Back to the Future Part 1: BBQ Memories
By Jeff Finger
This is the 1st of 3 articles concerning one Georgia boy’s take on the history, current state, and future of the BBQ tradition.
In the early 1990’s, as I began a career in Washington, D.C., I stumbled upon a place which made me appreciate something I had taken for granted my whole life.
“Where did you find a place in DC promoting freedom,” you may smartly ask? While that is a very good and difficult to answer question, freedom wasn’t the something I took for granted, especially after having served in the military for the latter half of the 80’s.
Nope, although I was ironically in a city renowned for “pork” delivery, the “something” I found myself longing for was BBQ.
| Photo submitted by Jeff Finger
The Geter BBQ, Jeff Finger’s ancestors.
Thankfully, this budding political operative found one of the very few instances where a Congressman, a political consultant, a Capitol Hill staffer and, according to “The Official History of Red, Hot & Blue,” a “transplanted Yankee” actually did something productive.
They too had ended up inside the beltway unable to find authentic southern barbeque, but they didn’t – like the political class often does in today’s time – just go on TV, You Tube, Facebook, etc., and tweet about it to the talking heads.
Instead, they “decided the only way to get it done” was to solve the problem on their own. This novel concept led to the original Red Hot & Blue, a Memphis style BBQ joint named for “DJ Dewey Phillip’s radio show that introduced the world to Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash.”
Nestled down the street from my apartment in Arlington, VA, just a few short miles from the US Capitol, it was a blessing. Walking through its doors, I encountered smells of hickory, sounds of Rock-a-Billy and the blues, visions of southern memorabilia, and then, the taste of smoked – not baked – pulled pork.
The experience felt as if I were back home, around genuine people, enjoying good food and fellowship. It was a cultural sensation I had missed since I loaded up the car and headed north.
|Photo submitted by Jeff Finger
Appreciating Freedom, Osan AFB, South Korea
Growing up in rural Oconee County, Georgia, all my life I had relished sitting outside at Union Christian Church’s long cement tables while partaking in their annual BBQ. I had also on many a day enjoyed playing in the creek at Harris Shoals Park while some local politician pulled pork from the cinder block pits. Fact is, in almost every single public park, a cinder block pit was available for community use.
Church functions, school functions, political functions, civic and community group functions, as well as family reunions, they all involved BBQ off the pit.
My own family, from as early as the 1930’s, even had a history of conducting “The BBQ,” a reunion where local community members and office holders were invited (see “God, Family, Country: The Values of BBQ”, National Barbecue News, July 2011).
Now don’t be mistaken, this wasn’t rich folk entertaining.
As the astute readers of the National Barbecue News know, pigs were an inexpensive food source. Families raised their own, and the general toughness of the meat required an arduous, labor-intensive cooking process to make it edible.
Well, turns out, while the meat did end up more than just edible, it was downright delicious, the aura of BBQ became much more than any mixture of shoulder, ham and rib meat.
Folks were trying to make the best of a hard life and took the time spent shoveling coals for hours to share in fellowship.
Who would have thought that spending hours on end attempting to make the only meat you could afford – tough – good to eat would become as much of “The BBQ” as the plate of food itself.
|Photo submitted by Jeff Finger
As seen on the wall of Wiley’s Championship BBQ in Savannah, GA.
As John R. Watkins stated in London’s Strand Magazine, October 1898, “No one who has had the good fortune to attend a barbecue will ever forget it. The smell of it all, the meat slowly roasting to a delicious brown over smoking fires, the hungry and happy crowds ... So famous is it (in Georgia), in fact, that it has become a social and political force. ... It is no exaggeration to say that many of gubernatorial election in Georgia has been carried by means of votes gained at BBQs.”
As such, within each community, the pitmasters who worked the tough meat into such a wonderous delight often gained a local reputation (and perceived political power) of epic proportions.
I wrote in Picture the Perfect Q (National BBQ News, July 2008), “Local BBQ is local tradition ... Each individual area that you visit has the absolute best ... If you don’t believe me, just ask the folks who live there.”
The competition circuit evolved from this “social and political force” – who really is the best? Next month, we’ll tell you.