“We no longer have a strong homegrown barbecue culture in Colorado,” says Adrian Miller, self-proclaimed “soul food scholar” and author of the award-winning Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time. “That’s why so many look elsewhere — the Carolinas, Kansas City, Texas, etc. — for barbecue inspiration.”
And that’s why the Denver native is doing everything he can to change that, to help “Colorado have its own barbecue style.”
Things have definitely improved over the past decade, with spots like Roaming Buffalo Bar-B-Que and Owlbear Barbecue rising onto Miller’s list of favorite local barbecue joints soon after they opened. Roaming Buffalo, in particular, is emphasizing a regional style, with bison and lamb barbecue on its roster. Bison is a challenging meat to barbecue, he notes, because it's so lean, but kitchens are catching on.
Lamb barbecue was popular a century ago in this state, probably because of all the Basque sheepherders who settled here, and “for whatever reason, lamb fell out of favor,” Miller notes. “I don’t know if it’s that sheep are so cute, or the meat is gamey.” But if you go to an old-school butcher in town and ask for a “Denver rack,” he’ll still give you lamb ribs, and in other parts of the country, lamb ribs are known as “Denver ribs,” he adds. “That points to a lost legacy.”
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And a delicious one. Miller will do his bit for both barbecue and Colorado Humanities at 6 p.m. Tuesday, August 13, when he hosts "Barbecue in America: An Evening With Smokelore Author Jim Auchmutey" at Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas Street in Aurora. “With Smokelore, Auchmutey marvelously guides us through the fascinating, wondrous world of American barbecue — its colorful past, its vibrant presence and glimpses of its global future,” Miller explains. “He is a skillful storyteller who does much to sort out fact from fiction about what we now know about barbecue.” And while the book doesn’t include anything about Colorado barbecue, the conversation between the two authors certainly will.
According to Smokelore publisher University Press, the story of barbecue encompasses every region and demographic group in the United States, and touches almost every aspect of our history, including indigenous culture, the colonial era, slavery, the Civil War, the settling of the West, the coming of immigrants, the Great Migration, the rise of the automobile, and the expansion of suburbia. In his book, Auchmutey, a reporter and editor the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for three decades, details everything from the groundbreaking for the U.S. Capitol building that included an ox roast to the first barbecue launched into space almost two hundred years later.
Auchmutey is a founding member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, which had been studying Southen culture and cooking for two decades. Last fall, Miller was the winner of the SFA's Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame Award, which has honored an "unsung hero or heroine, a foodways tradition bearer of note" every year since 2000. In addition to Soul Food, Miller is the author of The President's Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas; he's currently writing a history of African American barbecue culture tentatively titled Black Smoke.
Feed your mind and your body on Tuesday, August 13. Tickets to the talk are $20 and include a barbecue buffet by (no lamb or bison, sadly); beverages and copies of Smokelore will be available for purchase. For more information, go to coloradohumanities.org/store.