Yum Yum on Yom Kippur

At sundown tonight begins Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.  This is the most important holy day for most Jews, and is considered a time to atone for one’s sins in the past year.  Yom Kippur is an intense holiday, even by Jewish standards, and all that intensity can make a brother from the Tribe quite hungry.  Unfortunately, Yom Kippur is a day of fasting.

As described on JewFAQ.com: “Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath; no work can be performed on that day. It is  well-known that you are supposed to refrain from eating and drinking (even  water) on Yom Kippur. It is a complete, 25-hour fast beginning before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ending after nightfall on the day of Yom  Kippur.”

Luckily, there are some loopholes.  Back to JewFAQ.com: “As always, any of these restrictions can be lifted where a threat to life or health is involved. In fact, children under the age of nine and women in childbirth (from the time labor begins until three days after birth) are not permitted to fast, even if they want to… People with other illnesses should consult a physician and a rabbi  for advice.”  Okay, so that covers women who just had a baby and young kids.  But what about other women, men, and kids at heart?  Can one argue that a day of fasting is a threat to life or health?  To answer these questions one need only consult Talmudic barbecue scholars.

Indeed, there may be a case to be made that abstaining from barbecue is, indeed, a threat to one’s life and health. In his collection of essays, Feeding a Yen, Calvin Trillin makes a rabbinical case for barbecue.  In an essay entitled “Barbecue and Home,” Trillin describes a talk he gave at the 2002 Southern Foodways Symposium.  One of the speakers Trillin followed was Marcie Cohen Ferris, a Jew who grew up in the south and lived a pork-free existence noted in her terrific book, Matzoh Ball Gumbo.  (Ferris now lives in North Carolina and is a Professor at UNC at Chapel Hill.)

Trillin writes of his remarks to Symposium attendees,  “[T]he barbecue from [Ed Mitchell’s old place in] Wilson, North Carolina, had put me in an expansive and ecumenical frame of mind. I said I deeply regretted that Marcie Ferris and the people she grew up with in Arkansas hadn’t known about the Barbecue Easement granted by the Joplin Rebbe, a distinguished Talmudist and pit master. According to that wise teacher’s ruling, observant Jews who are bona fide residents of the South and Lower Midwest are permitted to eat meat that has been subjected to slow direct heat for more than six hours and comes from any farm animal that does not have scales.”

If Trillin says it, it must be true.  Carrying Trillin’s argument one step further, it seems reasonable to conclude that observant southern Jews should spend their Day of Atonement atoning for the sin of avoiding pork the rest of the year.  Failing to atone for this sin could threaten ones life and health, surely.  And what better way to atone than a plate of barbecue the evening of Yom Kippur?

[Thanks to reader Steve “Ham”mond for alerting me to Trillin’s book.  And thanks to everyone else for understanding that this post is just a joke and is no more serious than Trillin’s description of Talmudic teachings.]

Porky’s Pulpit: Happy Labor Day 2011

“We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” – Louis Brandeis, Supreme Court justice, Jewish southerner, and barbecue enthusiast.*

In honor of Labor Day, that holiday where we browse mattress sale flyers and mourn the end of the summer (while simultaneously celebrating the fact that our kids are going back to school), it’s worth taking a minute to reflect on the holiday’s serious origin. Especially in today’s political climate, where the idea of celebrating organized labor seems downright unpatriotic, please remember that America’s robber barons didn’t always have our nation’s best interests at heart; since many corporations are publicly held, nowadays we can trust their leaders fully.  Likewise, politicians weren’t always staunch advocates for the middle class and working poor like they are today.  In fact, in 1894 President Grover Cleveland dispatched thousands of troops to suppress a strike that started at the Pullman railcar company, an act that resulted in significant political fallout and lead in short order to a national Labor Day holiday.

So, when you are signing the receipt for your new mattress (made overseas at a union-free factory, presumably), pause for a moment and remember that we did not always have minimum wage standards, child labor laws, a forty hour work week and the like.  But don’t let your rememberance get in the way of a good Labor Day cookout.  I think folks of all political stripes, and captains of industry and laborers alike, can agree that firing up a grill is a worthy way to celebrate the holiday.  And I am sure the ghost of Louis Brandeis will forgive you for indulging in some pork… in solidarity with the working man, of course.

*Technically speaking, this post-Oxford comma statement is unconfirmed.  However, Brandeis grew up in Kentucky so it is at least possible that he enjoyed ‘cue.

Happy Fourth of July

Happy July 4th, readers.  I hope you are celebrating America’s birthday in style, or at least with a day off of work.  In case you are feeling extra patriotic today, visit America’s neighborhood store, Ebay to obtain these Patriotic Pig Salt & Pepper Shakers.  I’ve got $10 that these lovely creatures are made in China, but you can only prove me wrong if you buy ’em.

Happy Father’s Day 2011

Since I spent Father’s Day weekend at the beach with my wife and kids, I’ve had no time to prepare a post for today.  Instead, please accept my sincere wishes that you and your’s had a good and barbecue-fueled Father’s Day.  In lieu of a post, my gift to you dads out there is the below half-eaten BBQ sandwich from last year’s Barbecue Festival in Lexington.  Hey, it’s better than another tacky tie, right?


Porky’s Pulpit: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Barbecue

Today is Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember fallen military heroes who gave their lives trying to protect the American way of life (and to find great deals on new cars, household goods, and other manifestations of consumerism runk amok, ahem, the American way of life).  Yet despite the heroic efforts of generations of brave men and women, one of America’s proudest institutions is under attack.  Indeed, like so many great American traditions before it–sex, drugs and rock & roll, to name only a few–barbecue is continuously affronted by the nattering na(shish-ka)bobs of negativism.

Every week my email inbox is filled with anti-barbecue propaganda, ranging from basically benign barbs to maliciously malignant missives.  Among the attacks I’ve seen on the great American institution, in the past week alone, are:

-On the benign side, confidence-suppressing articles about dealing with problems like “improper flaming” and other possible afflictions of the grill.  Not since Viagra ads first hit the airwaves have America’s charcoal-wielding men had such cause for performance anxiety.

Articles about barbecue’s supposed role in the epidemic of obesity plaguing our nation’s collective midsection.

-News reports that imply barbecue may lead to incidents of violent crime and even natural disasters.

-Malignant stories discussing barbecue’s supposed link to, well, cancer; anyone want to learn about “7 Ways to Cancer-Proof Your Barbecue”?

-The burden placed on barbecue to solve America’s ongoing economic woes and rebuild its diplomatic ties at the highest levels.

-Common dangers, such as household fires, tenuously linked to barbecuing and played up for maximum dramatic effect on barbecue-friendly occasions like Memorial Day and Independence Day.  Even in BBQ strongholds like West Texas, the BBQ-baiting media have tracked down otherwise self-respecting firefighters who “are sending out a warning [that barbecue] might not be worth the risk.”  As current West Odessa Volunteer Fire Chief, and possible Past-President of the West Texas Brussel Sprouts Defense League, Jimmy Ellis put it in the same article, “One spark and the whole city could go up like a keg of dynamite.”  Humph.

-Lest the above dynamite-level dangers not be enough, other alarmists warn of the risk of contracting trichinosis and other food-borne illnesses.  Luckily, in a rare act of bravery, the USDA recently released updated guidelines on cooking meat, and finally admitted that cooking pork to 145 degrees is sufficiently safe (as tenderloin lovers have known for decades).

As if the above affronts on America’s barbecue tradition were not enough, the Al Gore set has devoted a disproportionate amount of effort to pin the future collapse of the earth’s ecosystems on barbecue.  Indeed, it appears that barbecue is now THE grease-stained culprit of global warming. “Are barbecue grills destroying the planet?,” asks an article in the May 27th issue of The Week, just the most recent in a series of attempts to make backyard pit bosses feel as guilty as possible for their selfless act of smoking meat instead of gassing it or, lord forbid, torturing it in an electric oven.

Finally, the forces of evil have stepped up their efforts to challenge the most fundamental of American barbecue values: the near-biblical truth that barbecue is by definition meat.  Indeed, masochistic vegetarians across the country write morally bankrupt drivel like this piece that tries to nudge meat aside and claim a spot on the Weber for veggies (it is consoling that the folks in the picture that runs with the article look famine-stricken and sport forced smiles that quietly scream, “For God’s sake, let me trade this pink polo shirt for a slab of ribs”).

While vegetarians take pains to inflate their bloated self-worth, and to maintain their emaciated figures, by choking down Bulgur Veggie Burgers with Lime Mayonnaise and the like, I’m sticking up for the American way.  I’ll be out back on my flammable wood deck cooking up some carbon-heavy, cancer-inducing pork butt to serve with bacon-flavored greens and calorie-full hush puppies.  After all, it’s Memorial Day and I think that our fallen heroes would have it no other way.

Porky’s Pulpit: Rapture is a Good Plate of Barbecue

I am writing this post on Friday night in case rapture comes on Saturday as predicted. If you are reading this post on Monday when I scheduled it to run then there are three possible explanations: 1. the rapture did not happen and the prophets of doom were wrong, or at least off by a week or two (stay tuned); 2. you are a sinner and were Left Behind, yet still have access to a high speed Internet connection (poached from a believer, perhaps?); 3. you have been saved and the Big Man Upstairs has rewarded you with your own iPhone (reception is good in the clouds even for AT&T users).

As for me, as a BBQ Jew I am not sure how the lord will regard me on judgment day, but if I make it through unscathed then I think I’ll celebrate with a chopped plate of ‘cue.  Well, as long as there are still some pitmasters left to cook for me, since I expect they will be saved from this earth before the rest of us.

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.

Happy Valentine’s Day 2011

A young boy's first taste of barbecue. Love at first kiss.

Super Bowl XLV Prediction

[Editor’s note: This post was originally scheduled to run one week ago but was  embargoed until today due to a dispute with Fox Sports that has since been resolved in BBQJew.com’s favor.  Please accept our sincere apologies for the delay, as we fully understand that sports reporting is time sensitive and it would have been more desirable for this post to run as originally scheduled.]

What better day of the year to eat barbecue (ribs especially) than Super Bowl Sunday?  And what better pre-game activity than guessing the winner and final score?  Both the Packers and Steelers had impressive seasons and have earned their berths in the big game. Pittsburgh and Green Bay appear on paper to be evenly matched, but only one team can win. That team? My not so well educated prediction follows.

I predict that the first half of the game will be surprisingly one sided, with the Packers controlling the action on both sides of the ball and jumping out to a 21-3 lead, before the Steelers score a touchdown with a few seconds left to go into halftime down 21-10.  In the second half, the Steelers will strike quickly to cut the Packers’ lead to 21-17.  In the end though, I predict the Packers will prevail over the Steelers 31-25. Will it pan out like that? Only time will tell, so tune in on Sunday to find out.

Whatever the final score, I just hope it’s a good game this year.  What’s your prediction?

Groundhog Day 2011: The Ghost of Groundhog’s Past

Typically, when we talk about ground hog on this website we are referring to sausage, but today we want to wish you a happy other kind of groundhog day.  And what better way to celebrate Punxsutawney Phil’s shadow watching party than with a little groundhog news?

Evidently not all groundhogs are as peaceful as good ol’ Punx Phil, as this article illustrates.  The short version: “A rabid groundhog attacked a family having an outdoor barbeque at their home in Salem… .”  That would be Salem, MA, home of those infamous witch trials that we read about in school.  Salem resident/groundhog revenge victim numero uno Nick Konstadt, perhaps showing the ill effects of his brush with Punx Phil’s cousin by exhibiting incoherent speech, described the groundhog attack as follows: “It like, run at me, come out from right there, and I’d like stick my foot out, and then it would run into the raspberry bush, and then it would come back out again. It would make this really high-pitched sound… It was trying to be playful maybe, like it was like a younger groundhog or something.” I hope you got your rabies shots, Nick, just to be safe.

Let this cautionary tale be a lesson to all.  Indeed, it’s far safer to eat ground hog than to watch a groundhog or his shadow. (Editor’s note: When the jokes are that lame, we’re surely bound for six more weeks of winter.)