By Doc Lawrence
September is the end of summer but not the finale of barbecue. Labor Day gatherings everywhere feature smoked delights from the grill and college football tailgating transforms stadium parking lots into an enormous feast with fired-up grills filling the air with heavenly aromas.
September does have a prominent place in barbecue lore. In September of 1889, over ten thousand Union and Confederate veterans descended on Crawfish Springs, Georgia near Chickamauga battlefield where they had engaged in bloody combat during the Civil War. They came as reunited countrymen. This came to be known as the Blue and Gray Barbecue and may have inspired Anthony Bourdain who said “Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start.”
The backyard grills under the management of home-based “pit masters” are going full force on weekends. Late summer and fall are wonderful times when the air chills gradually, leaves begin to transform into blazing colors and life becomes real sweet.
85 barbecue teams from around the world come to the lovely village of Lynchburg, Tennessee in mid-October for the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Barbecue Invitational. I’ve been honored to serve over a dozen times as a judge for this classic and marvel at the spirit and enthusiasm. And, as Memphis restauranteur Silky Sullivan often said, “you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted barbecue from Australia.”
I have my favorite places which include heralded Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur, Alabama and Fresh-Air in McDonough, Georgia. The late Frank Spence had a gift for “discovering” what he called “good barbecue,” which meant small mom and pop operations usually off the beaten path. He gave me his list that dotted the blacktop roads and byways of Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama, Mississippi and his native Tennessee.
“They all have stone pits for hardwood slow-cooking,” he told me, and “many have a screened-in room instead of walls; some have sawdust floors and they all make their own sauces.”
I keep Spence’s barbecue list where I keep my will and my grandmother’s large-print Bible.
NOTE: What are your favorite barbecue places? Share them with us.