Politics, barbecue: smoke, not sauce


It’s the first major scandal of Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration, and we can no longer, in good conscience, remain silent.

Last week, Gov. Abbott made a deplorable statement to the Independent Journal Review. He was in Washington D.C., and perhaps that explains why he said what he said. He was jetlagged, perhaps — or worse, he fell victim to whatever brain-eating virus strikes politicians as soon as they arrive in the District.

What did he say? Prepare yourself. No, seriously. Sit down for this.

“The most important thing about barbecue is sauce,” Abbott said. “If you don’t have the sauce right, I don’t think it works.”

That’s wrong, governor. It’s about the meat. And the smoke, of course, but mostly about the meat.

We can look to the ancients for wisdom, as always. Xenophon of Athens, four centuries before Christ, wrote “he who eats with most pleasure is he who least requires sauce.”

That’s true. And as a Texan, Gov. Abbott should know that.

He might object that Xenophon (as far as we know) never journeyed to Texas — fair enough. We can look to others for wisdom.

Let us consult the Bard himself. Shakespeare wrote in “Romeo and Juliette,” “Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs.”

Did you see that? No mention of sauce. Love is smoke. Smoke is love. Barbecue is the meat of sighs and longing. Clearly, Shakespeare wanted barbecue. Without sauce.

Not convinced?

French novelist Marguerite Yourcenar, one of that nation’s greats, addressed the subject of sauce in her work, “The Abyss.” We may presume, of course, she’s speaking of barbecue sauce.

“I have never seasoned a truth with the sauce of a lie in order to digest it more easily,” she wrote.

There it is. Sauce is a lie. Sauce covers that which truly counts — the meat.

Southern writer John Shelton Reed once remarked that “barbecue is the third rail of North Carolina politics.” It seems to be so in Texas, as well.

The San Antonio Current responded quickly to Gov. Abbott’s misstep, opining “As every Texan knows, barbecue doesn’t need sauce — it’s all right, but unnecessary — and the most important thing about barbecue is your smoking technique.”

Food writer Michael Pollan agrees. He once wrote of an uncle who despised sauce.

“That is a word he pronounces with an upturned lip and a slight sneer, suggesting that the use of barbecue sauce was at best a culinary crutch deserving of pity and at worst a moral failing,” he wrote.

Former Gov. Rick Perry had his own barbecue comments controversy; he once compared North Carolina barbecue to road kill. That became an issue in his 2011 bid for president.

Of course, North Carolinians overreacted. A writer in the Charlotte Observer claimed, “You make steaks out of cows. Read my lips, BBQ comes from a gosh-darned pig.”

That’s ridiculous, of course, but it’s not their fault. They’re not Texans.

The question that remains now is whether Gov. Abbott is — really. If so, he must correct his statement. Governor, it’s the meat. It’s always the meat.

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