It’s been a year long journey, but I’m finally learning to trust barbecue again. I’ve recently made up with BBQ after it jilted me last summer by shocking me with a severe case of food poisoning — from my favorite BBQ joint, no less.
I won’t go into the details, because the Committee for the Preservation of Loveliness would revoke my membership on the grounds of being crass and common, but let’s just say I was a sick pup. After a week, I was rushed to the emergency clinic where they thought for sure I had kidney stones, a baby and broken ribs, all fighting it out at the same time.
Even though I didn’t need to shed weight, I actually lost dangerously too many pounds, and was amazed and saddened at something hard wired in my American – female brain. “Wow! I know I’m nearing death, but wouldn’t it be great if I could lose just a few pounds?” What kind of demented brain washing have we adopted, to think it’s good to be sick in order to slim up a bit? Shaken and shamed at my weakness to society’s twisted standards, I remembered my husband’s grandmother telling us we always needed a “little something to fall back on.” Heeding her advice, it was eventually fun to put that “little something” back on again with cheese grits, strawberry cake, and my favorite — potato chips, but no amount of tempting could get me to go near barbecue. I had been scorned by this favorite food and total rejection and snubbing was the only way to maintain my dignity.
I’m sure many of you understand how a bad food experience can ruin that food for the rest of your life. In order to impress Toliver Jipson, Dorinda Dae ate an ungodly amount of cantaloupe at the ag-expo just because Toliver mentioned how he loved the smell of the golden melon. D.D. went into shock and to this day still drools a little bit when she passes a cantaloupe field.
My California friend told me that while west coast folks chase the newest food trends, he noticed Southerners stick with the familiar. If granny cooked it in cast iron, if daddy fried or grilled it in the backyard, if our lunchroom lady baked it, then we’ll love it for life. We whisper to other locals where to find the best dewberry patches, the sweetest silver queen corn and pass down treasured recipes while the newcomers whine about not being able to find “real pizza” or grain bowls — or whatever the trend of the moment may be.
But how was I supposed to live in Alabama without eating Barbecue? The tangy meat has its own regulated judging organization for competitions as serious (to some) as football games.
After a full year of looking longingly at others flaunting their healthy relationships with BBQ while I sulked with a plain burger, or worse yet, a salad — which is just sadness in a bowl, I found a box of BBQ pulled pork tucked in my refrigerator late one night and decided it was time to take a risk.
The reheated meat was still juicy after having been previously slow cooked on a grill. The entire box smelled smoky and peppery, but slightly sweet. This was clearly not a bottle-sauce job.
It was there in the kitchen by the glow of the oven’s clock light that I finally made peace with BBQ. My eyes glistened with happy tears, not only because I had missed the savory taste, but because like many of our traditional dishes, I realized it was related to specific memories. Summers on the sandy beach in Destin, tailgating outside the stadium, picnics in the Smoky Mountains and family reunions in the country were all represented in that Styrofoam box.
Whoever stuck that box of BBQ pork in my refrigerator didn’t realize they’d reunited me with a longtime love and one of my favorite foods, but also with happy memories. For better or worse, for red sauce or white, for pork or for chicken, like the bald man said about his comb, “we’ll never part again.”
Click HERE to see over 100 ideas and recipes for Southern BBQ on my Southern BBQ Pinterest page.