Crusading to honor, preserve ‘real barbecue’

Mar. 01, 2014 @ 10:19 PM

John Shelton Reed knows a thing or two about barbecue. As the saying goes, he wrote the book on it.

“Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue,” written with his wife, Dale Volberg Reed and published in 2008, is very much the bible of our state’s barbecue.  Reed, one of the most distinguished sociologists of his generation, retired in 2000 after many years as the William Rand Kenan Jr. Professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina. Among many other legacies at UNC, he helped to found the Center for the Study of the American South.

And Dan Levine is no slouch when it comes to thinking about, writing about – and eating barbecue. Levine’s day job is assistant real estate director at Durham’s Self-Help, but he blogs passionately as Porky LeSwine at

The two friends – of one another and true barbecue – have launched a website and a crusade to certify and celebrate what they mourn as the diminishing number of barbecue joints that prepare their ‘cue the only true way. That, in Levine and Reed’s view (which, by the way, is absolutely correct) is “slow and low” over a wood fire.

In true John Shelton Reed fashion, his email to me a couple weeks ago telling about the project was puckishly titled “making trouble.”  But the pair behind “The Campaign for Real Barbecue” wants to be, they say, positive.

“We're not going to name and shame gassers (restaurants that cook over gas or electricity),” Reed told The Charlotte Observer’s food columnist, Kathleen Purvis. “But they know who they are and they know what they can do about it. It's never too late to be saved.”

That gives you as sense of the theological fervor he brings to the cause of barbecue purity.

Or as Levine puts it in a news release announcing their campaign, “Wood smoke is what makes real barbecue, and good barbecue cooked entirely with wood is the gold standard by which all others are judged.”

The campaign, the release notes, “wants to help such restaurants stay in business and encourage new ones to open.”

New ones are in fact opening, even as many are abandoning wood or charcoal for the cleaner and easier gas or electricity. The Pit Authentic Barbecue, which opened last year on West Geer Street -- along with its original namesake in Raleigh – makes the “TrueCue” list. Others in Durham and Orange counties are long-time fixture Allen & Son Barbeque in Chapel Hill and the Backyard BBQ Pit in Durham.

In addition to certifying restaurants as purveyors of “true cue,” the campaign’s website says it intends to “educate eaters about the barbecue tradition and the difference between Real Barbecue and faux ‘cue.”

To that end, the website invites you to take “the pledge,” which includes such assurances as:

“I will proclaim the difference between Real Barbecue and faux ‘cue, the former being sublime and the latter merely roasted meat.

“I will keep the Faith. I will not eat meat cooked only with gas or electricity and mislabeled “barbecue,” except when courtesy requires it.

“Even in the face of ignorance, indifference, and bland meat, I will not despair, confident that Real Barbecue shall not perish from the earth.”

If you want to find out more about the campaign or to take “the pledge,” visit the website at

And you can follow the belief of “BBQJew:”

“Moses led his people through the desert precisely to enjoy chopped pork. And that the Promised Land is not flowing with milk and honey, but barbecue and hush puppies.”


Bob Ashley is editor of The Herald-Sun. You can reach him at 919-419-6678 or