“Barbecue Crossroads” by O. Rufus Lovett, KC photography instructor, and Robb Walsh, James Beard Award-winning author, was officially released by UT Press last week.
The book details their journey of discovering well-known and not so-well-known places are still cooking with old-fashioned wood-fired pits.
Lovett has been involved with photography since age 15 apprenticing under his father, a professional photographer for Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Ala.
Walsh, a food writer, and Lovett met for the first time while working on an assignment together several years ago for Gourmet Magazine.
“Later I was asked to work with Robb on another assignment for Savuer (Magazine) and it brought us together again regarding Texas barbecue,” Lovett said. “We decided to extend the project which led us to the book.”
The pair worked on the book for almost a year and a half making a couple of treks across the South, from East Texas to the Carolinas and back. They traveled the barbecue trail through Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama.
The book tells the stories of many pit masters and the changing Southern culture.
Over the course of the journey, Lovett and Walsh did not judge the best and worst barbecue since the book is not about that.
“We were documenting the barbecue joints that still use the wood-burning pits and not the stainless oven-cooked barbecue,” Lovett said. “We were interested in the history of the barbecue and celebrated the barbecue culture and its connection with religion, beer joints and communities.”
Walsh supplied most of the destinations which Lovett credits to his research and years of being in the food business industry. They also stopped at lesser-known places along the way when they spotted them.
While in Lovett’s home state of Alabama, he chose to stop at some he remembered from his childhood.
“I knew of barbecue in Jacksonville, Gadsden and North Port, a small town outside of Tuscaloosa. Many of the places we visited are steeped in family history as many of the establishments are handed down from one generation to the next,” Lovett said. “Again, the stipulation for our interest in barbecue joints in our path was it had to be a wood-burning pit.”
The trip totaled approximately 3,000 miles and when asked how many photographs were taken over the journey, Lovett responded, “Did anyone ever ask how much paint Picaso used to do a painting?”
Not only is this book a cookbook, but also a history lesson and road trip memoir. The book doesn’t tell just one story, but many, of those who consider slow-cooked barbecue a part of their heritage.
“It was all fun. Photographing some of the barbecue environments presented problem-solving issues regarding lighting,” Lovett said. “Other than that it was a matter of being patient to document the variety of processes involved in the day-to-day regiment of barbecue. Experiencing the trip with Robb and the unique barbecue culture was most rewarding.”