[Note: This is a re-post of an interview originally posted in April 2010. Follow this link–Early BBQ&A–for an easier to read .pdf version of the interview.]
Jim Early is a good old fashioned barbecue renaissance man. A native of Henderson, NC, Early graduated from Wake Forest University law school and practiced as an attorney for many years. His bio notes that, “In addition to being an avid and accomplished hunter, fisherman, and gourmet cook, he also rides and brokers Tennessee walking horses, breeds and trains English Setters and Pointers, flies with his friends in hot air balloons and WWII war birds, restores British cars and classic Chris Craft mahogany speed boats, paints, writes, plays in bands and loves to dance.”
While the above hobbies and accomplishments are interesting in their own right, most relevant to this website is the fact that Early founded the North Carolina Barbecue Society (NCBS). In 2007, he left his law practice to focus solely on NCBS, which has a mission “to preserve North Carolina’s barbecue history and culture and to secure North Carolina’s rightful place as the Barbecue Capital of the World.”
In addition to founding NCBS, Early authored The Best Tar Heel Barbecue: Manteo to Murphy, which remains the most comprehensive guidebook of NC barbecue joints (and retains a prime spot in my car’s glove box). He has also authored a cookbook, leads business retreats, and makes presentations on work-life balance and stress reduction. Recently we added to Early’s stress by asking him a book’s worth of questions, which he was kind enough to answer.
BBQ Jew: In researching The Best Tar Heel Barbecue: Manteo to Murphy, you visited all 100 counties in North Carolina and ate at 228 restaurants. How long did this field research take and what did you learn from the experience?
Jim Early: How I went about doing the field research for The Best Tar Heel Barbecue: Manteo to Murphy is described on pages 17-20 of the book. I wanted the research to be current and I pushed myself as hard as I possibly could to practice law 14-15 hours a day Monday through Thursday and drive to the area I was going to work and work 18 hour days Friday and Saturday in the field. Sunday morning I ate my first meal since Thursday and drove home to do 6-7 hours dictation and crash. This was my life for 6 months plus in 2001. Then I wrote the book and went through all the publishing hoops, distribution hoops, etc. The whole process was about 4,000 hours, 22,000+ miles, 2,000+ people, 100 counties and 228 BBQ places. To my knowledge no one else has done a BBQ guide book that is this complete, this well researched and invested the time that I invested to complete the project. I learned that that there was a reason no one else had done such a project. The price is higher than most people are willing to pay. I have written several cook books and numerous magazine articles since I wrote The Best Tar Heel Barbecue, but they have been a walk in the park compared to the efforts I put into that book.
Some of the things I learned from the field research are that there are, to my knowledge, less than 30 old fashioned family owned BBQ places in NC that cook over pits fueled with live wood coals or charcoal and Continue reading