I recently read Sylvia Lovegren's piece about the history of barbecue, published in the July/August issue of American Heritage, and learned quite a bit. The subject is complicated, I have found, because the history is all over the place and the tastes and styles so varied not by country, but by region.
Ms. Lovegren did a good job sweeping through those. I've heard that word barbacoa quite often the past year or so and didn't know the roots. I like that the writer immediately defined what barbecue stands for, and grilling ain't barbecue. I bitch about that all the time, the phrase, “We're having a barbecue.” Really, you have a pit? “No, we're grilling some burgers and hot dogs.”
Critically, I liked the mix of barbecuists, writers and academics she relied upon, but thought Texas and Kansas City needed a little more depth. The fact that Texas Monthly hired a full-time barbecue editor a few years ago would have been worth a mention, and maybe a few words from him. She broadstroked Aaron Franklin, whose importance to the current barbecue craze (and industry, which is increasingly becoming politicized) is important. He's almost single-handedly responsible for the vast consumerism of barbecue, leading to an enormous cottage industry of grills, smokers, accessories, master classes and seminars, and books.
Make no mistake, the patio barbecuist has hurt the commercial barbecue business, where almost 90 percent of all new restaurants close in a year. Now, any dumbass can buy a $500 pellet smoker with digital controls and make a high-quality brisket.
The writer made a good choice to emphasize the sociology aspect of barbecue; again, an area where I learned some new things. But I'm not sure how much the purveyor cares about that stuff, so that's why it was important to an American Heritage piece. She crammed a book's worth of topics into a relatively small space.