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By John R. Watkins, Photos by Howe, Atlanta, Georgia
No one who has had the good fortune to attend a barbecue will ever forget it. The smell of it all, the meat slowly roasting to a delicious brown over smoking fires, the hungry and happy crowds waiting in patience until the spits are turned for the last time, and the clatter of thousands of dishes as they are set upon the long tables before the hungry multitude—all this lingers in the memory, and makes one long to see a “cue" again.
For "cue" is what they call it in Georgia, where it has been famous for many, many years. England has its roast beef and plum pudding dinners, Rhode Island its clambakes, Boston its pork and beans, but Georgia has its barbecue which beats them all. So famous is it, in fact, that it has become a social and political force, and as a political entertainment has been duplicated in many States of the Union, but, alas ! without the Georgian glory of the thing. Dinners, it is said, are good things to do business with. What political power you can exert, then, if you invite two, three, or ten thousand people to a barbecue, and after filling them with good oxen or sheep, talk to them on the political questions of the day, and introduce your candidates to them!
It is with a view to show the Gargantuan scale on which these remarkable festivities are carried out that we have chosen the pictures which illustrate this article. Be it known, then, that we are in Georgia for the moment, waiting with the aforesaid hungry crowd for a sweet and tasty bit of meat. For a hundred feet or more, as we may see in the accompanying illustration, two long trenches have been dug in the ground and bordered with planks. Upon these planks, over a steady-burning fire, hundreds of sticks of wood, or "spits," are laid, and on each of these spits is a sweet and tender sheep. We may marvel al the mass of meat, but we must remember the thousands of mouths to feed and appetites to satisfy. As a matter of fact, the waste at a barbecue is wonderfully small, for the men in charge know their business. They have been at barbecues before.
Good cooking requires constant attention, and the chef of a barbecue never relaxes his vigilance from the time the fires are started until the delicacies are served. But he has the cooperation of scores of skilled assistants, who stand by the fires, turning the spits. Naturally, in the South, the negro element has a prominent place, and the chef at the barbecue which we are now describing was a full-blooded negro—a man of great ability and popularity. We now reach an illustration that may seem out of place because it shows a variety of iron pots and kettles in use. “What,” you may ask, "have pots and kettles to do with a barbecue ?" Much. Game was the early essentials for barbecues. Then, when bears, deer, and other game became rare, oxen, pigs, and sheep were used. These increased in great number the variety of good things to eat, and, according to the liberality of the hosts, the beef or mutton on the bill of fare was supplemented by fish, fowl, pork, vegetables, etc. Many of these ingredients are used in the famous "Brunswick stew," without which no modern Georgia barbecue is complete. The preparation of this stew, for which the pots and kettles are used, requires considerable skill, and the man who makes it is no inconsiderable personage during the festivities.
As has been said, the barbecue exerts no small political influence. It was introduced into New York politics, during the Presidential campaign of 1876, by the Republicans, and the idea has since been carried out by Democrats and Republicans alike in many other States. On this memorable occasion, however—to be exact, on October 18th, 1876 —two fine and bulky oxen were led through New York on their way to Myrtle Park, in Brooklyn, where they were killed in the afternoon. One ox weighed 983 pounds, and by eleven o'clock in the evening he was on the spit grand scale, part of the trenches over which over a fire of coke, roasting in most appetizing fashion. Two large iron pans, parallel to the spit, held the fire. In order that the fire should not burn directly under the carcass, an iron peaked roof was arranged about 2 feet from the fire, flames being thus directed towards all parts of the ox. By eight o'clock on the morning of October 20th, the first ox was ready and was removed for cooling.