‘But what we really seek is a different kind of sustenance. We seek a cultural relic that points to an old style of “Southern-ness” that is quickly vanishing from modern American life. We seek crude essences of the frontier, unswerving backwoods mentalities, rural respect for tradition, insights into rural humor, and examples of the wild braggadocio that has created many of the tall tales that are still a part of rural American life today. In short, we seek a present-day manifestation of a myth. Real or remembered, it does not matter. The Real Dixie Barbecue is a place where the traditions of fire and hog and smoke and sauce are revered and combined in the old ways; where rustic ambiences are a treasure, not an embarrassment; where a crude code of service and an unbending orthodoxy overrides modern niceties.’
—Wilber W. Caldwell, Searching for the Dixie Barbecue: Journeys into the Southern Psyche
My instincts are more decisive than they are logistical. When I am trying something new, my method is to learn just enough to know how to get started and then learn the rest through experience. As Aesop put it, ‘Better one safe way than a hundred on which you cannot reckon.’ Or, as Gen. George S. Patton put it, ‘A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied later.’ So, after a little bit of studying, I was ready to start barbequing.
My first three barbeques at home were pork shoulders, specifically the ‘butt,’ which is not the butt of the hog (that’s the ham) but rather the butt of the shoulder. The first two were seasoned with a homemade spice rub and basted with an eastern North-Carolina vinegary/peppery sauce. The third was seasoned with a homemade Memphis-style rub and sauce. We made pulled-pork sandwiches out of these.
After doing three pork shoulders in a row, I wanted to try something besides pulled-pork sandwiches. Granted, it had been out of necessity, as the shoulder is the easiest cut of pork to try barbequing yourself, and thereafter I had to cook for two different parties and did not want to try anything new at a party for the very first time.
So, to celebrate ‘The Wilmington Barbeque,’ my fourth barbeque was a Texas-style brisket, with a simple salt-and-pepper rub. Why a brisket? Because beef was what was served—or, supposed to be served, that is—at the original Wilmington Barbeque of 1766!
I learned about the Wilmington Barbeque from John Shelton Reed, who has petitioned North Carolina to pronounce the last Monday of February a holiday in honour of the event. The fact that neither I, nor evidently many Tarheel Staters, had never heard of this is an illustration of the Yankee-centric narrative of American history. Why most of us know about the ‘Sons of Liberty’ but not the ‘Regulators,’ the Suffolk Resolves but not the Mecklenburg Resolves, and the battles of Bunker Hill and Saratoga but not the battles of Moore’s Creek Bridge and Guilford Courthouse, is also why most Americans know about the Boston Tea Party but not the Wilmington Barbeque.
‘Not only was it seven years earlier than the Tea Party, its story is much more colorful,’ argues Mr. Reed. ‘While the Tea Party offers only a pitiful attempt to avoid the blame by dressing up as Mohawk Indians, the Barbecue involved a stand-off between the local militia and the British Navy, a conflict between the governor and the courts, a duel to the death, and a suicide by disembowelment.’
Florida does not have a distinctive native barbeque tradition comparable to, say, North Carolina’s Tidewater or Piedmont, so for my fifth barbeque at home I decided to get creative. Hitherto I had been using oak and hickory wood-chunks, but for my Florida barbeque I tried citrus wood-chunks. I did some research online and found a recipe for ‘orange barbeque sauce’ and a rub to go with it. I made this a sixth time for a bon-voyage party for my in-laws before their multi-month trip back to Armenia. I have thought more about it thereafter, and I think that a Floridian barbeque ought to be beef (after Florida’s cracker/cowboy history) and that the sauce ought to be a citrusy and spicy mop in the pre-Columban Caribbean style.
My sixth and seventh barbeques were pork shoulders cooked as a Cajun-style cochon de lait with a homemade remoulade from Duke’s mayonnaise and Zatarain’s mustard. I shared it with a Cajun friend of mine from Lafayette, Louisiana, and I am pleased to report that he was complimentary.
My eighth and ninth barbeques were racks of spare ribs á la the King Dude (a Jeffersonian comedian and commentator) with ‘Jack Daniel’s Original BBQ Sauce.’
My tenth and eleventh barbeques were split chickens with white sauce. My recipe was from the famous ‘Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q’ restaurant in Decatur, Alabama. My brother in-law, who went to the University of Alabama and is familiar with the barbeque all over the Cotton State, told me that the pictures that I sent looked good. Whether he was just being polite, I cannot say, but I look forward to him trying it the next time he comes for a visit.
I also made several attempts at ‘Texas Hot Guts’ (smoked sausage), but they were too dry. I am working on getting them right.
The more time I spent barbequing, the more it became apparent to me that in a time of cultural revolution, barbequing is a counter-revolutionary cultural act.
In our atomistic society, where ‘family’ has become the unnatural nuclear unit—if that!—alienated from its extended kinship network, and ‘community’ has become a codeword for ‘political lobby’ or ‘interest group,’ barbeque can help reforge real social bonds. If you are barbequing for yourself and by yourself, then no matter how low and slow you are cooking, you are doing it wrong. Barbeque, historically, is social, not solitary. Bring back, in your backyard or in your local park, that traditional social barbeque to share with your neighbours. Volunteer to barbeque for events that your church is holding. Make politics local again with old-fashioned political barbeques for republicans and democrats—small-r and small-d, not ‘party men’—standing for local office. Family and community, not isolated and lonely individuals, are the soil wherein tradition takes root and grows.
Barbeque, with its particularist traditionalism and/or traditionalist particularism, reinforces that Southern pride of ‘people and place’ that has, historically, kept us from melting completely into the pot of American mass-society and mono-culture. Embrace your local barbeque tradition over the cafeteria-style pick-your-meat/pick-your-sauce faux-que at national chain restaurants. Explore your local barbeque places (you can find the authentic ones on a map at Mr. Reed’s website ‘TrueCue.org’). There, you will not only be treating yourself to delicious food, but also will be getting onto some backroads and maybe even into the backwoods, thereby learning more about where you live.
Barbeque is cooked ‘low and slow,’ meaning at a low temperature and over a long period of time. Coincidentally, the conservation of our heritage amidst anti-Southern American nationalism from both the Red and Blue parties must also be ‘low and slow,’ meaning a long-term movement withdrawn from the high temperature and tempo of politics. Voting out the Blue Party and voting in the Red Party will change nothing, and may arguably be worse if it perpetuates the delusion of populist victory whilst our enemies remain in controul of the elite institutions whence they continue to exercise political power. Thus, even if the Red Party had the will to end the systemic American hatred of Southern heritage, it does not have a way, but that question is moot because the Red Party does not even have the will.
Nay, it is vain to expect political change from a dysfunctional system that despises and effectively disenfranchises us. If it is true that ‘politics are downstream from culture,’ however, then it is not vain for us to change the culture. That may, like barbeque, take awhile, but also like barbeque, the wait will be more than worthwhile. Unlike barbeque, we may not taste the fruits of our efforts, but like barbeque, we are not just doing it for ourselves but for others—for the memory of those who came before us and for the destiny of those who will come after us.
We can learn from the experience of the Cajuns, fellow Southerners whose unique culture very nearly died out in the twentieth century. Throughout ‘Cajun Country’ in southwestern Louisiana there is a private and public campaign to revitalise their native culture, lest the next generation grow up without it.
The author of Cajun Pig, Dixie Lee Poche, recounts the achievements of Mermentau Cove, to take just one of many potential examples. The non-profit ‘Cadien Toujours’ (French for ‘Always Cajun’) organises cultural events, such as a ‘Courir Mardi Gras’ (a ‘run’ wherein masked and hooded men on horseback ride down the backroads entertaining their neighbours in exchange for ingredients for a communal gumbo) and a boucherie (a communal pig barbeque but with some unique Cajun side dishes). Chance Henry is ‘Le Capitaine’ of the Courir Mardi Gras, and the Henry family farm (‘Beau Chenes,’ or French for ‘Beautiful Oaks’) is the site of the boucherie, where in addition to multiple cooking stations there is a band stand and a dance floor for a jam session. Cadien Toujours also donates French-language books to local schools, hosts French-language socials, and teaches Cajun dance lessons.
Each one of us ought to aspire to contribute as much to the culture of our community as Mr. Henry and his family have contributed to Mermentau Cove.
Politics have followed where people like the Henrys have helped lead the culture. The State of Louisiana itself is helping undo the damage that it did to Cajun culture when she—in order to turn ‘hyphenated Americans’ into ‘one-hundred percent Americans’—banned the French language in public schools and even public places. In 1968, the government established a ‘Council for the Development of French in Louisiana.’ Article XII, Section 4 of the new constitution which Louisiana adopted in 1974 declares, ‘The right of the people to preserve, foster, and promote their respective historic linguistic and cultural origins is recognized.’ Louisiana now joins other Francophone nations in celebrating March as ‘Le Mois de la Francophonie,’ or ‘French-Speakers’ Month.’ Lobbies, lotteries, liquor brands, and more sponsor major events like the ‘Festivals Acadiens et Creoles’ and ‘Festival International de Louisiane.’
Last, but not least, you must simply ‘barbeque for barbeque’s sake.’ This ought to be self-explanatory. Barbeque is about good times with good people over good food. If you cannot enjoy any of that then what you need is not barbeque, but medication.
The Southern Agrarians’ ‘Statement of Principles,’ written by John Crowe Ransom, rebuked Industrialism for the economic problems of overproduction, overconsumption, unemployment, and inequality, as well as for stifling religion, the arts, and ‘the amenities of life.’ The latter, wrote Mr. Ransom, ‘consist in such practices as manners, conversation, hospitality, sympathy, family life, romantic love—in the social exchanges which reveal and develop sensibility in human affairs.’ According to Mr. Ransom, ‘If religion and the arts are founded on right relations of man-to-nature, these are founded on right relations of man-to-man.’
Mr. Ransom also rebuked the ‘Humanists’ of the time who believed that these dehumanising effects of Industrialism could be treated through endowments for the humanities. ‘They would,’ he wrote, ‘cure the poverty of the contemporary spirit by hiring experts to instruct it in spite of itself in the historic culture.’ No, responded Mr. Ransom, the ‘native humanism’ of the ‘agrarian life’ was not ‘an abstract moral “check” derived from the classics,’ nor was it ‘soft material poured in from the top,’ but rather ‘deeply founded in the way of life itself—in its tables, chairs, portraits, festivals, laws, marriage customs.’
What this means, for one, is that a people is as much defined by its little, simple ‘amenities of life’ as its ‘religion’ or ‘art.’ What defines us, in Mr. Ransom’s words, is ‘the whole way in which we live, act think, and feel.’ For another, it means that we will not conserve our heritage just by learning about its past, but by living it in the present. Note Mr. Ransom’s present tense: ‘live,’ ‘act,’ ‘think,’ ‘feel.’
When we live, act, think, and feel our heritage—even just an apolitical amenity of life—we make ourselves more of ‘living monuments,’ and thus resist that which the destruction of our unliving monuments merely symbolises, that which the Lincolnians and the 1619ites have destroyed in effigy but can only destroy in essence if we allow them.
No, barbequing is not going to rebuild our monuments, but that was never the idea anyway. The idea is for us to replace those ‘marble men’ with ‘flesh and blood,’ remember? ‘We must become living monuments…’
Besides, just imagine the barbeques that we will have when we build new monuments to no-longer-lost causes.
Speaking of rebuilding, in the course of teaching myself about barbeque and writing these essays I received happy news: My favourite barbeque place, ‘Kojak’s,’ was reopening in a new location! You know that I was there on opening day, where I was warmly welcomed like no time had passed. It is even farther away than it was before, but I promised myself that I would go there whenever I was in the vicinity, and I am oftentimes finding myself taking detours thither. The food is as tasty and the family as friendly as ever, even if the new location—what looks like a fast-food restaurant from the Nineties—lacks the Southern ambience of the original. No matter. What matters is that the sacred fire of tradition is kept burning—or perhaps I should say that the charcoals are kept aglow, burning low and slow.
 Considering what an inferior public-education system we have and how ignorant most Americans are of their history, perhaps it is more accurate to say that more, not most Americans know about the Boston Tea Party than the Wilmington Barbeque.
 ‘In the latter part of the month of February, there being a general muster in the town of Wilmington, the governor, with a view to please the militia, caused an ox to be barbecued and had a few barrels of beer unheaded; but the people, displeased with his endeavors to counteract their opposition to the Stamp Act, threw the roasted ox into the river and spilled the beer on the ground. This behavior excited the resentment of the officers and men of the sloop of war, and a general fight ensued, the riot was continued for several days and one of the officers was killed in a duel. The governor caused the offender to be apprehended and gave orders for his prosecution. He was acquitted by the jury. Chagrined at this disappointment, the governor charged chief justice Berry, who had presided at the trial, with having favoured the defendant; and, although the chief justice stooped so far as to send him his notes of the testimony, the governor persisted in declaring that the trial had not been fairly conducted. The chief justice soon after went to Edenton, where he received a summons to attend on a council board. He had been so much affected by the governor’s reproof, that he took it for granted, that the council was called for the purpose of suspending him. He called on a gentleman of the bar, and imparting his fear, begged him to accompany to the council, but other avocations prohibiting a compliance, he set off alone. On his arrival in town, he waited on the governor, as was customary for the members of the council to do, and was received with coldness. Confirmed by this reception, in the idea he had formed, he refused to yield to the opinions his colleagues gave him that the council was called on the ordinary business of the province, and returning to his lodgings, fired a pistol in his own mouth; the fire not proving mortal, he took out his pen-knife and, ripping open his belly, drew out part of his entrails and soon after expired.’—Francois Xavier Martin, A History of North Carolina (1829)
 The sole Red-Party leader who has publicly objected to the woke terror against Southern symbols was the New-York Yankee Donald Trump, who is now persona non grata amongst the party elite despite being its single most popular figure. One of the candidates that the Red Party is amassing against Mr. Trump’s presidential rerun, the former governor of South Carolina and now war-harpy ‘Nikki Haley,’ ordered the removal of the Confederate flag from the war memorial outside the statehouse in 2015. Gov. Haley’s surrender was the first battle in an ongoing war against Southern symbols, which has not only rapidly accelerated—from flags on monuments to the monuments themselves—but also expanded to all American symbols, an alarm we tried to raise at the time to no avail. Two other presidential candidates, Ron DeSantis and Asa Hutchinson, the respective governors of Florida and Arkansas, signed bills from their states’ Red-majority legislatures in 2019 to remove Confederate leaders from the National Statuary Hall and replace them with black female civil-rights leaders, then boasted that they were the first States to do so. (Nevertheless, in Gov. DeSantis’ landslide re-election he blew out his opponent in every category, from the key ‘independents’ and ‘moderates’ to Blue-leaning demographics like women and Hispanics, but when it came to the black vote, there alone did he do worse than before.) Tim Scott, a Senator from South Carolina, voted to override Pres. Trump’s veto of the NDAA, complete with Blue-Party Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts’ amendment to remove Confederate war memorials from national parks. These are the candidates from the South, mind you, though I would bet that half of them do not even identify as ‘Southerners,’ but as ‘Americans,’ if not ‘hyphenated Americans.’
 Lest you decide to skip this Southern classic on the assumption that the question of ‘Agrarianism’ versus ‘Industrialism’ is outdated, I would propose that the controversy over ‘AI’ proves that this question is as timely as ever, and that only the names have changed.