Craig Pascoe says when people come to Georgia, North Carolina or Alabama they often have one food on their mind.
“The first thing they ask is ‘I want authentic BARBECUE,’” Pascoe said.
To satisfy aficionados’ appetite for Georgia barbecue, Pascoe teamed up with colleague James “Trae” Welborn to develop Georgia Barbecue Trails, a website mapping the location of traditional barbecue restaurants and situating their stories in the history and culture of Georgia.
“We want to provide a place where people can come and learn about barbecue and the depth that barbecue has and the importance of barbecue in the history and culture of the state,” Pascoe said.
Pascoe and Welborn are professors of Southern history at Georgia College in Milledgeville. They see barbecue as an appetizer for a larger conversation about a broad range of themes and issues in Southern history.
“Barbecue really brings together all the different elements that make up historical development,” Welborn said. “You have economic shifts, you have race relations, you have class dynamics — as you explore barbecue, you really explore the history of the state, the history of particular families, particular communities and, more broadly, the state within the nation and across the globe.”
Barbecue may be a sure-fire conversation starter for classroom discussion, but Pascoe and Welborn knew interest in the topic won’t be limited to students. They created georgiabbqtrails.com as a website where viewers can learn about the state’s history through barbecue and make a little history of their own by blazing their own barbecue trail on Georgia’s many highways and byways.
“If they’re coming down 85, or going up 75 coming in from Florida, they can see where the barbecue places are within about 15 to 20 miles from those major interstates – 20, 16, 75 or 85,” Pascoe said.
One stop on any Georgia Barbecue Trail should be Crowe’s Bar-B-Que.
Located just north of the intersection of I-20 and Highway 441 in Madison, Crowe’s is a second-generation family owned business whose barbecue goes back a lot further.
“My granddaddy had a dairy in DeKalb County. And every year at the Fourth of July they would have a customer appreciation and they would feed, back then — this was in the '60s – they’d feed 400-500 folks, which DeKalb County back then was rural,” said Phillip Crowe, who founded Crowe’s Bar-B-Que in 1991.
Sixty years ago, Phillip’s grandfather L.J. Crowe would stay up all night cooking whole hogs, goat and pots of Brunswick Stew. But his specialty was ribs.
“He could take ribs and cook slow with the coals like he did,” Phillip said. “When you cook them slow for three or four hours and they’re barely dripping, it’s just — everybody loved ‘em.”
In 1976, Phillip’s father, Bobby, incorporated Granddaddy L.J.’s love of barbecue into a little country grocery store in the Centerville community of Gwinnett County. Bobby Crowe began putting family recipes on paper and engineering a distinct means of cooking the Crowe family barbecue.
“The first [cooker] we built was in ’76, we built it out of concrete,” Phillip Crowe said. “My daddy’s cousin had a contract with Georgia Power and Bell South pouring these underground boxes and they modified [one], set one on the bottom and set [another] one up on top, we put doors and the racks in it, laid a chimney and built a barn around it. He had a country store, and that’s where I really learned how to finally started cooking barbecue.”
Crowe’s current cooker resembles a boxy, black-metal steam engine with a front-loading fire box leading up to a large chamber capable of cooking hundreds of pounds of ham and chicken and numerous racks of ribs. Custom built in 1994, this convection-based, single pass cooker has seen several modifications over its 25 years, but one secret to its longevity was built in from the beginning.
“When we built this one, everybody said ‘that’s way too much chimney,’ and I said ‘well I don’t think you can have too much chimney,’” Phillip Crowe says pointing to the metal smoke stack rising 25 feet from the back of the cooker. “You can put all the air you want into it, but if it don’t draw, it will make your meat get a heavy darkness, too much hickory flavor.”
As Phillip Crowe shows off the operation and recounts the Crowe’s family history in barbecue, the next generation buzzes around him throwing wood on the fire, flipping meat and moving cooked food from the cooker to the kitchen.
Phillip’s son Ben Crowe now runs the restaurant’s day-to-day operations. The restaurant in Madison opened when he was less than a year old, so he’s come of age as his father transitioned family tradition into a recipe for success.
When asked about how he decides how much meat to cook on any given business day or how he knows when to add a piece of hickory, white oak or pecan wood to the fire, he said there’s no formula or prescribed way of doing things. It comes down to the feel he has for the work.
“It’s based off of experience,” he said. “I’ve been doing it with my father since I was 12 or 13 years old, actually standing up here on the pit with him.”
And the knowledge hasn’t only moved in one direction. Along with business partner Mason Carter, Ben is helping his father connect the Crowe’s family restaurant with a new audience that wants their barbecue with a side of tradition. He’s adapting Crowe’s mainstays into new menu items like smoked chicken salad and using Instagram and Facebook to invite customers old and new to eat at Crowe’s. The next big thing is a food truck to help bring Crowe’s Bar-B-Que to the masses.
Professors Pascoe and Welborn say Crowe’s Bar-B-Que is indicative of the way they’re seeing Southern traditions of barbecue evolve and adapt over time. Beginning with L.J Crowe’s celebration of community and appreciation, each generation has added its own flavor or technique to the recipe, resulting in a meal that tells a story about the Crowe’s and their history in Georgia.
“I think Crowe’s has a lot of the elements in terms of those major patterns that we’ve started to see,” Welborn says. “Not only the way they’ve made they’re barbecue low and slow over wood, but the way they’ve honed those skills over multiple generations, migrated from different places and tried to keep those traditions alive.”
You can learn more about Georgia history and its barbecue traditions at georgiabbqtrails.com.
All too often, we tend to focus on the big four regions in barbecue — the Carolinas, Memphis, Texas, and Kansas City — while losing sight of the many other places where barbecue is an important part of culture and history. Even though pitmaster Myron Mixon of Unadilla, Georgia is arguably the face of barbecue in mainstream media, Georgia is one such place with a rich barbecue heritage that often gets passed over.
According to Craig Pascoe and James “Trae” Welborn, both history professors at Georgia College & State University, Georgia barbecue is often described as a patchwork of traditions from other places. In fact, at the turn of the 20th century, Georgia barbecue was considered the quintessential barbecue of the American South, thanks in part to Sheriff John W. Callaway. In the late 19th century, Callaway oversaw the barbecue pits at large public events and celebrations and his larger-than-life persona garnered Georgia barbecue national attention when he appeared in publications such as Harper’s Weekly.
Pascoe, who was Conceptual Design Creator for the Barbecue Nation exhibit at the Atlanta History Center, and Welborn started the Georgia BBQ Trails project to tell the story of Georgia’s history and culture through the unique lens of barbecue. The two professors created an educational website to share stories of the history, people, places, events, and traditions of Georgia barbecue.
The website has beautiful photos of the state’s iconic barbecue joints as well as hidden gems that often don’t get a lot of attention. There’s an interactive map of barbecue restaurants throughout the state that is continually being updated, with links to find more information. You can also find recipes for side dishes such as cornbread, collard greens, and Brunswick stew.
Pascoe is now incorporating the Georgia BBQ Trails project into his class on Southern Foodways and Traditions, an upper-level course offered to students pursuing a variety of degrees. The class will include a significant amount of reading, but rather than simply being a class made up of classroom lectures, students will have the opportunity to participate in a potluck dinner and food crawls.
This fall, students will even participate in research for the Georgia BBQ Trails project, including collecting recipes and conducting oral history interviews with barbecue pitmasters and restaurant owners. Students will also have the opportunity to delve into their own family barbecue traditions as part of the class.
Pascoe and Welborn have also worked with Georgia Public Broadcasting to develop a short video piece on Crowe’s Bar-B-Que in Madison, Georgia. They are hoping to expand this into a project called Georgia BBQ Voices, which will tell family and community stories about barbecue.
This fall, they will focus on two related joints — Tucker’s and Fincher’s — both located in Macon, Georgia. They will be looking at changes in the neighborhoods where the restaurants are located, offering insight into the community and peeling back layers by looking over an extended period of time. Pascoe and Welborn want students to be involved in the project.
Doing this type of historical research is about much more than just food. According to Welborn, “It gives us a look into what’s happening in Georgia and throughout the South.” It allows students and scholars to examine issues such as class tensions, race, and gender as seen through the lens of barbecue.
Pascoe summed it up by saying the goal of the project is not to keep Georgia barbecue frozen in time but rather to use barbecue to tell the story of Georgia’s past, present, and future. “What you’re gonna eat today, you’re not gonna find 100 years from now,” Pascoe said.
For more information about the Georgia BBQ Trails project, check out Kevin Kelly’s recent interview with Craig Pascoe and Trae Welborn on the Kevin’s BBQ Joints podcast.
Ryan Cooper (BBQ Tourist)
Co-Founder, The Smoke Sheet
See the 13WMAZ story here:
See the Food Network article here: https://www.foodnetwork.com/restaurants/photos/best-barbecue-in-the-country
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Poss' Barbecue - offered 'pig sandwiches' and other bbq choices. It was located on Atlanta Highway near Timothy Road. It was a UGA favorite and at one time had exclusive catering rights to all UGA football games.
After the Civil War, Crawfish Springs hosted a historic reunion of veteran soldiers from both the North and South who had fought in the Battle of Chickamauga. Called the Blue and Gray Barbecue, 14,000 veterans gathered at Crawfish Springs in 1889.
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Article in the Milledgeville Union Recorder on the Georgia BBQ Trails website
Jim Auchmutey talks about True 'Cue and the issue of smoking meat with only wood or charcoal
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GCSU students Loren Pope and Victoria Riga, Website assistants
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