President’s Day Barbecue

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.