Georgia College history professors Dr. Craig Pascoe and Dr. James “Trae” Wellborn really love barbecue.
Not just simply eating it mind you, but also telling the stories and sharing the culture associated with the savory, smoky cuisine. While working on the new Barbecue Nation exhibit that opened at the Atlanta History Center in May, Pascoe got the idea to look at the history of the state through a barbecue lens, and so the site titled, “Georgia BBQ Trails: History and Culture Through BBQ” (www.georgiabbqtrails.com) was born back in the spring.
“There’s really nothing like this website around,” the website’s founder Pascoe said. “There’s nothing out there that’s comprehensive and educational. There are people who have websites where they give their opinions and reviews, but here we tell stories.”
Loads of content has been added in recent months, but there is still plenty more to come.
“We’re at the tip of the iceberg,” said Wellborn.
A GC assistant history professor, Wellborn got involved in Georgia BBQ Trails to help broaden his ongoing research.
“Most of my research focuses on conceptions of identity, especially regional identity, so barbecue was a great way to get at that in a broader expanse of time than I had previously focused on,” he said. “I’m primarily a Civil War historian, but this was a way to take it back before the Civil War and after the Civil War to explore changes in Southern identity and Southern culture.”
Although Pascoe has judged and will continue to judge in barbecue competitions across the country, you won’t find any sort of rankings on the website. You also will not find any barbecue restaurant chains on Georgia BBQ Trails, just locally-owned and operated favorites across the state. Restaurants are split into two categories: historic (opened before 1980), like Old Clinton Bar-B-Q in nearby Gray, and contemporary (after 1980), like the recently-opened Shadetree BBQ on the north side of Milledgeville.
“We want to at least touch base with each of the restaurants we put on the site,” said Pascoe. “That’s something that’s very unusual. Most websites dealing with barbecue places tend to cut and paste, so they don’t know if they’re open or if they serve the kind of barbecue that would represent Georgia.”
The site is mostly filled with currently-operating eateries at the moment, Pascoe also wants to tell the stories of restaurants that have fallen by the wayside but still have historical value like Poss’ Barbecue in Athens. The barbecue joint was located near where the Atlanta Highway and Timothy Road meet (about where you’d find Academy Sports today), and was so popular that it exclusively catered University of Georgia football games. But it’s not just the famous places that will be featured.
“We want to hit a lot of the places that don’t normally get a lot of attention like the ones out in northeastern Georgia or southwestern Georgia that are local favorites but the tourist doesn’t know about them. Food tourism is just huge in the state now, and people are looking for a real Georgia barbecue experience,” Pascoe said.
The Georgia College history professor has had many barbecue and food-related stories imparted to him through the years, but one of his favorites centers on a picture depicting a barbecue in North Carolina in the 1940s. The picture shows black and white people seated on either side of a long table divided by a partition right down the center enjoying a meal.
“That picture alone can start a lot of different discussions,” Pascoe stated. “Why would they allow people to come to that table together to eat barbecue and use that wall to separate them? To me, in a way, it shows the power of sitting down at the table. … Food is one of the things that tends to blur the lines between people — ethnic, racial, and hopefully, political.”
Pascoe has enlisted the help of a couple of Georgia College students, senior Christopher Mott and junior Ansley Robinson, to get the website going.
“As of right now I'm acting as the webmaster for the site, so that just comes down to designing it and changing the aesthetic to having a more fitting feel for what they’re going for,” said Mott, a mass communication major from Kennesaw.
Robinson, meanwhile, is compiling content for the site, and next fall when he is teaching his Southern Foodways and Traditions course, Pascoe plans to have those students collecting oral barbecue histories from people in the immediate area. Long-term the hope is to take all the data and create an interactive map depicting how the different regions of Georgia prepare their barbecue as well as highlight different barbecue events across the state.