Barbecue Nation, curated by the Atlanta History Center, charts a cultural timeline of this fabled American craft. Twenty years in the making, the inclusive and expansive exhibit opened this May and closes next June. Here are highlights:
The material culture game is strong
Ogle a chopping block, worn concave from cleaver work, loaned from Skylight Inn of Ayden, North Carolina; a burn barrel, rusted to a beautiful auburn, signed by Rodney Scott of Charleston, South Carolina; and a fleet of portable patio smokers, including an aluminum Char-Broil model from 1948 that resembles a wheeled trash can and features a chopping block rear spoiler.
Honest barbecue has long been imperiled
The wrapper on a bottle of Wright’s Condensed Smoke, made in Kansas City around 1900, promised: “This bottle will smoke a barrel of meat, cheaper, safer, and quicker than the old way.”
Women get the last laugh
Printed in block letters across one wall is a bold declaration: outdoor cooking is man’s work. The curators —Jonathan Scott, Jim Auchmutey, and Craig Pascoe— have subversively positioned that quote, from a 1941 James Beard book, above a majestic image of a woman pitmaster, her arms raised high at a 1970s Harlem community barbecue.
As a bonus, the Atlanta History Center has tapped a variety of SFA work for the exhibit, including a documentary film on Helen’s Bar-B-Que in Brownsville, TN. To watch Helen Turner work, step to one of the woodsmoke-perfumed viewing theaters, set in a makeshift pit bank. —JTE