Starting in Lenoir County, NC and making stops elsewhere in North Carolina as well as Tennessee, Florida, and Texas, Chef Vivian Howard seeks to expand her barbecue palette beyond eastern North Carolina whole hog and barbecued chicken.
I do love that while Chef Howard visits her good friend Sam Jones at Skylight Inn, she highlights the side of barbecue not often seen in barbecue media from turkey barbecue that’s becoming increasingly popular in African American communities to female pitmasters in a male dominated field to smoked fish to restaurants in Texas that celebrate the fusion of barbecue from different cultures.
At the very least, be sure to luxuriate in the Florida section where Chef Howard attends a “Cracker barbecue” (21:20) – don’t worry, they explain the name – as well as a smoked mullet competition (25:14).
Southerners are particular about the way they cook and eat barbecue. No dish says eastern North Carolina more than the region’s signature whole hog barbecue; however, the art of cooking meat over fire and smoke is one shared by all cultures. On a tour of eastern North Carolina barbecue joints, Vivian is reminded of traditions that define the area’s version of pork barbecue while being introduced to new techniques.
Flipping what she already knows about ‘cue, Vivian sets out to uncover buried barbecue histories and to learn about the unexpected ways that different types of meat are smoked, pit-cooked, wood-fired and eaten. We learn that barbecue—both the food and the verb— cannot be pigeonholed into one definition. On her journey starting from the whole-hog pits in her figurative backyard, Vivian learns the history of Black barbecue entrepreneurship, from the North Carolina families who started turkey barbecue to the women firing up pits in Brownsville and Memphis, Tennessee.
Curious about other iterations, Vivian travels to the west coast of Florida, where a storied “Cracker” history at a smoked mullet festival drastically changes her perspective on Southern ‘cue. She then heads further south to Texas, where robust barbecue techniques steeped in tradition are being morphed by longtime Texas families doing what they know best. This includes a pair of sisters in the small southern Texas town of San Diego adding a Tejano touch to their barbecue joint menu, and two Japanese-Texan brothers with a smokehouse that pairs brisket and bento boxes.