Our Search Begins....

The roots of the American barbecue craze were probably influenced by all meat cookery dating back to the stone age.  But the direct inspiration for the current barbecue phenomenon in America is likely the whole pig cookings that were done in what is now known as Eastern North Carolina in the 1600's.

Hernando De Soto is said to have introduced the pig into the United States in 1539.  Subsequent introductions took place along the eastern coast.  These pigs were brought by explorers as a mobile source of food.  Many escaped and ran wild.  By the mid 1600's,  these escaped pigs had multiplied and settled in great numbers in the Carolina region where they fed on the abundant supply of acorns and other mast indigenous to the area.  The pigs became a convenient supply of food for settlers because they did not need to be fed or tended.  They were cooked whole to avoid the task of preserving the meat because salt was often a precious commodity.

Community barbecues served as social events.  This is likely when barbecue began its subliminal association with that of an enjoyable experience.  The 1800's featured large festive events held on plantations with the cooking of a whole hog being the main culinary attraction.  Pigs were cooked at church picnics and pig pickin's became synonymous with political rallies.  Roadside barbecue shacks or stands appeared in the 1900's throughout the southeast.  These take-out only shacks normally opened for business only on weekends.  These were followed by full-service restaurantís,  that featured barbecue as their main theme.  In the latter part of the century,  suburbanites began to flock to barbecue as a pastime with the advent of contraptions known as smokers.

Somewhere along this short but destructive path of the twentieth century,  barbecue became almost completely unrecognizable in virtually every aspect when compared to the food that it evolved from.  Although cooking one-eighth of a pig is now widely accepted as barbecue,  it should be obvious to anyone that a perfect rendition of this food could never be achieved without cooking a whole pig.  On this note,  we now have a basis to continue on with our search.....

Will just any pig do?
No.  In the early days,  hogs ran wild and foraged for their food.  These hogs likely ate everything from acorns to carcasses.  They converted food into fat at a higher rate than muscle in order to survive winters.  Being constantly on the move without a steady food supply meant that they grew very slowly and were quite well exercised.  All of this adds up to a pig that would be significantly more flavorful than the pork produced in modern operations.  So,  in keeping with our pursuit of perfection,  we can now conclude that the pig must be older,  very well exercised and of a lineage that develops high fat to meat ratio.  It also must be allowed to forage for food.  Read our "Pseudo Swine" web page about today's hog raising.

Does the pig need to be any particular size or age?
From everything we can gather,  yes.  From a practical standpoint,  small pigs would have been much easier to handle in both the butchering and cooking process.  We once speculated along with fellow contributor Dan Gill that small pigs might have been used because they could be killed and cooked quickly enough to prevent the onset of rigor mortis.  Meat cooked while passing through rigor mortis will have a stringy and poor texture.  In a conversation with America's foremost pitmaster,  whose family has been cooking barbecue in Eastern North Carolina since the 1830's,  we were told that only pigs weighing around 40 pounds or less were traditionally used for barbecue.  We must remember that a pig of that size would have been quite old and flavorful.  This is in contrast to modern commercial pigs that are likely to weigh 40 pounds when weaned at only several weeks of age.  Based upon this,  we now have a general idea of the pig that would be required.

How would this pig be cooked?
While much meat was cooked over a fire,  pigs were not suited to this because of their fat content and the resulting flare-ups that would have occurred.  Instead, the hardwood was burned down to coals.  The wood used likely varied according to locale and availability,  although oak and hickory were quite abundant.  The coals were then placed either around the pig,  directly underneath or a combination of both.  This also would have likely varied between pitmaster and local custom.  The faint smoke emitted by the coals would have left no smoke ring in the pig.  The result would have been a much cleaner taste than is generally considered optimal by today's standards.  In fact,  modern barbecue would likely be considered tainted or flawed by those who inspired it.

We now determine that the pig should be cooked with hardwood that has been burned to coals.  And furthermore that the coals must be placed in a manner so that they have a direct line of light to the pig.  Today's off-set smokers,  regardless of price,  are not designed to produce true barbecue.

At what temperature should the pig cook?
One thing you'll notice as you navigate through Bob in Ga.com is that specific temperatures are never mentioned in anything that we write.  This is because temperatures were simply not measured and we respect your intelligence enough that we will not attempt to make any wild baseless speculations on this most ridiculous topic.  The bottom line is that the pigs were cooked by skilled pitmasters who used their experience and judgement to cook them. Dave Lineback,  founder of the Society for the Preservation of Traditional Southern Barbecue (SPTSB),  is fond of saying that barbecue cannot be made using a thermometer.  We concur!  At Bob in Ga.com,  we are artisans who would never advocate tarnishing the purity of this antique process with modern temperature measuring devices.

How long would the pig need to be cooked?
Most of what is written above regarding temperature is also applicable to time.  The pigs were done when they were judged to be ready by their respective pitmasters.  Nothing more can be written on these two topics of an intelligent nature because too many variables were likely involved.  Factors such as weather conditions,  texture preferences and differences in cooking set-ups would have governed the cooking times.  It would have been highly unlikely that any standards were in place as it pertained to pig cooking or their results.  Therefore we consider the popular practice of focusing on time and temperature in efforts to replicate barbecue to be downright puzzling.

OK,  we have our pig cooked,  anything else?
SKIN!

As far as pigs were concerned,  the tendency of our forefathers was to use everything but the "oink".  Therefore,  it is likely that the technique of "blistering" or "popping" the skin into a fried pork rind type texture was practiced.  This was usually done at the end of cooking.  This technique dates back at least to the 1830's,  according to our source.  Our guess is that it is likely much older than that.  While almost non-existent in modern barbecue,  we don't feel that a perfect rendition would be achievable without the inclusion of this blistered skin.

What type of sauce or seasoning would be required?
True American barbecue sauce is basically seasoned vinegar.  Again,  the choices of seasoning agents would have likely varied according to availability as well as taste preferences.  As a result,  nothing concrete can be concluded as far as ingredients are concerned.  However,  capsicum peppers were plentiful and it's believed that they were the most commonly used seasoning agent along with salt and possibly some form of sweetener.  One thing that we cannot stress in strong enough terms is that tomato would have never been included.  Tomatoes were thought to be poisonous.  Therefore,  no sauce or seasoning containing a tomato product could ever be considered legitimate,  regardless of how heavily they are currently marketed or rampantly used.  Read the paragraph in Dan Gill's article on "Barbecue History 101" at our "Thoughts from Others" web page.

Have we finally arrived at the end of the barbecue rainbow?
We're very close now!  At this point we want all of the meat to be pulled from the pig.  That means the highly flavorful shoulders.  The prized tenderloins.  The sinfully-delicious rib and bacon meat.  The well exercised hams,  the stately center loin,  the delectable jowl meat.  And last, but not least, that heavenly crispy blistered skin.  We want all of these parts to be lightly chopped or mixed together so that a perfect reconstruction of the pig is achieved every bite.  Everything in its proper proportion. All ratios perfect.

Complexity is the beauty of whole hog barbecue.  Simply cooking a single part is one dimensional.  
It is NOT comparable or interchangeable.

As we add a bit of our seasoning and take our first bite,  our eyes instantly reflect vivid gold,  which lies at the end of all rainbows.

We know why food writers have traveled millions of miles in pursuit of the perfect barbecue.  We know why the hobbyist's stay up all night after a hard week at work.  We can now understand why barbecue,  in its purest form,  laid the groundwork for our national culinary pastime.

Where could one possibly find such Barbecue?
Unfortunately,  most people are likely to never find or produce such barbecue.  The rarity of a traditional pig,  the cost of wood and other factors have caused such a perfect rendition to become practically extinct,  regardless of venue.  Modern taste preferences are now geared toward the various tastes imparted by years of massive attempts to simulate the barbecue described above.  Along with most every trendy attempt at simulation,  tastes were lost and flaws were imparted.  Currently,  the flaws are so ingrained that attempts are now more likely to be geared toward simulating the flaws,  rather than the true dish.

Top of Page