BBQ and the Masters, Too

(Don Treeger, The Republican, for Wildwood Barbeque)

(Don Treeger, The Republican, for Wildwood Barbeque)

To the surprise of absolutely no one 2015 Masters winner Jordan Spieth, charged with the menu choice for the Tuesday-before-the-Masters Champions Dinner, has decided to serve his green jacketed colleagues Texas barbecue.

“That means brisket,” said my son-in-law, Glenn Brunetti, who own and runs Wildwood Barbecue in Hadley, Massachusetts. “Every part of the country has a different barbecue thing. Texas is brisket, St. Louis is ribs. Kansas City is ribs, but they’re different from St. Louis ribs. And in North Carolina there are two camps of vinegar-based sauces, but one with a touch of ketchup added.”

It’s ketchup to the west, vinegar to the east, with a band of mustard-based sauce rising from South Carolina. Indeed, the terroir of barbecue can seem as exacting and contentious as the wine appellations of France.

vinegar ketchup

T-shirt by House of Swank Clothing

“People tend to cook what’s available,” said Glenn. “Texas is beef because beef is in the area. Or people cook with a specific wood because it’s indigenous to the area. The whole barbecue thing grew out of what’s indigenous. It’s like the blues—it’s Americana. We don’t really have a regional barbecue identity here in New England, so we can try a lot of different things, though basically we cook low and slow with wood. It must be hard if you’re in one of those places where everyone wants the barbecue to be just a certain way.”

Wildwood Barbeque (By Kelly Beth Ratcliffe)

Wildwood Barbeque (By Kelly Beth Ratcliffe)

Larry Sconyers doesn’t worry about it. Sconyers Bar-B-Que, about eight miles south of Augusta National, turned sixty in February, and it’s still doing it the way it always has—cooking with oak and hickory in custom pits.

In Georgia, the expression “whole hog” has a literal meaning in terms of barbecue. So pulled pork is the number one item at Sconyers. “But we do St. Louis ribs, beef brisket for folks who want beef,” said Larry. “And we have a smoked turkey that is an excellent piece of meat. When a guy first proposed that to me I laughed at him and said, ‘No one will ever buy barbecue turkey.’ Well, the joke was on me because that’s one of our better sellers.”

Larry Sconyers in the pit

Larry Sconyers in the pit

Sconyers cooks its meats 24 hours. They’re open only Thursday-Saturday and go through 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of meat. Some of the waitresses have been on hand over 40 years and some regulars are so regular that they don’t even order. The waitresses just put the food on the table for them.

The Masters doesn’t do a lot for Sconyers since many of his regulars have rented out their homes and fled town. Tournament patrons can order a pulled pork Bar-B-Que sandwich that is usually twice the cost of the Pimento Cheese or Egg Salad sandwiches on the grounds, with about half the reward.

Larry, now 74, doesn’t golf, but he has been to the tournament numerous times: “I think that’s the most beautiful place in the world.” Nor does he begrudge Spieth serving Texas barbecue at the Champions Dinner (which does have precedent with Ben Crenshaw in 1996).

“Well, he is from Texas, right? My father taught me that what you think is the best barbecue is what you were raised up with. And barbecue has got to be the most regional food in the world. With fried chicken, no matter where you go it’s fried chicken. But barbecue changes every 50 miles. There’s a different sauce, or a different way to cook it or a different rub.”

Sconyers then.

Sconyers then.

A Georgia barbecue staple is Brunswick Stew, but Sconyers has a different side dish, a hash made out of pork, beef and turkey. “Just a little potatoes and onions for flavor and tomato paste for color. My father came up with that recipe, yes sir, and 50 miles from here you don’t find it anymore.”

Larry’s father, Claude Sconyers, was a farmer who lived about 30 miles from Augusta. He had a passion for cooking barbecue. “And that’s how we got into the business, thank goodness. Because it’s hard to make a living as a farmer,” said Larry.

Sconyers now.

Sconyers now.

“My father’s theory was that the meat fat dripping down onto the coals and letting the steam come back into the meat gives the true flavor of barbecue. You can take sauce and make it taste like anything. The true flavor—the taste—should be in the meat, so you don’t even need sauce. That’s what we do. We have sauce on the table, but other than that, that’s it.”

It seems to have worked out, as Sconyers has served its barbecue at the White House for Jimmy Carter and on Air Force One for Bill Clinton. Spieth is on his own.

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This piece originally appeared, in slightly different form, as ‘Smokin’ in the 2016 Masters Edition of The Grain. It hadn’t actually been confirmed at that point that Spieth was going to serve barbecue, but that’s what it was:

Masters menu

The 2016 menu for the Champions Dinner

 

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