How does Black barbecue factor into your childhood and personal story?
Barbecue was a celebrated part of my childhood, but it wasn’t a major part of my diet. My family made and ate barbecue primarily on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day. The barbecue we ate was influenced by the culinary traditions that my African American parents brought from the American South. So, my barbecue meals were pork spareribs, chicken, and hot link sausages served with a tangy and sweet barbecue sauce. I eat far more barbecue at restaurants these days. Another factor is that my very first job was at a barbecue restaurant. I was a busboy/dishwasher at Luther’s BBQ in Aurora. Sadly, the restaurant burned down in the 1990s.
You call yourself an evangelist for Black barbecue. What would you like people to know in your sermon?
I want people to know that colonizing whites and enslaved African Americans created southern barbecue by building on the foundation laid by Native American meat cooking techniques. Because barbecue was so labor intensive, enslaved African Americans became barbecue’s go to cooks. After Emancipation, free African American cooks became barbecue’s most effective ambassadors. One can’t earnestly talk about American barbecue without recognizing African American contributions to this food that is beloved around the world. Can I get an “Amen!”?
In your book you talk about barbecue being social. What about barbecue helps build community?
In its earliest days, barbecue demanded community because it was about whole animal cooking. It takes a crowd to cook and eat all of that food. With all of those people involved, they seized upon the opportunity to have a good time and reinforce social bonds. In the early nineteenth century, politicians and preachers figured out that filling a large number of people with delicious food made them more likely to be persuaded. Today, barbecue is about cooking smaller cuts of meat, but the social dynamics remain the same. Barbecue is a great cuisine for bringing people together.
We hear about Southern, Texas and Midwestern barbecue traditions. Do Denver and Colorado have anything unique to offer?
Most definitely Since the late 1800s, Colorado was known for its bison and lamb barbecues. Colorado lamb is highly regarded. If you go to a knowledgeable butcher and ask for a “Denver rack,” you’ll get a rack of lamb ribs. The city of Greeley used to host a “Hi-Country Lamb Cook-off” that often featured some lamb barbecue. For some sad reason, Colorado rich barbecue legacy had faded by the 1990s. Fortunately, we have some restaurants like Roaming Buffalo BBQ that have bison and lamb on its menu. I think it’s time that Denver reclaimed its heritage and create signature bison and lamb barbecue dishes. Who’s with me?
If people don’t have time to make their own sauce from scratch are there any you highly recommend?
My absolute favorite commercial barbecue sauce is Gates Bar-B-Que sauce. Gates is a historic, Black-owned, group of barbecue restaurants in the Kansas City, Missouri area. Fortunately, many major grocery stores carry it on their shelves. I’m also a big fan of the mustard-based sauce from Jenkins Quality Barbecue. It’s a tangy revelation, and you’ll have to go to Jacksonville, Florida to get it.