In South Africa, they call it a braai, in Australia it’s a barbie and in Argentina? There, it’s practically a religion. We’re talking about barbecue, of course, a culinary marvel beloved in the U.S. with origins that trace back to enslaved Africans as well as Native Americans. Sticky sweet sauce, fall-off-the-bone meat and succulent ribs . . . this edition of the Weekender will leave you salivating. Promise!
Not a meat-eater? Don’t worry, we’ll introduce you to some Black vegan chefs who are keeping the African American tradition of barbecue and soul food alive and cooking — but whose menus are entirely plant-based! Plus, we’ll explore some of the best barbecue joints America has to offer and even let you in on the secret of a sauce-free, smoke-infused, bark-wrapped Tennessee tradition. Get ready for a mouthwatering read that’ll have you itching to fire up the grill!
Toyloy Brown III
best american bbq
1. Jones Bar-B-Q Diner: Marianna, Arkansas
Simple but oh-so-delicious. This rural Arkansas mainstay opened in 1910 and is one of the oldest continuously operating Black-owned restaurants in the country. Managed by pitmaster James Harold Jones, the grandson of the restaurant’s founder, it has a one-option menu: a pulled pork sandwich on fresh white bread with a secret barbecue sauce and homemade coleslaw on the side. The tried-and-tested recipe has remained unchanged for over a century. Sadly, in February a fire destroyed 70% of the establishment, but the local community stepped in, and together with online fundraisers and an emergency grant from Southern Restaurants for Racial Justice, Jones has been able to rebuild his business and carry forward his family’s beloved tradition. The grand reopening is set for July 14.
2. Franklin Barbecue: Austin, Texas
Many who hunger for great American barbecue head to the Lone Star State. But of all the barbecue places in Texas, why choose Franklin? Three words: The. Best. Brisket. In fact, Texas Monthly is unrestrained in its praise for the smokey, no-frills institution in a car park: “The best barbecue in the known universe.” The brisket has sold out every day for years, and patrons line up for hours to devour ribs that slide off the bone with supreme tenderness. No wonder Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama have both made the trek to chow down at Franklin’s. When in-house dining returns to this restaurant on Sept. 1, be prepared to queue up in the Southern sun for a long wait — that’s 100% worth it.
3. Central BBQ: Memphis, Tennessee
After Texas, the next state on the bucket list for good barbecue has to be Tennessee. Central BBQ has been pegged as the number-one spot in Memphis and is as much known for its good ol’ fashioned Southern hospitality as it is for its divine ribs. Central’s famous pork is exquisitely charred — and sauce-free! You read that right, the pitmasters use a special technique where the smoke acts as the sauce, with the pork rolled in a dry rub and wrapped in bark so the meat retains its juiciness. So, whichever of the restaurant’s four locations you select, be sure to arm yourself with extra napkins before digging into Grind City’s most splendid barbecue feast!
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Imagine a place where you could enjoy barbecue and soul food while staying true to your vegan ideals. Well, stop imagining because Toriano Gordon’s Vegan Mob restaurant in Oakland, California, is the real deal. Gordon, a rapper-turned-chef, had an epiphany two years ago that he wanted to make vegan soul food. Fast-forward a couple of months and he was selling amazing dishes — from the trunk of his car. Some of the most popular items on the menu at Vegan Mob are the Asian-inspired garlic noodles and the vegan-brisket-stuffed burritos. With food trucks and a brick-and-mortar business, Gordon is now working on franchising the brand and aims to expand to Los Angeles. “We’re planning on taking over the world,” he tells OZY. Check out Vegan Mob on Instagram.
2. Babette Davis
She’s an inspiration as to what a vegan diet and a healthy lifestyle can do. Seventy-year-old chef Babette Davis is the epitome of fitness as well as moxie. She opened her Inglewood, California, restaurant, Stuff I Eat, in 2008 at the height of the recession, ignoring the naysayers who said a vegan restaurant in the “hood” would flop. Well, that didn’t happen; in fact, Davis found great success, with her video for the charity Mercy for Animals getting millions of views on social media. The chef embraced a vegan and raw food diet before it was fashionable, after years of living with digestive problems and other health issues. Two of the restaurant's most popular dishes are the nut burger and the soul food platter.
3. Afia Amoako
Afia Amoako, better known as The Canadian African on Instagram, is a vegan who shares her passion with her followers, providing tips she wishes she’d known when transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle. The goal of Amoako’s social efforts is to demonstrate to her audience how it’s possible to ditch meat without giving up the cultural and childhood foods you love. Toronto-based with Ghanaian roots, Amoako pays homage to African cuisine in her vegan dishes. She also has an e-book, A Seat at the Vegan Table, that’s a good resource for those looking to adopt a vegan lifestyle. When she isn’t blogging or cooking, she’s focused on her studies as a Ph.D. student in epidemiology. She’s one smart — vegan — cookie!
“Slip another shrimp on the barbie” is a phrase many people associate with the land Down Under. Our mates in the Southern Hemisphere are fond of shortening words, and “barbie” is Australian slangfor barbecue, as popularized by the 1984 commercial of Crocodile Dundee actor Paul Hogan inviting people to holiday in the antipodes. As it happens, barbecued prawns are a Christmas lunch tradition, often followed by a dip in the ocean (remember that December is summer in Australia). Another grill-related Aussie tradition is the “sausage sizzle,” which typically takes place in public places on election day to feed hungry voters. At its most basic, it’s just a grilled sausage in a bun (toppings optional), but it’s also the sweet, sweet taste of democracy.
2. South Africa
Braais, sometimes called shisa nyamas in Zulu, are one of the things that unite the Rainbow Nation. Braaing is a uniquely South African tradition that is not subject to barriers of language, race or religion. But gas grills? Universally frowned upon because a real braai is cooked on real coals. Much like American barbecues, braais are meant to bring together families and friends — except instead of the NFL, you’ll likely find a rugby game playing in the background. Most South Africans wouldn’t consider a braai complete without boerewors, which literally translates to “farmer’s sausage.” A popular side is chakalaka, a spicy chili made from canned beans, onion, tomatoes and carrots. So beloved is the braai that South Africans have rebranded the national Heritage Day holiday in September as “Braai Day.”
Asado is the name of both the national Argentine dish (a variety of barbecued meats, but most especially beef) and the actual act of barbecuing. And barbecue is a culinary hallmark of this South American country, which is one of the world’s biggest per capita meat consumers. The word asado traces its origins to the Spanish word asar, which means to grill. The meats are cooked on a parrilla, an open-fire brick grill, and the heat source is either wood or charcoal. It’s customary in Argentina to eat the whole animal, starting with the less tasty parts — such as tripe — and finishing with choice cuts like the rib steak. Pair your steak with an Argentine favorite, chimichurri sauce.
I grill, therefore I am. There’s no smoke without a fire and there’s no barbecue without aquality grill. This one is easy to transport to a friend’s house or the park thanks to its collapsible design, and it’s durable enough to weather the sauciest, messiest meat you slap on it. Plus it comes in a super sizzling red!
2. OXO Grilling Collection
Barbecue is analogous to building a house. You can plan everything perfectly, but without the right tools, the project will be doomed. This set of stainless-steel tongs, skewers and spatulas equips you with everything you’ll need to cook up finger-lickin’ burgers, dogs and kabobs, whether you’re an experienced or a novice griller.
3. Funky Apron
You may be the barbecue king or queen of the house, but without a handy apron, you’ll simply be a greasy mess. This apron protects you from splatters, features a list of key barbecue rules and will instantly mark you as the one ready to get their grill on.