Hey North Carolinians, today is primary election day. Get off your duff, put the smart phone down and drive to your local polling place (heck, catch a bus, bike or walk if you like, just get there). I try not to mix politics with BBQ, so I’ll refrain from making any statements about who you should vote for or what you should vote AGAINST (ahem). All I’ll say is that our democracy is a pretty damn great system, despite its flaws, so don’t take it for granted. It’s like wood-cooked pork barbecue–take it for granted and it may disappear forever.
Newt Gingrich has about as much chance of winning the 2012 GOP Presidential nomination as I have of being named spokesperson for the Kosher Cheese of the Month Club. Nevertheless, America’s Most Self-Aggrandizing Amphibian is headed to North Carolina to campaign. Hide your barbecue plates, Tar Heels, unless you want to wash your pork down with a tall glass of unsweetened Newt.
In a wide-ranging interview with WRAL news, Newt proclaimed: “I like barbeque well enough I’m prepared to eat the right barbeque in the east and the right barbeque in the Piedmont. As a Georgian, I think I can lay some claim to barbeque, and so I’m happy to come and eat both kinds.” A solid answer from the Newtser, assuming the ‘q’ spelling of barbecue is WRAL’s doing and not his. However, Newt missed an opportunity to push for the environmental benefits of wood-cooked pit barbecue: a step toward homegrown energy independence and less controversial than natural gas given the fracking issue. (It occurs to me that “frack-free” barbecue might be the South’s answer to gluten-free cornbread.)
Certainly Newt’s BBQ credentials are better than his yankee-competitors, Rick “No Google Stock in My Portfolio” Santorum and Mitt “Don’t Call Me Mittens” Romney. If Newt can avoid a Rick Perry-sized barbecue gaffe, he has a good chance to dominate the Republican primary’s barbecue voting bloc.
The Democrats have upped the ante when it comes to barbecue-pandering in the 2012 presidential election. The organizers of the upcoming Democratic National Convention are making local, regional and national headlines for their recently announced sauce contest.
Charlotte in 2012, the convention’s organizing body, released a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking the best barbecue sauces among the styles most common in the Carolinas. As the RFP states, the organizers are “looking to work with a Barbeque sauce vendor as part of the merchandising effort for the Convention.” I will refrain from picking on the committee for the erroneously capitalized spelling of “Barbeque”, as this would be a cheap shot.
The RFP seeks entries among “three different types of BBQ sauces, mustard, vinegar, and tomato that represent the different styles from around the Carolinas.” I will pick on the organizers for this statement, which has the following flaws:
- Every North Carolinian worth his vinegar knows that there is no such thing as tomato-based sauce here, but rather dips that are spiked with a touch of tomato/ketchup;
- mustard-based sauces are a South Carolina thing and we frown upon them here in the real, civilized Carolina;
- South Carolina will vote for the GOP nominee come hell, highwater, or Strom Thurmond’s reincarnation as a friendly Palmetto tree, so why waste time tasting that state’s Grey Pou-ponsense?
- Reasonable people of all political stripes should have a healthy dose of skepticism about a taste test conducted by political hacks. My guess is the winner will be whichever sauce receives the support of White House Brand Vinegar’s Super PAC.
Finally, though the sauce contest seems innocent enough on the surface, the Democrats are treading on dangerous territory. Their attempt at an ecumenical selection of winners across three different styles risks alienating us North Carolinians, as we are die hard Baptists when it comes to sticking with what we like. We each have our sauce religion figured out and don’t need the sauce teachings we believe in questioned by out of town operatives, whether they be Mormon, Catholic or just plain not from ’round here. Of course, in fairness, political common sense dictates that picking three sauces will anger fewer voters than picking just one. Perhaps.
As much as I’d like to regale you with yet another witty and entertaining post about barbecue, it’s election day and you should be doing something better with your time than reading this blog. So go vote. Now.
If you’ve already voted, consider this my gift to you for doing your patriotic duty (pig stamps, I mean, is this a great country or what?):
The 2012 Presidential election campaign is shaping up to be heavy on pork, even leaving aside any barrels. It all started early this year when the Democrats announced that Charlotte would host their nominating convention. Michelle Obama immediately put her foot in her mouth by making the naive statement that Charlotte is a great BBQ town. Hardly.
Next the News & Observer scooped BBQJew.com by breaking the news that in his younger days Rick Perry has compared NC BBQ unfavorably to road kill, bringing into question both his political acumen and whatever part of his past gave him a taste for roadkill.
Pundits say North Carolina will be a battleground state in 2012, ending in a close vote, though I suspect NC will turn out bright red like the ketchup in Lexington-style dip. Regardless, President Obama has been spending a lot of time in the Tar Heel state. Most recently, he passed on an opportunity to visit his favorite Asheville barbecue joint (and if you think Charlotte has no good NC BBQ, lord knows Asheville is a joke). Instead, Obama avoided any tree hugging, patchouli smelling Asheville barbecue in favor of Countryside Barbeque in Marion. The POTUS still hasn’t learned where to get real NC barbecue–namely Salisbury and points east–but at least he’s headed in the right direction.
As noted barbecue aficianado John Shelton Reed is fond of joking, barbecue may well be the “third rail” issue this election cycle. Based on what we’ve seen so far, this may be no joke.
I was saving this juicy barbe-political story for closer to the Republican primaries, but the News & Observer couldn’t resist and scooped me. Oh well, it’s a pig eat pig world in barbecue journalism.
As described in yesterday’s N&O Dome politics blog: “According to ‘Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue,’ in 1992 when [Rick] Perry was a promising Texas politician but not yet governor, he tried some Eastern North Carolina barbecue from King’s of Kinston, which was served at the Republican National Convention in Houston. ‘I’ve had road kill that tasted better than that,’ Perry was quoted as saying.”
That may well be a quote Rick Perry lives to regret, and not just because he freely admits to dining on road kill. (Since Perry strikes me as a bit of a vulture, his carrion-based diet is not all that surprising.) Unless Perry can prove that in Texas there are a lot of delicious road killed beef briskets littering the highways, he’d better prepare a written apology to the people of North Carolina for insulting our beloved state dish. Mitt, if you’re listening, this could be your big chance since your attempts to point out that Rick Perry is a lunatic thus far appear to be falling on deaf ears.
If you’ve paid any attention to the news lately, you are aware that a major crisis looms for our nation. Indeed, I witnessed the crisis in person when visiting Washington, D.C. recently. In addition to the proliferation of BBQ sub sandwiches in and around our nation’s capital, our federal government faces an imminent disaster of its own creation.
Yes, I am referring to the faux ‘cue that has made its way into the very heart of our nation’s capital. A trip to the Atrium Cafe* at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History revealed a menu with a few barbecue choices, including “Carolina style pulled pork.” At a steep $12.95 for a plate with two sides, I nearly skipped this meal but my
thirst for knowledge hunger for pork prevailed.
While the museum’s large collection of prehistoric fossils and other remnants of America’s natural history may be authentic, the Carolina style barbecue is not. Indeed, if I curated a barbecue museum I wouldn’t let the soggy, slow cooker-style swine pictured at left into my building, let alone feature it in my cafeteria. From the taste (no smoke and a half-hearted imitation of NC sauce) to the texture (pulled rather than chopped, as well as soggy), the Atrium Cafe’s barbecue is not fit for inclusion in a hallowed Smithsonian institution.
I dare say that pigs are a more relevant part of America’s natural history than dinosaur bones and other dusty old relics. I wish our nation’s leaders would take action to force the Museum of Natural History to address the current cafeteria situation before it becomes a crisis. I am setting an August 2nd deadline for Congress to take action. If not, I will refuse to eat pork at a federal museum until true Carolina barbecue is served. Better yet, each federally funded cafeteria should serve both Eastern- and Lexington-style barbecue. This would be a true “balanced solution” to the present problem. Please contact your elected officials and urge them to take action.
*Editor’s note: We have heard reports that the Atrium Cafe will soon be renamed the Debt Ceiling and will have its hours cut dramatically.
Barbecue and Presidents go together like, well, barbecue and slaw (or, if you prefer, First Ladies and Presidents).
In addition to the longstanding and ongoing link between barbecue and political rallies/campaign stops, America’s barbecue traditions date back all the way to that guy with the funny hair who shows up on the one dollar bill. According to North Carolina’s premier barbecue sociologist, John Shelton Reed, writing in an article you can read here: “When George Washington ‘went in to Alexandria to a Barbecue and stayed all Night,’ as he wrote in his diary for May 27, 1769, he won eight shillings playing cards and probably ate meat from a whole hog, cooked for hours over hardwood coals, then chopped or ‘pulled.’” Whether the barbecue Washington ate was cooked over the coals of cherry trees and how he managed to eat the ‘cue with his wooden dentures are mysteries.
Reed continues, “By the early nineteenth century at the latest, a sauce of vinegar and cayenne pepper (originally West Indian) was being sprinkled on the finished product. This [barbecue] can be found to this day in eastern North Carolina… virtually unchanged… Barbecue is now high on the extensive list of cultural markers dividing the coastal plain from the piedmont. The upcountry tradition lacks the antiquity of George Washington’s version, but it too has a presidential imprimatur: the Reagan administration engaged the catering services of Wayne Monk of Lexington for the 1983 Economic Summit in Williamsburg.”
Reagan is not the only President to have served barbecue at official state functions, and so long as people from BBQ friendly places–southerners born and bred like LBJ and Clinton, southerners-by-way-of-Connecticut like the Bushes, and southerners-by-way-of-the-BBQ-diaspora-to-Chicago like Obama–are elected as President, the barbecue tradition that started in Washington’s day looks like it will continue well into the future. And that, my friends, is one reason I am hopeful that all Alaskans will remain content staying home and eating Baked Alaska rather than running for President.
As you have probably heard by now, the 2012 Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte, NC. Here’s what the First Lady had to say about the selection in a letter to supporters, which is excerpted below:
I am thrilled to make sure you are the first to hear some very exciting news. Charlotte, North Carolina will host the 46th Democratic National Convention in 2012.
Charlotte is a city marked by its southern charm, warm hospitality, and an “up by the bootstraps” mentality that has propelled the city forward as one of the fastest-growing in the South. Vibrant, diverse, and full of opportunity, the Queen City is home to innovative, hardworking folks with big hearts and open minds. And of course, great barbecue.
Barack and I spent a lot of time in North Carolina during the campaign—from the Atlantic Coast to the Research Triangle to the Smoky Mountains and everywhere in between. Barack enjoyed Asheville so much when he spent several days preparing for the second Presidential debate that our family vacationed there in 2009…
We hope many of you can join us in Charlotte the week of September 3rd, 2012. But if you can’t, we intend to bring the spirit of the convention—as well as actual, related events to your community and even your own backyard [Editor's note: Is the First Lady hinting at good old fashioned political pig pickin's?]…
Looking forward to sharing this together,
Fox News, not exactly supporters of the Prez, ran this story reporting on Michelle Obama’s letter. The story includes an oh-so-classy dig at the First Lady’s work to prevent childhood obesity but is notable mostly for its misinformed stock photo of someone eating ribs, meant to portray NC barbecue. Fair and balanced? No comment. But certainly ill informed on the important matter of North Carolina barbecue.
As to whether the First Lady is right in her assertion that Charlotte has “great barbecue”? Debatable, even among the most likely defenders, such as Charlotte Observer readers and staff (and yet again).
Ladies and gentleman, I don’t need to tell you that we live in trying times. (But I will.) The economy remains in shambles. Millions of hard working Americans are unemployed and therefore the phrase “hard working Americans” sounds more than a little bit nostalgic. Foreclosures continue at a rate that very nearly keeps pace with the number of Snooki-related news items. And, needless to say (but I will) the level of political discourse in this country is at an all-time low (Snooki aside). While most of you are content to vote (or not bother to) for a mainstream Republican or Democrat, and some of you are out on the streets agitating for whatever it is that Tea Party types agitate for (agitation?), I am doing something more impressive. Yes, today I am proud to announce my candidacy for office under the Sweet Tea Party banner.
What is the Sweet Tea Party? I’m so glad you asked. It is more than a party, it’s a movement. In fact, it is a large, grassroots movement that is by no means (more…)