In Barbecue Crossroads, we meet the pitmasters who still use old-fashioned wood-fired pits, and we sample some of their succulent pork shoulders, whole hogs, savory beef, sausage, mutton, and even some barbecued baloney.
ooks! I love books. I use my Kindle all the time but it will never replace holding a book in my hand. Why do I tell you this? It’s because of all the books I own, and I’ve not gotten rid of a book over my entire adult life, the books I love the most are my cookbooks. I have close to 275 cookbooks of various types by a variety of authors. In checking my shelves no other author has as many books on my shelf as Robb Walsh. Right now I have five and by the time this review publishes I’ll have six, because another one is on the way.
My favorite Robb Walsh book is Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pit Bosses. No other book in my library captures the essence of Texas BBQ and the people behind the pit as well. Every once in a while when I want to “relive” my days in Texas, where I discovered real BBQ, I pull the book out and read a section or two.
With Barbecue Crossroads: Notes and Recipes from a Southern Odyssey Robb Walsh and O. Rufus Lovett has taken his successful formula of combining recipes with biographical information and history to a new level. Where Legends of Texas Barbecue was a cookbook with stories, Barbecue Crossroads is the story of barbecue, told with passion and feeling, along with recipes.
“When you get caught up in arguing about who serves the best barbecue, you lose sight of the larger picture” — Robb Walsh
Robb Walsh is a three-time James Beard award-winning author with 10 books about food under his belt. O. Rufus Lovett is an award-winning documentary photographer. His fine art photography is found in galleries and museums all over the South. There is probably no better pair of people to tackle a project like Barbecue Crossroads. You can tell this was partnership, a joint venture, from the beginning. And that partnership works to perfection.
The pair set out to trace the Southern Barbecue’s lineage back through history “from East Texas to the Arkansas Delta and Memphis, across the Piedmont region of Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina, and down the coastal plains of the Carolinas to the shores of the Atlantic.” This was a search for real, old school open-pit, wood fired barbecue. During their treks across the south they didn’t stop at just any BBQ restaurants. No gas-fired or electric pits made the cut.
Over the past couple of years a couple of great “barbecue” books have found their way in to press that cover regional barbecue styles very well. John and Dale Reed did a great job writing about North Carolina barbecue and Wes Berry recently tackled Kentucky barbecue. Both of these books were excellent tutorials on a small segment of the barbecue world. No other book has captured the culture of Southern barbecue, as a whole quite like Barbecue Crossroads. I’m not sure why anyone would even consider trying such a task, it must have been daunting.
“There is no best barbecue, anymore than there is a best song or a best painting.” — Robb Walsh
The pair start the book documenting the connection between barbecue and religion in the south. I’ve known about and have wanted to make the pilgrimage to New Zion Missionary Baptist Church Barbecue in Huntsville, Texas, but I learned of the connection between churches, pastors, members and barbecue is woven through out the fiber of southern barbecue. I can’t imagine being able to set up a roadside BBQ stand in a church parking lot here in California, but the idea sure is a great one.
Barbecue isn’t all about meat and sauce. It’s important, certainly, but it isn’t everything. In the second chapter Robb and Rufus make clear how important dessert is when they recommend you “Eat Dessert First.” I rarely eat dessert when I go out to dinner, unless it’s a BBQ restaurant. There is just something about fresh fruit pies and cobblers, banana pudding or any other BBQ joint dessert staple.
After reading about fried fruit pies and seeing the pictures of these hand-held bits of culinary beauty in the book I swear I could actually taste them. I won’t go so far as to say the thought of licking the pages came to mind, but I certainly want to use the recipes that follow to experience at least some of the dessert magic Robb and Rufus experienced.
It’s the dessert chapter that really demonstrated how different Barbecue Crossroads is from other books about barbecue. Robb doesn’t always paint a positive of the proprietors and their joints. I can’t say as I blame all the pitmasters from taking the time to talk to another journalist. After all, there have been several great southern BBQ traditions ruined by the constant visits of buses full of BBQ tourists. There’s a common misconception that visiting a BBQ establishment is always a rainbow and unicorn experience. Well, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes the owners just don’t want to talk to you. I once got yelled at by a pitmaster in a famous Dallas BBQ restaurant because I didn’t order the right way.
Boiled peanuts, or “goober peas,” as they were once called, are made with young green peanuts that haven’t hardened.
Whether it’s discussing the connections between barbecue and the blues in “The Spiritual Home of Barbecue” to Alabama football fans and their tailgating exploits in “Barbecue Barbarians” Robb and Rufus show how much BBQ is a part of life in the South. “The High Life” looks at beer in BBQ while “Fresh Air and Parched Peanuts” provides a look at boiled peanuts and Brunswick stew. Barbecue Crossroads is what BBQ is all about, it’s about meat and sauce, but it’s really about people and the food they cook, eat and share. It’s a look at life in the south without exaggeration and stereotypes.
Don’t for a minute discount the contributions of O. Rufus Lovett. The photography in Barbecue Crossroads is as important as the words penned by Robb Walsh. To truly appreciate BBQ you need rely on all of your senses and the pictures give the visual eye candy necessary to compliment the words written.
Barbecue Crossroads is not just a good read, it’s a great read. One of the aspects of the book is that it reads more like a series of magazine articles. You don’t have to sit down and read the book cover to cover. Read a chapter, set it down and come back later and read another. You don’t need to read them order, each chapter stands alone. When you’re done with the chapter you’ll find several recipes that represent what the previous chapter was about.
This is a fantastic book. If you’re a fan of southern barbecue or a fan of southern foodways in general this is a must have book for your library.
Recipes and photos from Barbecue Crossroads: Notes and Recipes from a Southern Odyssey by Robb Walsh and O. Rufus Lovett (Copyright © 2013), used by permission of the author and photographer. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com.
Other books by Robb Walsh:
- Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook, with More Than 200 Recipes
- The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos
- Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pit Bosses
- The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook
- The Texas Cowboy Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos
Other books by O. Rufus Lovett:
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Some pitmasters cook picnics instead of Boston butts because they are so much moister. You can also cook picnics, butts, and hams at the same time and chop the meats together to approximate the texture of a whole hog.
- Season the meat with the dry rub, pressing the spice mix into the meat, and refrigerate it overnight. Cut the onions in half and put them in the water pan. (If your barbecue didn’t come with a water pan, use a fireproof steel bowl.) Add water to fill the pan.
- Set up your pit for indirect heat with a water pan. Use hardwood lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes. Maintain a temperature between 225˚ and 275˚F. Place the meat in the smoker skin side down. The skin will shrink and harden, serving as a bowl to contain the fat and juice. You might rotate the roast from end to end to achieve more even cooking, but don’t turn it over; keep it skin side down or all the juices will run out.
- Replenish the charcoal and the water in the water pan as needed. Mop the meat whenever you open the lid. Expect a cooking time of eight hours—more if you raise the lid often or the fire goes out. For chopped pork you need to reach an internal temperature of 190°F. For pulled pork an internal temperature of 200°F is best.
- When the meat is done, allow it to rest for at least fifteen minutes. Then remove the skin and bones. For chopped pork, put the meat and fat on a chopping block and mince with a pair of meat cleavers. For pulled pork, pull the meat away from the bone and shred it into little pieces, massaging the big chunks of fat into the shredded meat. Chop any pieces that don’t come apart easily. Season the meat with salt and pepper and your favorite barbecue sauce.
- Serve the minced or shredded meat on sandwiches