“Of all the signature foods of the South, none unites and divides the region like barbecue. When it comes to barbecue, southerners cannot agree on meat, sauce, technique, side dishes, or even how to spell the word. What they can agree on is that barbecue in all its variety is one of the fond traditions that makes the South the South. It drifts across class and racial distinctions like the sweet vapors of pork hissing over hickory embers.” – Jim Auchmutey, Atlanta Journal-Constitution in The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture Volume 7: Foodways.
Rick Scott and Ryan Pitz teamed up to form The North Carolina Barbecue Company, a mail order business established “to deliver to doorsteps across the country the unique culinary culture of our great state.” The North Carolina Barbecue Company is unique in offering both Eastern and Piedmont/Lexington-style ‘cue and slaw for delivery. Recently I sat down (at my laptop) and interviewed Rick and Ryan about how they got into the barbecue business, battle boxes, and why mail order hush puppies are an elusive goal.
I met Thomas Morris, aka Another_Q_Lover, at the Twin City RibFest in Winston-Salem this past summer. As we waited to judge the rib cooking competition, Morris agreed to sit down (well, he was sitting down already so that part didn’t take much convincing) and answer some of my disjointed questions. We talked about his decades of experience eating, cooking, writing about and most recently judging North Carolina barbecue. Morris is originally from Ohio but since moving to the Tar Heel state 30 years ago he’s ingested enough pork to have more than earned his state citizenship and, for what little it’s worth, my respect (he has been eating NC barbecue longer than I have, after all). Without further ado, here’s Another_Q…
Follow this link to read the interview with Thomas Morris/Another_Q_Lover.
A self-described “Southerner by birth and temperament and appetite,” James Villas has given the people of his native North Carolina many reasons to be proud over the years. His latest cookbook, Pig: King of the Southern Table, is perhaps the most significant reason yet. Tarheels and tarheels at heart will be wowed by Pig’s wide-ranging collection of recipes, which describe how to cook every part of the pig one could ever imagine wanting to eat (and then some).
Long before penning his culinary ode to North Carolina’s favorite animal, Villas received his PhD in Romance Languages and Comparative Literature and served a stint as a university professor. Soon he left academia to follow his heart/stomach (they are one and the same after all) into the world of food writing. Villas spent the next 27 years of his life as Food and Wine Editor of Town & Country magazine. In addition, he has written for Esquire, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, Life, and The New York Times, and published a baker’s dozen of cookbooks, two novels, and a memoir. Mr. Pig himself was kind enough to chat with us about biscuits, barbecue and his heart-wrenching (for us readers) decision to never write another cookbook focused on swine. Enjoy…
Follow this link to read the interview with James Villas.
Charlotte Observer food editor Kathleen Purvis has a nice series of posts up chronicling her recent visits to some Lexington-style barbecue joints. Check out the most recent post about Cook’s BBQ by following this link and then see the other posts (on Port-A-Pit and Keaton’s) from there.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill alumnus Anoop Desai is perhaps best known as the author of an undergraduate honors thesis in American Studies entitled Why Barbecue Matters in the South. The 60-page paper takes a scholarly look at southern culture through the grease-streaked lens of barbecue. “If one examines the Durkheimian paradigm in relation to North Carolina barbecue,” Desai writes, “then North Carolinians are divided into two clans of the same ethnic group… there are clear divisions between the eastern and western styles.” Heady stuff indeed, but amazingly Desai’s work in the field of American Studies is not his only claim to fame…
Follow this link to read the interview with Anoop Desai.
If you want to read Desai’s honors thesis on barbecue, click here.
Michael Stern, along with his writing partner Jane Stern, have authored more than 40 books, including the wildly popular Roadfood series. They also write a recurring column for Gourmet magazine and maintain a lively, interactive website that features restaurant write-ups, recipes, user forums and more. The two are also frequent guests on The Splendid Table, which airs on National Public Radio stations across the country.
Michael’s biggest career misstep to date was being kind enough to mention BBQJew.com in a web post way back in 2009. Emboldened by our good fortune, we set out to track him down for an interview. We caught up with Michael in between Roadfood travels and peppered him with questions about North Carolina barbecue.
Follow this link to read the interview.
As summer beckons yet again, it’s the perfect time to read this article from Garden & Gun magazine, in case you missed it last year when it was published. It’s one of the best written articles I’ve seen in terms of capturing the spirit of NC’s barbecue culture, and the accompanying photo gallery is outstanding. The author takes us readers on an Eastern-style barbecue pilgrimmage, visiting places like Grady’s, the Skylight Inn and the Nahunta Pork Center. Just to whet your appetite, here’s my favorite passage from the article:
“If you chase barbecue dreams, someday, somewhere you’ll find yourself this way, too, sitting on a rusty folding chair in a town you’d never driven through before, eating vinegar-drenched lukewarm meat and sweet fried hush puppies from a foam tray. There’s no music. There’s no beer. But you take another bite with your plastic fork and think, damn, this is good.”
[Note: 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
[Note: Follow this link--Elie BBQ&A--for an easier to read .pdf version of the interview.] When it comes to barbecue, Lolis Eric Elie has a checkered past. It’s not that he wrote a three times weekly column for The Times-Picayune of New Orleans from 1995 to 2009. Or that he is on the staff of the new David Simon series, Treme, which debuts on HBO in April and has nothing to do with ‘cue. It’s certainly not that he has edited and authored two essential books about barbecue, Corn Bread Nation Vol. 2: The United States of Barbecue and Smokestack Lightning, respectively. Nor that he has produced two documentary films, including Smokestack Lightning: A Day in the Life of Barbecue. None of these parts of Elie’s bio concern me. His checkered past? He once admitted to going through a vegetarian phase.
Despite his past vegetable transgressions, Elie’s extensive barbecue background makes him the perfect subject for an interview. In the spirit of carnivores everywhere, Elie was kind enough to chew the fat with me on a variety of subjects. In the below interview, we discuss the “disturbing trend” of North Carolina barbecue joints switching to gas/electric cooking, why–ahem–New York barbecue has its advantages, and the newspaper industry’s slow “suicide,” among other topics. Dig in…
BBQ Jew: I understand you were raised in Louisiana. When and how did a po’ boy-, beignet- and gumbo-eating New Orleaner like yourself discover barbecue? Seriously, Louisiana isn’t widely known for its BBQ, so what was your introduction to barbecue and how did you decide it was worth writing a book about?
Lolis Eric Elie: I was on the road with Frank Stewart, the photographer, and we were working for Wynton Marsalis. Frank grew up in Memphis and Chicago and he came up with the idea of doing a book on barbecue. Growing up in Louisiana, I had some great backyard barbecue. But there were certainly no commercial establishments to rival the best of Memphis or Kansas City. Our initial book proposal was a pretty light romp through the world of barbecue that would compare and contrasts the various styles. After a week in Memphis, researching the sample chapter, I knew that barbecue could be the focus of a serious book about American culture.
BBQ Jew: Since Smokestack Lightning was first published in 1996, barbecue has gained far more mainstream attention across the U.S. and beyond. In fact, it’s probably one of the hottest American food trends, from the lowly McRib on up to fine dining establishments. How do you feel about barbecue’s newfound status?
LEL: The growth of barbecue is a mixed blessing. If the big money restauranteurs did not find it worth investing in, the art form might all but die. Mom and Pop restaurants are dying in droves for a variety of reasons. But the emergence of barbecue in, say, a media capital like New York helps keep us on the radar of the major media in a way that we couldn’t be if, for example, Dreamland in Tuscaloosa, AL was the capital of the barbecue world.