Death By BBQ – by James Boo – January, 2007
In a way, the United States have a near infinite number of claims to national pride. But in another, more accurate way, they have only one such claim: the carcass of a pig roasting for hours on end in the wake of searing, savory cuts of wood. I wasn’t properly introduced to the craft of American barbecue until late in the college game, but knew that through the smog of culinary assimilation, adaptation and mass production I had caught a long draw of authenticity from the roots of my fatherland.
Barbecue is practiced all over the world, with a number of variations in approach. For some, barbecue is defined by context: summer, the outdoors, fresh air, friends and family. For others, barbecue lives in a world of flavor, manufactured and applied to taste. For my purposes, the primary distinction of barbecue method lies in the use of wood. There’s something to be said about the miracle of perfectly marinated and grilled meat (several countries in East Asia readily come to mind), but in the American South, true believers accept no substitute for wood-fired, pit smoked, long haul Q. And this story isn’t about the grill, it’s about the slice of America that Chili’s left for dead.
Death By BBQ is the journey of a suburban pop-culturalite into the deep and smoky reservoirs of Southern tradition. Driving alone from Washington DC to Austin TX, I went stomach to stomach with fifteen barbecue establishments carefully chosen from hundreds of potential candidates. Logistical issues and limited stomach capacity prevented me from reaching more than ten others and ruled out Kansas City and most of South Carolina completely, but with the powers of flavor and funk propelling me to hog heaven, I managed to make good on this dream in seventeen different cities over fourteen days. The experiences of Death By BBQ (the extra B is for BYOBB) became my inspiration for The Eaten Path. In time, I hope to return to the South to round out my knowledge (and figure) and write a book on the topic literally closest to my heart.
When I wasn’t consumed with the mission of consumption, I was making new friends on the road through CouchSurfing, a network of travelers and locals that enabled me to find great people to stay with every step of the way. Spending time with my hosts meant anything from late night beers to playing elimination hold ’em with four young Baptist couples to pushing a dying jeep off the road at midnight in Austin. The hospitality that grounds CouchSurfing members defined DBBBBQ just as much as the meals that sent my taste buds soaring, and when I get my very own patch of apartment complex, I plan on hosting fellow couch surfers to pass on whatever delicious wisdom I’ll be savoring at the time. Until then, the subsequent documentation of my trip will have to suffice as tribute.