In the South, a spectre is haunting the beloved tradition of barbecue – the rise of smokeless “barbecue.” Take North Carolina for example, where the situation has become particularly dire. Barbecuing, which historically involved cooking meat over hardwood coals, has evolved into a cultural cornerstone for the state, with whole hogs and pork shoulders being the stars of the show. However, in the 1970s, the state took a detour when some restaurants switched to gas or electric cookers to supposedly improve air quality. Nowadays, a vast majority of North Carolina barbecue places have abandoned traditional wood or charcoal cooking, a fact oblivious to many customers. Fueled by a desire to preserve and celebrate the wood-cooking heritage of barbecue, the Campaign for Real Barbecue was founded in 2013 by two passionate individuals – Dan Levine and John Shelton Reed. Their mission: to educate the public about the difference between authentic wood-cooked barbecue and what they call faux ‘cue, and to identify and honor establishments that still embrace the old-fashioned ways. Their efforts have resulted in the certification of approximately 70 North Carolina restaurants that meet their criteria. With the hope of expanding their campaign to other states, the Campaign for Real Barbecue is garnering attention and support from enthusiastic eaters and industry professionals alike.
The Campaign for Real Barbecue
Welcome to the Campaign for Real Barbecue! In this article, we will explore the meaning of barbecuing, the current situation in North Carolina, the shift to gas and electric cookers, and the foundation of the campaign. We will also discuss the aims of the campaign, tracking down traditional barbecue restaurants, certification and endorsements, expanding the campaign, press coverage and recognition, and the True ‘Cue Pledge.
The Meaning of Barbecuing
To truly understand the importance of the Campaign for Real Barbecue, we must first delve into its meaning. Barbecuing has a rich historical context, dating back to early colonial days. In North Carolina, barbecue has always meant cooking meat over hardwood coals, specifically whole hogs or pork shoulders. However, in recent times, the term “barbecue” has been used more loosely, leading to the spectre of smokeless “barbecue.” It is essential to distinguish between real and faux ‘cue, understanding the difference between wood-cooked barbecue and its smokeless counterparts.
The Situation in North Carolina
North Carolina has long been recognized as a barbecue center, with barbecue at the heart of the state’s culinary culture. However, a concerning shift has occurred in recent decades. Bob Fulp, the head of the state’s environmental affairs department, initiated a campaign to encourage barbecue restaurants to switch to gas or electric cookers, supposedly to improve air quality. Unfortunately, many restaurants made the switch, resulting in the loss of the wood-cooking tradition that defined North Carolina barbecue.
The Shift to Gas and Electric Cookers
The decision to switch to gas and electric cookers had various motivations. One of the main factors was the cost and ease of using gas or electricity compared to wood-cooking. Unfortunately, this shift led to the loss of the wood-cooking heritage that had shaped North Carolina barbecue for centuries.
The Foundation of the Campaign
In 2013, Dan Levine and John Shelton Reed founded the Campaign for Real Barbecue. Their motivation stemmed from a shared concern about the loss of wood-cooked barbecue traditions. The campaign aims to celebrate and promote barbecue’s wood-cooking heritage, educate the public about the barbecue tradition, and distinguish between real and faux ‘cue. With these goals in mind, the campaign began its mission to identify and honor restaurants that still cook in the traditional way.
Aims of the Campaign
The Campaign for Real Barbecue has several core aims. Firstly, it seeks to celebrate and promote barbecue’s wood-cooking heritage, ensuring that this important tradition is recognized and preserved. Secondly, the campaign endeavors to educate the public about the barbecue tradition, helping people to understand the difference between real wood-cooked barbecue and smokeless alternatives. Additionally, the campaign aims to differentiate between real and faux ‘cue, ensuring that consumers can make informed choices about the barbecue they enjoy. Lastly, the campaign strives to honor restaurants that continue to cook in the traditional way, recognizing their commitment to preserving the authenticity of barbecue.
Tracking down Traditional Barbecue Restaurants
One of the primary activities of the Campaign for Real Barbecue is tracking down restaurants that cook in the old-fashioned way, solely with wood or charcoal. These establishments are then listed on the campaign’s website, providing a valuable resource for discerning eaters. The certification process involves certain criteria that restaurants must meet to qualify. By identifying and endorsing these traditional barbecue restaurants, the campaign aims to support and promote their commitment to wood-cooking.
Certification and Endorsements
The Campaign for Real Barbecue has already certified approximately 70 North Carolina establishments that cook in the traditional way. Unfortunately, due to various reasons, such as closures or switches to gas and electricity, some of these establishments have not been able to maintain their wood-cooking tradition. Nonetheless, the campaign aims to expand its certification program to other states. Currently, branches are being established in South Carolina and Kentucky, and there are plans to add Georgia to the campaign’s reach. It is worth noting that Texas has a strong barbecue culture and may not require the campaign’s assistance.
Expanding the Campaign
The Campaign for Real Barbecue has gained significant press coverage, raising awareness about its mission and efforts. Notably, Calvin Trillin wrote a story in The New Yorker titled “In Defense of the True ‘Cue,” shining a spotlight on the campaign’s cause. The campaign’s website, TrueCue.org, offers a wealth of information about wood-cooking, the barbecue tradition, and endorsements from various barbecue enthusiasts. With its growing popularity, the campaign hopes to expand nationwide or, at the very least, throughout the southern region.
Press Coverage and Recognition
The Campaign for Real Barbecue has garnered recognition and praise for its efforts. Through its Facebook page and occasional newsletter, True ‘Cue News, the campaign keeps supporters and the public informed about its certification program and other updates. As a small organization run by dedicated volunteers, the campaign has received an impressive amount of press coverage, furthering its mission to celebrate and preserve wood-cooked barbecue traditions.
The True ‘Cue Pledge
As a way to engage and involve supporters, the Campaign for Real Barbecue invites individuals to sign the True ‘Cue Pledge. This pledge symbolizes a shared conviction about the importance of wood-cooked barbecue and a commitment to support the campaign’s mission. By signing the pledge, individuals demonstrate their dedication to preserving and celebrating authentic barbecue traditions.
In conclusion, the Campaign for Real Barbecue is on a mission to preserve and celebrate the wood-cooking heritage of barbecue. By tracking down traditional barbecue restaurants, offering certification and endorsements, and expanding its reach, the campaign aims to educate the public and distinguish between real and faux ‘cue. With its growing recognition and support, the campaign is making strides toward safeguarding the authenticity of barbecue traditions for future generations.