If there is one food above all others loved by people who live in and around Fredericksburg, it’s Virginia barbecue. That’s testified to by the multitude of barbecue restaurants, stands and food trucks in the region.
Last week, we examined some of the region’s early barbecue history. Here, we look at some of our more modern experiences around the pit in Virginia.
In the years around the turn of the 20th century, many barbecues were held locally as part of the Good Roads Movement to help promote the construction of new roads and bridges, which were being built for automobiles and bicycles rather than horse-drawn carriages.
There was also an annual barbecue, fish fry and Brunswick stew event held in the Wilderness area of Spotsylvania that was always well attended. Virginia-style barbecue hash was also served there from time to time. It was made with trimmings from the ox before it was barbecued in the old Virginia style.
Beginning in 1954, Stafford County politician Wallace Hansford Abel hosted free barbecues on his farm in Hartwood for almost 30 years. As many as 3,000 attended some of the events to enjoy live music and barbecued beef topped with Abel’s Virginia-style “special sauce” and other delicious foods.
It was in the early days of Abel’s barbecues that many locals were introduced for the first time to what they called “a new kind of delicious pie.” Today, we know those pies as pizzas.
I could go on and on describing the barbecue that is available in and around Fredericksburg today. Allman’s Bar-B-Q was opened in 1954 by “Pappy” Allman. By the time I worked there in the late 1970s while in high school, Pappy’s son-in-law, Pete White, had taken over the business.
Even though about 600 pounds of pork was cooked each night, the “sold out” sign was often placed in the window long before closing time. The thing people love most about Allman’s is the sauce, which is a true, central Virginia-style barbecue sauce. It is a delicious treasure that belongs to all Fredericksburgers.
The Barbeque Exchange in Gordonsville also serves delicious Virginia-style barbecue that’s slow cooked with Virginia hickory. Unfortunately, space doesn’t allow me to list all of the great places that serve real Virginia barbecue today. But, a quick search on the internet will reveal many of them.
Summertime chicken barbecues hosted by churches and other organizations are another great Fredericksburg-area barbecue tradition. The recipe used to baste the chicken as it barbecues over an open pit has its origins in the Harrisonburg region and is authentically Virginian.
The Barbecue Jamboree is our city’s premier barbecue event that’s held every May at the Fredericksburg Fairgrounds. Porkapalooza is another grand Virginia barbecue occasion, held annually in nearby Gordonsville and hosted by The Barbeque Exchange.
Because a Virginia barbecue would not be complete without Brunswick stew, it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention the big kettle of chicken Brunswick stew made with a 190-year-old Virginia recipe served every November in White Oak at the annual Patawomeck Indians of Virginia craft show.
The Old Dominion has the oldest barbecue culture in the United States, and it is Virginia that gave the South southern barbecue. It was born through a Colonial Virginia era collaboration between people of African, Native American and European descent.
Unlike the restaurant-based barbecue traditions found in central Texas and Kansas City, Virginia’s barbecue traditions are rooted in family and community traditions born from the state’s multicultural roots that go back to when Africans were first brought to Virginia in 1619.
Virginia barbecue is a multicultural-culinary triumph that has lasted for centuries and there are no signs of it slowing down in the future.
While some TV personalities and authors have been regurgitating each other’s infatuation with North Carolina, Texas, Kansas City and Memphis barbecue over the last few years, we in Virginia have just kept on quietly barbecuing; and with delicious results, I might add. That secret is getting out. Authentic Virginia-style barbecue is again garnering much deserved attention and notoriety from barbecue aficionados in Virginia and around the country. For example, the Virginia-style barbecue sauce that’s been served at King’s Barbecue in Petersburg for over 70 years was named one of the South’s top 10 barbecue sauces by Southern Living Magazine.
Fredericksburg’s barbecue history and heritage is second to none in the country and, I think, it should be celebrated by all local residents. That’s easier to do nowadays than ever before, thanks to a new and growing generation of Fredericksburg-region barbecue pit masters who are stoking the city’s ancient barbecue fires.