Explore How African Americans Shaped Barbecue | WUWM 89.7 FM
The barbecue is one of the quintessential American cuisines. For centuries, its impact has moved beyond food – building communities and creating a unique culture.
This is mainly due to the African American barbecue culture and the contributions of black barbecues, pitmasters and restaurateurs. But this story has often been forgotten. Soul food scholar, culinary historian and barbecue judge Adrian Miller is working to put African Americans back at the center of American barbecue history. He will share how barbecue is an essential part of black history at the Culture shock event for Milwaukee Film Festival of Cultures and Communities.
“So the African American influence and the barbecue go back centuries. And for a long time, I was one of those who thought… Blacks invented the barbecue. But one of the biggest surprises in my research is to truly understand the Native American barbecue foundation and how this culinary heritage was ultimately passed down to African American cooks, who have become indispensable barbecue cooks. But it’s a really, really interesting story, ”Miller said.
Miller says if early documentation on the southern barbecue is unclear, it starts in Virginia. He describes it as cooking an entire animal over a pit filled with hot coals. Miller says the animal was turned and turned and seasoned with a vinegar and red pepper flavoring agent. “It was the Virginia barbecue and eventually became known as the southern barbecue and pit barbecue,” he explains.
The history of the first barbecues is not well documented, according to Miller. He says most of his research comes from oral history and newspapers. One thing became clear in his research, towards the end of the 19th century the narrative around who was responsible for the best barbecue changed.
“For several centuries, African Americans have been honored in the barbecue culture. You look at the newspaper reports, the oral histories, other things, the general consensus was that African Americans were the ones who made the best barbecue, ”says Miller.
At this point, most of the attention was focused on the white men getting involved in the barbecue. Miller says this is where the focus remained until the last few decades. Miller says that by the time we reach the 2000s, barbecue stories have excluded or marginalized African Americans and it’s time for that to change.
“If you want to talk about barbecue in America, you have to include African Americans and also celebrate African American barbecue culture and give African Americans back the barbecue story,” Miller says.
And while Miller thinks a traditional criticism of diversity would be that we have never recognized the contribution African Americans make to the barbecue, Miller says we haven’t.
“We have newspaper articles in the 1800s that say to have an authentic barbecue you have to have a Negro man or a colored man… so it’s almost like African Americans are part of the recipe. if you couldn’t have a good barbecue without the African Americans involved. That’s how African Americans were important. “