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The origins of the word “barbecue” are a bit of a mystery. Most attribute the word to indigenous Caribbean natives, who called their meat smoking “barabicu,” which was translated into Spanish as “barabacoa.” Some French speakers prefered to link it to the phrase “ de la barbe a la queue,” meaning “from the beard to the tail,” as when the entire hog is smoked on a spit. Regardless of when the word entered the vocabulary, smoking meat is probably the most ancient technique for preserving the kill. Probably best not to ask exactly what that was.
Puttin' on the 'Cue!
Want to demonstrate your good taste and make some new friends? Some prominent politicians have. George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and Lyndon Johnson knew the thing to do was make some 'cue. That's why most candidates are sure to host or at least show up at BBQ events. It's “the People's Food.” But most people think a barbecue cookout is a better reason to get out of office, not into office!
No BBQ! Taking the Pledge.
BBQ events are usually friendly gatherings, bringing all kinds of people together. But in 1829 Alabama, concerned citizens in Madison County, having their fill of frontier “party animals” (and we don't mean pigs, cattle and chickens), tried to get things to simmer down. The trouble was that whiskey flowed freer than BBQ sauce at political campaigning events, and there was more emphasis on debauchery than democracy. Candidates were asked to take a “no barbecue event” pledge. Only Josef Leftwich, (probably no indication of his political leanings), aspiring to be County Tax Commisioner, signed on. And yes, he lost.
Be a Leader. Eat BBQ.
In 1876, Democrat John Tyler Morgan outran his Republican opponent, Napoleon Mardis, in a U.S. Senate race. Debating at nearby Shelby Springs, Alabama, Morgan quit his speech prematurely when the dinner gong was about to sound, and sprinted for the barbecue line ahead of Mardis and most of the crowd. It must've won him some respect. He won that election and 5 more! Where might BBQ take you?!
A Butt by any other name...
Alabamians mean no disrespect to Massachusettsans in general or Bostonians in particular, (or even pigs for that matter), but we sometimes still call the cut of meat from a pork shoulder a "Boston Butt." It seems that in Revolutionary War days, Bostonians cut this part of the pig a certain way and packed it for transport into wooden barrels known as "butts." Confusing yes, and it just goes to show things can get "lost in translation" even in English. Another example? In the United Kingdom they call this delicacy a "Pork Hand!" So who could blame other nations for what they must think of us, if they read that Americans are using less tobacco but smoking a record number of pork butts.
Who's Who & 'Cue
Alabamians are famous for their barbecue, and famous people have always enjoyed coming to Alabama to eat it. Entertainers like Elvis, Bob Hope, Nicholas Cage and Reba McEntire; athletes like Joe Namath, Bo Jackson and native Alabamian Charles Barkley; foodophiles like Andrew Zimmern and Alton Brown. Even Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan thought it was out of this world. So fire up the smokers, Alabama—you never know who'll drop by!
Poetry in Good Taste
Barbecue is soul food, so it's not surprising that it would inspire those most gifted in literary expression: our poets. One of these was Alabamian Jake Adam York. “I know that good poetry shares a spirit with barbecue,” he said at the 2012 Southern Foodways Symposium. Go on an exploratory journey of the barbecue/soul connection, expressed in readings by York, on iTunes and SoundCloud.
BBQ in a Book!
When you're not making barbecue, it's still fun to read about it. And BBQ Literature isn't just of the Cookbook genre. If you like mysteries, try Finger Lickin' Dead, Hickory Smoked Homicide, and Delicious & Suspious, all by Riley Adams. Novels more to your liking? Gotta start with Birmingham-born Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe. Young readers will enjoy Jack and the Giant Barbecue, by Eric Kimmel and John Manders.
Why waste perfectly good smoke? When there's room still left on the smoker rack, consider doing what up-and-coming barbecue chefs do and experiment. Smoke some Mac n' Cheese, Red Cabbage, Lamb Neck, Sausage-stuffed Quail, or try a new cut like Beef Cheeks.