Take all the knowledge—gathered by a lifetime of barbecue obsession—and season it with ingenuity, storytelling, great photos and maps. Let the idea simmer to perfection a few years. Then add two history professors and a couple of communication students.
What do you get?
The state’s first and only barbecue website: “Georgia BBQ Trails: Georgia History and Culture Through BBQ.”
“It’s something that was missing in Georgia,” said Dr. Craig Pascoe, professor of history. “There’s a lot of places that do reviews, but no one approaches it the way we do—in an educational, informative way.”
Pascoe’s lifelong passion with barbecue led him to teach a “Southern Foodways and Traditions” course that includes history of the smoked meat. He’s a certified barbecue judge and will be judging the 2018 Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue competition Oct. 27 in Lynchburg, Tennessee.
Pascoe was also the conceptional design creator for “Barbecue Nation,” a new exhibit at the Atlanta History Center that opened in May and runs through September 2019. Including a BBQ website in the exhibit was part of his plan. But, ultimately, it proved too time consuming for museum officials to create.
Then Pascoe played with the idea of creating his own BBQ app. That was too costly, running as much as $40,000. So, he settled on building a website himself, enlisting the help of colleague Dr. James "Trae" Welborn, assistant professor of history. Welborn grew up near Charleston, South Carolina, and remembers barbecues with vinegar sauce being the focus of social events there.
“Telling stories and looking for patterns and connections in the way people experience family and community is really what barbecue means to me,” Welborn said. “On a personal level and professionally as a historian, it’s an easy way to get at people’s experience. It’s part of their identity. It’s part of their sense of community.”
The historic element was missing on barbecue websites in other states, Pascoe said. Many are heavily based on reviews and lists. But his new website doesn’t offer appraisals. It won’t include chain restaurants either.
What Georgia BBQ Trails will offer is a list of authentic, locally-owned barbecue places on an interactive map. “Gone but not forgotten” barbecues will be featured, like Poss’ Barbecue in Athens—the official BBQ for University of Georgia football in the 1950s, and ‘60s.
Less-known, obscure establishments will be featured too—in little towns like Sylvania and Hiltonia in northeast Georgia. Crucial issues will be addressed: Is true BBQ sauce tomato- or vinegar-based? Should it be whole hog or Boston Butt? Is meat sliced or chopped?
Eventually, there will be recipes for genuine Southern sides, like mac-n-cheese and baked beans. And, most importantly, the website will someday chronicle the role of barbecue in state history with oral testimonies of pit masters, restaurant owners, workers and patrons.
Junior communication major Ansley Robinson of Marietta is compiling content for the website. Someday, she’d like to do event planning for weddings. Gathering data and organizing content is something Robinson said she’ll need to know in her career.
She researches barbecue establishments throughout Georgia. Eventually, the state will be divided into five regions. Robinson contacts owners to ask questions, validate authentic barbecue traits and identify which category to place them in. There will be two main groupings: Any BBQ place opening before 1980 is historic and everything after, contemporary.
This is what Pascoe calls “the tedious task of accumulating” data. It’s the website’s initial but vital first stage. Once the group has gathered information on 300 to 400 barbecue sites, they’ll set up an interactive map with pins for users to click on for pop-up information.
Next fall, Pascoe’s entire “Southern Foodways and Traditions” class will get involved. Students will collect oral histories from pit masters and restaurant owners in their hometowns throughout Georgia. Welborn will also gather stories and write histories. Some will be videotaped and posted on the website.
Putting this all together into a visual masterpiece is senior communication major Christopher Mott of Kennesaw. He tinkered with website-building in coursework, but this is the first time Mott’s ever built a website. Through this practicum experience, Mott said he’s shaping his craft. He wants to someday own an entertainment conglomerate. Learning to build a website is a “huge component” in preparing for that business, he said.
Mott’s immediate contribution, according to Pascoe, was modifying the early website so it shrinks for easy navigation by mobile phone. He also added an antique touch, so the site is “aesthetically pleasing.”
“It definitely has a very vintage feel to it,” Mott said. “It has a very old-time, very rustic feel. For barbecue especially, I feel it’s the perfect fit.”
Going forward, Mott said website photographs will be mostly black and white with some red elements to invoke a feeling of nostalgia and BBQ sauce.
Two other communication students helped establish the basic website design last spring: Makala Hayes and Mallory Haynes. They used GoDaddy, a service that simplifies website building. Jim Auchmutey, a former writer at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, is helping the group with content. And Ryan Cooper, a geopgrapher with the National Parks Service, is creating the interactive map.
The unique thing about Georgia BBQ Trails, however, will be the stories.
For example, a former BBQ place near Milledgeville in the 1950s and ‘60s allowed patrons to go outside to a pit and use tongs to pull meat from a whole hog. There wasn’t much room to sit inside. So, African-Americans ate and sat alongside white folk, which Pascoe said was “an odd exception in a very segregated society.”
That’s the beauty and history of barbecue.
And, perhaps, too, it explains a nation’s fascination.
“It speaks to issues of race and gender and who’s cooking the barbecue. It speaks to the traditions, of celebration, of coming together as a nation,” Pascoe said. “Barbecue’s not just a Southern thing. It’s a national thing. It’s the truly-unique cuisine of America.”
You can find Georgia BBQ Trails at: https://georgiabbqtrails.com/.
Georgia BBQ Trails’ Face Book page is at: https://www.facebook.com/georgiabbqtrails/.