Q. Driving across Tennessee, we noticed that the barbecue in Chattanooga tastes like that in North Carolina; in Nashville, it tastes like Alabama barbecue; and in Memphis, beef was on the menu. We thought we’d accidentally driven to Texas. What’s the deal?
The only war longer and more passionately fought than the Peloponnesian War is the South’s ongoing Barbecue War. I just want everybody to calm down from the get-go.
On your drive, you crossed three cuisine-driven “state” lines without knowing it, because the political borders of Tennessee do not reflect the more honest cuisine borders within Tennessee. Culinarily, the state’s eastern mountains belong to North Carolina and Georgia, the central hills and the walking-horse country are, actually, Alabama, and the western “cotton” band around Memphis should be divided—again, culinarily—between northern Mississippi and eastern Arkansas. This is a food thing, okay? I’m not Vladimir Putin, trying to grab Tennessee’s rivers, or its horses, or its whiskey, although my Tennessee relatives occasionally accuse me of that.
Tennessee is the Barbecue Balkans. In Georgia and western North Carolina, the boys put the tomato to the sauce. My opinion is that they are insane, but at least they stick to smoking the pig. Hence the barbecue in the hills and mountains of eastern Tennessee.
Across Tennessee’s middle—the part ruled by Alabama—reason takes hold for a couple of hundred miles and the superior practice of using hickory and vinegar is common. By the time you get to Memphis, you’re a stone’s throw from Arkansas and the Texas Panhandle. You might be forgiven for thinking that some kind of allegiance to the “state” of “Tennessee” would prevail.
But no. There’s a political entity called Tennessee, but there is no one “barbecue” state of Tennessee. There are way too many cowboys per capita. They do smoke pig in Memphis, and well, but this is why you caught that curious glimpse of the cow.
Q. I have a gun choice to make this dove season. A 12 auto or Granddaddy’s 20?
Gauge is entirely up to you. There are some people in Texas whose ranch edict is that you must use a .410 for the paloma, which sounds like huge fun. Configuration of your weapon is, also, up to you, but leave the idea of the automatic at home. Two shells, please. Reload for the next bird. Ladies and gentlemen of the field should remember that they’re at a dove shoot, not taking down Zeros from an antiaircraft battery in the Pacific in 1943.
Q. What’s up with white bucks?
You’re actually suggesting that you have an objection to the national shoe? Or were you asking about the dates?
If it’s the former, I’m not sure I’m equipped to deal with heresy at this level. It’s too huge. What’s next on your list, linen? Please excuse me. I have to convene with my sartorial wizard, stat, and get back to you.
If it’s about the dates, please forget the whole benighted Memorial Day–to–Labor Day rule. That was invented by some boys in Vermont who needed to get through mud season without having to wash off their bucks.
The real deal? Spring solstice: usually March 21. Anytime after that, till anytime the cotton is harvested, in October.
Anybody tells you any different, just tell them when the cotton is off the fields, that’s when summer really ends in the South.