Shayne Carter was tending the pit at Kenney Hall when I got there on the morning of the 4th of July. This was his first year helping out at the Kenney community barbecue. Beef shoulder clods, mutton, and pork butts were the meats being cooked. I had recently seen Carter tending the pits at the Annual Father’s Day Barbecue in Millheim too. Carter explained that the same set of welded metal baskets were used at six different barbecues in Austin County. The baskets replaced the seven foot long metal rods that were used in the old days.
“We started using Igloo coolers a couple of years ago,” Carter said. “We try to pull the beef shoulders off the pit a little before they are done all the way and then let them continue to cook in the cooler. Beef shoulder is different from brisket. Shoulder is really moist and juicy at 165°F.”
Carter, who is a volunteer fireman and the safety director at an industrial plant in Sugarland, is a member of the Cat Spring Agricultural Society, proprietors of the oldest German dance hall in the state. “I am one of the head pitmasters at the Annual June Feast in Cat Spring,” Carter said. “That’s the granddaddy of them all.” Carter said that a barbecue event has been held at the hall since it opened 156 years ago.
The Kenney 4th of July Barbecue has been going on for 110 years, according to Jerry Stein, the president of the Kenney Agricultural Society, the owner of Kenney Hall. The barbecue is a fund-raiser for the preservation of the dance hall. There are similar community barbecue fund-raisers at the other old German dance halls in Austin County as well as a few volunteer fire departments and churches. But the barbecue crews are so short on volunteers, they have combined forces. The crew that cooked the barbecue at Millheim includes volunteers from the Peters, Cat Springs, and Industry barbecues. Some of the same crew will rotate to all six community barbecues this year.
The old Southern barbecue tradition in the Brazos Valley has been going on for over a century. If you want to see and taste barbecue as it once was, check the “Community Barbecue Calendar” for upcoming community barbecues and information on how to volunteer.