Barbecue and Rocket Science

Barbecue and rocket science both require extraordinary ability and years of hard work and dedication.  You might have thought that no one can do both.  Not so.  Knapp Hudson, our Senior Portland, Maine, Correspondent and a fellow Indian Springs grad, pointed me to an article in Gastro Obscura about an expert in both fields.

Dr. Howard Conyers grew up near Paxville, South Carolina, population 158, which is over on the other side of Manning from McCabe’s Bar-B-Q.  He studied Bioenvironmental Engineering at North Carolina A&T, and graduated with a 4.0 GPA, not quite twice my  own college GPA.  (I had a double major of History and Pabst.)  He went on to get a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Duke with a specialty in Aeroelasticity.  Dr. Conyers now works at the Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Mississippi, on the interface between the engines and aeroelasticity issues.  I guess.

Now, Dr. Conyer’s time at Duke does not necessarily make him a bad person.  (Go ‘Heels!) Among  countless redeeming factors, he also cooks whole hogs.  With wood coals.  Over a pit.  And he does it very well.  Here’s Dr. Conyers with the finished product.

rocket whole hog

I like the hand reaching out — “Please, Sir.  I want some more!”

Dr. Conyers, alas, does not have a restaurant.  Rather, he cooks as a contribution to Hogs for the Cause, which has been voted the Best Local Charity Event in New Orleans.  There’s an annual fundraiser to support needy families with children who have brain cancer through support to a number of children’s hospitals.  They also have a residential facility, Hogs House, where parents can stay during their child’s treatment.

To get voted Best Local Charity Event in New Orleans, you need truly great food, cold beverages, great music, and dancing.  Hogs for the Cause boasts barbecue, local beers, lots of local and national musicians, and dancing.  This year it will be on March 27-28.  March being a month with an “R”, it’s always a good time to go to New Orleans, and Hogs for the Cause certainly is a special event, worthy of your support.  The event got a mention in the ‘Cue Sheet, a useful newsletter with all sorts of barbecue news, including festivals and competitions around the country.

Dr. Conyers has a blog that deals with food rather than aeroelasticity, which is fine with me.  He also is very interested in another cause you should support — exploring, restoring, and maintaining the huge historical role of black Americans in barbecue, including black-owned barbecue places.  These include many of the all-time great places.  I’ve celebrated Scott’s in Hemingway, South Carolina, not all that far from Paxville; the wonderful Grady’s outside Dudley, North Carolina; ultra-smoky Helen’s in Brownsville, Tennessee, and Payne’s in Memphis;  and Archibald’s in Tuscaloosa, with the best ribs in the world.  Each of these places really should be a UNESCO site, and each is a wonderful place for a meal.  There are also great newer places on the list with multiple locations, including Rodney Scott’s (read about Charleston and Birmingham) and Dreamland locations in Tuscaloosa (which also should be a UNESCO site), Birmingham, and Montgomery.

That’s a lot of history, and a whole lot of great barbecue.  And those just scratch the surface, the ones I’ve reviewed and where I know the race of the owners: I have many more places to try.  I hope that Dr. Conyers will get after the Museum of African  American History here in Washington and get them to include real barbecue exhibits and, for Heaven’s sake, get their cafeteria in order.  I don’t know how he might do that, but then I’m not a rocket scientist.

I hope you’ll check out Dr. Conyers’ blog and, more important, show some love to Hogs for the Cause.

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