The essence of barbecue

CBS

(CBS News) As Mo Rocca tells us, it's always fun to have a barbecue . . . no matter how you spell it:

Where's there's smoke, there's fire . . . and if you're lucky, barbecue!

"Not only is it all-American," says food writer and historian Robert Moss, "not only is something that you just sort of associate with summertime, but it actually has been tied into the Fourth of July and celebrating American independence all the way back to the very first celebrations, right after the Revolutionary War."

Moss has chronicled our love of barbeque through the ages. In fact, he says, barbeque is older than the United States itself.

The cooking method dates back to the Caribbean Indians. The American colonists copied them.

Of course, it didn't take long for the new country's politicians to pledge allegiance to the red, white and . . . barbecue.

"Politicians figured out that if you want to get people together - this is way before radio, TV or any other real mass forms of communications - best way to do that was to have a barbecue," said Moss, "'cause you could draw hundreds of thousands of people together."

Meat was cooked in long trenches dug into the ground, using whatever wood was on hand. Eventually a politician would climb up on a log to talk, and the "stump speech" was born.

One of the largest political barbeques ever was in 1923, held for the inauguration of Governor Jack Walton of Oklahoma.

Some 80,000 turned out for some unusual 'Q.

"He invited the Democrats throughout Oklahoma to donate," Moss said, "And they had two reindeer that got shipped in from up north. They had geese. They had just about everything. One man donated a bear to the cause."

Barbecued bear? "Well, they were going to barbecue the bear. But what happened was Oklahoma City schoolchildren sort of fell in love with the bear, and they made a collection. They bought the bear for something like $120 and donated it to the Oklahoma City Zoo. So the bear escaped the pit. But the reindeer didn't."

Today, we live in the United States of barbecue. Moss described the many distinct styles: There's Eastman, N.C.; Piedmont, N.C.; Midlands in South Carolina, and Pee Dee region of South Carolina. Georgia barbecue. Northern Alabama barbecue, as distinct as is Memphis, Tenn's. Texas? You've really got FOUR different styles, including the Barbacoa tradition which comes up out of Mexico, and west Texas cowboy style. Kansas City has a very distinctive barbecue style, as does Kentucky (which actually serves mutton). And, Moss says, you could make a case that California has its own style as well, with the Santa Maria barbecue style.

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