Joseph R. Haynes is a native Virginian and award-winning barbecue cook. A lifetime student of barbecue, Haynes is a certified master barbecue judge and travels the state giving numerous lectures, appearing in media, consulting with organizations and attending festivals promoting Virginia’s barbecue heritage. He wrote the Virginia Barbecue Proclamation, which passed as a House Joint Resolution in 2016, where it was resolved that May through October of each year is Virginia’s official barbecue season.
When did you find your love for barbecue and who introduced you to it?
I learned to love barbecue at an early age. Growing up, barbecue was always a special treat. My father used to take me out to enjoy Virginia-style barbecue quite often. During my high school years, I was hired by a local barbecue restaurant. The owner introduced me to the art of cooking barbecue. There I gained knowledge and respect for the craft of properly cooking and serving barbecue.
Why write an entire book about Virginia Barbecue?
Over the last few decades, Virginia's barbecue has been overshadowed by other regional styles such as North Carolina, Kansas City, Memphis and Texas, even in Virginia. This not because Virginia's barbecue isn't delicious. It's because the other regional styles get more press nowadays. I've eaten the best of the best barbecue in places like North Carolina, Alabama, Texas and other states and it is all delicious and worthy of the publicity it gets. However, in Virginia we also have delicious and unique barbecue that deserves to be recognized.
Therefore, the purpose of the book is to spread awareness of Virginia barbecue and to educate people on Virginia's rich barbecue history. I want to make sure that those things are no longer Virginia's best kept secrets. Moreover, the history of Virginia's barbecue sheds light on the history of southern barbecue all over the South. Therefore, the book was also written for people who want to know more about the history
of barbecue in the United States in general besides just in Virginia.
What do you think it is about food that helps defines a culture?
Claude Lévi-Strauss' observed, "Cooking marks the transition from nature to culture." His assertion is that without food there can be no culture. That means that, in some respects, culture is often a response to food and the need for it. For example, food's influence on culture can be seen in the fact that eating is rarely just a function of biology. We have cake on birthdays, turkey on Thanksgiving Day, and hot dogs and hamburgers on the Fourth of July. Specific foods are tied to specific events that are unique to our American culture. The culture of Virginia's Powhatan Indians was strongly tied to food. From the Powahatan creation myth where their god Ahone saved mankind from being food for evil spirits, to the Powhatan requirement for women to be farmers and men to be hunters are all indications that food is a powerful influence on culture.
In relation to barbecue, Powhatan Indians expressed respect and welcome to visitors with lavish feasts where barbecued game and game stews were served as well as fruits, corn, beans and squash. Colonists in Virginia adopted that practice from the Powhatans and it resulted in the hospitality culture for which Virginia is famous. While people in New England developed the political caucus, people in Virginia developed the political barbecue. As it is still today, when a barbecue festival was announced in colonial times, everyone knew that there would be good food served. But, it's purpose was to compliment the social and cultural aspects of the events as much as it was to enjoy the barbecue itself.
In the book you have included accounts of various individuals and their stories. Were there any stories that are a personal favorite of yours?
I appreciate all of the accounts of some of Virginia's great nineteenth-century barbecue men. If I had to pick favorites, I'd say Shackleford Pounds, Caesar Young, George Bannister and Thomas Griffin. In a way, the stories of those men and their barbecue encapsulates the history of Virginia barbecue in the 1800s.
Any particular barbecue era you would like to travel back to?
Yes, I would like to travel back to all of them! First, I would love to have a time machine and travel back to the earliest barbecues in Virginia. There is only so much the written record can tell us. I want to meet the cooks. I want to watch them preparing the barbecue and learn their secret recipes
beyond the ingredients that they shared publicly. How great would it be to partake of a genuine Virginia barbecued sturgeon which hasn't been seen since the turn of the twentieth century simply because there are no large sturgeon left in Virginia's waters? I'd love to attend the Virginia barbecue hosted by George Washington when he presided over the ceremonial laying of the Capitol cornerstone. How great would it be to meet Elijah Garth and his barbecue pit crew who presided over a famous fourth of July barbecue in Charlottesville in 1808 ? I'd love travel back to enjoy the tastes and smells of the barbecue and Brunswick stew cooked by Thomas Griffin. I'd like to travel back in time to some barbecues that Virginians introduced in their new homes after they moved into places such as North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky. For example, it would be exciting to attend the Virginia barbecue held in Kentucky in 1806 for the celebration of the marriage of Abraham Lincoln's parents, Thomas and Nancy Lincoln.
Hungry for a taste? Try out this recipe: Virginia-Style Barbecue Rub
You’d be surprised at how many Virginia pit masters there are
who don’t put rubs on meats before barbecuing them.
Nevertheless, if you want to use a rub, here is one made of the
flavors that are in traditional Virginia barbecue. Experiment with
the quantities of ingredients to suit your own taste. Also, try
celery salt or seasoned salt in place of the table salt.
1 part table salt
2 parts coarse ground black pepper
½ part red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon of molasses (optional)
Mix the salt and peppers well. An optional step is to apply a
thin coating of molasses to the meat before seasoning it with
the rub. Use on all meats.