Thanks to Eve Hill-Agnus and the Dallas Morning News for the wonderful review of Barbecue Crossroads:
By EVE HILL-AGNUS
Barbecue Crossroads is an odyssey — not merely in miles logged from Texas to the Carolinas while documenting the disappearing art of old-fashioned, wood-fire barbecue. It’s a journey into the past, into foodways and subcultures, from regional rifts (whole hog vs. shoulder, wet ribs vs. dry) to incarnations in juke joints, gas stations, drive-ins and barbecue saloons.
Award-winning writer Robb Walsh captures life and culture like a Steinbeck of the South. The story of barbecue is layered and intimate. Do you remember pork sandwiches from the Dallas Pig Stand or know that the original McDonald’s served barbecue? People’s stories flash by like scenes outside a car window. Recipes with names like Church Supper Butter Beans and Baby J’s Monkey Juice come from real people.
Their voices emerge in dialogue and their faces are captured in O. Rufus Lovett’s photographs. We see stolid Tennessee men who wield cleavers and hoist whole hogs and the laughing eyes of the woman whose fried catfish nearly made Lovett fall out of his chair.
There are visceral pleasures: the freshly chopped pork sandwich eaten at a Formica counter, coconut pie eaten over the car hood. But Walsh, who has written extensively about the history of Texas food, always gives you something deeper to chew on. He explores the plantation-culture ties between blues and barbecue in Memphis; how Central Texas German meat markets added sausage to the plate; and how Southern convenience stores, serving migrant workers unwelcome elsewhere, began turning out amazing barbecue.
Barbecue Crossroads is a sensitive mapping of race, region and resources. It’s also a portrait of a threatened art. The rising cost of meat and wood erode tradition: Even hallowed barbecue shrines abandon wood-fire pits for stainless-steel electric ovens.
Ultimately, Crossroads teaches us that the history of barbecue is sinuous, that the tradition is resilient and that people continue to care. A masterful piece of documentation, the book is a labor of love and time — like barbecue itself.
Houstonia Magazine and D&T Drive-in are holding a Community BBQ and
Dewberry Blackberry Cobbler Contest Saturday May 4 from 4pm to 8pm.
D&T Drive-In is an old icehouse at 1307 Enid near Calvalcade and I-45. The cool old/new watering hole has been renovated by Chris Cusack and his Down House partner Joey Treadway.
The $25 ticket includes a plate of slow-roasted pork, potato salad, baked beans, coleslaw, and—of course—blackberry cobbler. We’ll have plenty of beer from St. Arnold Brewery and cocktails from Deep Eddy vodka. Houstonia’s own Robb Walsh will be signing copies of his new book, Barbecue Crossroads.
All net proceeds go to Foodways Texas
Our four competing chefs are Chris Shine of Franks American Revival, Greg Gatlin of Gatlin’s BBQ, Wafi Dinari of The Bird and The Bear, and Bill Leeson of Flying Saucer Pie Shop. Only one will be crowned Cobbler Champion, and it’s up to our guests to decide who it will be.
For tickets, click here.
At the Foodways Texas BBQ Symposium recently, I gave a talk about the clash between the plantation barbecue culture and the German immigrant barbecue culture in North Carolina and Texas and the traces of old animosities and racism that surface in discussions about barbecue sauce. I read the quote from Texas Monthly (below) to illustrate the attitudes of whites in Central Texas in the 1970s. I must have been mumbling or not very coherent in my remarks. To my chagrin, the racist statement is now being attributed to me.
Matt Garner's on W Gray, 1985
“The heavily-sauced, chopped East Texas barbecue is a reflection of the fact that it was originally a Negro phenomenon, an ingenious method for rendering palatable the poorer, less-desirable cuts of meat which often were the only ones available to the poor black. Hence most of the attention was lavished on the hot sauce, whose purpose was to smother the dubious flavor of the meat which the barbecueing process had at least made tender.
In Central Texas, by contrast, the Saturday barbecue at the town meat market was developed by the dominant social class, who could pick and choose from among the best cuts of meat and cooked them to emphasize their flavor. Piquant sauces had little appeal in that situation, and it is therefore not surprising that Central Texas sauces are often a rather bland incident to the large well-flavored chunks of beef enjoyed for their own sake.”
Griffin Smith, Jr.
“The World’s Best Barbecue is in Taylor, Texas. Or is it Lockhart.”
Texas Monthly, April 1973
Check out the whole story in my new book, Barbecue Crossroads, or take a look at the story I wrote in the Houston Press back in 2003 titled Barbecue in Black and White.
A review of Barbecue Crossroads in this week’s Austin Chronicle:
Robb Walsh seeks enlightenment on his own BBQ spirit quest
By Kenny Pailes, 9:45AM, Thu. Apr. 4
Barbecue Crossroads: Notes & Recipes From A Southern Odyssey
cover photo by O. Rufus Lovett
Robb Walsh, photographs by O. Rufus Lovett
University of Texas Press, 282pp. $16.47 paperback Amazon
A “closed” sign on a BBQ joint door is just an invitation to talk to the folks running the fried pie kitchen next door. An offer of catfish at another shack famous for (but sold out of) spicy brisket is only an excuse to explore the religious roots of African-American barbecue in America.
So goes Houston-based, three time James Beard Award winning author Robb Walsh’s journey across the South – from Texas to the Carolinas – exploring the roots and heart of this essential American cuisine. Barbecue Crossroads is cleverly served as a three-meat combo, equal parts history lesson, road trip memoir, and cookbook, with slick dollops of photographer O. Rufus Lovett’s intimate shots glazing every corner of the plate.
If your heart, like mine, beats strongest for Texas barbecue, you might think Walsh and Lovett would have been wise to stop their trek on their first day, before Interstate 30′s escalating exit numbers reset themselves to “1″ halfway through Texarkana. Fear not, prideful brisket-eater: for even while the duo are deep in the overgrown and under-appreciated country roads of Tennessee, waiting patiently for a grumpy pit boss to prep his first meals of the day for them, Walsh’s mind wanders back home for a treatise on some of the oldest examples of market store BBQ joints. There’s talk of Smitty’s in Lockhart and Martin’s in Bryan before the day-dream-turned-history-lesson returns to the meal in hand at a convenience store in the Volunteer State. That trends holds throughout the book, as nearly every aspect of Southern barbecue history that Walsh details is related back to Texas. Whether you take that pattern to mean that the other barbecue states revolve around the shining Lone Star or you see these writings as proof that Texas and Southern barbecue have more in common than we often admit is up to the reader.
Between recipes for Whole Hog Barbecue and Sweet Potato Pie, Walsh laments the slow death of America’s original barbecue culture. Once common, massive communal servings of piles of piping hot pork and beef served straight from in-ground open pits growling with the heat of real wood have nearly all been relegated to textbook chapters in our country’s rural history. The present-day demands of hungry urban diners have pressured even some of the most legendary BBQ restaurants throughout the South to replace their original pits with faster gas ovens. Meanwhile, rising meat and wood prices have created a new economy that runs completely counter to the very origins of BBQ itself.
Still, it is clear that all is not lost for fans of the cuisine. Even in the face of what the author paints as a bleak fate, Walsh and Lovett’s loving treatment of the people behind the pits and counters from Austin to the Atlantic Coast make it clear that this true folk food is still alive. Recent trends in our own city demonstrate the resurgence in popularity of slow-cooked, wood-smoked meats – even if new purveyors are challenging older establishments for mouths and minds. Walsh himself, co-founder of Foodways Texas, even musters up some optimism by ending the book with his own internet-based solution to the dwindling numbers of community barbecues.
Regardless of your regional loyalties, Barbecue Crossroads is a must have book for anyone with a passion for pit crafted meats.
Both author Robb Walsh and photographer O. Rufus Lovett will be featured speakers and sign copies of their book at this weekend’s Foodways Texas Symposium, Our Barbecue, Ourselves.
Reverend Jimmie Cobbin photos by O. Rufus Lovett
“Once you start to see the connection between African American barbecue and religion, it pops up everywhere. When I attended services at Reverend Hodge’s church one Sunday, I met a guest preacher named Reverend Jimmie Cobbin. After I asked him if he ever cooked barbecue, he smiled and said, ‘Funny you should ask.’ As it turned out, Cobbin operated a barbecue stand in Richmond called Jimmie’s Ribs for several years.”
Read the article “Of Pork and Preachers” at Houstoniamag.com or look for the first issue of Houstonia Magazine on newstands and supermarket magazine racks all over Houston.
Daniel Vaughn gets some tips from Joe Nick Patoski
Our friend Daniel Vaughn (@BBQsnob) has been named Barbecue Editor of Texas Monthly Magazine; his first day of work is April 15. (We expect Franklin’s brisket tallow to be smeared on his forehead in the “sign of the Q” at the anointment ceremony.)
The announcement caused quite a stir as it seems @BBQsnob may be the first full time barbecue editor in the country.
The appointment comes at a critical time. TM does a barbecue survey every five years ranking the top 50 barbecue joints in Texas, and the next ranking is due in the June issue. In past years, the rankings were established by lumping together scores from tasters all over the state. And the winning barbecue establishment was always within an hour or so of the magazine’s headquarters in Austin. When a tiny weekend-only place called Snow’s in Lexington won last time, the editors brought in barbecue authority Calvin Trillin to endorse their findings–he didn’t.
Vaughn, who lives in Dallas, promises to bring some credibility to the TM BBQ issue. He is a barbecue fanatic of long standing and his website Full Custom Gospel BBQ is already the gold standard when it comes to rankings and ratings of Texas BBQ joints. We applaud TM’s editors for finally getting serious about the subject.
We look forward to congratulating Daniel Vaughn in person at this weekend’s Houston BBQ Festival. See you there!
100 advance copies of Barbecue Crossroads will be sold by Foodways Texas at the Barbecue Symposium April 4-6 as a fund-raiser for the organization.
In stories, recipes, and photographs James Beard Award-winning writer Robb Walsh and acclaimed documentary photographer O. Rufus Lovett take us on a barbecue odyssey from East Texas to the Carolinas and back. In Barbecue Crossroads we meet the “keepers of the flame,” the pitmasters who still use old-fashioned wood-fired pits, and we sample some of their succulent pork shoulders, whole hogs, savory beef, sausage, mutton, and even some barbecued baloney. Recipes for these and the sides dishes, sauces and desserts that come with them are painstakingly recorded and tested.
But Barbecue Crossroads is more than a cookbook, it is a trip back to the roots of our oldest artisan food tradition and a look at how Southern culture is changing. Walsh and Lovett trace the lineage of Southern barbecue backwards through time as they travel across a part of the country where slow-cooked meat has long been part of everyday life.
What they find is not one story, but many. They visit legendary joints that don’t live up to their reputations—and discover unknown places that deserve more attention. They tell us why the corporatizing of agriculture is making it difficult for pitmasters to afford hickory wood or find whole hogs that fit on a pit.
Walsh and Lovett also remind us of myriad ways that race weaves in and out of the barbecue story, from African American cooking techniques and recipes to the tastes of migrant farm workers who ate their barbecue in meat markets, gas stations and convenience stores because they weren’t welcome in restaurants. Walsh and Lovett also expose the ways that barbecue competitions and TV shows are undermining traditional barbecue culture. And they predict that the revival of the community barbecue tradition may well be its salvation.
Barbecue Crossroads will be released April 15 from the University of Texas Press. The book is now available for pre-order on Amazon
3rd Annual Foodways Texas Symposium
Save the date: April 4-6, 2013
Our Barbecue, Ourselves, the 3rd Annual Foodways Texas symposium will explore the past, present, and potential of smoked meat in Texas and its intimate connections to Texas cultural history and identity. As we feast on plates from around the state, we’ll consider what we can learn from barbecue as both meal and process. What can both the meat and the dishes served alongside it tell us about our history? How have traditions and techniques from diverse heritages intersected to create today’s Texas barbecue? How is the way we consume barbecue and barbecue culture being affected by changing technologies and food ideologies? Join us in Austin, April 4-6, 2013, as we eat, think, and talk our way from pasture to pit to plate.
Pitmasters and chefs for the weekend include:
Aaron Franklin,Franklin Barbecue, Austin
Bryan Caswell,Reef, Houston
Tiffany Derry, Dallas
Greg Gatlin, Gatlin’s BBQ, Houston
Hugo Ortega,Hugo’s, Houston
Jesse Griffiths,Dai Due, Austin
Justin Fourton,Pecan Lodge, Dallas
Levi Goode,Goode Company, Houston
Patrick Martin,Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, Nolensville, TN
John T Edge, Southern Foodways Alliance, Oxford, MS
Bryan Bracewell, Southside Market & Barbeque, Elgin, Texas
Daniel Delaney, Briskettown, New York
Daniel Vaughn, BBQ Snob, Dallas
Jason Mellard, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas
Jody Horton, Photographer, Austin
Joe Nick Patoski, Wimberley, Texas
Robb Walsh, Houstonia Magazine, Houston
Tim Byres, Smoke Restaurant, Dallas
Toni Tipton-Martin, The Jemima Code, Austin
Thursday, April 4th (Franklin Barbecue)
6pm Registration & welcome dinner from Franklin Barbecue
Friday, April 5th (Saengerrunde Hall)
11:30am: Barbecue Sessions
5:00pm: Barbecue Sessions
7:00pm: Dinner (Hausbar Farms)
Saturday, April 6th (University of Texas Campus)
11:30am: Barbecue Sessions
5:00pm: Barbecue Sessions
***(Full lineup and final schedule announcement coming soon)