A History Shrouded in Smoke

Well, obviously barbecue isn’t the most guilt-free of foods. It’s high in calories and fat, and then there’s the whole vegetarian thing.

Now Andrew Leonard at Salon offers a whole new reason for barbecue-related remorse.

According to a new book by Andrew Warnes, Savage Barbecue: Race, Culture, and the Invention of America’s First Food, the legacy of low and slow is steeped in both racism and cultural imperialism.

A technique borrowed from indigenous new-worlders, cooking meat over an open flame was considered savage by the more effete Europeans. Leonard, a bit of a ’cue enthusiast himself whose preferred method is a butterflied lamb suspended with lengths of rebar over an oak fire, is skeptical of Warnes’s scholarly acumen and conclusions: “As I read ‘Savage Barbecue’ I found myself scribbling in the margins: ‘ridiculous,’ ‘kooky,’ ‘he’s making this up as he goes along!’”

But in the end, even Leonard has to grant Warnes the fact that Europeans performed wholesale extermination on the peoples who taught them the fine art of the barbacoa, and that the entire history of American barbecue grew from slaves tending the fire. As Leonard himself notes, “‘Savage Barbecue’ is either the most ridiculous book ever written about America’s defining ‘grass-roots’ food, or it is the most profound.” It looks like we’ll have to read it and make our own decision.

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