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Barbecue: The History of an American Institution Hardcover – August 20, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

A scholarly though eminently enjoyable treatise on the history of barbecue, thoroughly researched by the South Carolinian author of Raymond Chandler: A Literary Reference (2003). The Caribbean’s Taino Indians named this cooking technique cum social event, with one of the earliest barbecues documented in Jamaica in 1706. Barbecue quickly gained southern fans, most notably as a vehicle for political campaigning. The advent of the Civil War and its aftermath, Reconstruction, witnessed the further growth of this cooking style and its division into specific region types (for instance, North Carolina’s preference for thin, spicy, and vinegar-based sauces versus Texans’ desire for sweet, thick, and tomatoey sauces). Commercial success quickly followed, as sauces, equipment manufacturers, and restaurateurs emphasized the glories of barbecue (yes, that’s how McDonald’s started). California pioneered the home backyard version we first identified as barbecue, and after a brief decline in interest, Americans reembraced barbecue in all shapes and varieties. Sidebars enliven the somewhat pedantic text, from the origins of hash as a side dish to the first-ever barbecue competition (1978 Memphis in May). --Barbara Jacobs


"In recent years, there has been an abundance of books detailing the history of American regional foodstuffs from apple pie to fried chicken, but few writers have tackled one of the most singular American food traditions: barbecue. Author/food historian Moss takes up this challenge in his engaging history of barbecue from its origins in colonial America to the development of regional styles and barbecue restaurant culture. In the early chapters, Moss describes the impact of barbecue on American politics in the South and the Midwest, the role of the Civil War on barbecue and its place in African American food culture, and the rise of "barbecue men" in the late-19th century. The last half of the book details the different regional styles of barbecue that grew out of the barbecue restaurant boom of the mid-20th century and the rebirth of barbecue restaurants today. This is an engaging work suitable for public and academic libraries with large food history collections. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates and general readers."

“Moss knows more about the history of barbecue than anyone I’ve yet encountered, and nothing like this book has ever before been published. To his great credit, he treats his subject seriously but not solemnly. Barbecue is simply a lot of fun to read about. At least it is in Moss’s hands. He has some good stories to tell, and he tells them well. I love it that aristocrats of the South Carolina low country established private clubs where gentlemen could eat ‘cue without having to mingle with the hoi polloi. Who knew that barbecue once flourished in New England?”
—John Shelton Reed, coauthor of Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue

“Amazing as it seems, in all the welter of barbecue books extant, there is not a single one that comes close to recording this history. The effort has been long overdue, but here it is, finally, and it fills some huge gaps in the long and colorful story of this food tradition. I venture to guess that if the word gets around that a real social history of barbecue is on the market, it will stir up some genuine interest among the tens of thousands of Americans who love this subject. It’s truly the first comprehensive history of American barbecue.”
—John Egerton, author of Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History

“Moss is a food historian and freelance writer from the Charleston, S.C., area who spent 10 years bringing this book from the roots of its research to press. I'm glad to say that it was time well spent. If you enjoy reading about barbecue history, then this book is a must-read for you. What sets this book apart is what you discover in this book that you don't find in many other places. I really enjoyed the new perspectives that Moss has brought forward. This is a book you'll want to pick up soon.”—Doug Mosley for National Barbecue News

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: University Alabama Press; 1st Edition edition (August 20, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081731718X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0817317188
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #527,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert F. Moss is a food and drinks writer and culinary historian living in Charleston, South Carolina. He is the Contributing Barbecue Editor for Southern Living and the Southern Food Correspondent for Serious Eats. He is a frequent contributor to the Charleston City Paper, and his work has also appeared in publications such as Garden & Gun, the Los Angeles Times, the Charlotte Observer, Texas Monthly, the Columbia Free Times, and Early American Life.

Robert is the author of The Barbecue Lover's Carolinas, which was published by Globe Pequot in May 2015. His previous books include Barbecue: The History of an American Institution (2010), the first full-length history of barbecue in the United States, and Going Lardcore: Adventures in New Southern Dining (2012), a collection of essays about dining in the modern South. His next book will be Southern Spirits: Four Hundred Years of Drinking in the American South with Recipes, to be published by Ten Speed Press in April 2016.

A native of Greenville, South Carolina, Robert attended Furman University and received a Ph.D. in English from the University of South Carolina.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Tri-State BBQ Festival on November 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Robert Moss has written the single most comprehensive history of BBQ from pre-colonial times to present, and is an expert on the different regional styles of BBQ. His book, Bar*Be*Que is fantastic ( I read it cover to cover) and has some really neat facts in it... like the first McDonalds (yes, the same ones we have today) was actually a BBQ joint. Did you know that even though North Carolina takes credit for being the original home of BBQ... it was really Virginia that started BBQ? Learn more by reading the book. It's great for both history buffs and BBQ fanatics.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Autamme_dot_com on January 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Many countries claim the barbecue as their own particular speciality. Think Australians and their beach barbies; think Americans and their massive barbecue grills; think Britons and their washed-out, rainy burnt sausages. OK, cancel the latter, but you get the picture.
Here the author has taken the barbecue crown for the Americans. Straight from the title: the history of an AMERICAN institution. The book's cover blurb sets the scene perfectly: "Americans enjoy reading about barbecue almost as much as they love eating it. Books on the subject cover almost every aspect of the topic: recipes, grilling tips, restaurant guides, pit-building instruction and catalogues of exotic variants such as Mongolian barbecue and Indian tandoor cooking. Despite this coverage, the history of barbecue in the United States has until now remained virtually untold."
Yet for a subject so dear to the heart of so many, the barbecue has hardly featured in the printed word over time, with the exception of recipe books - of which there are plenty - in more recent times. The author noted that very, very little appeared in print prior to 1900 and what little that had appeared was quite fragmentary in nature. So to construct this work the author has been forced to undertake a lot of painstaking detective work.
Barbecue cooking has, the author notes, been intertwined with American society over time, tracking each change and development in the country's relative short history. Combine this with regional tastes and styles of food with their local ingredient influences and you really have quite a broad subject that is focussed around a common element - the humble barbecue fire or pit. Nowadays, of course, there are many different types of barbecue too and each type attracts so many different opinions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Laura L. Quinn on July 31, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was a gift for a true barbecue enthusiast who has spent a lifetime (50+ years) studying the art of barbecue. He LOVED IT! A great book for those who already know much of the "how to" and lust for the full story of its origins, stories, characters and cultural role in the U.S.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a fantastic history on barbecue. Robert Moss is my favorite Southern food historian so I wasn't at all surprised by the breadth and depth of this book. It's easy to read and easy to follow, with lots of fun and interesting anecdotes, as well as some great original source material. My only suggestion for improvement (maybe in a future version) would be a large chart or map that helps describe all of the different variations on barbecue and sauces.
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