Barbecue is a Southern cultural icon. Bound to the long tradition of Southern history, barbecue has become more than just pit-smoked pork. Its ties to history, culture, and foodways make it one of the few aspects of life in the South that has not been significantly homogenized by the "Americanization of Dixie." Most Northerners do not understand the concept of barbecue, and are perfectly content to continue grilling hot dogs in the back yard, thank you very much. Barbecue remains a Southern phenomenon, one that can be embraced by Southerners of every race, class and political orientation. What constitutes true barbecue is another question, but arguing over barbecue beats arguing about other, more incendiary (no pun intended) topics. A rousing discussion over a plate of pulled pork makes for a healthy airing of opinions. After wending your way through this project, you should be amply equipped to argue with the most fervent barbecue aficionado. Start with the proper way to spell it . . . .
Barbecue joints are a legacy of Southern cultural history that should be cherished. Despite the growth of homogenized fast food chains, barbecue remains a supreme convenience food. It is highly unlikely that any chain will master authentic barbecue (remember the McRib?) The preparation of barbecue is time- consuming and inconvenient, but an incredibly persistent Southern foodway. Perhaps other Southerners see barbecue as an icon, too.
Now that you know all about the history of barbecue, and why it should be termed a Southern icon, it is time to go eat some. Good places to look for listings of authentic barbecue restaurants are in the attached bibliography. Of particular interest are Jane and Michael Stern's Good Food, John Egerton's Southern Food, and Greg Johnson's Real Barbecue.