Where are Madison’s Black pit masters?
Barbecue was quickly folded into white American traditions, thanks to its association with summer holidays, patriotic fervor and a distinct working-class aesthetic. But that means its Indigenous Caribbean and Black American origins have been shrouded within America’s collective consciousness.
Adrian Miller, author of “Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue,” explains that Blackness and barbecue are intrinsically linked. For at least two centuries, enslaved and emancipated Black folks were the country’s bona fide pit masters, honing and reaping the benefits of their culinary skill.
Modern barbecue, however, has evolved to become an aptitude test for enthusiasts with access to capital, investing in costly smokers, high-quality meats, and artisanal blends of sauces and spices.
“I suppose it’s not always been looked at like a highbrow cuisine,” said Yusuf Bin-Rella, a chef at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Dejope Residence Hall and a founder of the TradeRoots Culinary Collective. “People have to ride out those waves where there’s not all that much attention paid to it.”
Bin-Rella said Black barbecue business owners aren’t often as celebrated or monetarily compensated as their white counterparts. Black barbecue joints in Madison, like That BBQ Joint, come and go, and what often impedes a longer business lifespan is access to land and capital.
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