There are many things that make America great people all over the world long to come here. This is why illegal immigration is a far bigger problem here than in places such as Albania, Rwanda, North Korea, and Yemen. There are places people want to get to and places people want to get away from. America is solidly in the first group.
One of the signs of America’s wide-open, innovative, and dynamic culture is barbecue.
Barbecue wasn’t even invented in America; it came from the Caribbean, where Indians would slow cook meats over smoky fires. But barbecue was adopted, improved, and expanded by many people of many backgrounds over the years, and is now part of American culture. (Next time you hear someone pontificating about “cultural appropriation”, be grateful cultures do adopt and expand each other’s ideas.)
Today, each region has its own techniques and ingredients, and people from all races and backgrounds are constantly competing and learning from each other. And don’t get a barbecue fanatic started on the relative merit of dry-rub vs wet rub.
On a recent trip to the southern states, we saw some firsthand examples of just how individual and innovative barbecue can be. The south, of course, is prime barbecue country, with home cooks from the Carolinas to Texas smoking 24/7. Among the examples was a BBQ place in Alabama. Now, Alabama takes its BBQ seriously, and small, shack-like restaurants are everywhere. They don’t go in for clever names such as, say, Piggy Place, or Rib-O-Rama, or Smokers, or Pork Pullerz, or Brisket Basket. Most independent BBQ restaurants in the south are simply named for their owners, or whoever started the place, names such as Henry’s, or Big Jim’s, or Bubba’s, or Miller’s. The names are usually simple, down-home, and unpretentious. But we found two places that violated this rule in a big way.
One day, we passed a typical place in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, expecting it to be called Zeke’s of maybe Bob’s, but the sign on the place said Archibald and Woodrow’s! Archibald and Woodrow’s? There in the deep south was a barbecue place with a name that would not have been out of place on Masterpiece Theater. Maybe it was served by a butler, we thought. We found out later that Archibald was actually a family name, for the lady who cooked up fabulous dishes in her modest kitchen and gave or sold them to neighbors years before. Woodrow is Woodrow Washington, the current owner. Archibald’s is a local legend and was a favorite of famous Alabama football coach Bear Bryant. Here is their Facebook page.
Not long afterwards, we crossed the Georgia line and came upon another aspect of BBQ culture, the roadside stand, where someone will cook and sell in the open air from the side of the road. This is not unusual, but the cooker was. Instead of a cooker that looked as if it had been made from an old oil drum, this one was stainless steel and was in the shape of a giant revolver!
This place also violated the “no fancy names” rule and called itself the Smokin’ Gun BBQ with “The taste that will blow you away!” I suppose it featured a sauce that will shoot your mouth off as well.
The owners, ex steamfitters, made the thing themselves and said several cars have run into a ditch when they saw it. The smoke from the coals comes out of the barrel for extra realism.
We later found out that there is a Smokin’ Guns BBQ restaurant in Kansas City that is not affiliated!
So, innovation, creativity, hard work and individualism are still alive in the USA, and you can find it in the most unlikely places.
Now pass the hot sauce.