Three Barbeques, Two Fish Fries, One Pancake Breakfast, a Wedding and a Funeral- all in one day. No time to change in between…if this was a fashion blog I could tell you what to wear- a black dress. Fill a bag with accessories, several pairs of shoes, make up, a damp rag and deodorant. It got me through and we had the time of our lives! I don’t hold a world record on attending events- my husband probably deserves a medal. We’ve gone to so many Barbeques, we might claim expert status on tasting barbeque. Mastering a pit is an entirely different skill. Real Pit Barbeque is cooked 10-12 hours…this isn’t backyard grilling. There’s no doubt in my mind that American Pit Barbeque originated in the South- poor rural folks, fattened a few pigs- so fresh pork was cheap and available.
Alabama’s own -George Washington Carver taught the art of growing peanuts right here in Alabama; Smithfield Hams of Virginia were known for fattening their hogs on peanuts. What fattens a hog, fattens human beings, y’all. Boiled or roasted peanuts are almost always found near Pit Barbeque; shells strewn on the floor add ambience and soak up the grease. Most farms had a smokehouse for hams and bacon. No part of the hog was wasted. Fresh pork was Pit Smoked to feed harvest workers on large farms, to celebrate or commiserate. The love of barbeque knows no social class. We all love it.
Southern Pit Barbeque ventured off the farms to become Backroad joints, Dives and Honky Tonks. The old ones had a ‘risque’ feel to them. My mother once whined – ‘We can’t take these children in there! Folks are drinkin’ and no tellin’ what all..’; which made the joint even more appealing to children and menfolks. I heard a BBQ Pit Master say: ‘I feed this pit some whiskey every night.’ I’m not sure what he was talking about- however, the combination did exist. You can’t get good barbeque in a chain restaurant– the quality goes down by miles. In fact, folks will drive for miles down blacktop, gravel, or dusty red roads out in the middle of nowhere- just to find a real Pit Barbeque joint. If you’re willing to drive backroads-
- scented with Loblolly pines,
- look for hand written signs-
- roll down the windows-
- follow the fragrant wood smoke- That’s where real Pit Barbeque is cooked.
- Rusted out trucks and dented cars are a good sign;
- Then look for grimy folks who tend the pit round the clock.
- BBQ joints are often charred shacks or a blackened concrete block buildings- usually near a small creek to douse the flames.
I have a letter written close to 50 years ago, telling about a shack, a hot plate with a pot of dried beans and a ‘Still -right ready to make up whiskey’ when a fire broke out. I’m just sayin’ – they had to augment their incomes and somebody must have been feeding a pit somewhere.
Pit Masters are a rare breed– those men are browned to perfection either by birth, the hot southern sun or a combination of both. They are soot streaked, well greased, smoke tinged, and speckled with burn marks up and down their arms. Their aprons are soiled and smeared. Listen to me- never trust a Pit Master who has on a starched white apron– he hasn’t been near a Real Pit and don’t know nothin’ ’bout it! Pit Barbeque was the usual fare for private parties, political rallies, mysterious Barbeque Clubs, fundraisers and Church Picnics. I’m not sure how church picnics got on the short list– maybe a pit man escaped serious injury, the revenuers or was alone one spooky moonlit night and found Jesus. Of course, there have been many slurs against those of us who enjoy barbeque- calling us hogs, saying we root around or grunt like a pig when we eat it. We endure the ribbing because we know how good Pit Barbeque is for the soul- Southerners can get downright Evangelical about it.
Great Pit Barbeque is born in hot fiery coals. Don’t let anyone tell you- the secret is in the sauce. Whole families would argue me down about this- but if the meat isn’t good, you can’t cover it up or smother it with any amount of sauce and make it taste good. Now here’s how to order-
- Fold your hands in prayer;
- Contemplate whether you want it sliced, pulled or chopped; Amen.
- Baptize it with whatever sauce you like: Red, White, Vinegar based, Sticky, Thin or Thick; Hot, Mild or fire on the tongue-hot! Your choice.
- Snort, snort, uh-ah, grunt, Soo-ey! Sorry about that hog-callin’,
- I like my Barbeque – Chopped Outside Lean- if you don’t understand the lingo, I can’t help you!
One of my favorite local joints is affectionately called the Texa-que, a combo gas station and Pit Barbeque. The real name is Butts to Go. The blackened cylinder pits, the stacks of hardwood, the fragrant smoke billowing up- slows you down, your stomach makes guttural sounds. Butts to Go also smokes hams and turkeys which are to die for; wonderful comfort food for a bereaved family. Spicy hot food, like Pit Barbeque is considered inappropriate funeral food. But if you’re ever on I-20E toward the Talledega Super Speedway, watch for the signs- pull over, you’ll be glad you did.
From the first bite you’ll know – you’re either a Hog or Evangelical about Pit Barbeque by the sounds that come out of your mouth. I’ve said it before: Southern Food Tales are part passion, part potion and part outright lies. Butts to Go is the real deal.
Love y’all, Camellia
* A big thank you to Wade Reich for allowing me to use his Butts to Go logo and website photo from www.buttstogo.com
All others are AOL Images, if any are not public domain or copyrighted I will be glad to make the corrections or remove the photographs.
Check out www.smithfieldhams.com too!