I have been reading Robb Walsh’s excellent book Barbecue Crossroad: Notes & Recipes from A Southern Odyssey, and thinking about the historical context as well as philosophy of Barbecue in the American South. The Food & Think Blog over at Smithsonian.com has a recent post on the Evolution of American Barbecue which is a excellent read.
The particularly American form of cooking we call the barbecue has a long history -in fact, it was well established long before Europeans arrived. Since the early explorers passed the technique around to colonists, different styles sprang up, now loosely categorized as Carolina, Texas, Memphis, and Kansas City. The differences can be traced to what was available and what flavors one’s ancestors liked. For example, Southerners often insist that real barbecue is made of pork. It’s tradition.
Unlike cows, which required large amounts of feed and enclosed spaces, pigs could be set loose in forests to eat when food supplies were running low. The pigs, left to fend for themselves in the wild, were much leaner upon slaughter, leading Southerns to use the slow-and-low nature of barbecue to tenderize the meat. And use it they did. During the pre-Civil War years, Southerners ate an average of five pounds of pork for every one pound of cattle. Their dependence on this cheap food supply eventually became a point of patriotism, and Southerners took greater care raising their pigs, refusing to export their meat to the northern states. By this time, however, the relationship between the barbecue and pork had been deeply forged.