BBQ and 1607
I have competed in many competition barbecue events over the last five years and I’ve wondered where barbecuing got its start. I was always told that barbecue was cooked low and slow with smoke. It has been argued for years where barbecue first entered our nation. I have also been told that real BBQ is spelled BARBEQUE! Whether it is folk lore or truth, I like to think my version is best. In 1607, Jamestown, Virginia was settled. It was the first english speaking colony. Pigs were not native to the area, but were imported to the colonies from England and Bermuda for food and the sport of wild boar hunting. The climate of Virginia was so conducive to pig-rearing, the animal quickly multiplied to the point of nuisance to the settlers. Eventually, pigs were rounded up and transported to an island on the James River. It became known as “Hog Island.” These wild pigs were the principal food for new settlers as well as Native Indians as they were available year round and more easily caught than wild game and fish. Since the Native Indians had been smoking meat long before the settlers arrived in Jamestown, they taught them the art of smoked meat.
Now, the way it got to North Carolina was through a man in the 1700’s who was mapping the border between the two states. It was reported that he had “roasted boar” every night. I believe the settlers were looking for a condiment or sauce to compliment the pork. Tomatoes were considered poisonous at the time. However, apples, juice from oysters (a substitute for worcester sauce) cane sugar and salt and pepper flake were readily abundant. Combined, these are the makings of Eastern North Carolina barbecue, probably developed in Virginia. I always love to tell this story to people from North Carolina. It really gets their goat. I told one guy this story in our local barber shop and he almost popped me one. North Carolina is known for three main sauces: Eastern Carolina, which is mainly apple cider vinegar; Piedmont sauce, a mixture of tomato and apple cider vinegar (some must have taken a dare and eaten the first tomato!); and Western Carolina, a sweeter, tomato-based sauce. The chief barbecue meat was pork. From there, it branches to Memphis, TN where the use of sweet molasses is used along with a meat rub, mainly on ribs and pork. It’s on to Kansas City, MO where it features a sweet tomato sauce combined with meat rub, but it’s used on chicken and brisket in addition to ribs and pork. It is then on to little ‘ole Texas where barbecue features a bigger, bolder taste featuring a sweet, hot, spicy tomato sauce used on brisket—the Texas definition of barbecue. There are oddities in the barbecue world, like the mustard-based sauce used in South Carolina and “who knows what” being used for sauce in California. And in Alabama, there is even a “mayonnaise-based” sauce used on chicken. But, no matter your taste in BBQ, it will always evoke memories of great food and fun. There are many people who are very passionate about their BBQ, so, long may it live! Happy BBQing!
John Atkins, your humble pit master, is a local ambassador of BBQ. His accomplishments include 3-time Virginia State Champion; Top Five in World Pulled Pork Competition Kansas City, MO; BBQ Lecturer and cooking instructor; Certified KCBS Judge; Member of KCBS; 2X Grand Champion Chesapeake Jubilee; Reserved Grand Champion Snow Shoe, WVA; BBQ Contest Advisor, caterer; Local TV Personality for GMC Instructor for BBQ How-To-Videos.
1607 BBQ Sauce
2 quarts apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup salt
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons red pepper flakes
1 cup dark brown sugar