Lecturer Explains North Carolina Barbecue Traditions for Tourists
January 8, 2010
"I can't think of anything I'd rather talk about than barbecue," says Cyndi Allison Wittum, a Communications lecturer at Catawba College. "That's my passion. Chopped pork on a white bun with a vinegar-based sauce. That is 'good eating.' "
Wittum was excited when Jay Bemis, regional editorial director for the Where travel series, contacted her about writing a feature on North Carolina barbecue for the Research Triangle Park (RTP) hotel travel book. Where is based in Georgia (a mixed bag barbecue state), so the company wanted a local expert to write the North Carolina barbecue piece and capture the spirit of the Tarheel State's signature dish.
"I probably drive my family nuts gabbing about barbecue and hauling them around the state to try out new barbecue restaurants," says Wittum. "So, it was great to have someone contact me with a job that would give me a chance to write 1500 words on my hobby plus a sidebar of top pick barbecue restaurants."
Wittum said that the research was easy on the barbecue piece. After all, she has spent most of her life in Rowan County which is likely the birthplace of western style barbecue, although the nearby City of Lexington claimed the title. She did touch base with Gary Freeze, a Catawba history professor, for some extra information on barbecue roots. Freeze believes that the tradition likely traces back to Germany.
Another fun part of the project was that Wittum had a chance to take a few barbecue road trips, since her restaurant selections needed to be in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.
"I had tried some RTP barbecue, but that's a pretty good drive," says Wittum. "This project gave me an excuse to ride up and check out some new ones. My favorite was Backyard BBQ Pit in Durham. The barbecue was great, and the sides were all Grandma style recipes."
Wittum did note that the RTP area is unique since it marks the general dividing line between the state's eastern and western style barbecue. She said that some RTP restaurants lean eastern with whole hogs and no "red" in the sauce, while others do shoulders and have a little tomato or ketchup in the sauce like in Salisbury and Lexington.
Putting together the article was easy, says Wittum.
"It can be hard to capture the nuances of barbecue in North Carolina," says Wittum. "But, the words rolled off the keyboard. I just shared our barbecue story and history, and then explained why my four top picks were good bets for sampling classic North Carolina barbecue."
When the article went into production, Bemis e-mailed Wittum and said, "Everybody loves your story — we think it's the best in the book."
Wittum says that comment made her day, and she was pleased when her article was selected as an Editors' Pick and featured on the WhereTraveler.com website.
"It's always nice to get positive feedback," says Wittum. "And, I enjoy sharing information, especially about traditions here in my home state."