The Border War BBQ, which will be held in Osawatomie’s John Brown Memorial Park on Friday, Oct. 25, and Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, will feature a culinary art that ironically has strong ties to slavery, the issue that played a large part in creating the Border War between pro- and anti-slavery activists in Kansas Territory from 1854 to 1865.

While the culinary art of BBQ has certainly been practiced internationally since humans invented fire, in the United States, the classic BBQ that Americans know and love was primarily cooked by slaves in the South in pits for large social gatherings held by slaveowners on plantations beginning in the colonial era of American history.

The term “Pit Master” refers to an elderly slave who was an expert cook and led the effort to prepare the BBQ for the slaveholders. Younger slaves worked under the “Pit Master” to learn how to prepare a whole hog for a BBQ.

Pigs were then slow roasted in a pit in the ground, with the fire constantly tended for a the long, slow cooking process. Then the pig was removed from the pit, and the pork and ham were served at BBQs in the South, which were a common social gathering before and even after the Civil War. Many “Pit Masters” continued to pass on their BBQ traditions to younger generations, and even into the present day.

Slaves were not allowed to have the best cuts of meat, whether it was beef or pork, and were often given the ribs or other undesirable cuts of meats that slaveholders did not want.

Slaves became adept at taking marginal cuts of meat such as ribs and preparing them in such a way that they were quite tender and delicious, which as time went by became staples of modern BBQ preparation, and ironically for many, the preferred cuts of meat for BBQ.

Slaves were allowed to keep chickens around their slave quarters, and it was a common practice by slaveholders to give slaves Sunday off of work to attend church. Following worship services, it became common for slave families to prepare chicken for Sunday dinner following church services.

Slaves who were cooks for slaveholding families developed pan frying and grilling and smoking cooking techniques for preparing chicken, which was a weekly respite from their labors as slaves during the week.

These traditional cooking techniques were passed down from family member to family member until they have become the fried, grilled, and smoked chicken that we enjoy today in American cuisine.

The Border War BBQ Contest will feature a type of cuisine that ironically has its American source in the very institution of slavery that was a main contributor to the conflict that created the Border War for which the Border War BBQ is named after.

African-Americans have made many positive contributions to American history and culture, and the delicious BBQ that all Americans enjoy today was a direct contribution by African-American slaves.

Grady Atwater is site administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.