A long respected tradition holds that to keep the peace at family gatherings there are three topics of conversation to be avoided at all costs; politics, religion and barbecue.

Whether smoked on a backyard grill or roasted at a neighborhood community fire pit, it seems everyone has an opinion about barbecue done right. This month the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources jumps right into the proverbial fire with a brand new exhibit about the history of barbecue.

Western regional office director Jeff Futch welcomes the public to be among the first to visit the new traveling exhibit, where it will remain until March 23.

“It’s a topic our department felt would resonate in every community. They picked our venue here in Asheville as the first location to get things started because we have the space and we own the facility. The exhibit will probably be in circulation for the next five years or more,” Futch said.

The exhibit has ten freestanding banners and “educational interactives,” including everything from historical memorabilia, to T-shirts and bottles of barbecue sauce and miscellaneous condiments. The exhibit will expand as it travels across the state. Crayons and coloring sheets are provided to amuse and involve younger children.

One banner is devoted to regional recipes. “Sauces keep the moist during cooking and are used to add flavor afterwards. Although it sounds simple, many barbecue fans believe the sauce is key to good barbecue. Many have sauce recipes that rely on secret ingredients, and just about everyone has their own opinion about which style of sauce is best.” Most eastern style sauces in the state have a foundation of vinegar, salt and pepper. Characteristic of the Piedmont, the Lexington style sauce adds tomato to the basic sauce. Western style sauce has a heavier tomato base and is sometimes sweeter.

“My understanding is that the North Carolina Pork Council covered the majority of the costs for the creation of the exhibit to advertise their industry in the state. To generate local interest in the exhibit we thought we could offer some free barbecue to sample.” Little Pigs BBQ provided barbecue pork and hushpuppies for the exhibit’s debut on February 23.

Little Pigs BBQ in Asheville was opened by Joe Swicegood as part of a franchise in 1963, today making it Asheville’s oldest “Bar-B-Q” restaurant. “The chain eventually dissolved, but you’ll still see signs for Little Pigs BBQ restaurants at various locations in the Carolinas, but they’re no longer associated with each other,” Futch said.

Pam Meister, director of Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Center, will present a special hour-long lecture about the history of barbecue on Wednesday, March 6 at 6:30 p.m. The Mountain Heritage Center is well known as a showcase for Southern Appalachian culture, programs and exhibits, and as a regional facility for research and education.

Futch said Meister is a native of New Orleans, but has lived in Western North Carolina for many years.

“Pam has worked in a number of museums," he said. "She told me she has judged several barbecue competitions, and having a real interest in the subject has previously done exhibits on the history of barbecue in the south.”

This free exhibit will be on display at the Western Office from Feb. 23 to March 23rd, Monday – Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The special RSVP lecture program is scheduled for March 6th, and sample BBQ from a local restaurant will be available for tasting on March 23rd.

The Western Office of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources is located at 176 Riceville Road, Asheville, N.C.  For additional information about the exhibit please call 828-296-7230 ext. 221, email jeff.futch@ncdcr.gov, or visit www.ncdcr.gov/westernoffice.

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