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Barebecuing chicken isn’t just cooking; it’s an art

POSTED: August 29, 2010 1:00 a.m.

There are some art forms you should not see in progress. When Michelangelo was working on the Sistine Chapel, I doubt folks would have had a full appreciation of what he was doing until it was finished.

Barbecue is different.

Barbecue is an art form that seldom gets the appreciation it deserves. Until the moment it hits the plate, it remains a work in progress.

The other day, I watched a couple of buddies of mine barbecue 400 chicken halves to near perfection. Watching it was a thing of beauty. It was a combination of the old and the new.

They had a fine manufactured cooker with rotating racks, which is the crème de la crème of chicken cooking. But they also had some cooking racks and cement blocks that were a throwback to my youth.

Before they opened the bypass around Monroe, a good portion of the car traffic bound for Athens on football Saturdays had to go right through town. We capitalized on that by selling barbecue chicken for the 4-H Club.

There were three traffic lights right in town and I am pretty sure that somebody adjusted the controls to slow the traffic in our favor. It was a moment of marketing genius.

A chicken box generally consisted of a half or quarter of a chicken, some beans and a slice of loaf bread (and it wasn't whole wheat). There was usually a cookie or a slice of pound cake for dessert.

The younger folks would either pack the boxes or sell chicken. It was a right of passage for older boys to get to turn the chickens. I think there is some rule that you have to be in about the 10th grade to turn chickens.

The racks were made from a set of metal posts welded together in a rectangle with a little bit sticking out to make the handles. Inside the racks was fence wire to hold the chicken over the coals. A good loader should be able to put 100 halves on a rack.

To turn them, you put another rack on top and two fellows would execute a cross handed move to flip them over to cook on the other side. They teach this at the University of Georgia College of Chicken Cooking. If you were a county agent with any thoughts of succeeding, you better know chicken before you get your sheepskin.

My friend, Gene Anderson, who has been a county agent to multiple generations of my family, is one of the great masters of chicken barbecue. Gene grew up near Harlem, the one in Georgia.

I would suggest that Gene hold a lecture on chicken cooking, but it would digress into a conversation about high school sports or the Bulldogs. There is nothing wrong with that, but you might not accomplish the desired result to share his knowledge of this great art of cooking.

I hope somewhere there is a 4-H or FFA boy or girl who wants to preserve this great art that is so much a part of our heritage. A new Michelangelo doesn't come along every day. Neither does a Gene Anderson.

Harris Blackwood is a columnist for The Times. His column appears every week in Sunday Life. First published Aug. 29, 2010.



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