Bryson City Seasons — Barbecue and Bacon (Part 1)

This is from the eighth chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Seasons, which is the sequel to Bryson City TalesI hope that you’ll enjoy going back to Bryson City with me each week, and that if you do, you’ll be sure to invite your friends and family to join us.


It was my first time in the Bacon’s home. Like the homes of the rest of the Bryson City doctors, it was plain—not at all pretentious. There were two reasons for this.

First, the physicians in the area made much less money than their contemporaries in virtually every other area of the country. Second, in a small town, everything you do or buy or say is common knowledge—or soon will be! Living simply is simply a necessity. Living other than modestly is simply not acceptable.

Dr. Bacon was known for his apple orchard, his barbecue skills, and his love of flying—although he no longer practiced the latter. Rumor was that his last flight resulted in his landing his single- engine plane on the four-lane instead of at the airport—sending four- and eighteen-wheelers careening off the road to avoid the oncoming Cessna. He was said to have claimed that he ran out of gas. However, the FAA inspector is reputed to have found the tank over half full and the engine working just fine. It was the good doctor’s last flight, and a matter he adamantly refused to discuss.

When the appointed hour came, I walked across our yard and up the driveway to Dr. Bacon’s home. Barb had sent me ahead, saying she and the children would follow in a bit. I found Harold on the back porch, and the sight of him made me chuckle. He wore a chef’s hat and a large, rather messy apron, and he stood at an enormous grill. Smoke was wafting up and out the grill’s stone chimney. He was hard at work. It was already a hot day, and the added heat of the fire had him sweating profusely.

He backed away from the grill. “Well, howdy, Walt! Glad you’re here. Come on over.”

He dove back into the smoke, turning a variety of meats and occasionally backing up to escape an attacking waft of smoke. He slathered a dark brown-black solution over the meat, which only aggravated his battle with the smoke.

“Where are Barb and the kids?”

I settled into an Adirondack chair on the deck that overlooked the town and explained they’d be over soon. He turned back to the grill. “One of the things I love about North Carolina is that this is where barbecue sauce and barbecuing began.”

I had no idea if his belief was historically accurate, but he surely delivered his pronouncement with gusto.

“What are you grilling?” I asked.

“Well, let’s see. These are pork ribs from Clem Johnson. He always pays me in ribs. And these are beefsteaks from Mitch and Gay. They give me a bunch of steaks every Christmas. I think they come from his herd. This is boar tenderloin from one of my Cherokee patients, and over here’s a bit of venison and bear.”

I didn’t ask him where the latter came from. I knew Harold didn’t hunt, and I suspected he was paid, as we all were from time to time, in food instead of money. Sometimes the meat was legally harvested—and sometimes not.

He continued his lecture. “Walt, this is my favorite barbecue sauce, my private secret recipe. Mitch and Ray would love to know how I do it. But I’m not telling.” He smiled and slathered more sauce on the meat, creating more clouds of smoke as the sauce dripped onto the coals below.

Harold backed up and smiled, never taking his eyes off his work, and he continued his lecture. “Barbecue sauce is a critical part of barbecuing. But there are other facets to remember too. For example, when I barbecue, I slow-cook my meat for a long period, which must always be done over low, indirect heat. I started this batch this morning after rounds. But the coup de grâce is always the sauce.”

He began turning the meat as he continued his soliloquy. “Some make the mistake of only putting the sauce on the table. But barbecue sauce is meant only for foods that are grilled, while they are being grilled.” He paused for a second and then looked at me. “What type of barbecue sauces do you like?”

I feared this was a trick question or some sort of quiz to check out what he would come to find was my very, very limited knowledge of a subject that many in North Carolina consider a religion.

“I’m not sure I’ve tried very many, Harold. Barb and I liked the barbecue sauce they used around Durham when I was in residency. But I’m not sure whether it was a particular type or not.”

“Hmm,” he crooned as though deep in thought. “Durham is in the middle of the state, but they still tend to use a western North Carolina sauce—as opposed to the eastern North Carolina sauce.”

“What’s the difference?”

He looked at me and smiled. I suspected he was pleased to find a subject he could teach to his young colleague. “Well, most North Carolina barbecue sauce is vinegar based. Most folks traditionally put it on pulled pork shoulder at the table. Like I say, that’s a travesty. Meat’s meant to be cooked with the sauce, and the vinegar sauce is too thin to stick. Anyway, the sauce tends to be clear in eastern North Carolina and tomato-red in the western half.”

He attacked the meat with a new coating of what appeared to be a very dark sauce—clearly not from the eastern end of the state. He continued. “But there are different barbecue sauces all around the country. I’ve tried them all—or at least most of them.”

I was in new territory, and my professor could smell my ignorance. He proceeded. “What I call Kansas City–style sauce is the most common across the country. It has a tomato or ketchup base, and you can taste sweet, sour, and smoky elements in it. The smoky taste usually comes from one brand or another of a bottled liquid smoke—that’s the secret. St. Louis barbecue sauce, on the other hand, has a tomato base but none of the liquid smoke—which makes it worthless in my book.”

As he flipped the meat once again, his lecture continued. “In most, but not all, of the sauces in Georgia, South Carolina, and Mississippi, mustard is the main ingredient. I like to use a little, but not as much as those folks do. In Alabama, folks love what they call white barbecue sauce. They use it a lot on chicken, and it has a base of mayonnaise, cider vinegar, and black pepper. Absolutely awful if you ask me.”

I didn’t have time to put a word in edgewise as he continued his culinary tour. “In Texas the sauces tend to be watery and way too spicy for my taste. They’ll use beer and chilies in their sauces. As you head into the Southwest, tomato salsa and pico de gallo are called barbecue sauces—but they aren’t, at least in my book. You ever have pico de gallo?”

I shook my head.

He smiled, obviously enjoying the fact that he could teach me so much in a single swoop. “I haven’t either. Mercedith tells me it’s a blend of cumin, lime juice, and garlic. Sounds like it would taste awful.” As he slathered on the sauce, the lesson continued unabated. “My first homemade sauce was too tomatoey. I suspect I didn’t cook it long enough. If you’re determined to make your own sauce, and I recommend it, it’s best to start with ketchup.”


He smiled to himself, now knowing for sure he had a rookie barbecue aficionado on his hands. “It’s simple. Ketchup already has a sweet and sour component to it. Also, it obviously has tomatoes and spices.” He turned to look at me, pointing the barbecue fork at me as he continued the lecture, “You can add to the sweetness by adding molasses, brown sugar, maple syrup, or honey—or a mixture of them. You just have to experiment.”

I nodded my understanding. He continued. “If you want a sour tang to balance the sweetness, you can add a tad of vinegar.”

He looked to the side of the porch, perhaps to see if anyone was listening. “I use a bit of cider vinegar myself. Mitch uses a bit of lemon—but I think that’s a waste.”

I nodded again.

“Besides adding a tad of mustard, I’ve learned to add a bit of Worcestershire sauce, garlic, onion, and black pepper. Mitch uses ground cayenne or Tabasco—but that makes it too hot for me. Ray—you know how he likes the fancy wines—will add a bit of red wine or port. But my personal secret is a bit of liquid smoke. In my opinion, you can’t have a good barbecue sauce without some liquid smoke. It’s impossible.”

He turned back to the grill to turn the meat. As he did so, clouds of delicious-smelling smoke encircled Harold and the grill.

I savored the moment.



  1. The Murder (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  2. The Arrival (Part 1)(Part 2)
  3. The Hemlock Inn (Part 1)(Part 2)
  4. The Grand Tour (Part 1)(Part 2)
  5. The Interview (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  6. Settling In (Part 1)(Part 2)
  7. First-Day Jitters (Part 1)(Part 2)
  8. Emergency (Part 1)(Part 2)
  9. The Delivery (Part 1)(Part 2)
  10. The “Expert” (Part 1)(Part 2)
  11. The Trial (Part 1)(Part 2)
  12. Shiitake Sam (Part 1)(Part 2)
  13. Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  14. Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina(Part 2)(Part 3)(Part 4)
  15. White Lies
  16. The Epiphany (Part 1)(Part 2)
  17. Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1)(Part 2)
  18. Monuments (Part 1)(Part 2)
  19. My First Home Victory (Part 1)(Part 2)
  20. Fisher of Men (Part 1)(Part 2)
  21. Fly-Fishing (Part 1); (Part 2)
  22. Something Fishy (Part 1)(Part 2)
  23. A Good Day at the Office
  24. An Evening to Remember
  25. Another New Doc Comes to Town
  26. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Part 1)(Part 2)
  27. A Surprising Gift
  28. The New Year (Part 1)(Part 2)
  29. The Home Birth (Part1)(Part 2); (Part 3)
  30. The Showdown (Part1)(Part 2); (Part 3)
  31. The Initiation (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
  32. Home at Last (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2017. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.

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