In light of the warm weather that is slowly dawning upon us, let us turn to our guest blogger, WKU Professor Wes Berry, aka Professor Porkbelly, for some words of wisdom on how to satisfy your warm weather cravings.
“April is the cruelest month, said T.S. Eliot, the American poet who became an Englishman. I doubt Eliot would’ve scribbled that famous line if he’d been living in Kentucky, where April brings Red Bud and Dogwood blooms, the return of Purple Martins, and the sweet smell of animals cooked over wood coals. That’s right. It’s barbecue time.
In 2009 Professor Porkbelly (yours truly) officially hit the blue highways of Kentucky determined to eat at every barbecue joint from the Mississippi River to Appalachia, and a few years later and 25 pounds heavier I published the results in The Kentucky Barbecue Book.
What did I discover? We Kentuckians are like the big-souled poet Walt Whitman–large, containing multitudes of barbecue. We cook an impressive variety of God’s creatures on numerous contraptions, using diverse mops, sops, sauces and different types of hardwoods. And heck, some of the best places just serve up long-smoked meats naked—just meat, smoke, and time. Maybe some salt and pepper, which is nearly naked.
In a few-county region in southcentral Kentucky, you can eat “Monroe Co. Style,” thin-sliced pork grilled over hickory coals and sopped with a vinegary-lardy-peppery sauce. This short video of R & S Bar-B-Q in Tompkinsville in Monroe County showcases this sweat-inducing BBQ treat. You like Buffalo style wings? Then you’ll probably dig the heat of Monroe Co. style. Get it “dipped” if you like a tingly tongue. The Kentucky Barbecue Book includes an old recipe of this distinctive microregional barbecue dip.
In Hopkinsville and in several counties stretching all the way to the Mississippi River, you can fill up on mutton and whole pork shoulders cooked on traditional masonry pits at places like The Woodshed, a family owned joint who just celebrated their 30-year anniversary. In this video, we get a behind-the-scenes look at their barbecue pits. Warning: it might make you hungry.
Or you might want to take in one of our great barbecue festivals, all described in detail in The Kentucky Barbecue Book, like Owensboro’s International Barbecue Festival in May where you’ll see and smell thousands of pounds of mutton and chickens smoking up the downtown streets, or check out The Kentucky State BBQ Festival in Danville or the state’s largest festival, Paducah’s Barbecue on the River, in September.
And there’s much more to explore, many kinds of microregional flavors of barbecue—all within a daytrip of Bowling Green, my current hometown and ideal location from which to venture for a sampling of our various regional styles of smoky meaty delights. And when you hit the highways, you should have as your co-pilot a copy of The Kentucky Barbecue Book, which includes reviews of 115 of my favorite Kentucky barbecue places + 16 pages of colored photos + over 30 recipes + a regional BBQ map). I’m delighted to send a signed copy right to your mailbox from my website.
So come on down, or up, or over and explore this lovely place on earth. The Red Bud trees are already popping this first week of April, the spring peepers peeping, the lambs bleating—and someday those lambs will grow into mutton, which is oh-so delicious when cooked for many hours over wood coals. Oh, and do try burgoo if eating at one of the 18 barbecue places in the state that make it.
Love and peace and smoky treats, and MAY THE PORK (or mutton, chicken, beef, bologna, city ham, goat—we cook it all in KY) BE WITH YOU!”
Facebook: Wes Berry’s Kentucky Barbecue Adventures
A big thanks to Professor Porkbelly! Be sure to pick up a copy of The Kentucky Barbecue Book to eat your way into the Spring and Summer!