Black pitmasters left out of US barbecue boom
August 24, 2015 3:18 PM   Subscribe

 
Thanks for posting this. Thankfully, there has been writing recently pointing out that barbecue would have never happened without Native Americans and enslaved Africans. I really love Michael Twitty's essay on the heavy debt that American foodways owe to them.
posted by batbat at 3:32 PM on August 24, 2015 [12 favorites]


Comparable to the long-held tradition that women do the cooking but men are the Chefs?
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:15 PM on August 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


So far I've been to seven of the 23 establishments on the North Carolina BBQ Trail. Of those seven only one is (or appears to be) run by African-Americans. And it's the one I think of most, when I think of BBQ: Jack Cobb's in Farmville. Truly great.
posted by ardgedee at 4:31 PM on August 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


"I'm not saying it is a racist act. By way of its omission it is racist."

This.
posted by bird internet at 4:33 PM on August 24, 2015 [16 favorites]


Part of the erasure of African American pitmasters from popular culture may have to do with rising barriers to entry. Competition barbecue events - often the ticket to fame in this culinary world - have expensive entry fees, and leaving the restaurant may not be an option for chefs of lesser means. Mitchell also points to the pricey modern barbecuing equipment, like smokers that go for tens of thousands of dollars, that are ever more popular and in some cases necessary in order to comply with modern fire codes....

and

"What we find then as integration becomes reality, many of these black restaurants who were successful are telling their kids to go into other fields, to get an education and out of the hot, dirty work of the kitchen," he says.

I think while these things are absolutely true, one thing the article side-steps is that the areas where there's a barbecue culture also strongly tend to be areas that were segregated -- officially well into the 60s, and unofficially for a lot longer than that.

When you think of the long-standing restaurants -- in Texas, I can think of Kreuz's, Mueller's, Smith's, and Sonny Bryan's off the top of my head -- they're all white-owned and have been around for decades. In the 50s and 60s, and even later in much of the south, a lot of white people would just have flat-out refused to patronize black-owned restaurants. Not all white people, of course, but enough that a black-owned barbecue restaurant would have had to cater to a largely black clientele. With that much smaller market, black-owned barbecue joints had to work all that much harder to secure any kind of longevity. As with everything else in a segregated society, the cards were stacked fully against them.

Jim Crow's ghosts are alive and well in the South. It probably isn't even fair to call them "ghosts."
posted by mudpuppie at 4:34 PM on August 24, 2015 [18 favorites]


News update on Ed Mitchell, mentioned in the BBC article.
posted by ardgedee at 4:37 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]




Bwithh beat me to the Hot Chicken link. Like most of white Nashville, I'm relatively new to Hot Chicken, but I can already see signs of the older, African American-owned joints being pushed out of the center of the conversation. In that Bitter Southerner article Miss Andre from Prince's mentions that she had planned on moving to a new, more central location, but the new minor league ballpark went into that spot, which is in the same area as the old 'Hell's Half Acre" that the city evicted African Americans from 60 years ago, and also the former site of a negro leagues ball field. The new field sells hot chicken from a place owned by white hipsters.
posted by ghharr at 4:57 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I suppose Stubb's in Austin could be seen a kind of homage to the black BBQ heritage...
posted by jim in austin at 5:00 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you ever find yourself near Hemingway, SC for some reason, Rodney Scott's BBQ (mentioned in the BBC article) is great. Cash only.
posted by ghharr at 5:04 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you're ever in St. Louis (a city where segregation obviously hits black restaurateurs hard, as mudpuppie talks about), here are some places you have to check out:
C&K Barbecue (featured in the article)
Roper's Ribs
Sweetie Pie's
Sweet Art (bonus: you get to look at the incredible art of Cbabi)
posted by thetortoise at 5:05 PM on August 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


When you think of the long-standing restaurants -- in Texas, I can think of Kreuz's, Mueller's, Smith's, and Sonny Bryan's off the top of my head -- they're all white-owned and have been around for decades. In the 50s and 60s, and even later in much of the south, a lot of white people would just have flat-out refused to patronize black-owned restaurants.

I've been thinking about this a lot because my dad had two favorite places when I was little, a place out way on the southwest side of town (Houston) where it wasn't quite suburban and wasn't quite rural, which burned down when I was in single digits age-wise, and the Kozy Kitchen on Lockwood. I remember because Daddy took me to get barbecue one time and it was a special treat--I didn't usually get to go and certainly not to Lockwood, which was probably not considered a great place to take little white girls in the 1970s. (FWIW my dad passed as "white" most of the time but had visible Native American heritage--visible enough that his Lenn Redman caricature from the 50s has him saying "how!". I don't really think much about his racial heritage but it does make me wonder about his comfort in black neighborhoods.)

Related: Return to Houston's Barbecue Ward: Smoked-meat traditions trace roots to freed slaves who settled in the Bayou City
posted by immlass at 5:08 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


See also: Antique Taco and Big Star in Chicago and Empellon in NY, for similar examples of white folks repackaging Mexican food for moneyed white audiences.

I would include Rick Bayless in this as well, although to his credit he has done a slightly better job of being responsive to the Latin@ community. Nonetheless I am not a fan.
posted by rossination at 5:48 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wisconsin Public Radio's/Public Radio International's TO THE BEST OF OUR KNOWLEDGE recently did a whole episode on barbecue which featured John T. Edge on barbecue's troubled racial history and Andrew Warnes on the
undercurrents of racism in the history of barbecue.

http://www.ttbook.org/book/barbecue

http://www.ttbook.org/book/barbecues-crazy-beautiful-tragic-resonance
posted by DougieGee at 6:03 PM on August 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


People were already complaining twenty years ago that the annual barbecue contest in Memphis had basically been taken over by cliques of white people. Guess the rest of the country caught up.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:04 PM on August 24, 2015


If you're ever in Little Rock, go to Sims (some of the signs style it Sim's). If you're visiting well-meaning relatives, they might observe that the Sims locations are not in the... best neighborhoods, and suggest Whole Hog instead. Don't listen--WH is very good (try the Volcano Sauce), but Sims is on another level.
posted by box at 7:21 PM on August 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


In Yakima, Miz Dee's, Black owned. Often closed because she does a LOT of catering, and cash only. The brisket is to DIE for!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:45 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


In Kirkland, WA, HP's Smokehouse BBQ. They're a food truck, frequently in Juanita Beach Park.
posted by fnerg at 11:16 PM on August 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


"What we find then as integration becomes reality, many of these black restaurants who were successful are telling their kids to go into other fields, to get an education and out of the hot, dirty work of the kitchen," he says.

There's that too in which case whites aren't so much "taking over" as trading places.

A nod of the cap to the late Gene Porter who owned Dixie's BBQ in Seattle. He used to walk around the tables with a sauce pan containing the hottest BBQ sauce you ever tasted asking "Have you met the man?" You did not want to meet "the man" and I never saw a guy who got so much joy out of seeing the horrified reaction of customers. He recognized a newbie right away and so you just had to follow him with your eyes to take part. Not just good food, but good fun too.
posted by three blind mice at 12:55 AM on August 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


In my hometown, two wonderful black-owned eateries (one barbecue, one southern cooking) have closed in recent years.

But we've got more than one barbecue franchise now.

It's sad.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:33 AM on August 25, 2015


This might be an obvious remark, but why would one go to a UK venue for insight or knowledge about American culture?

While commentary about racist jerkwads and endemic prejudice in the South are accurate, this article really misses the mark. Just because the "famous" places that are tourist spots and feature on the Food Network and in magazines are mostly all white owned does not reflect the lived reality in many places in the US South.

Where I come from we have a deep tradition of roadside stands that sell anything from boiled peanuts to produce from family truck patches to locally caught fish and also bbq. Brick and mortar is expensive to launch and maintain, but you can do pretty well just putting up a shingle and selling what you got (also no redtape or permits needed because the cops eat there, too).

In my experience, Southerners love food above all else aside from Jesus and if you cook well no one cares what you look like. Look towards institutions such as banks for painting minorities as "high risk" rather than patrons.
posted by syncope at 3:46 AM on August 25, 2015


This might be an obvious remark, but why would one go to a UK venue for insight or knowledge about American culture?

It looks like the author is from and working in the US, so I would guess she sold this to the BBC's online magazine section which is internationally facing.
posted by biffa at 4:57 AM on August 25, 2015


I thought it was really well-researched. I don't have much experience of the South, so I can't speak to that part, but I lived in St. Louis for 30-odd years and that's the city I know in the article. The effect of racism on black-owned businesses in St. Louis can't be overstated. Some of this has to do with capital and access to loans and more ideal properties; some of it has to with the effect segregation (for a long time a legal force; now mainly an economic and cultural force) has on the city, black neighborhoods' ability to access services and the willingness of white patrons to go to those neighborhoods. (I am white and had only ever been to north St. Louis to visit family and family graves until probably my late twenties. My family is not especially racist and is fairly representative of white St. Louis.) And this is all beyond the issue of who media outlets cover and who wins contests, which is another piece of it. syncope, I don't think the article is discounting the culture of food you describe at all, but acknowledging that it is underappreciated and its history too often elided.
posted by thetortoise at 5:20 AM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


My long-time favorite BBQ place here (Athens GA, any deeper south than GA and you're in Florida with too many retired Yankees) was a converted drive-in burger joint (it has sheltered parking so clearly it once also had carhops bringing you your order on trays that clipped onto your car's open window). It was called Walter and Ralph's for many years. Then Ralph passed away and it became Walter's for many more years, with Walter the only Master Barbequeuer (he wore a name tag that said so.) Both Walter and Ralph were dark-complexioned black guys. They were the owners of both the business and the real estate. (I heard Walter indulging in a rant about the level of his property taxes once.)

Now Walter too has passed on to the Great Barbequeue Over Jordan and the building houses a veggie restaurant--actually not just vegetarian but vegan. The location is out on the Atlanta highway and what used to be parked there in the BBQ days was pickup trucks and later models of cars that would have looked right at home in Thunder Road, and it's hard to imagine that clientele seeking out vegan lunches.

Most if not all of the ones who would want vegan lunches tend to hang out all the way downtown (right near UGa) wearing black, and I don't mean Johnny Cash black. I do hope the new occupants of the former Walter and Ralph's make it. Earlier in the year, before the Killer Hot season started, I walked or biked down there often because the food was good and I liked giving them the custom. I've been lazy about that lately because I just can't face much self-powered transportation in the brain melting heat (I have no air conditioned car, or indeed any kind of car.) I'll certainly pick the habit up again when the weather becomes a bit more merciful in the fall. Vegan restaurant gals, I am thinking about you and hoping for the success of your business--for whatever good that does you. Also, hail and farewell Walter, hail and farewell Ralph. Geniuses, both a ya.
posted by jfuller at 6:18 AM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


JFuller -- with a punchline and a geographic fix (substitute rain for humidity) that'd be a skit for Portlandia.
posted by MattD at 6:29 AM on August 25, 2015


Just a shout out for Eli's BBQ in Dunedin, FL. Black owned and run, now, after Eli's passing, in its second generation. Rest easy Eli, we miss you.
posted by dis_integration at 7:00 AM on August 25, 2015


Gates and Arthur Bryant's are still going strong, so there's still a little light in the world.
posted by rewil at 10:39 AM on August 25, 2015


« Older Like...   |   Bork bork bork! Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments