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Where there's smoke: How barbecue became one of America's grandest cooking traditions

Meat, fire and smoke. Since man learned how to make fire, this trifecta has been a part of our lives. Add time and harness heat and you have barbecue.

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Meat, fire and smoke. Since man learned how to make fire, this trifecta has been a part of our lives. Add time and harness heat and you have barbecue.

Published Updated

Meat, fire and smoke. Since man learned how to make fire, this elemental trifecta has been a part of our lives. Add patience, time and a talent for harnessing heat and you have barbecue. But where barbecue truly began — and who it now belongs to — remains a subject of intense debate.

James Beard-nominated barbecue historian Adrian Miller believes the origin of barbecue is rooted in the intermingling of Indigenous, European and African cultures in the United States. Read more about the birth of barbecue here.

Cozy Corner Matriarch Desiree Robinson, right, is officially inducted into the The American Royal Barbecue Hall of Fame, receiving her trophy for the award from the first female to ever win the title, Memphis Barbecue Co.'s Melissa Cookston.
Cozy Corner Matriarch Desiree Robinson, right, is officially inducted into the The American Royal Barbecue Hall of Fame, receiving her trophy for the award from the first female to ever win the title, Memphis Barbecue Co.'s Melissa Cookston. Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal

From the introduction of pigs to the U.S. to the first Black woman inducted into the Hall of Fame, here are some of the more notable moments in barbecue history.

Melissa Cookston inside her booth at the WCBCC at Tom Lee Park in Memphis, Tenn. on Friday, May 14, 2021.
Melissa Cookston inside her booth at the WCBCC at Tom Lee Park in Memphis, Tenn. on Friday, May 14, 2021. Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal

Many women have helped change the face of barbecue history, though they sometimes go unsung. Here are five who played a crucial role in the evolution of America's most hotly debated food.

Eric Vernon runs the day-to-day operations of the bustling Bar-B-Q Shop where they do everything well — from pulled pork to tender ribs.
Eric Vernon runs the day-to-day operations of the bustling Bar-B-Q Shop where they do everything well — from pulled pork to tender ribs. Joe Rondone

Want to take a deeper dive? Learn some of the secrets of Memphis barbecue here and what makes Alabama barbecue what it is here. What's in that state's famous white sauce anyway? We'll show you how to make it.

A slew of Southern sides at Buxton Hall Barbecue, including South Carolina-style barbecue hash, rice and collard greens.
A slew of Southern sides at Buxton Hall Barbecue, including South Carolina-style barbecue hash, rice and collard greens. Chai Pani Restaurant Group

Venturing over to the Carolinas, you'll learn about the different barbecue traditions there. We'll also tell you how to make two uniquely South Carolina barbecue stews you've never heard of.

Rodney Scott mops ribs for an outdoor festival.
Rodney Scott mops ribs for an outdoor festival. Angie Mosier

Now, you're ready to bring it all home. Here, James Beard award-winning pitmaster Rodney Scott shares tips for smoking meat at home.

Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South region and the editor of Southern Kitchen.

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Reach me:  mlunsford@southernkitchen.com

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