#HRBooks review: Virginia Barbecue history hits the spot

HRBooks contributor

If you like barbecue, then this is the book for you. If you don't like barbecue, but like history, then this is the book for you. If you are just interested in what barbecue is all about, then this is the book for you.

"Virginia Barbecue, A History," by native Virginian Joseph R. Haynes, is probably more of an encyclopedia of Virginia barbecue than a history. To set the record straight, the author proclaims barbecue originated in the West Indies and found its way to Virginia and then gradually to other areas of the South.

Haynes says if you ask 100 people what barbecue is, you will get 101 different answers. Perhaps the first question to be considered is: How do you spell the word. "Barbecue" is in the title of this book, but it may also be "barbeque," "bar-b-q," or "BBQ." Actually, it really doesn't matter.

Chapter one, about the "real" American barbecue, discusses roasting, broiling, smoking, southern barbecue, western barbecue, backyard barbecue, kitchen barbecue and just barbecuing. That covers only 24 pages of a 240-page text.

Several chapters are strictly history elaborating on barbecue in Virginia from the early settlers around Jamestown to the present. Another entire chapter is devoted to barbecuing "in the Indian manner." Haynes demonstrates that when the settlers landed on Roanoke Island, North Carolina in the mid-1580s they found Native Americans there roasting or barbecuing with a spit and also on a frame over a hot fire.

Later comes the encyclopedic barbecue material: Political barbecues, picnic barbecues, business barbecues, festival barbecues and personal barbecues. These elements are just great, often funny, often enlightening, often weird. But just great.

It must be pointed out that barbecue devotees in other parts of this nation simply will not agree with Haynes' claims regarding Virginia barbecue, or barbecue traditions for that matter. Vinegar-based barbecue sauce is the real Virginia tradition, he says, regardless of the claim of North Carolinians that the vinegar use came first in their sauce.

Western barbecue traditionalists assert their style, no matter whether it was first or last is simply the best and nothing can be compared with barbecuing out-on-the-range. Admittedly, far western barbecue is simply a Spanish style.

Sit back and enjoy his chapter on the nineteenth-century barbecue heroes who either became top chefs or cooks in their area or politicians who knew now to throw a barbecue, such as Virginian James Madison. He also discusses the influence of slavery on the art of barbecuing.

Regardless of what you take from this narrative, it's worth going out in the countryside of Virginia or in some of its larger communities and to sample some barbecue. If you make 20 lunchtime or dinnertime stops, you'll find easily 20 different styles of barbecue or 20 different sauces. Must be fun and good eating!

"Virginia Barbecue," by Joseph R. Haynes is available at most Barnes & Noble Bookstores, or on line at Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com. The price is $19.95 or less.

Williamsburg's Kale has written a number of nonfiction books of local interest, including "A Very Virginia Christmas."

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