Let’s stop saying Virginia is the home of America’s BBQ, the home is enslaved Africans
For the past few years, I have been thinking that Virginia was the home of America’s BBQ when I start looking across southern states even though I could be bias to represent South Carolina BBQ proudly. In 2019, I have considerable doubts to Virginia as the home of America’s BBQ or South Carolina too. The home to me is the people, enslaved Africans that leverage some insight from indigenous people and perfected barbecue in the South. For a specific time period well into the 20th century, bbq in the south looked merely identical from the East Coast to East Texas. However, BBQ and how it looked as Slavery spreaded west is similar. I say we need to challenge Virginians to produce to receipts from planter journals, newspaper clippings, etc that verify the claim the state as the origin and I will claim the enslaved African as responsible. Yes, I have read the works of Joseph Haynes on Virginia Barbecue and I agree with a lot of his research in regards to the people doing the work and the technique, but not the claim as to state origins. In the case of the latter, the people can cook it anywhere, location is not as critical, so I present some things to think about.
I believe if pitcooked barbecued originated in Virginia, there should be at least one old school whole hog bbq joint in the state that survived. In addition, I would expect that some small black farming family would have a whole hog bbq joint in a rural area because these bbq joints were a means to survive economically. Just so we are clear, bbq in this blog, is the cooking of whole pigs(shoats, hogs), cows(ox,steer), lamb, sheep(mutton), turkey, chicken, possum, and raccoon. People were cooking whole animals because if they killed the animal raised on the farm, they were going to used everything that was edible, especially the enslaved whom were fed meager rations. The dominant animal being cooked in the early earth dug pits were hogs and for that reason bbq in states like NC and SC today is the cooking of whole hog, particularly in the Eastern half of both states where tobacco was grown. Contrary to Virginia, you do not have a few whole hog bbq joints owned by black people in rural areas and white owned bbq joints in the rural areas that are over 50 years old touted in the media. Virginians if you do, please send them my way and if they are not still cooking whole animals in direct heat pits then they are not being true to their beginnings. In a lot of the white bbq institutions, for a long time, generally they had a black cook that we know today as a pitmaster thanks to media, who been crafted bbq into what is long before Aaron Franklin and the media made him the definition of BBQ as craft. The descendants of enslave Africans in the state of NC and South, left evidence of cooking pit cooked bbq, from the technique, the sauce, the mop, and the bbq sides.
What I am not saying is that white people are not allowed to cook bbq, but rather let’s give the proper credit for where it is due, not to the state. It is time to give credit back to the descendants of the people whom ancestors whom created bbq in the American South. Finally as white chefs and pitmasters go to cooking in the ground, you can’t honestly say you and your family was cooking bbq in trenches when one could be whipped and punished with the same vinegar pepper base bbq sauce you tout when you do demonstrations. I can talk about it honesty, because my ancestor have paid the dues and the least you can do when you cook in the ground, give the unnamed black pitmasters credit to their contributions by at the minimum having a picture collage of black pitmasters cooking whole hog from the past to educate the American Public. You probably will not do this but giving credit to contribution of bbq is no different than people whom celebrate Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell, even to this day.
If Virginia is given credit as the home of America’s BBQ, I am only going to accept it, if media states that Black people created BBQ in America. Otherwise, I would say that the Carolinas is the home of America’s BBQ and in those states there are many receipts from black people that they created this American Tradition from restaurants which are quickly disappearing to cooking at home. I will gladly visit Virginia to see some of these old school bbq joints and if they are serving slice bbq, then that is okay. You get the texture to slice by not cooking the meat long enough to pull, and when you examine that fact, the meat may not be as tender per to black folk cooking standards of meat, not to the point of mush. However, when you ask white folk cooking standards for meat, they like a little rareness or bite to the meat. So carving to me personally means the meat have not cooked as long to get to the internal temperature for the proteins to separate. However, if you want to say that sliced meat makes Virginia BBQ and cooked over hickory, that alone is not enough. In both the Carolinas, we cook over oak and hickory as they are the hardwoods that are most prevalent, and some people will mix in pecan. A enslaved person had to cook the meat to the standard in which plantation( forced labor camp) owner desired. However, I can promise when they enslaved cooked the hog to this day, it pulls. That palate memory still exists today in the general preference of meat texture and how it is enjoyed by both black and white people.