Last week, I delivered my annual “State of the Barbecue” address.
A friend of mine, Barclay Rushton, hosts a barbecue to end all barbecues at his home. He dispatches folks to a number of renowned preparers of pork and offers a buffet of some of the finest in the region. Before the event, I offer my comments as a barbecue connoisseur.
Barbecue is one of the few things technology hasn’t changed.
First of all, because this column appears on the Internet, I have people who are in places like New York City who read what I have to say. Barbecue, in this application, is pork that has been smoked for hours over good wood, usually hickory.
It is not a device for cooking steaks, hamburgers or wieners. That is a grill. If you go to the Home Depot on Patterson Plank Road in Secaucus, which is just outside New York City in New Jersey, they might try to sell you a grill and call it a barbecue. They are wrong.
There are also folks who read this in Texas. They think barbecue means a beef brisket. They, too, are wrong; that is roast beef.
Barbecue is also a name for an event at which barbecue is served. If you are serving hamburgers, that would be a cookout.
Folks have tried to package real pork barbecue in various ways. Bobby Poss, who was a barbecue entrepreneur in Athens, once sold canned versions of his barbecue and Brunswick stew. It was good, but it was not the real thing. The same is true for the guys who marketed a frozen barbecue sandwich on a bun.
If you are eating barbecue in a restaurant, it should be a place that smells like hickory smoke. If you eat barbecue, the folks who are near you later should be able to detect a hint of the aroma in your clothes.
At Barclay Rushton’s shindig, nobody smelled like barbecue, except the folks who went and picked up the pork. It was a great selection with good meats and a selection of sauces ranging from vinegar to tomato based.
Barbecue should be an experience. Whether you’re eating in somebody’s yard or a barbecue joint, it should be memorable. Another thing, most genuine barbecue places are opened no more than four days a week.
Perhaps I need to revisit important things to look for. If you walk in and hear canned music playing, people wearing nametags and you don’t smell smoke, this is a sign that you might not be in a barbecue joint.
Barbecue is the food of choice for political events in the South. I’ve heard many a stump speech, some good and some bad, while balancing a place of barbecue. Ditto on the good and bad.
When Marvin Griffin tried to make a comeback for governor in 1962, he held barbecues all over the state. After losing to Carl Sanders, he said “Everybody that ate my barbecue I don’t believe voted for me.”
But there is something about barbecue and good stories, often about other places and times when barbecue was consumed.
When you’re talking about good times, some of my best have been spent near a plentiful pile of perfectly prepared pork.
It doesn’t get much better.
Harris Blackwood is a columnist for The Times. His column runs every week in Sunday Life.