A Brief History
In May of 1539, Spaniard Hernando de Soto landed on the Florida coastline near Tampa Bay. While he was not the first white man to launch an excursion into the Americas, his was of greater magnitude than his few predecessors. During his exploration of now Southeastern United States, de Soto and his men brought live domesticated swine as food. As the explorations continued, many swine escaped enclosures and are the ancestors to virtually all domestic and feral swine in the US today.
By the seventeenth century, a combination of slaves and Caribbean immigrants had spread their techniques of slow roasting meat over indirect heat. Christopher Columbus and his men documented the technique on the island he would name Hispaniola. These factors combine for the roots of American Barbeque.
The state of Alabama has a rich and colorful history. Throughout the decades and centuries, many across the state and much of the southeast, were of meager means. Pigs were easy to breed and easy to fatten. They became the backbone of southeastern US barbecue. While chicken may come a close second, beef is much less popular from Mississippi across through the Carolinas.
Some Alabama barbecue restaurants use oak and pecan wood. However, hickory is plentiful and is by far the primary fuel source. As one travels from north Alabama southward, sauces morph. It is not be uncommon to see Carolina style vinegar style sauce across northern Alabama. In many other areas Alabama White Sauce (created by Big Bob Gibson over 100 years ago) with a base of mayonnaise and vinegar is common. From Birmingham southward, the most common sauces are variations of tomato based sauces many of which are also found from Memphis into eastern Tennessee.
There are many fantastic barbecue restaurants scattered throughout the state of Alabama. Any google search will turn up articles highlighting fantastic restaurants such as SAW’s in Birmingham, Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur, or Saucy Q Bar B Que in Mobile. However, a true barbecue lover ought to pay close attention to the small nondescript roadside restaurants.
A couple of the author’s personal finds are:
- Fat Man’s Smokehouse BBQ, 1660 Federal Drive, Montgomery, AL 36109. While their lunch/dinner options are absolutely fantastic, they serve an amazing breakfast sandwich as well.
- Promise Land B.B.Q., 20482 US-11, Woodstock, AL 35188. Of nearly 500 reviews on Google maps, this little roadside shack sports 4.4/5 stars. Feeling real adventurous? Try the smoked pigs feet.
- The Pit BBQ, 2820 Richard Arrington Jr Blvd N, Birmingham, AL 35203. This is another location for an AMAZING barbecue breakfast!
Wherever you find yourself in Alabama, barbecue is both fellowship and sustenance. It’s something you eat and something you do… rarely alone. It is steeped in history and tradition.