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UPDATE: Barbecue in Black and White

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.

4 comments to UPDATE: Barbecue in Black and White

  • Brilliant. Necessary, and brilliant.

  • TexMile

    Did the original source of the picture label it 1985?

  • First of all, wasn’t brisket considered a “poorer” cut of meat during the time Mr. Smith is describing?

    Second, can you recommend a place in or near Austin that currently serves the traditional African American-style barbecue made with poorer cuts and sauced? I’m in town for a couple of days and would really like to try it. Going to Sam’s today but understand they have a standard BBQ menu.

  • robbwalsh

    Burnt-

    There is no such thing as a “poorer cut of meat” in the modern nose-to-tail approach to meat cutting. The assumption is that Smith was actually referring to meat that had begun to go bad.

    If you were looking for an unusual cut of meat at an African-American joint in Austin, I would recommend the mutton at Sam’s. In Houston, I’d point you to the juicy beef links.

    An apology for my slow replies: Evidently the letters “BBQ” make your blog a SPAM magnet. I have to go through hundreds of SPAM comments every time I update.

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