I Paid: Roughly $18 to $26 per pound of meat, with shipping
The email I got was straight-up heretical. It suggested that rather than grilling my own meat on a Weber, as befits a red-blooded American male, I—like a mincing Bolshevik—should shop online with S. Wallace Edwards & Sons and buy "pre-cooked [barbecue] options that reflect the flavors of the South, all while letting your guests think you're the ultimate grill master."
Appalling. And, let's be honest, also appealing. Doing real barbecue is not simply work—it's a serious craft, and not for the mere dabbler. Edwards of Surry, Virginia, offers a number of products, and I sampled three.
First was Southern Pork Barbecue, described as "a combination of minced pork, country ham and seven secret spices." Only slightly tastier than tuna salad (and roughly the same texture), this rather underpowered stuff, heated and dressed with barbecue sauce and served on a toasted bun, made for a passable barbecue sandwich but was nothing to write home about.
Hickory-smoked Barbecued Beef Brisket was another matter. Smoky, peppery, relatively tender, and richly flavored, this meat was well complemented by the accompanying sauce, a "Classic Red" that boasted rich flavors of tomato, vinegar, and molasses. Tried side by side with my favorite Kansas City sauce (which has more heat and liquid smoke), the Classic Red stood up. It was a different school of flavor, but a worthy one.
The Carolina-style Pit-Cooked, Barbecued Pork Roast was the cream of the crop: fall-apart tender, kissed with carbon, and rich in flavor. The roast is purportedly slow-cooked "over smoldering charcoal briquettes for 10-12 hours," and it really tastes that way.
So while the Southern Pork Barbecue is relatively easy to beat, and the brisket is probably on a par with any solid barbecue joint in your zip code, the pork roast is really a remarkable piece of meat capable of kicking any backyard celebration up a notch or two.
The catch to the barbecue-by-mail concept? The price. With shipping, the total for these three items (each comprising two to three pounds of meat) was $176.75. The bill from the local (and excellent) barbecue place that catered my 2008 election party was less than that. And unless your friends are very, very slow on the uptake or you're an exceptionally good liar, no one's actually going to be tricked into thinking you produced this food on your backyard set-up. Still: that pork roast. That's some great meat.