Black & Highly Flavored

Black History of BBQ with Adrian Miller

Episode Summary

The Black barbecuers, pitmasters, and restauranteurs who shaped iconic American BBQ as we know it today.

Episode Notes

SoulPhoodies Tamara Celeste and Derek Kirk are joined today by author Adrian Miller (@SoulFoodScholar) to discuss his recent book, Black Smoke, the definitive history of African-Americans' influence on barbecue culture. (And here are those BBQ-ready spices Derek mentioned!)

Episode Transcription


Derek: You found that written into recipes, as like, an ingredient?

Adrian: Oh yeah, man, we were so ingrained in the process, we were listed as an ingredient. 

Tamara: Oh my goodness. 

(musical interlude)

Tamara Celeste: Hey, I'm Tamara. 

Derek Kirk: And I'm Derek.

Tamara: And we are the co-founders of soulPhoodie. soulPhoodie is a brand and an online community that tells the stories and showcases the talent of creators and entrepreneurs excelling and innovating in the Black food and beverage space.

Derek: We have created the Black & Highly Flavored podcast to bring the stories of these innovators to life. 

Tamara: We also get a little personal, because we want to introduce you, our listeners, not only to the product or brand, but also to the people behind the brand. 

Derek: Our guest today is my friend, Adrian Miller, also known as a soul food scholar. Adrian is a writer extraordinare, a James Beard award winner, and a certified barbecue judge. You may have seen him on the Netflix documentary High on the Hog. Today, we discuss his new book, Black Smoke, the definitive history of African Americans and barbecue. 

Derek: Welcome to the podcast. We're really excited to have you here today, my brother from another mother. I've read the first four or five chapters of your book. I'm really excited to talk to you about it. I think the last time we actually saw each other was a few years ago in Long Beach, where you were conducting research for the book. So I'm glad to see it's finally coming to fruition. And what I've read so far has been, uh, been really dope. So let me ask you this: why, of all the topics for your next book, did you decide to chronicle the history of Black barbecue culture, of all things? 

Adrian: Yeah. Well first of all, it's so good to be with you. And thanks for being one of my barbecue research assistants. Uh, yeah, we were at Bigmista's, a barbecue place in Long Beach. So it's good to be with you again. Yeah, so the reason I did is it was really accidental, man. You know, I guess the seminal moment is, um, I started getting into barbecue when I was writing my soul food book, because so many Black-run soul food joints, uh, have a barbecue on the menu. It could be baked, but they at least had a barbecue option on the menu. And so many Black-run barbecue joints have soul food options. So I just figured I needed to learn more about barbecue, but then as I started to get more immersed in and started consuming more food media about barbecue, I think the seminal moment was, I was watching, uh, Paula Deen's Southern barbecue on the Food Network, hour long special about Southern barbecue. And when the credits were rolling at the end of the show, she had not talked to one Black person on air. 

Derek: Oh, man.

Adrian: And so--yeah. So at first I thought, well, maybe I got it twisted. Maybe it was Paula Deen's Scandinavian barbecue. (laughing) Um, but you know, I was just sitting there. I was like, "How does that even happen?" And so, uh, it's easy to lay the blame on Paula Deen, but I actually blame the production people, because, you know, Paula Deen was probably just the star who showed up and they told her where to go and stuff like that. But I started looking around at magazines, other TV shows, and I just saw that Black people had been pushed to the sidelines of barbecue.

Derek: Almost erased, if you will. 

Adrian: Yeah. And I was like, that is messed up. So Black Smoke, my next book, is really part celebration of African American culture, and then part restoration, to bring African Americans back to the center of the barbecue narrative, because we're the ones who basically developed barbecue into what it is today and where barbecue is most--principal cooks for centuries, and barbecue's effective ambassadors. 

Tamara: Okay. So Adrian, let me ask you, is barbecue culture in America rooted in Africa, or is it rooted somewhere else?

Adrian: So I really wanted to delve into that, because there's some notable kind of food writers and people in the food space, people like Michael Twitty and Howard Conyers, who have been, you know, making that argument. And so I really wanted to find an African origin for barbecue and, you know, do the X across my chest, and say Wakanda forever. (laughing) But in and looking at, um, the development of African foodways, in terms of what we know about the time of European contact, it was hard to see anything that was analogous to Southern barbecue as it first developed, because the way that Africans cook, um, the--let me back up.Tthe closest thing I could find was kind of pit cooking in north Africa, and kind of the African highlands, you know, you could argue was similar to barbecue. But in the low-lying areas where most of enslaved west Africans were taken from in the early years of the slave trade, the Ewe people, looking at the way they cooked, I didn't see anything that resembled barbecue. So my argument is that barbecue, as we understand it, is Native American in origin. And then later European culinary techniques and African techniques and seasoning get added. And so as barbecue takes shape, it's really Native American in origin, and then it becomes something else. And then African Americans are the ones that really are responsible for developing it for the next few centuries.

Derek: So how is it in most people's minds that we are the originators of this, of this art form, if you will? 

Adrian: Yeah. So it was really interesting, the way that Black people are currently being erased from barbecue, that's what happened to Native Americans two centuries ago. Because if you look at all the early writing about barbecue, it's very Native American-focused, um, but by the time you get to the mid 1800s, you have white people, essentially, in their media saying, "Well, the way that Native Americans make barbecue, that's not real barbecue. The way we do it--" and "we" as in quotation marks, because African Americans were doing most of the work. So I think it's because of that erasure of Native Americans that happened. And then, because everywhere you looked, it was African Americans who were doing the cooking for at least 155 years, I think that's why it's cemented in the public imagination that Black people invented barbecue. And look, I believed that too. Um, going into this book, that's what I thought. But then the historical records indicate something else. 

Derek: So then somewhere in this, in the 16th, 17th century, we took this art form from--not took, but accepted this art form from Native American, with some European influences. And then what did we do with it? 

Adrian: So, um, yeah, so this happens probably in the late 1600s, when you have appreciable numbers of enslaved Africans in the Virginia colony, and then barbecue starts really ramping up, um, as a preferred food for social occasions and other large events. So, um, my argument is that we'd certainly had some experience with meat cooking, but I, I think our contributions is to seasoning, and also to just, you know, honed experience, because we were handed this particular culinary art form, and in many cases, there was direct tutelage from Native Americans. If you talk to a lot of African American families, especially those who have Native American heritage in their bloodlines, you know, they talk about, "Hey yeah, my great grandfather was this tribe, and my African heritage relative learned to make this from that Native American person." And I have examples of that in my book. Even to the 20th century, you have some, African Americans calling this cooking, "cooking the Indian way." Uh, so that shows you just the connection and kind of the cultural heritage. So I, I just think that skill at seasoning, and then also just the skill and honing what barbecue would become, um, is our main contribution. And let, let me just pause and say this. I leave the door open for African origin, because the problem is, is that the early history is murky. Or to put it better, smoky. You know, people didn't do a good job of reporting what was happening, and even the stuff they reported on is filled with errors. You know, we're all making educated guesses, but I'm just going on the way that people talked about it. And the other key factor here for me, is that I paid close attention to how Europeans talked about barbecue. Now they had already been to, uh, west Africa, and had experience in the African continent, but the barbecue that they were seeing in the Americas, they were talking about it as if it was something new. And I think that's really important when you're talking about the barbecue story. 

Tamara: So they were talking like it was something new, like the barbecue is something new?

Adrian: Yeah, well, yeah, that the, the, the barbecue, the way of cooking that they were seeing was something they had not seen before. And so the early illustrations, like the drawings and paintings of barbecue, when they get to Europe, it causes a sensation, because people are like, "What's that, what are they doing?"

Tamara: Right. 

Adrian: So if they had seen that in Africa, I think they would have done something similar.

Tamara: Ok, I see.

Adrian: But we just don't, we don't see that. So, you know, that's not the end-all of the story, but to me, that's an important piece of the early history of barbecue, and why I think my argument that it's Native American in origin is stronger, because, um, you know, people just saw this in the Americas and thought it was something unusual.

Tamara: Got it. 

Derek: So I've gotten into the part of the book where we, as a culture, sort of take over it in the plantation infrastructure, if you will. And it's really--tell the story of how we are responsible, not only for the cooking, but for holding these huge events, uh, in the plantations. It's interesting. 

Adrian: Yeah. So barbecue starts out as really like a small kind of party event, right? So it's really like, bringing over your family, maybe some friends, shoot some guns, gamble, tell stories, and eat some barbecue. And in many cases they were very genteel. Uh, people would dress up in their finest clothes and have barbecue, but over time, barbecue starts to grow in size and stature. It becomes more of a working class, lower class kind of cooking. And I argue that the reason, one of the reasons why African Americans get associated with barbecue is that, man, old school barbecue was hard work. Somebody had to clear an area in a field. Somebody had to dig a trench, and that trench, the length of that trench depended on how many guests were going to be invited. Somebody had to chop the wood.

Derek: And we know who was doing that hard work.

Adrian: Yeah. Somebody had to butcher the animals, process them, stick poles in them, flip them while they're cooking, replenish the coals, sauce it. So, you know, the racial etiquette at the time was, if you're going to have hard work, make Black people do it. So that's why we became the principal cooks. And if you listen to an accounts of barbecue, uh, you know, there were barbecues where thousands of people showed up. You know, there there's some newspaper articles and even in the 1820s and 30s, talking about barbecues for 20,000 people. Now, you know, the exact number is probably way off that, because they didn't have satellite imagery technology, you know, like we have today, where we can actually count, count crowds. But, you know, these were big things. And I argue that barbecue was perfect for these events because barbecue is scalable. I mean, once you decide how many people you're going to invite, you just have to dig a long enough trench, and kill enough animals, and you can feed everybody. You know, it would be harder to do that with, say something like fried chicken. Uh, cause imagine like, cooking, fried chicken for that number of people. That would be really difficult, but it's, it's easier with barbecue. Especially if you have this enslaved labor force doing all the work. We were the prep people. We were the cooks, and also it was important for African Americans to serve the food. And then the other thing that tripped me out is we were the entertainment. 

Derek: That's the part that got me. Yeah.

Adrian: So after the barbecue, they would have, uh, enslaved African Americans come and sing spirituals, do dances, cake walks, all that kind of stuff. And this persists, even after, uh, slavery ends. So I have this story from Vogue magazine in the 1940s, where as an escape, you could go to a Texas plantation, have some barbecue, and then afterward a group of local singers would come by and sing spirituals. So people, they were mimicking that plantation experience. 

Derek: (sighing) Hoo boy. Right. Right, right. So take us from 1865 to the next 80 years or so, and the transition that happened from barbecue being this plantation food to what happened after the Civil War, to where it becomes part of the restaurant culture.

Adrian: Yeah, so it's an interesting transition. So emerging from the Civil War, the preeminent barbecuers were African Americans. And so it was interesting because you had a lot of African American men, primarily, but there are some women in the mix. And I write about them in the book. Who, you know, trade off this highly specialized skill, and make some money. And so they're freelancers, not only in the South, but man, they're put on trains and stagecoaches and boats all around the country, uh, to bring an authentic taste of barbecue. So much so that when people are describing barbecue in the newspapers in the late 1800s, Black people are a part of the recipe. So they would say, "Oh yeah, you have to make sure you have a colored man do X, Y, and Z." So that's how associated Blackness and barbecue were.

Derek: Wait a minute, that was, that was--you found that written into recipes as like an ingredient?

Adrian: Oh yeah, man. We were, yeah, we were so ingrained in the process. We were listed as an ingredient. 

Tamara: Oh my goodness.

Adrian: That's how closely wedded these things were, okay?

Derek: (laughing) Okay.

Adrian: Uh, and so what happens then, by the end of the 1800s, you start to see a shift and the shift is from rural to urban. So certainly, you know, barbecue continued in the rural context, but as people moved to cities, they started creating artificial pits, right? Out of cinder blocks and other things. And instead of cooking whole animals, they started focusing on cooking smaller cuts. Now you, as a chef, you know this, it's a lot easier to cook an animal when it's cut up than when it's whole. And so once people started accepting barbecue being, you know, these cut up parts, that's when you start to see a lot more white men getting into the game. Now some had--some have been getting in in the 1870s and 1880s, but in very small numbers. And from what we can tell, even though they earn status as barbecue men, it was usually they had African Americans who were actually doing the work. But, you know, you know, you know how that goes, right? Um, we see that in, in, uh, the culinary world all the time, where a white hostess or host gets while somebody else is doing the work. And so, um--

Derek: Front of the house versus back of the house. 

Adrian: Right. So the, the advent of kind of two things, cooking smaller parts and then cooking barbecue in an urban context. And then I would say a third element to this is the introduction of indirect smoking as a legitimate barbecue style. Because before 1900, when people said barbecue, they were all thinking about a trench with a whole animal cooked over that, right? But then by the time you get to the 1900s, you start getting the argument from people in central Texas that what they were doing in the meat markets, which was indirect smoking, a culinary tradition brought directly from Europe, transplanted into the American south, that that was barbecue. I mean, you know, we can mince about words, but if you're going to be a traditionalist, barbecue was known, cooking over the trench, whole animals over trench. But now, cooking these smaller parts, that's called barbecue as well as this artificial barbecue that develops in an urban context. So for the next 30 years, man, you have an explosion of barbecue restaurants, because instead of being this very specialized skill reserved for a few, it's a specialized skill, but more and more people are doing it. And that's where we start to see the regional, uh, differences emerge, because people just--

Derek: So let me--right. So you, you mentioned when we talked earlier, it was about going to, I think the terminology used was pits and parts. Talk to me about while we're in that transition, is this still primarily pork? When do we get to chicken and sausage and beef, or is that part of the culture even on the plantation? 

Adrian: So that's part of the culture, even on the plantation. There's this kind of--it was just all pork. But if you look at all the early descriptions of barbecue, man, it could be pork, it could be sheep. They were doing beef. If they did a cow, because of the size, they would quarter it. So it wasn't purely from animal cooking. And chickens, man. And so, um, like the first barbecue that was kind of an emancipation celebration barbecue in Port Royal, South Carolina, uh, right after the Civil War ended, that was beef. They weren't cooking pork. And so with the rise of restaurants, that's where you start to see the specialization with sausages and stuff. And there's some references to sausages before. We just don't see a lot of them, but it becomes much more pronounced turn of the 20th century with the rise of restaurant culture and specializing in small parts.

Tamara: We will be right back after this message.


Tamara: I just had a question. You, you briefly touched upon Black women and, um, barbecue just a few minutes ago. What traditionally has been the role of Black women? If you can touch on that and just go back a little bit. Cause it's, I view it as definitely a male-dominated field. Like, you always see the men by the pit or, you know, so what was their role back then? Was it mainly the preparation? Because, you know, I mean, can you just talk a little bit about that? 

Adrian: Yeah. So in the plantation context, usually it was Black women were--they helped with the prep work and then, you know, created all the side dishes and the sauces while the meat was being cooked. But post-emancipation, uh, you know, Black women were in the barbecue game from early on, um, and, and very strong in the barbecue game. A lot of the early restaurants, we find, were either operated by women or named after women, and even the male cooks who were running the restaurants would say, "Well, yeah, my, my mom's the one who taught me how to barbecue." And in my own family, that was the, that was the deal, man. My mom, my late mother, Janetta Miller, she was the griller-in-chief. Um, and she learned from her father, who was a railroad cook on the Southern railroad. So the gender division that you see in kind of mainstream barbecue, doesn't hold as much in African American culture.

Derek: Even today?

Adrian: Even today. Yeah. 

Derek: Okay.

Tamara:  Yeah, I definitely see a change today. I was just curious more about, currently, you're seeing more women do it, but back then they did have a role, is what you found.

Adrian: Yeah, it was more--during slavery, there was more kind of a traditional division that we think of when we think of barbecue, like dudes handling the meat, women, everything else. But after emancipation, I think that changes. And part of it, I think, is just the story of entrepreneurs. When people left the South and moved to other parts of the country and started food businesses, the three most popular items featured were either fried chicken, fried fish, or barbecue. So I think a lot of women got into the barbecue game to make some money.

Derek: Yeah. Yeah. Okay, so let's fast forward to the 20th and 21st century, and talk about the state of Black barbecue more recently. Let me ask you this. Let's just start at the base here. Is there something unique about how we Black folks do our barbecue and like our barbecue, versus the mainstream, if you will? I can think about some things in my head, but I'm, I'm curious about what the research says.

Adrian: Oh yes, absolutely. So in one of my chapters, I had an exchange with the author, John Grisham, at this event. And I, I was talking about the research from my book and he incredulously said, "Well, what's the difference between Black barbecue and white barbecue?" And I said, "Black barbecue tastes better," but if you want a more in-depth answer, yeah, I think there is a Black barbecue aesthetic. In my sense, let's talk about cooking method. You know, the conventional wisdom is that barbecue should be cooked low and slow. That's certainly reflects kind of the whole animal cooking, but when you get to these smaller parts, mostly African Americans that I know are cooking hot, fast, and then slow. And they've got that technique down, especially with the ribs. Uh, we're all about sauce. There's this conventional wisdom that barbecue should be unsauced. And I think most Black people will say, "Says who?" I've been to restaurants where you get your barbecue, and it's an ocean of sauce with little islands of meat poking through, because the sauce is the calling card.

Derek: Is the sauce used as part of the cooking method or applied afterwards?

Adrian: Uh, I'm finding a, quite a few Black barbecuers do apply the sauce kind of in the last stage of the cooking process. Um, you know, uh, instead of sliced brisket, it's usually kind of chopped or even kind of shredded and heavily sauced. And so I do think there's a Black barbecue aesthetic, and it's really interesting because the way that barbecue is now being defined, by essentially the white dudes who are doing barbecue. It's moving away from an African American barbecue aesthetic. And you know, you may say, "Well, whatever," right? But there's a whole bunch of people who are coming to barbecue and it's a new thing for them. And they're listening to what these curators are telling them. And so they're walking into the Black restaurants and if they don't see what those curators are telling them, they're like, "What's up with that?" Like, I, I know that there are restauranteurs who are adding brisket to their menu because so many people are coming in and saying, "Well, where's your brisket?" Unless you're in Kansas city or Texas, it's part of that. But other than that, you know, that's not really us. So yeah, it's profound. And the reason why this is important is because there's a lot of money being made in barbecue right now.

Derek: Right?

Adrian: A lot of money. And I want Black folks to share in that prosperity.

Tamara: They were talking, like, something new, like the barbecue is something new?

Derek: That's not part of who we've been. Yeah, yeah.

Tamara: Okay. 

Derek: Yeah. And, and, and who defines what authenticity is, uh, impacts it. So, you know, one of the things that I think about is--and maybe this is a Florida thing. When I moved here about 20 years ago, but you order ribs. And when I grew up--and these were Black barbecues, they would slice the ribs in between the bones. I moved here to Florida, and it's just, it's just they butcher it, and they just chop it up and put it in a white styrofoam thing and hand it to you. So are there any other attributes that are different? We talked about the sauce, uh, what types of protein, low and slow versus like you say, fast and quick and then low and slow. Any other attributes that are unique to our culture? 

Adrian: Yeah. I wouldn't say unique, I would say they're just pretty common, because you, you see them show up in other places. But you know, if there was a holy trinity for barbecue for African Americans, I would argue--and now, you know, I may be prejudiced because of where I grew up, but I would argue it'd be spare ribs, chicken, and hot link sausages. And when I say hot link sausages, I'm talking about a very coarsely ground, very spicy sausage.

Derek: Is that a pork or a beef sausage? 

Adrian: It could be either one, actually. Um, yeah. It's usually pork, but it could be either one. 

Derek: Yeah. I think ribs are, would be at the top of that pyramid, and they would be a full, uh, rib without the--with the rip tips attached, if you will.

Adrian: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, sometimes you'll get served that uncut. I've been in places where the ribs are not even cut up. And this is more Midwest barbecue, and other places, but of course there's white bread. Right. Um, and one of the most memorable experiences I ever had was at Jenkins Quality Barbecue in Jacksonville, where they--your slab shows up on a layer of white bread, and then doused with that awesome, uh, mustard sauce. Uh, but in the Midwest, man, fries are all over the place. When you go to a Black joint anywhere in the Midwest there's fries, so.

Derek: Okay, wow. That's, that's not something we had, but it's interesting you brought up that white bread. I remember as a child going to a barbecue spot with my grandmother, and we would order a slab of ribs, or two slabs of ribs. They'd literally give you a whole loaf of bread, depending on how much you ordered. (laughing) But so, let's talk about this. I mean, is, is, like many other things in our culture, has barbecue been gentrified, if you will?

Adrian: Oh, absolutely. And so, um, it's a function of fine dining chefs getting in the barbecue game, cause fine dining chefs are now in barbecue in ways they've never really been before. And the fine dining chefs, they've been emphasizing using high quality meat. So look, I mean, I don't know why you have to use Wagyu or Kobe beef to make your barbecue, (laughing) but they've been saying, "Yeah, use prime meat or, you know, the highest quality." They're the ones that are arguing for no sauce, because they're saying, you know, they're bringing this chef's sensibility, so just saying, "Hey, you just need salt and pepper. Minimal seasoning, subtlety," right? That whole French sensibility, which is not really associated with barbecue, but they're bringing all of that stuff. And, you know, I think the perfect example of gentrification is burnt ends. So, um, burnt ends were invented by Arthur Bryant, a Black man in Kansas city, legendary joint. And it was just the--the crispy rendered fat, well, maybe a little bit of meat, off brisket that, you know, they wouldn't serve to customers. So he just, instead of throwing it away, he decided to just put it on in a container on the counter and give it away as a freebie. So it's just shards of meat. If you look at old school--now you look at burnt ends, they are perfectly cute manicured cubes of beef that are served all over the place. And actually, you know, a lot of people think they're now from Texas, because, uh, the Kansas City-ans is haven't been strong in holding, you know, holding onto that. So that's a perfect example.

Derek: Yeah. That's interesting, I've seen on TikTok, they have barbecue TikTok, and they have these chefs who are taking Wagyu brisket and smoking it and cutting it. I saw one guy actually used a ruler to get the cubes the perfect size. (laughing)

Tamara: Oh my goodness.

Adrian: You are kidding me, man. I gotta see this. (laughing)

Derek: I gotta find it. I'll send it to you. Yeah, yeah. But as opposed to, you know, originally it was just a, it was just a throwaway, like you said, that somebody gave, gave away. But, uh, okay. So that's that's gentrification. Um...

Adrian: And just to add to that, so we're seeing it in the side dishes, right? Chef's different side dishes, and then also just the prices. I mean, people are paying $30 plus for brisket. Slabs are now 24 bucks. Uh, you know, even the chicken is being sold for $20. Um, so it has a rippling effect in barbecue. Um, and, and I think it's not a good thing in a lot of cases. 

Derek: So we talked earlier, and we were talking about in the latter part of the 20th century, that the highest echelon of barbecue or Black barbecue entrepreneurs, if you will, were recognized as the, as the premier practitioners of the craft. But like we said, that that recognition has evaporated over the last 15 years. 

Adrian: Yeah.

Derek: What happened? Why, why, why are we at where we are in 2021? 

Adrian: Yeah, so I traced it to the late 80s. So before the 1990s, it was no big deal to include African Americans in any barbecue story, because why would you? It would be weird not to. But, uh, in the late eighties we get this emergence of a group called "foodies." And so, uh, there've always been people interested in food in terms of like, leisure and stuff, but those usually were wealthy people. So, if you look at the Gourmet magazines, the Bon Appetits, you know, they were catering really to that wealthy group. But now you have a bunch of middle-class people that are, um, that got money. They're much more adventurous than their parents' generation in terms of traveling and experiencing new food. And, you know, there was this requisite surge in media to cater to this group. And at the same time, barbecue was getting hot. And so barbecue gets re-imagined as a craft. There are a lot more people paying attention to it. And so the food media said, "Okay, we need to have curators so that these foodies know who to go to, to find out the best stuff and where to get it." And because food media is not diverse, they kept putting up white dudes. It's like, white dude after white dude after white dude. This all gains momentum to the point where by the 2010s, man, you're watching TV and you're not even seeing any Black people.

Derek: Right. Right. So talk to me about--and I was involved with this on the periphery about ten years ago. The whole competition, barbecue competition circuit. And so there's, there's a couple of different circuits that travel around the country. And I attended a couple, including Memphis In May, and was shocked by the fact--I mean, we're, we're sitting on the Mississippi river in downtown Memphis. And there must've been a hundred to 120 competitors. And I walked the whole thing, and I ran into three brothers.

Adrian: Yup.

Derek: And I, and I know why, but I want you to explain to people why we don't appear at these events. 

Adrian: Yeah. So I think a lot of it has to just do with the cost.

Derek: Economics, right.

Adrian: You know, to be in competitive barbecue, now, man, it's expensive. You got to get a rig. You got to, you know, buy all of that stuff to cook. Um, and then you've got to have a lifestyle that allows you to be in these competitions, because, you know, your typical worker has two weeks vacation. And I don't know if your honeydew's going to be like, "Yeah, let's spend all our vacation time going to barbecue competitions." So, um, unless you have a structured life where you can spend a lot of time on the circuit, because that's where you win the big money, right? You win several contests, and now you can win a hundred thousand dollars, you know, between $50,000 and $100,000 at a, at a contest. So I think that's what keeping a lot of people out. The second thing is culturally, I think, uh, the way that African American barbecue is made, I'm not so sure it would do well in a competition setting. 

Derek: Dude! There was a guy that won one year when I was there, that had a mayonnaise based-barbecue sauce. I'm not kidding!

Adrian: (laughing) Yeah! See? And then the other thing is in talking to restauranteurs, I can't tell you how many Black restauranteurs and barbecue people were like, "Well, I don't have anything to prove, so why should I go to their competitions and give away my stuff for free when I could make money making, doing this stuff?" So, um, but one thing--I'm glad you brought up Memphis in May. So a lot of people don't know this, but Bessie Mae café, and I hope I'm pronouncing her last name correctly, but anyway, an African American woman won the first Memphis In May with a very minimal--

Derek: What year was that?

Adrian: 1978?

Derek: Okay. Wow. I did not know that. Okay. I'll have to research that. Is that in the book?

Adrian: That's in the book. 

Derek: Okay. Alright. 

Adrian: So this was before Memphis In May got corporate and stuff. 

Derek: So talk to me about, what's the future of Black barbecue? Where are we headed? 

Adrian: Yeah, so, when I was starting out this book, I thought I was going to be writing an elegy, right? But I'm actually more hopeful now. I just see Black barbecue shifting. Um, I think restaurant culture is going to be tricky, especially at post-pandemic, but I think--you know, the brother and sister on the side of the road, that's going to thrive for a long time. Uh, the ones in the parking lots, especially at strip clubs. I don't know why we have so many barbecue joints in strip clubs. (laughing) Yeah. Uh, you know, church barbecue, you got a lot of people, a lot of pastors who are preaching the word of God and smoking meat, you know, that's thriving still. So, um, I just, I just think the culture has shifted. We're going to see as more food trucks, I think. So I'm hopeful. And, um, I think actually, we're going to see more African Americans in the competition circuit, because I--I'm seeing more on Instagram, like people who are competing. Not a lot, right? Not a ton, but I think that's what we're going to see. And then the other thing that's really interesting is, you know, uh, the exploration of alternative forms of barbecue. So like plant-based barbecue, you know, people, more and more people are using jackfruit as a substitute for pork. And there's a brother in Oakland, man. He's got a vegan barbecue place. It's called Veg Mob

Derek: I saw that. Yep, yep.

Adrian: So, um, you know, it's going to be interesting. And then there's other, there's other cats, like Matt Horn, Bryan Furman, uh, you know, Kevin Bludso, you know, you're seeing more, um, and I talk about, uh, Rodney Scott, a lot of people know about. Um, yeah, so we've seen more and more people show up in different places. So I'm hopeful. I thought it was going to be dying out, but I just don't see that. 

(musical interlude)

Derek: So, hey, we like to close these casts out, ask people a series of, I call them our fun questions, if you will. And the first thing we ask, so what's your closet food obsession? What is something that you eat that you would be embarrassed to let anybody know?

Adrian: Man, you know, those lemons zingers? I don't know if you've ever had those. Dude, I just love those. 

Derek: What are those? 

Adrian: Okay, so zinger--so you know what a Twinkie is, right?

Derek: Yeah.

Adrian: Okay. So imagine a Twinkie with frosting on it, and everything's pretty much the same. I mean, the cake is a little bit different. So lemon frosting, yellow cake with the cream filling.

Tamara: Ohhh, I have seen these. Okay.

Derek: Ohh, yellow. I've seen those. Okay, alright, okay.

Adrian: Yeah. We don't see them a lot of places, which is good, cause I'd weighed 300 pounds, but man, I just love those. 

Derek: Alright. So second question, what is a food trend that you're digging right now? What's something that's, that's real topical that you're really enjoying?

Adrian: Uh, man, this connection to Africa. So these, these--there are more chefs that are trying to reconnect, uh, food on this side of the world to west Africa, and I'm going to butcher their names so I'm not even going to pronounce them, but the brothers who have done well on Top Chef, you know, they're creating meals, like, they call them diasporic dinners. And so they may have a first course that's an African dish, and then the next course may be Caribbean, and then the next course is American south, and then the last course is something, you know, that combines all those things. I think that's really cool, just showing all those culinary connections. 

Derek: And what's the trend that you're just hating on right now, that you just don't like?

Adrian: Uh, on social media, just this like, crazy food trend? You know, making cakes with fried chicken on it and all that, and mashed potatoes and all that. I mean, I don't even know if that's edible.

Derek: Are you on TikTok?

Adrian: I'm not on TikTok. I mean, I have an account. 

Derek: Don't get it. If you get into food TikTok, you'll, you'll see a lot of that. So, uh...

Adrian: Yeah, that's just goofy to me. 

Derek: Thanks Adrian. You can get an autographed copy of his book at We will drop a link in the show notes. In addition to Black Smoke, he's also launched a companion collection of really dope barbecue and grilling spices that you can purchase on his website. Please be sure to follow and rate us wherever you get your podcasts. Also follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @soulPhoodie, S-O-U-L-P-H-O-O-D-I-E. And check out our website at