Smoke Signals: Thanksgiving by mail order
Some years ago, I decided to reinvent our family’s Thanksgiving.
I had nothing against turkey, dressing, and mashed potatoes. In fact, that combination, with gravy, might be my very favorite Thanksgiving bite. (I have a theory that everybody has a favorite Thanksgiving bite.) But it seemed to me that more could be done.
One year, we invited scads of people and told each to bring a dish of his or her heritage. The table was, take your pick, a melting pot or a multicultural buffet: anchovy broccoli rabe from a third-generation Italian, Yorkshire pudding from a descendant of 18th-century English immigrants, latkes from a Jewish friend, kibbee from Lebanese-American me and on and on.
For years, with some variations, depending on the guests, we celebrated that way. It felt more American, more inclusive, than the traditional Thanksgiving. And there was no getting around the fact that the food was much better.
When our son turned around 10, he began asking for the Puritan staples. Perhaps the TV commercials got to him. Maybe his friends. Whatever the case, we began sliding back into the comfort of the familiar.
Except for one thing. Having become accustomed to the off-road approach, I decided that in addition to the turkey and all the trimmings, we would have barbecue. It struck me that there was nothing more American.
First off, Columbus wrote about the Taino Indians of Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti and Dominican Republic) smoking food on a rig made of green twigs that came to be translated as a “barbecue.” Second, living back then in Texas, I recall hearing talk that the first Thanksgiving was actually along the Texas border, celebrated by an expedition led by Spanish explorer Juan de Onate and the natives of the region in 1598, more than 20 years before the 1621 get-together in Plymouth.
Mainly, though, I just love barbecue. Years before, I had moved from the North to Texas, a move that introduced me to the culinary glory of low-and-slow wood-smoked meat. For that, I was thankful. In recent years, we have spent Thanksgiving with our best friends, who do a fried turkey. The sides are fairly traditional, but cooked with such imagination and cared that I scarcely miss my beloved barbecue.
But earlier this year, they moved to France. We’re on our own. Loosed from our moorings, we haven’t figured out what we’re going to do. But we may return to Texas via barbecue. I could make the barbecue, and I might, but for a taste of “home,” I might just have some mail-ordered.
In coming weeks, I'll tell you about local barbecue restaurants who provide special holiday meals. This time out, though, for all you transplants who want a taste of home on your Thanksgiving table, here is a (woefully inadequate) list of online barbecue from the country’s four most recognized barbecue capitals:
Kansas City: Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue. The crown prime beef short ribs make any holiday special, but for a true taste of KC, get the burnt ends.
North Carolina: King’s BBQ. Ships not only its eastern North Carolina-style pulled pork, but Brunswick stew too.
Texas: Snows BBQ. Slow-smoked brisket, pork steaks, and pork ribs from the barbecue joint rated the best in the Lone Star State by Texas Monthly.
Memphis: Interstate Barbecue. Order the fabled pork ribs, but don’t forget the signature “Bar-B-Q Spaghetti.”
- Jim Shahin
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