First in Barbecue Editors, Too

Yesterday’s New York Times had a story about a Texas magazine that recently hired a Barbecue Editor. It’s an interesting piece, but one does get the impression from reading it that the Texans invented the job and that nobody had ever thought to do it before them.

The Times article says that the position “exists at no other magazine in America,” which may be technically true, but I’d like to point out that there was a Barbecue Editor in North Carolina more than 15 years ago. In 1996, the North Carolina Literary Review named poet and English professor William Harmon as its Barbecue Editor, a position that attracted some attention at the time, most notably from News & Observer columnist Dennis Rogers who lamented that he was passed over for the position.

Harmon wasn’t the only one to wax poetic about our state’s finest culinary offering. James Applewhite’s 1983 poem “Barbecue Service” is, in my opinion, the finest piece of literature yet written about barbecue. And as I wrote here in 2006, barbecue has even found its way into our state’s leading history journal, with an excellent piece on barbecue culture in eastern North Carolina and a call for more academic study of the topic.

Not to pick on our friends in Texas, but the barbecue editor position at Texas Monthly, at least as described by the Times, sounds more like a barbecue critic, charged with seeking out and reviewing restaurants around the state. In other words, the same thing that Bob Garner has been doing for WUNC-TV and in print for nearly twenty years. When the Texas editor gets around to writing a book about barbecue, he’d be advised to model it after the excellent Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, by John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed, published a few years ago by UNC Press, which combines a scholarly and popular approach to the subject.

We don’t begrudge our neighbors in other states their own culinary traditions, but in North Carolina we take talking and writing about barbecue almost as seriously as we do eating it.