Memphis in May: Pork-a-Palooza
Truth in Barbecue
After Sean Brock grew up “dirt, dirt, dirt poor,” with a dream that seemed impossible from the forgotten corner of Virginia he called home; after he won his Beard medal at age thirty-two and hid with his cell phone in a Lincoln Center bathroom, weeping, calling to tell his mama, I did it; after Donald Link did for boudin what Arnold Palmer did for golf; after Sam Jones tended his pit the same way his ancestors did two hundred years ago; after Rodney Scott showed up to man the fires at midnight the night he graduated from high school; after John Currence learned to cook on a tugboat the morning after he graduated; after we traveled to Memphis to try to change the way people think about barbecue; after we succeeded, and also failed; after all that, I can’t shake an image that I’ll cherish long after my cardiologist buys a new ski boat with the money he’ll make off the weekend: Pat Martin, our loud, opinionated mouth of the South, sitting in the corner, waiting to find out if we’d won.
He’s quiet now, with his little boy on his lap. They have the same haircut. Martin gives his son a kiss and rubs his forehead. He holds him tight. Something becomes clear in this moment. The real barbecue we love, that we pretentiously and earnestly came to save, might be under siege, but it isn’t dead. It lives in anyone who believes in doing things the way their grandfathers did, who believes that what we eat tells a story about who we are. It lives in anyone who cares enough to sit all night with a hog. It lives in the fading notes of “Auld Lang Syne” and in the sparks popping off the burn barrel past midnight. It lives in the way a father holds his boy when the cooking is done.