Barbecue Bros Book Club: “Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue” by Adrian Miller

Not that we’re anywhere close to being qualified enough to evaluate books but more so as a public service announcement we will periodically discuss barbecue and barbecue-related books.

Monk: Of the barbecue books we’ve covered over the past few years, “Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue” by James Beard Award-winning author and self-proclaimed “Soul Food Scholar” Adrian Miller may just be the most important of them all. In Miller’s approachable writing style, he looks to correct the decades of whitewashing the Black (and even Native American) contribution to the revered American institution of barbecue in a very detailed and heavily researched fashion.

In the first half of his book, Miller corrects the historical narrative starting with Native Americans who laid the foundations of the process of smoking as well as the apparatus to perform it on. Whereas Native Americans were not widely enslaved, that is unfortunately where the Black contribution begins. Miller traces from the slave origins to the rise of the Black barbecue specialists who sometimes did the work without the credit of white barbecue men all the way to the modern black restaurant entrepreneurs like Henry Perry, the “Barbecue King” of Kansas City, Walter Jones of Jones Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna, AR, and Jack Patillo of Beaumont, TX.

While the first half deals with the past, the second half explores the current climate as it relates to where African Americans sit in regards to restaurants, sauces, competitions and also looks ahead to the future of black barbecue. Rodney Scott, former Top Chef contestant Kenny Gilbert, and Ed and Ryan Mitchell are profiled in depth while Miller takes a pulse of barbecue recognition today through the efforts of other historians and writers such as Michael Twitty and Howard Conyers. Ultimately, he ends in a hopeful place.

Speaking of in-depth profiles, a minor complaint is that they oftentimes come mid-chapter (some times even mid-sentence) without warning or color coding. Once I became accustomed to how they were used, I found that I usually just skipped past and then came back after I finished the chapter. They are important and oftentimes covered newly discovered Black barbecue figures (such as Marie Jean of Arkansas or John “Doc” Hamilton of Seattle) but I wish they were utilized a little differently.

Bravo to Adrian Miller on writing a comprehensive history of the Black contribution to American barbecue. “Black Smoke” is a must read for not only those interested in barbecue history but also American history.

Linkdown: 1/12/21

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A couple of big barbecue books are now available for pre-order. “Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ” by Rodney Scott and Lolis Eric Elie will be released on March 16 and Adrian Miller’s “Black Smoke” from UNC Press will be out on April 27. Both are available for preorder now here and here, and I can’t wait to read both of them to get different perspectives on barbecue. I strongly encourage you to do the same. -Monk

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Barbecue Bros Book Club: “North Carolina’s Roadside Eateries” by D.G. Martin

Not that we’re anywhere close to being qualified enough to evaluate books but more so as a public service announcement we will periodically discuss barbecue and barbecue-related books.

Monk: For whatever reason, several of the books I’ve been checking out during quarantine are of a similar ilk. That is, books compiling profiles of different classic eateries – some North Carolina and some not, some barbecue and some not – accompanied by personal anecdotes from the author. These books can serve as guidebooks for older places that should be celebrated and visited and are usually pretty quick and interesting reads.

Which leads me to “North Carolina’s Roadside Eateries: A Traveler’s Guide to Local Restaurants, Diners, and Barbecue Joints” by North Carolina author D.G. Martin. During his travels as a lawyer and politician, he had the good fortune to visit many a classic restaurant across the state of North Carolina. Originally published in 2016, an update has been put on hold due to the coronavirus calling into questions the status of many of the restaurants featured in the book. Regardless, its still a good document of the times even if it grows more and more outdated by the day.

Smartly, Martin organizes his chapters by the interstate highways that crisscross North Carolina (i.e. Interstates 26, 40, 85, 77, etc.). From there, he profiles restaurants that are easy stops off the highway and that he has personally visited, oftentimes name dropping politicians and friends along the way.

Of the 120 or so restaurants profiled, roughly 50 are barbecue joints. Predictably the chapter on Interstate 85 is heavy on barbecue, followed by 40 and 95. The usual suspects are there, but Martin covers the undercelebrated ones such as Backyard BBQ Pit in Durham, Hursey’s Bar-B-Q in Alamance County, the recently shuttered Hill’s Lexington Barbecue in Winston-Salem, and Fuller’s Old Fashion Bar-B-Q in Lumberton and Fayetteville.

After this book from D.G. Martin and similar ones from Bob Garner, the Tar Heel Traveler Scott Mason, and John T. Edge (in a future book club entry), I am looking forward to a different perspective from “Soul Food Scholar” Adrian Miller in his forthcoming book “Black Smoke.” That book will focus on the contributions of black pitmasters and is scheduled to come out next year from UNC Press, the same publisher as this book. Regardless, “North Carolina’s Roadside Eateries” is worth checking out and even sticking in your glovebox for future roadtrips.

Linkdown: 9/5/18

– Treehouse Whiskey & Fork has always had barbecue on the menu, but they are rebranding as Treehouse Bourbon & BBQ

– Charlotte Agenda has a rundown of the upcoming restaurant openings, including Sweet Lew’s BBQ and Noble Smoke

– Eat at The Smoke Pit while in Cabarrus County, just north of Charlotte

– The story behind Dreamland

– This weekend is the Fiddle ‘n Pig Shindig at the Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill, SC, which will include bluegrass music, a beer garden, and of course, barbecue

– The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has the best barbecue joints in Seattle

– Texas barbecue in Pittsburgh (via Brooklyn)

– Three C’s Barbecue has opened in Pink Hill, NC in the eastern part of the state

– Very much looking forward to this: James Beard Award-winning author Adrian Miller has a black barbecue book coming out in 2020/2021