope to be done with (won't happen) this month. Interestingly enough, I first became aware of Mr. Miller when I noticed someone @soulfoodscholar purchased the first edition...

    • jroller
      jroller commented
      Editing a comment
      ...of my cookbook. Turns out, he was looking for info on whole-hog cookery, but that's when I first got to "know" him.
      Last edited by jroller; October 12, 2021, 11:34 AM.

    #7
    thanks to both jroller and Troutman interesting

    Comment


    • jroller
      jroller commented
      Editing a comment
      Thank you!

    #8
    Thanks for the kind words and great feedback.

    Comment


      #9
      We have BBQ History right here in Amazing Ribs:
      Barbecue History (amazingribs.com)

      Comment


      • Debra
        Debra commented
        Editing a comment
        And it is also very well written.

      #10
      A well written and researched piece, thanks for sharing. I like how you support several contentions with factual historical evidence.

      As Troutman discusses at length, I think the missing piece is the broader historical context. What we call BBQ in the US is a tradition as old as humans. Slow cooking meat using indirect heat and smoke goes back as far as humans go according to archaeologists.

      In another thread here in the Pit, I contend that what many are viewing as the peak of BBQ in the current time is really just another part of the very long innovation curve related to cooking meat for human consumption.

      Very enjoyable read, though.

      Comment


      • jroller
        jroller commented
        Editing a comment
        Thank you. I don't disagree, but as mentioned earlier, that was not the original focus of my research, so it does lack that broader context. Thanks again.

      #11
      I love history, and lately I've been really into food history. I find that there's tons of inspirations to be had when planning a cook from ancient times until now.

      Comment


        #12
        Originally posted by bbqLuv View Post
        We have BBQ History right here in Amazing Ribs:
        Barbecue History (amazingribs.com)
        Agreed. I actually read it, or at least parts of it, when I was researching my article. A must-read for anyone interested in BBQ history.

        Comment

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