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I consider myself a true barbecue connoisseur, and whenever I’m in barbecue country, I travel the old roads, hoping I’ll find the barbecue Holy Grail. This trip, I was going south on Route 52 headed for North Carolina.
It was a typical Blue Ridge August day. The sweet smell of honeysuckle hung in the muggy air, and the locusts were buzzing in the pine groves. I had just come down Fancy Gap Mountain, and as it was dinnertime, I was pleased to see an old weather-beaten wooden sign: “BBQ” and an arrow pointing left. So, I turned onto a narrow dirt road and headed into the woods.
The road hadn’t been used in a long time, so I thought this could be a wild goose chase. But just as I started to turn around, I came upon a ramshackle cabin and an old man sitting on the porch strumming a National Steel Guitar that looked as old as the man. I stopped and called out, “I’m looking for barbecue. I saw the sign on the highway.”
“Well, I reckon you found it,” the old man said with a wry chuckle. “You come on in.”
I wasn’t so sure, but there was something about the old gentleman that immediately drew me to him. I felt kinship almost. It was something I had to do.
“Come on,” he said again. “There’s a pig ‘round back’s been cookin’ all day, and she’s just about ready. Gotta turn her just one more time.”
He led me around to the back of the cabin to a barbecue pit that looked to be a hundred or more years old. A huge pig was roasting on a spit over a crackling fire, and the aroma was from Heaven, smoky and pungent and sweet, all in perfect balance. There was a table with one chair off to one side. “Now you just set yourself down,” the old man said.
By now, it was completely dark, and the lightning bugs were dancing in the trees. My host lit a kerosene lantern and offered me a glass of blackberry wine. Then he cut off a slab of meat from that pig and ladled out beans from one Dutch oven nestled in the hot coals at the edge of the pit, and a big hunk of cornbread from another.
I took one bite and yelled, “THIS IS IT!” This was the barbecue I had been searching for. It was like something from another world. The old man told me his secret. “That there pig’s a blind pig,” he said. “I don’t know why, but there ain’t no better pig for roasting than a blind one.”
He smiled and kept bringing me more roast pig and more wine. And I kept eating. A feeling of pure joy enveloped me. I had never felt so good. I heaved a deep sigh and closed my eyes, savoring the flavors surely born on high.
But I must have fallen asleep, because when I opened my eyes, it was early morning. The pit was stone cold, and the old man was nowhere to be found. The cabin looked like no one had been there for years.
In disbelief, I got into the car and raced back out to the highway. I looked at where I had turned, and there was no sign. “Is this a dream?” I wondered.
Not sure what to do, I just kept heading south, just stopping for a coffee at a diner outside Mount Airy. The waitress was chatty, so I told her my story. Her eyes wide with amazement, she cried, “Lord-a-mercy! “You’re a very special man! You’re one of a very few!”
That’s when I learned about Blind Pig Jefferson, the best known and best loved barbecue cook in that part of the country. “People would come from fifty miles around to get a taste of Blind Pig’s barbecue, and this was back in the horse-and-buggy days,” she told me.
“He died long before my time, mind you. But all the old folks around these parts say that every once in a great while, always in August, if somebody with a kind heart and a good soul comes along, somebody who really loves, and I mean really loves, barbecue, Blind Pig will know it, and he’ll come back to his cabin. And he knows you’ll come down his road. He’ll feed you and give you blackberry wine, and then he’ll just disappear again.”
“And there’s one more thing.” Now that you’ve met Blind Pig, you have the touch. You’ll cook barbecue just like he did.”
So, that’s the story behind Blind Pig Catering. At least it’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. I don’t know if the pigs I roast are blind or not. All I can say is that my barbecue is very special, and I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it.
Why do I have the touch? I can only credit Blind Pig Jefferson.
© Charles Dent