At the end of last month, a small business not far from my place in Columbia City, Lil Red’s Takeout & Catering, found itself in the pages of a new book, Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue, by Adrian Miller.
The author, as Seattle Times' Bethany Clement pointed out, is a "James Beard Book Award winner and certified Kansas City Barbeque Society judge"; and so his determination that Lil Red’s was one of the top black-owned barbecue joints in the US put it on the map. Suddenly, something appeared at this small restaurant that I've never seen in the entire time I've known of its existence (2 years): a line to the counter. Indeed, the business was so busy during Mother's Day weekend that it even ran out of food to cook and sell.
A text from a friend:
Lil Red's got a national write up of the top 20 black owned businesses in the United States and now you can't even get in there. People are lining up outside that place; [my husband] tried to get me some jerk chicken for Mother's Day, he waited in line outside for like 15 minutes, and didn't get anything because they ran out of food!
Selecting Lil Red’s as one of the top US BBQ spots was not controversial. It seemed plausible that Seattle could have at least one such business deserving of that honor. The feeling of plausibility, however, instantly evaporated when today, May 13, the website Chef’s Pencil, a "resource for professional chef recipes, professional cooking advice, and news from the culinary industry," placed Seattle in the seventh position for top BBQ cities in the US.
From a famous writer:
From a famous politician:
From a "[c]onnoisseur of brown liquor and tacos" and "former hugger":
I have had some great BBQ in Seattle. Great BBQ does exist in the PNW, but better than anywhere in Texas? The entire state of Texas!? This survey has more to do with who is more likely to use TripAdvisor than it is about who has the best BBQ.
-RC - Meat Enthusiast pic.twitter.com/jqFfWwpmup
— Ryan Castle (@ryandic) May 13, 2021
This is the method Chef's Pencil used to determine a city's position in the BBQ hierarchy:
"We analyzed TripAdvisor ratings of all BBQ joints in the nation’s top 75 largest cities and ranked the cities based on their average rating,” TripAdvisor officials shared.
Researchers said they also ranked the cities by the number of BBQ places per capita, as well as those with the highest number of top-rated BBQ places (rating 4.5 and higher).
“Overall, our team has analyzed 2,020 places offering BBQ on their menu that had at least 5 reviews,” researchers added. “From the final rankings, we excluded cities with less than 10 BBQ restaurants within their city limits – BBQ joints outside the city limits were not included in our analysis.”
I will not take sides on this issue—though I do recommend Lil Red's, but not for its BBQ but its Jamaican style chicken. I am, however, interested in statements like:
1. "BBQ is literally the only thing everyone in Texas can agree on."
2. “Memphis in May” — a world championship BBQ contest — takes place every May in Memphis.
3. "I AM SO MAD."
4. "SEATTLE?! Are you fucking kidding me?!"
Or: "You can’t tell me with a straight face that people would rather get BBQ from Seattle over somewhere in Texas or in Memphis?!!" (Memphis, a very black city, is rated 47, which is even far below Portland, which ranks 11.)
What all of this is telling us is that Seattle, which trended on Twitter this morning because of the BBQ outrage, has a meaning in the US that's not compatible with the principles, the needed weltanschauung for the proper firing and smoking of pigs. Why?
The answer is simply this: BBQ is food for and by the people. And Seattle, which is a 100% gentrified city has close to no such people in its area. So, how can it be at the top of this list? One would understand if Seattle had the best avocado toast in the US, or top latte in the US, or, for the matter, the top American restaurant. But how can this city of rich (and mostly white) people be down with the soul of BBQ? And do they even eat meat over there? It seems, from the perspective of real Americans, that elite Seattle does not have it in itself (its mode of culture) a way to feel the deepest love for any kind of people food. But a cook in, say, Memphis, does.
I walked through downtown Memphis in the morning once. This happened in the year 2017. I was there for a film festival. And all that I smelled at 8 am was gasoline and the smoke of cows and pigs. Can you compare this experience to one in Seattle? Not at all. And this is what haters are all saying on Twitter. Seattle, you stick with your fancy foods. Even if the Chef's Pencil's methodology is sound, the 206 can't be at the top of this working-class game.
But remember, the BBQ in Seattle is LIT!
— Adreana Langston (@AdreanaInLB) May 13, 2021