There's more barbecue around New Orleans these days. But it's not just a case of more barbecue restaurants, and that's where things get interesting. Roll up your sleeves New Orleans, it looks like our town is finally building its own barbecue culture.
Now sure, grilling has long been a commonplace around tailgates and parade routes. But through it all barbecue was really just a footnote when it came to New Orleans food. The low-and-slow barbecue styles that are the pride of our near neighbors around the South were conspicuously scant here.
Lately though barbecue has been working its way not just into New Orleans, but into the rhythms and rituals of New Orleans people. It’s been happening slowly, which seems appropriate for a craft that might only yield a meal after 12 hours of smolder. But finally the smoker has been finding a place next to the crawfish pot and the gumbo bowl, and finding a place in our food culture.
There's no single reason why this is happening now. Smoked meat and wood-fire cooking is a popular trend all across the nation, though that’s not the full story here.
It has to do with how people embrace it personally. I’m convinced one important local factor is Hogs for the Cause, the annual charity cook-off.
It was held last month, but its impact is year round thanks to the way its social and competitive format has inspired teams, and the way those teams can verge on the tribal. It involves hundreds of families who have made barbecue part of their own traditions. From this framework, it goes well beyond any event and spreads in a community, household to household.
As more New Orleans people learn the techniques and the lingo, barbecue is up for analysis by a more knowledgeable local palate, and maybe it even becomes a way to transmit family stories, in the way our most valued food rituals always do.
When a type of food takes root in restaurants that's one thing, when it's billowing away in the backyard, there's no doubt it’s your own.