Barbecue evokes passionate feelings inside all Americans. Culinary historian Sheila Ferguson wrote, "It's the wafting smells of the hickory smoke, and the"fallin-off the-bone tender, and drippin' with barbecue sauce ribs. Oooo...weeee...makes me feel downright just sanctified just thinkin' about it. And ode to the tangy sauces as the meat sizzles and smokes over the pit of spitting coals."
Margo Humphrey, The Last Bar-B-Que, 1988-89
Spanish explorers in the New World discovered Indians in the Caribbean roasting meat over open fires on frames made from green wood . They called it the Ībarbacoa,' an adaptation of an Arwak Indian word, to cook over coals. Native Americans had been practicing the art of the barbecue long before the first Europeans arrived. But this delicious and simple method of cooking quickly assimilated into American life. By 1800, it served as the primary form of summer entertainment in Kentucky. And by the end of the nineteenth century, its popularity had permeated throughout the South. Over time, "barbacoa" has come to define both a technique of cooking and a form of socializing. In African-American culture, these social gatherings typically revolve around family, friends, and of course the food. "Can't no one resist the smell of a barbecue," said Tom Green, a native Mississippian. This statement holds true weather in the heart of the Delta or the streets of Chicago, for African Americans love and pride themselves upon their mastery of all the grill.
Barbecue took root in all slave communities in the South, where African-American male slaves tended the hot pits, typically a large hole in the ground and lined with rocks. It served as a method of cooking over wood chips, where the smoke and its flavoring penetrated into the fleshy meat. Male slaves reigned in the pit. They would build the fire inside the pit, while the meat slowly cooked on grates above it. Both logs and chips of hickory and oak would slowly infuse into the meat to give it that tender smoky taste. In response to family barbecues, culinary historian Bob Jeffries wrote, "Back home we used hickory logs to obtain this flavor, and when the coals were just right to lay the chicken or ribs on, you could smell the hickory fragrance for miles around...Believe me, we did not have to send out invitations."
Marion Post Wolcott, Courtesy Library of Congress
"Barbecue is serious business in the south....In many respects, barbecue is taken as seriously as religion," and in the Mississippi Delta, the African American community devoted themselves to the art and sacred mystique of the . Barbecued pork and chicken typify simple home cooked food with a strong heritage of flavoring, complimented with dishes like collard greens, sweet potatoes and pecan pie. The thirty thousand year old practice of barbecuing continues to be a central element of African American culinary history. For generations in the Mississippi Delta, and even after the migration to the South Side, African-Americans still celebrated holidays, hog butchering and family reunions around the barbecue pit. If not accessible to the Ībarbacoa' African American restaurants in the South Side such as H&A serve traditional down home cooked barbecued chicken and ribs.