Saturday, April 25, 2009

BBQ Book Review - Cornbread Nation 2

Title: Cornbread Nation 2: The United States of Barbecue
Author: Various; Introduction by Lolis Eric Elie
Published: 2004 UNC Press

Cornbread Nation is a publication for the Southern Foodways Alliance which is the authority on all things related to southern cooking. In this second installment (they're now up to 4 editions) they've made barbecue their focus. The bold claim on their website is that this book is "the most complete barbecue anthology ever assembled". I think that's quite a stretch for a book with nary a mention of barbecue after page 142 of this 276 page book. The final 22 chapters of this book barely give you a whiff of smoke with stories about waitstaff controversy at Galatoire's in New Orleans, homicide with a frying pan, and a great tribute to one of my favorite foods, boudin, by one of my favorite food writers, Calvin Trillin. Unfortunately, boudin is about as close as you get to BBQ in this final half of the book, unless you count a few mentions of New Orleans barbecued shrimp.

What the second half lacks, the first half more than makes up for with writing sure to make your mouth water, as well as forcing you to consider barbecue in a far deeper context than before. Barbecue from all parts of the south is discussed with articles from traditions as disparite as barbacoa, whole hog cooking, Georgia barbecue, and Memphis Jews trying to overcome the tempation of fragrant smoked ribs. Much of the writing moves beyond just the food like when Robb Walsh delves deep into the role of race in barbecue tradition and competitions in his article "Texas Barbecue in Black and White", while Max Brantley keeps it lighter with his tales of proprietors incensed by his bbq joint reviews in "The Ribs Hit the Fan". I can certainly empathize. John Shelton Reed's article, "Barbecue Sociology" might best exhibit the theme of this collection with his discussion about barbecue traditions and habits all across this country.

A great collection of 'cue articles, stories and poems in the first half of this book is unfortunately sullied with a wholly different collection of southern food writing in the second half. The editor here seems to have either lost their way, or simply run out of material, but any true barbecue fan can no doubt enjoy those first 142 pages of pure 'cue.

- BBQ Snob

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Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.