For over six years we have been traveling America to better understand the art of barbecue. Not simple backyard grilling, but the labor-intensive process of slow-smoking meat over wood-fueled fires that is common in the area stretching between North Carolina and Texas. These twelve photos will introduce you to some of the places we’ve been and people we’ve met so far.

Barbecue is more than a way to cook brisket, pork and mutton – it is a tradition that is passed on, generation to generation, through long hours in the smoking pits. For the truly talented, barbecue transcends tradition and becomes a craft, one that all too often gets overlooked simply because its end result is edible.

In the course of our travels we’ve met World War II veterans, stoners, people struggling to keep their restaurants open in a down economy, future reality TV show characters, a school janitor moonlighting as a pitmaster, and modern-day cowboys working the stockyards. Each person’s story is as unique as their particular method of barbecuing.

Also documented is the larger world within which these craftsmen and women labor. Beyond each smoky pit is a base of customers sitting in a lunchroom that is defined by austerity as often as it is by kitsch. From within these lunchrooms comes a sense of the community: hunting or little league trophies, photographs or awards, hand-crafted tables or mass-produced folding chairs, workers in overalls, or businesspeople in suits … each room reflects the unique qualities of its town. And yet, from region to region, a commonality persists – honest people working on a product that disappears in much less time than it takes to make.

More on the photos in the video, in order of appearance:

Snow’s BBQ, Lexington, TX: Photo gallery and video
Skylight Inn, Ayden, NC: Photo gallery
Burnet Feed Store, Burnet, TX: Photo (Exhibited in the New York Photo Festival’s FEAST YOUR EYES juried show, December 2011.)
Luling City Market, Luling, TX: Video
Payne’s Bar-B-Que, Memphis, TN: Essay and photos
City Meat Market, Giddings, TX: Video
Zimmerhanzel’s BBQ, Smithville, TX: Essay and photos
Southside Market, Elgin, TX: Photo (Exhibited in the New York Photo Festival’s FEAST YOUR EYES juried show, December 2011.)
Pig In Pig Out, Wichita, KS: Photo
Hank’s Smoked Briskets, Indianapolis, IN: Photo
Taylor Cafe, Taylor TX: Photo

– Dan Meade and Rob Bellinger
Published: December 22, 2013