Barbecuing with a Rocket Scientist

At the beginning of November, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum welcomed a unique presenter to our space. Dr. Howard Conyers, Dr. Howard Conyers, a structural dynamicist who analyzes facilty structures for testing rocket engines for NASA, had approached our staff with a request to let, had approached our staff with a request to let him showcase an important food tradition of his home state, South Carolina. Howard had grown up cooking whole hogs with his family, using a home built pit with freshly produced charcoal (don't use pine!), and he wanted to celebrate and share this labor intensive but delicious tradition with New Orleans.

Dr. Conyers set up an overnight whole hog barbecue master class for interested folks to see exactly how one cooks an entire pig. Then, somehow, he and his students rallied early in the morning to welcome an influx of museum visitors who were anxious to try to the product of their night long labor. Dr. Conyers kicked the day off with an interesting discussion of the science and technology behind barbecue, including the high and low tech tools he personally uses, and the challenges to the continuing tradition of South Carolina whole hog barbecue.

Then Robert Moss, Contributing Barbecue Editor of Southern Living Magazine and author of the newly published Barbecue Lover's Carolinas and Barbecue: The History of an American Institution shared his hard earned knowledge of the history of America's barbecue tradition, from massive community events to the roadside stands that still dot the South. Finally, both Robert and Howard were joined by Rene Louapre (co-founder of Hogs for the Cause) for a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Ashley Brown Burns, Senior Associate of Public Policy with TMG Consulting. They explored a variety of topics, from the current trends of the barbecue world, to competitive barbecuing, to personal preferences. All in all, it was a delightful day, filled with learning and interspersed with delicious bites of pork seasoned with Howard's simple sauce.

We asked our presenters to share their thoughts on the event, so here are a few words from Dr. Conyers and Mr. Moss:

From Dr. Howard Conyers: "I am unsure if any event like SC BBQ: Culture, Misconceptions, and Preservation has been presented before with combining various elements of BBQ in demonstrating, lecturing, tasting, and having a panel discussion. The event was a lot of work from when I first created and pitched the idea to Robert Moss and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum but to see the final product come together, almost flawlessly, was a testament to the team that worked together for months. The team effort is synonymous to how South Carolina Whole Hog BBQ was made years ago as a community event, because no one person could do it all. This event required a lot of work on all parties but events like this are needed to educate on southern foodways. As a homeowner in Central City since 2011, it was special to be the first cook in SoFAB's developing Gumbo Garden, and I'm happy that l will have the opportunity to see the garden and the neighborhood grow in the coming years. I enjoyed conversing with diverse people in the Gumbo Garden from various aspects of life. The panel discussion was even educational to me as a panelist, as I learned for the first time about the “money muscle” in competition BBQ. Also, I believe after reflecting that SC BBQ is not simply STEM, it should be STEAM because the method of cooking is actually an art."

From Robert Moss: "Being able to cook and sample genuine South Carolina whole hog barbecue outside of South Carolina really helped underscore for me how special this unique barbecue tradition is. I I feel very lucky to have had a chance to to be able to stay up all night with Dr. Conyers and his father and learn a few new tricks from them. I was also really excited to see the new Gumbo Garden (including Aaron Franklin's original smoker!) and hear the plans that SoFAB has for what is going to be a really great event space. I'm so glad to have been a part of the first event to use that part of the museum."

Thanks Howard and Robert! We had a blast hosting you and can't wait for the next event :)  Many thanks to our sponsors, NOLA Brewery, Rouses and The Home Depot for their support of the overnight activity, and to Domino Foods, Inc. for making the free day on Saturday possible. Browse through a few of our favorite photos below, and be sure to check out our Facebook page for more! All photographs courtesy of Stephen Binns.