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Dallas Morning News Review: Barbecue Crossroads

Thanks to Eve Hill-Agnus and the Dallas Morning News for the wonderful review of Barbecue Crossroads:
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By EVE HILL-AGNUS

Special Contributor

food@dallasnews.com

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.

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