Porky’s Pulpit: An Essay on the Origins of My Addiction

My name is Porky LeSwine and I am a barbeholic.

The barbecue version of the food pyramid.

Early Symptoms
Like most addictions, it all started out innocently enough. I grew up in Orange County not far up the road from Allen & Son. My folks took me there from time to time. Back then it was just a couple of times a year habit. I liked barbecue from the start but didn’t think much about it in between those occasional meals. It’s a couple decades later and I’ve now eaten enough barbecue that my cholesterol level can be measured from 100 yards away. How did I, an innocent kid who grew up eating just the occasional BBQ plate, turn into a bona fide barbecue junkie?

After continuing my occasional BBQ routine through high school I soon left North Carolina to attend college in Missouri. There are good ribs in St. Louis but nothing quite like NC barbecue, so I found myself fitting in a visit or two to Allen’s every time I returned home. Soon I was stopping at Allen’s on the way home before even arriving at my parents’ house. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? Still, I remained just an occasional visitor to the Temple of Divine Swine, not a member of the congregation. 

Diagnosis
After college I worked a job that sent me on several day trips to Lexington, where I interviewed people about their experiences with… well, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I started my interviews by asking people where I should go for lunch. I was amazed at how varied and passionate their responses were. It seemed like everyone had an opinion and they took pride in sending me off the beaten path to the “little place down the road a bit.”

I knew Lexington was barbecue Mecca (or maybe Medina for those of you partial to the ‘cue served in the Eastern part of the state ), but I was shocked to discover that Lexington had over 20 barbecue joints for 20,000 people. At one joint for every 1,000 people, there may be more barbecue options per person in Lexington than there are physicians or churches. But who needs a physician when a chopped tray a day keeps the doctor away? And who needs church when you can worship slow-cooked swine every day of the week including Sundays? Indeed, my trips to Lexington were my spiritual awakening, my baptism by hickory fire into the Church of the Holy ‘Cue. If rapture had come when I was mid-tray at Lexington #1 or Cook’s I am not sure I would have noticed unless the pork had ascended along with the patrons. 

After those first few trips to Lexington, I was hooked. I was showing up at The Barbecue Festival in Lexington but skipping the pork served at the tents in favor of side trips to the local joints. I ate at five barbecue restaurants in one day and still ordered takeout for the ride home. And every bite tasted darn good.

I had officially developed my addiction.

Living with My Disease
But why am I not worried about my barbecue addiction? It’s because ‘que is one of those rare things today that is home grown and authentic. It’s served at local fire department fundraisers, backyard pig pickings and political rallies, and at family-run restaurants across the state. It takes hard work and care to prepare good barbecue. It is a food that is made from hogs raised in our state and cooked—though increasingly too rarely—for hours over wood coals, making it the anti-fast food, the original “slow food” and the most local of local foods. It can not be mass-produced, rushed, faked, half-assed, or wholesaled. There are few barbecue chains (only Smithfield’s really counts in North Carolina), probably because local joints have their own set of faithful customers who like the often subtle local variations on sauce, texture, cooking method, choice of sides, etc. and swear their local place is the best. Who needs a standardized, homogenized plate of barbecue when you can get scratch-made swine that tastes just how you like it right around the corner?

I love barbecue because it is a huge a part of our state’s heritage and culture, and because it seems to cross all lines of age, race, socioeconomic status and geography in the state (with the possible exception of some of the far western mountain counties where the altitude has confused people into thinking they live in Tennessee).  I love barbecue because most people in North Carolina love it yet it hasn’t really broken past our state’s borders in a big way (though I did have a surprisingly decent plate of barbecue in St. Petersburg, Florida last year at a place run by some NC ex-pats). Oddly enough, most of us North Carolinians are pretty modest about our native food.  We don’t spend a lot of time touting it, and the result is that it has remained a fairly obscure dish compared with Memphis ribs or Texas brisket.  I think that has helped contain barbecue within our fair state’s borders. And there is something nice about only finding something in one part of the country. The Grand Canyon wouldn’t be half as cool if you could visit it in Arizona, Delaware, Ohio, and Oregon.

Finally, I love barbecue because the best restaurant owners and pit masters really are artisans, skilled at their crafts.  Our state’s traditional pottery as practiced in Seagrove is impressive, but I prefer the traditional art practiced in Lexington, Salisbury, Goldsboro, Greenville and places in between.  I enjoy the living art of barbecue, and I enjoy that it is a form of art you can watch, touch, smell… and eat.

 If all that makes me a barbeholic, so be it.

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2 Responses

  1. Can we get an “Amen!” brothers?

    AMEN!

  2. Ditto all of that. I’m just waiting for Lent to end so I can imbibe of the swine.

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