Saturday, May 09, 2009


I was talking to my friend Gordon who was cracking a joke he heard at the Rotary club, where all manner of humor is possible. He said that one of the fellow Rotarians had lost a bet over this last election. To be specific he had said that an African American would become President about the time that swine/pigs flew. Turns out he was a prophet without profit. President Obama had been in office less than 100 days and then we had swine flu, which as I reminded you all has nothing to do with 'eating pork products', though some of you have reacted as if you could catch that darn flu by eaten pulled pork, pork rinds,ribs and the like. IT AIN'T SO,.... I'm just saying...

Now I was over at the Old Kentucky Barbecue Restaurant in Lexington yesterday, and I thought I had tried all manner of barbecue before now, but I discovered something new--- barbecue smoked over apple wood. And it is good!!! Bought a couple of pounds with some cole slaw as a side. Yum!

Need I remind you again that barbecue is: 1) not a sauce you put on food; 2) not a grill in your backyard; 3) not composed of beef of any sort, but is rather 4) slowly smoked pork. I've seen it smoked with hickory (best choice), post oak, mesquite, pecan (I'm deeply conflicted about this one since its a horrible use of the tree if its still manufacturing the raw materials for pecan pies), and apple. Pecan produces the sweetest tasting barbecue, and mesquite the tangiest even without sauce. But this apple wood smoked barbecue is just fine.

Sometimes I find barbecue, and sometimes it finds me. For example, I woke up this morning and had a Google Alert waiting for me in my email box. I was sent notice that Kevin Witherington has opened a branch of the famous Moe's Barbecue Chain in Birmingham Ala. Moe's however originated in Vail, Eagle, and Denver Co.

I am now worried that my relative has been relatively unsmart and managed to surreptiously import Western (read beef) barbecue into the Ole South under the cover of darkness. Here's the link to the story in the Vail paper--

Folks in Birmingham can be forgiven for already being a bit confused about what real barbecue is, since theirs originally came from Georgia where they put this red, catsup based sauce on it. This in no way enhances the flavor of the hickory smoked pork, and once you start doing things like that to good barbecue its a slippery slope down the road to Western style Barbecue--- can you say beef brisket? Now brisket is not bad, but it ain't real barbecue either.

I have a theory about the Lost Colony in North Carolina. You remember Sir Walter Raleigh and his attempt to settle that fair state in the 17th century. Well, eastern N.C. is where barbecue began in the U.S. of A. and I'm thinking that when Raleigh went back to England for supplies, those colonists just got too darn hungry and when the Okracoke Indians (some think named after Okra and Coke-- two Southern products) started smokin a pig, that smoked the white folks right out of their fort, and they went off to a pig pickin with the Indians, never to be seen again. I wonder if their grill looked something like this???

Last time I saw something like that was in Hawaii, only they had the poor pig buried in the ground (the opposite of pigs flying) sitting on coals and covered with palm leaves. He looked like a refugee from a Palm Sunday procession. Even Hawaiians have enough sense to know that you want pork on your fork when you're eatin' barbecue, although you have to question their eating it along with SPAM!

Stay tuned for further adventures taken from the Barbecue Chronicles where I tell you that someone crazy up in Owensboro Kentucky has been smoking mutton--- yes I said mutton, while looking sheepish :)



Brett said...

Dr. Witherington

As a native of South Georgia I have to say that I agree with your assessment of what real BBQ is. Unfortunately, I had been led astray by the dressed up ketchup that was oozing on my BBQ. Then BBQ salvation came when Vinegar based manna came to me from heaven (actually from a BBQ Restaurant near Atlanta) Since then, ketchup has never touched my slow, smoked pork again. In fact, as one of my hobbies, I now have a smoker and am working on the perfect sauce and rub on my own. I hear that BBQ perfection is never really obtained--just pursued. I believe it.

Perhaps you should write a commentary on the various regional BBQs you have tasted all over the country. I would be more than happy to be your "research" assistant.

Ben Witherington said...

Well Brett I am pleased to hear of your tale but remember what Jesus said, if you still live in South Georgia-- namely that a prophet is not without honor except in his own region. There is however a barbecue support group online for those who must dwell outside the promised land, and yet toil away for barbecue perfection.


Marc Axelrod said...

I LOVE barbecue, it's one of my favorite meals. I am torn between the smoky, slow cooked flavors of the South, and the sweet, zesty, fall off the bone delights of St Louis style barbecue.

Famous Dave's is my favorite, even though they are a chain. But Fat Boys BBQ in Ocala, Florida is right up there, and is a better value. Too bad the building is falling apart ....

Sonny's BBQ is hit or miss. Sometimes they are too dry, sometimes they are too pink, sometimes they are right on the money.

There was a place in Virginia, I think it was called J.J's bbq, they were really good. Fred Flemings Famous BBQ in Florida is good African-American BBQ.

Cleveland, Ohio has a place called Hot Sauce Williams on the east side. It's one of the best bbq places in the north. Trouble is, while you're ordering inside, your car might get stolen on the outside. It's in a tough neighborhood. But some bbq is worth dying for now, isn't it :)

Ben Witherington said...

Well Marc now I know why you became a Christian in the first place--- so you could eat real barbecue :)


あじ said...

As an almost-native Kansas Citian, I must interject: barbecue can indeed be beef. As someone who tends to dislike pork, I think this is a good thing. Now I'm going to go to sleep dreaming about burnt ends - thanks a lot.

Ben Witherington said...

No, no no. Smoked beef can be very good, but it ain't barbecue. The reason is clear. The motto of the national barbecue association is--- we will serve no swine before its time. :)


Theoarbor said...

Dr. Witherington:
The name barbeque comes from the manner of cooking, low and slow, not the type of meat. It's this manner that sets it apart from grilling, and what makes the meat so tender and tasty. If I remember correctly this is the name that the early explorers gave to the cooking style of some native peoples. I don't think the native locals had any pigs at that time. And, it wasn't in the beautiful Carolinas, it was in the Carribean.

From y'als pulled pork, to KC ribs, to Texas Brisket, to Santa Maria tri-tip, it's all BBQ if it's low and slow.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Theoarbor:

Boy have you bought the wrong barbecue sauce!

In fact there were plenty of feral pigs in eastern North Carolina in the 17th century, and as for the supposed Caribbean (Taino tribe) origins of the term barbecue, the term is not the same, and any way they were roasting goats--- not pigs or even beef, following an in ground procedure like to that found in Hawaii.

The first person known to actually use the English word barbecue was Sir William Dampier, a proper gentleman, and he wasn't just referring to a manner of cooking, it doesn't appear.

In short, that Carbbean theory really gets my goat :)

What is more probable is that some of those Brits who moved to Eastern North Carolina had heard a similar term used in the British colony of Bermuda, just 90 miles off the coast of N.C., and they applied it to a different animal altogether.

Good try though!


Marc Axelrod said...

I could go for some ribs right about now, and that's even after a Mother's Day meal of chicken and brats ....

Who da thunk that BBQ could be one of the perks of the Christian life :)

Theoarbor said...

Dr. Ben:
OK, so much for trusting that sauce...uh, source. But, I still stand for the definition inclusiveness of low and slow, indirect heat, and a lot of smoke with whatever meat. I looked at the National Barbeque Assoc. website and this goes with their idea as well. Preferences, but no biases. They and the other large BBQ assoc., the Kansas City Barbeque Society, all seem to recognize the begginings of BBQ in the Carolinas with pork, but are not biased against other meats as long as it's not grilling. I will also be exclusive against calling grilling BBQ. Grilling can be good, but it's not the same.

Wikipedia backed up your response to the Caribbean theory. Here is what the NBBQ listed on their Q&A page as a history of barbeque:

Barbecue is the most ancient cooking technique on earth. Evidence of barbecue pits has been found at sites dating back to 25,000 B.C. The first record of open-pit barbecue comes from ancient Greece in 1600 B.C. Later, Homer described an early barbecue in the 8th century, with Ajax and Odysseus as guests and Achilles performing the duties of pit-master, cooking sheep, goat and pig.

The technique of barbecuing was passed from the Greeks via the Romans to the Saxons, but the quality and quantity of barbecue escalated after the British came to the New World and discovered Native Americans barbecuing game, lamb, fowl and fish. The Spanish originally transported pigs and cattle to the Americas, but the basic ingredients of barbecue—chilies and tomatoes—were indigenous to America. The word “barbecue” is derived from a Spanish and Haitian word for “a latticework of sticks.” Barbecue appears in American legal documents as early as the 1600's when shooting firearms were outlawed at barbecue gatherings. George Washington even wrote in his diary of attending a barbecue in 1769 in Alexandria, Virginia.

Courtesy of Howard Miller.

So, I stand corrected with the history, but firm with the procedure over and above the meat when defining barbeque :{). Having tasted Carolina pulled pork, I do understand your feelings on the matter. But, I've also had KC ribs, Texas brisket, and Santa Maria tri-tip. All different flavors and meats, but all done low and slow when done right.

I'm not even going to get into sauces, rubs, and marinades...

Anyway, would be happy to sit down with you anytime and break cornbread.

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks Theoharbor: Lots of good stuff in this response. I'm sticking with barbecue in English was a noun before it became a verb, therefore something to eat before it became a specific type of cooking activity, though of course it often is used in the latter sense these days. I suggest you go take the barbecue trail in North Carolina and decide whether barbecue is a food or a cooking technique:) If after going to six good pit-cooked BBQ places you still want to debate semantics rather than eat, I give up.



P.S. Don't trust a barbecue society in a town that didn't exist when North Carolinians were already eating hickory smoked pork.

Clint said...

It really is weird to see so many BBQ connections between B'ham BBQ and Denver BBQ. Over the past few years a B'ham (where I was born and raised) based company, Jim N' Nicks has opened up three locations here in Denver (where I live and attend seminary) and they are constantly busy!

Leland V said...

A few years ago someone recommended that I try the mutton BBQ at a small place in Henderson, KY on Rt 41, just across the river from Evansville, IN. The shop was in a recycled fast food building of unknown origins. The proprietor gave me a short history of the slaughter of sheep in northwestern Kentucky, which was a great surprise to me. Apparently the folks in the Henderson/Owensboro area really like their mutton BBQ. I am sticking with pork.

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks Leland:

On that subject "the Tar Baby he don't say mutton, mutton."


Craig said...

A correction and a question. First, the correction: You say that Moe's Original BBQ "originated in Vail, Eagle, and Denver Co." The Moe's website, however, says "Moe's Original BBQ originated in Tuscaloosa in 1988 . . ." and "Moe's Original BBQ is an Alabama BBQ . . ." Second, the question: Is Kevin Witherington, who "opened a branch of the famous Moe's Barbecue Chain in Birmingham," related to you? If so and if you come down this way to visit yer kin-folk, I'll take you-uns to try out some other BBQ in The Ham.