Like love, barbeque is a many splendored thing. That wasn't always the case, my fellow barbeque fanatics. Before the 20th century, barbeque in the American South was fairly standardized. For most people, barbeque meant cooking whole animals (cows, pigs, and sheep) directly over a trench filled with burning hardwood coals while a vinegar and red pepper sauce was periodically dabbed on the meat. When the cooking was finished, hungry barbeque attendees were given chopped up meat, select side dishes, bread, and a beverage. Today, thanks to a shift in focus to cooking smaller cuts of meat, anyone who wants to barbeque can choose from a dizzying array of options in terms of what meat (or meat substitute), barbeque method, flavoring agents, and equipment to use. Fortunately, we've got some great folks to guide us through a salivating tour of our barbequed land of plenty.
We start off with James Beard Award-winning writer Jim Auchmutey's Field Guide to American BBQ. I describe how African Americans became the standard bearers for barbeque excellence regardless of its many forms. Memphis native and veteran food journalist Jennifer Biggs showcases notable women in West Tennessee who thumb their nose at the idea that barbeque is an "all-boys club." Noella Williams explores how vegetables and meat substitutes are now the starring attraction at more barbeques rather than remaining pigeonholed as side dishes.
Then we kind of "geek out" on the intersection of technology and barbeque. World champion competition barbequer Doug Scheiding of the World Champion Rogue Cookers barbeque competition team charts the amazing rise, undeniable allure, and game-changing aspects of pellet smokers. Nigerian poet and journalist Ugonna-Ora Owoh gives a rundown of the barbeque gadgets that you must have to take your barbeque game to the next level. M Shelly Connor, an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Central Arkansas, shares her very personal quest to build her own old-school smoker.
In addition to a number of great Allrecipes barbeque recipes scattered throughout, I've also added a vintage recipe for pork belly burnt ends from my recent book, "Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue."
Yours in smoke and sauce!