The Magazine

Pigs Without Blankets

'Yes, you can do a whole hog at home'

Dec 8, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 12 • By TERRY EASTLAND
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Holy Smoke is nothing if not respectful of the centrality of the pig in North Carolina barbecue. The book includes many sidebars on pigs and many drawings and photographs of pigs, some taken while in the pit, one even while being killed and, thus, in the first stage of becoming barbecue. Fittingly, the book includes a how-to chapter on barbecuing. And yes, you can do a whole hog at home.

Holy Smoke provides recipes on just about everything that goes with barbecue: sauces (both Eastern and Piedmont); slaw ("an almost universal side dish to barbecue"); cornbread and hushpuppies; greens; okra; baked beans (which have "no southern pedigree at all"); potato salad; macaroni and cheese (the first known recipe for which was published in 1390, in England); and dessert after dessert--cobblers, banana pudding, bread pudding, pies (including fried), and cakes.

Beer and wine, by the way, are usually not sold at barbecue places. Neither goes well with the smoke-flavored meat, and anyway the ethos of a barbecue place tends to be "family." Lots of places are closed on Sunday. To be sure, soft drinks are available, but the most common liquid refreshment is tea, meaning sweet tea, really sweet tea. The authors define this tea by citing the food critic Alan Richman--"Sweetened ice tea in North Carolina isn't a beverage. It's an intravenous glucose drip"--and say there's a reason for this: "The vinegar base of most North Carolina sauces cries out for something sweet to complement it." The recipe included in Holy Smoke calls for upwards of two cups of sugar and eight cups of water.

Holy Smoke ends with worry about the future of North Carolina barbecue. More and more barbecue places have quit using wood and are cooking with gas or electricity: What these places are serving is to real barbecue "what Velveeta is to cheese." Then, too, there are places that are no longer barbecue places because they tart up the meat with fancy sauces and ribs and even substitute other meats, like duck, for pork! "Be suspicious," write the authors, "of barbecue places with valet parking."

As you can see, John Shelton Reed and his coauthors make a spirited defense of their state's barbecue tradition. I'm happy to applaud their effort, and happy, too, to recommend their book. Read it while eating some 'cue--some real 'cue.

Terry Eastland is the publisher of THE WEEKLY STANDARD. His most recent book is Freedom of Expression in the Supreme Court: The Defining Cases.