The Rise of Barbecue Restaurants

NIP_Moss_BarbecueMay is National Barbecue Month. A time to celebrate cooking over an open flame. In the broadest sense, barbecue simply means the act of cooking anything over a fire, be it hamburgers, shrimp kebabs, or corn on the cob. For most Americans, though, the word has a more precise definition. It is, for starters, a particular type of food, and one that varies greatly from one part of the country to another. When an eastern North Carolinian says, “Let’s go get some barbecue,” he is referring to finely chopped bits of smoked pork mixed with a spicy, vinegar-based sauce. A Texan saying the same thing usually means sliced beef brisket, while someone from Memphis may be talking about a basket of pork ribs.

The identifying characteristics of a particular region’s style not only include the cuts of meat used, but the equipment and technique used to cook it, and how the meat is chopped, sliced, or otherwise prepared for serving. A region’s style also includes the type of sauce to be served (assuming, that is, that sauce is served at all) as well as the side items that accompany the meat. Over the course of a half-century, the menus and styles within particular areas began to coalesce into the unique regional variations that are so treasured by today’s barbecue lovers.

In Barbecue: The History of an American Institution Robert Moss writes these regional differences in barbecue coincided with the rise of barbecue as a commercial endeavor. Below in this short excerpt, Moss notes that the emergence of this trend can best be seen by looking at the evolution of barbecue as a commercial endeavor in different parts of the country between 1920 and the Second World War.

As in the early nineteenth century, the changes in barbecue culture were reflections of the shifting social landscape of the United States. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, America’s population steadily moved from the countryside into towns and cities. In a rural environment, it took a special occasion such as a stump speech or a civic celebration to draw a large enough crowd to justify roasting a whole pig. Country barbecues were one-time events, with pits dug in the ground for the occasion and supplies provided by the general community. As America’s towns and cities grew, they attracted enough people to serve as a stable clientele for daily operations, and it was in downtown areas that the first barbecue restaurants appeared. The term restaurant is used loosely here, for these operations were usually impromptu stands put up to sell food at public events or as a sideline to another trade, such as selling illegal whiskey. It took several decades for these informal ventures to evolve into full-service, sit-down restaurants.

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Sid Weaver (left) at his barbecue stand in downtown Lexington, North Carolina. (Courtesy Davidson County Historical Museum, Lexington, North Carolina.)a caption

The first permanent barbecue restaurants evolved out of these sorts of improvised stands as their owners expanded operations, adding brick and cinderblock pits, enclosing dining areas, and offering all the amenities of full-service restaurants. But it wasn’t just a matter of a few entrepreneurs starting to sell an item that was formerly available only at large public gatherings. In order to become a commercial product, barbecue itself had to change, and it changed differently in each part of the country. Early barbecue restaurants were the single greatest influence on the regionalization of barbecue, which created the multitude of local styles that we know today.

At old-style outdoor public barbecues, diners had a wide choice of meats because local farmers would donate to the cause whatever livestock they had on hand. It is common to see lists like the following in descriptions of such events: “beef, mutton, pork, and fowls were provided in superabundance and barbecued in an excellent manner.”As barbecue became a business, things became more standardized. In the days before mechanical refrigeration a proprietor could not keep much meat on hand for very long. Many restaurants began as weekend operations, with the proprietor barbecuing a whole hog or a side of beef on Thursday and selling it through the weekend until the supply was exhausted.11 It made sense for early businessmen to settle on one or two standard products to serve, and most chose the meat most readily available in the area—hence the prevalence of pork in North Carolina and beef in Texas.

 

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Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q , Decatur, Alabama.

Side dishes needed to be standardized, too. When barbecues were large, community-organized affairs, the side dishes consisted of food that was easy to carry in bulk and without refrigeration. As cooks began establishing regular barbecue businesses, they generally chose a different (but reasonably small) set of side dishes to carry. Many reflected local specialties or preferences; others were simply recipes that the particular proprietor knew well and felt would be an economical item to sell. “Back in the old days,” recalls Wayne Monk of Lexington Barbecue in Lexington, North Carolina, “you was trying to have something you could handle in the hot weather but didn’t cost an arm and a leg—what is locally available and what’s cheap.”13 Initially, sides tended toward items like bread, pickles, and onions. Coleslaw was an early favorite in North Carolina because locally grown cabbage was abundant and cheap and, if you didn’t add mayonnaise, it wasn’t very perishable.As mechanical refrigeration, air conditioning, and electric deep fryers became more common, new items such as potato salad and French fries began to appear on barbecue restaurant menus, too.

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Roadside barbecue stand near Fort
Benning, Georgia, December 1940.
(Courtesy Library of Congress,
Prints & Photographs Division.)

 

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Interview with FC2 author George Choundas

Cvr_Choundas_mktgThe Making Sense of Things by George Choundas is a collection of twelve stories that pulse with memory, magic, and myth—all our favorite ways of trying to make sense of things.

Winner of Fiction Collective Two’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize, Choundas’ stories are filled with vivid and unforgettable characters. A fiercely independent woman puts the man who loves her to unconscionable tests, never guessing that arson, suicide, and canine obesity will yield a magical kind of happiness. A honeymooner in Venice, addled by fever and second thoughts, commits by dumb error a double murder. A brisk lawyer founders when a car wreck claims his son and ex-wife, then discovers that the desperation of grief is a kind of hope.

The following is an interview with Choundas conducted by UAP intern Simran Mahbubani.

As a corporate litigator and former FBI agent, were you always interested in writing or did the practice sneak up on you?

My mother’s a reading teacher. On weekdays she taught reading at P.S. 27 in the South Bronx. On weekends she taught a love of reading to her son. He, in turn, spent thousands of boy-hours spooning up peanut butter with one hand and pages of Treasure Island with the other.

Now, you may be a person who worships books. You may think of reading not as pleasant or edifying or comparable to any number of nice things like swimming and stapling things together, but as central. If you’re that sort of person, then what verb is big and strange enough for how you feel about writing? Authorship for the book-lover is a heady and ridiculous notion. It’s not totally comprehensible. And because the best parts of life are the absurd ones and the impossible ones, I guess writing seemed to me like something to take a crack at.

Put another way, reading’s a kind of magic. A writer sitting at a sauce-smeared kitchen table puts words on a page. That page detonates thoughts and feelings in a perfect stranger miles away. How do you do one end of that experience and not say about the other, Me want try that?

Have any experiences from your FBI days found their way into your stories?Photo_2015-01-26_2 of 2

Not yet. Maybe some day.

Your stories are a wonderful mix of sci-fi, mystery, and fairy tale with a dose of realism. What works and authors inspired you to write in such diverse genres?

“Wonderful” is a nice word. Thank you.

Spanish was my first language. (My reading teacher is Cuban.) In college I read a lot in Spanish by a trinity of very special authors: Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, and Julio Cortázar.

At around the same time, I took a course in American contemporary fiction. I read a lot in English by a different trinity: Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, and Ethan Canin.

This bilingual bunch of authors merged and crackled and did something permanent to my head. Ever since, when I read fiction, it’s like I’m snooping over the author’s shoulder. A sweet-ass modifier will distract me for three pages when I’m supposed to be paying attention to the plot. I’ve got this deep, other-level admiration for writers who can do it all—you know, the kinds of writers who can push into fantastical settings and dare us not to believe what they’re telling us and then, because the storytelling is perfect and the wordsmithing is awesome, make us feel it anyway.

Like Katherine Dunn and her novel Geek Love. That is a freaking decathlon of a book. Anything you can do she could do better. And then she did some things you wouldn’t dare. There’s a special clutch of books that, at least for me, risk more than seems possible and then don’t just pull it off but spray up a cloud of awe as you nose through the pages: like Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea and China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and Richard Hughes’ A High Wind in Jamaica and Homer’s Iliad. Continue reading

The Road South by BJ Hollars

Jkt_Hollars_mktgAuthor B.J. Hollars will be traveling to Alabama to later this month to celebrate the publication of his new book The Road South: Personal Stories of the Freedom Riders. Hollars will be reading from and discussing his new book at several events across the state including the Freedom Rides Museum in Montgomery. Signed copies will be available for sale at all venues and events.

While much has been written on the Freedom Rides, far less has been published about the individual riders. Join award-wining author B.J. Hollars as he sets out on his own journey to meet them, retracing the historic route and learning the stories of as many surviving riders as he could. The Road South offers an intimate look into the lives and legacies of the riders. Throughout the book these civil rights veterans poignant, personal stories offer timely insights into America’s racial past and hopeful future.

Weaving the past and present, Hollars aims to demystify the legendary journey, while also confronting more modern concerns related to race in America. The Road South is part memoir and part research-based journalism. It transcends the textbook version of this historical journey to highlight the fascinating stories of the many riders–both black and white–who risked their lives to move the country forward.

A graduate of the University of Alabama’s MFA program, Hollars is excited to return to Alabama. “I’m thrilled to return to my former home to share a story that means so much to our nation: how a group of people boarded buses and forever changed America.” He goes on, saying, “The Freedom Riders’ stories are more than an inspiring story of the past, it’s a path forward, too. There are so many lessons we can learn from their sacrifice and commitment to the cause of civil rights.”

Hollars is an associate professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He Hollars_Author_Photois also the author of several books including Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence and the Last Lynching in America; Opening the Doors: The Desegregation of the University of Alabama and the Fight for Civil Rights in Tuscaloosa; Flock Together: A Love Affair With Extinct Birds; From the Mouths of Dogs: What Our Pets Teach Us about Life, Death, and Being Human, among others. Visit bjollars.com for more information.

Hollars will be appearing and talking about his book at the following times and locations:

Praise for The Road South

“At various points personal quest, memoir, travelogue, and oral history, B. J. Hollars’ The Road South is a fine and important contribution to our understanding of the Freedom Riders, what motivated them, how their participation in the movement shaped them, and how they shaped America.”
—Derek Charles Catsam, author of Freedom’s Main Line: The Journey of Reconciliation and the Freedom Rides

“By undertaking his own journey of reconciliation, author B. J. Hollars brings fresh relevance to the history of the 1961 Freedom Rides. His compelling and creative melding of past with present reminds us that extraordinary actions by fiercely determined young people have—and still can—change the world. This inspiring tribute to citizens who transformed America during the turbulent times of the 1960s, brings a road into view that beckons us anew to travel the distance for freedom.”
—Ann Bausum, author of Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement

“From the opening interview with Jim Zwerg all the way to the end, I felt as if I were getting to know these historical figures better than I had in the past, and I have interviewed several of them myself.”
—Frye Gaillard, author of Cradle of Freedom: Alabama and the Movement that Changed America and Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail: An Illustrated Guide to the Cradle of Freedom