Barbecue, in some manner, has been around for thousands of years. While it may have its roots in Haiti or other locations in the prehistoric world, it has been advanced solely as an American cuisine. It is not surprising, then, that from George Washington to Barack Obama, there are many stories of U.S. presidents enjoying this American cuisine. With Presidents Day upon us this month, I thought it might be fun to look into what presidents have been most closely associated with barbecue and share some facts about presidential ‘que!
As noted, there are documents in history that associate even our first president with barbecue. George Washington noted in his diary on May 27, 1769 “went into Alexandria to a ‘barbicue’ and stayed all night”. In “Barbecue: The History of an American Tradition”, author Robert F. Moss notes that President Washington recorded in his diary that he attended six such events between 1769 and 1774, including on September 18, 1773 when he recorded “a barbicue of my own giving at Accotinck”.
Other early presidents who were reportedly barbecue fans include Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Benjamin Harrison. In fact, Harrison once hosted a barbecue for more than 30,000 attendees! Madison is said to have hosted multiple barbecues at his Montpelier plantation in Virginia.
More recently, U.S. presidents have become well-known for enjoying barbecue. When any president visits Kansas City, Memphis, Texas or some places in the Carolinas, a side trip to one of those areas’ famous barbecue establishments is generally on the itinerary and it makes big news with the locals when it occurs. Many of our presidents have grown up eating barbecue because of where they’re from. One of them, Jimmy Carter, once hosted several hundred people at a “pig pickin'”, a traditional southern social event that involves barbecuing a whole hog.
George H.W. Bush began the tradition of hosting a barbecue for members of Congress on the White House South Lawn. Each year, the event, known as the Congressional Picnic, the president hosted all congressmen, senators and their families. His son, George W. Bush, who actually met his wife at a barbecue, continued the tradition and in 8 years, it was interrupted only once – on September 12, 2001, the day after the terrorist attacks. The White house had received 700 pounds of beef tenderloin to be smoked and after the event was cancelled, Bush released it to be fed to those rescue workers coming to Washington, D.C.
Recently, President Obama, while on a trip to Asheville, North Carolina, dined at 12 Bones Smokehouse. He insisted on going in unannounced, standing in line with everyone else and paying cash. It is said he ordered ribs with blueberry chipotle barbecue sauce.
No mention of presidential barbecue would be complete without including Lyndon Johnson. President Johnson hosted many barbecues and was the first to bring Texas style ribs to the White House. It is also widely accepted that he held the first ever state dinner that featured barbecue when in 1964, he hosted the president-elect of Mexico in Johnson City, Texas. Johnson hosted so many presidential barbecues that he brought on his own barbecue pitmaster to provide the meals. Walter Jetton, a well-known Fort Worth caterer was the cook for most every barbecue event Johnson hosted in Texas. Most barbecues at the White House during Johnson’s administration featured Black’s BBQ from Lockhart, Texas.
Given the history our commanders-in-chief have when it comes to barbecue, it would not be a stretch to dine on some slow smoked brisket, tasty ribs or sausage this February 18 as you celebrate Presidents Day! Just don’t forget the VacMaster to save all the leftovers!