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Countdown to Savannah: Southern Barbecue

Kathy Wood (kaydee)

In early 2007, we started our official Countdown to Savannah. Each Sunday, we posted a different topic about this special city where we met for our first Great Slow Travel Gathering in Spring 2008.

With 63 posts over 14+ months, we learned a lot about the many facets of this historic, hospitable and intriguing American city. Our weekly posts touched on Savannah's history, famous people, architecture, food, culture, surrounding area and much more. We hope this information acquaints you with Savannah, entices you to visit this historic city, and prepares you for a very memorable trip.

Barbecue is a Noun in the South

I think we’ve already concluded that we need to forget about our diets in Savannah! We’ll enjoy three very special meals together—our Friday night party at the Gingerbread House (catered by Cynthia Creighton-Jones), our Saturday night dinner at Old Fort Jackson (including a low country boil), and a farewell brunch at Vic's on the River. Some will go to the Mansion at Forsyth Park for dinner on Thursday, one of Savannah’s finest restaurants. A group is going to Paula Deen's The Lady and Sons on Saturday for lunch, Savannah’s most famous restaurant. But perhaps you have a meal that isn’t already planned? And maybe you’d like something more casual, inexpensive, and distinctly southern? If so, you might want to try a southern speciality: barbecue.

In some parts of the USA, the word “barbecue” is a verb ... as in “I’m going to barbecue tonight”. Barbecue, in this example, means cooking outdoors on a charcoal or gas grill. But in the south, “barbecue” is a noun ... it’s a meat dish you eat. And barbecue may be something very different depending on where in the south you’re eating. There are distinct regional differences in the type of meat used, its preparation, and the all-important sauce.

Savannah has excellent barbecue cooking and a number of local places (“joints”) where you can experience this tradition in an unpretentious environment. These aren’t chain restaurants — they’re little local places that in many cases have operated for years, often in rustic out-of-the-way locations. The menu will likely be limited and you’ll probably eat on paper plates with plastic silverware. You may even need a bib!

Barbecue in Savannah draws its inspiration from the traditions of the Carolinas. Historically, the South preferred pork, since hogs were easier and more economical to raise than cattle. So for most southerners, “barbecue” means pork — usually pork shoulder, or sometimes a whole pig, cooked or smoked very slowly over low heat for hours until the meat just falls apart. On many menus, you’ll see barbecue called “pulled pork,” since the meat is pulled off the bone. Sometimes the meat is left in big chunks but often it is finely chopped. In this part of the south, the sauce is normally vinegar-based and basted onto the meat late in the cooking process. (Some sauces have a mustard base, a recipe developed by German settlers.) The meat can be served on its own or as a sandwich on a bun, and additional sauce may be ladled onto the meat or served on the side.

Typical side dishes for a barbecue meal include slaw, potato salad, baked beans, french fries, hash or Brunswick stew, corn-on-the-cob and hush puppies. And although you could order a soft drink or perhaps a beer, if you really want to be southern, you should order “sweet tea” — iced tea that is pre-sweetened with real sugar!

The Savannah newspaper website has a great special feature on barbecue, including reviews of a number of barbecue joints in the greater Savannah area. There are also links to menus.

Savannah Barbecue Restaurants

Barbecue restaurants in the Historic District include Wall's and Angel's. According to the Frommers guide for Savannah, Wall's “is the first choice for anyone seeking the best barbecue in Savannah.” Gerald's Diner is a little further out, near Forsyth Park. If you have a car, it may be worth driving to Smokey's or Ken and Candi's. You can order barbecue at many other Savannah restaurants, but it won’t be the same experience as going to a “real” barbecue joint.

Resources

All About Savannah: Links to many information pages about Savannah (where to eat, where to stay, places of interest, getting around town, and more)

Woods Family Grand Tour of Europe: List of articles and photo albums by Kathy Wood


Kathy is a former Human Resources executive who now works as a consultant and part-time college professor. She and Charley also lead The Luberon Experience (www.luberonexperience.com), a week-long, small-group trip based in Provence.

© Kathy Wood, 2007


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