Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on the Barbecue Hall of Fame.
In this election year, let’s hear it for Pete Pigg! The mayor of Memphis has a winning idea: a World Barbecue Hall of Fame.
Actually, Pigg’s idea belongs to Blake Fontenay, a former Memphis Commercial Appeal staffer who created Pigg as the protagonist in his new novel, “The Politics of Barbecue” (John F. Blair; $24.95).
The idea isn’t, um, novel. On Saturday night at the 33rd annual American Royal World Series of Barbecue, one of the world’s biggest competitions, three people were inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame. Bet you didn’t know there was such a thing.
Actually, the thing doesn’t exist, if by “exist,” you mean a bricks-and-mortar place where you can go visit. There’s apparently not even a Web site to visit, since I couldn’t find one of those, either.
But it does exist in name. The American Royal announced in 2011 that it “assumed the…Web site and assets.” Trouble is, since then, if anything has happened, pretty much no one knows about it. What comes up when you type the search terms, “barbecue hall of fame,” into Google? Some press releases and press accounts, but no Web site.
When eighth graders can create a Web site, it is hard to fathom why the American Royal hasn’t put something up. Unfathomable, but perhaps for the best.
The inductees that the American Royal inherited include Rich Davis, creator of KC Masterpiece barbecue sauce; Carolyn Wells and Gary Wells, founders of the nation’s largest competition sanctioning body, the Kansas City Barbeque Society; Mike Mills and John Willingham, multiple barbecue grand champions; Fred Gould, barbecue judge and contest volunteer; and Duane “Speed” Herrig, owner of Cookies Food Products, a barbecue sauce company.
Clearly, the Barbecue Hall of Fame was previously aimed at the competition circuit. But the new owners seem to want to pitch a bigger tent.
On Saturday, three people were inducted into separate categories. In the pitmaster category, the winner was multiple contest champion Johnny Trigg. Makes sense.
In the business/industry category, the inductee was Henry Ford. Yeah, that Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company. And this is where things start getting wobbly.
In the early 1920s, Ford created charcoal briquettes from scrap wood. Ford Charcoal became the Kingsford Company when E.G. Kingsford, a relative of Ford’s, brokered a deal for a charcoal manufacturing plant. Trouble is, Ford did not invent anything. In fact, there are those who argue that he outright stole the idea from a Pennsylvania man named Ellsworth B. A. Zwoyer, who patented the briquette in 1897. A good argument could be made that Zwoyer belongs in the hall.
An equally good argument could be made that there shouldn’t be a business/industry category at all. With barbecue competitors already tattooed head to toe with corporate sponsors, this category is inviting conflicts of interest or, at minimum, the appearance of it.
The third inductee was Guy Fieri. Yes, that Guy Fieri, the host of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” on Food Network. True, he does have a barbecue team. But hall of fame? Really? His team has been fine, but no one on the circuit, probably not even the team’s members, would put it in the same league as Trigg, Mills or Willingham. And it feels as if the overseers of the hall let Fieri cut ahead of a long line of Mickey Mantles-in-waiting, whether competitors or restaurateurs or authors.
Oh, the category? Celebrity.
Other than to maximize exposure for barbecue sanctioning organizations and their corporate sponsors, can there be a reason for such a category to exist?
Look, having a Barbecue Hall of Fame is a fine idea. But it would be an even better idea to do it well.
Maybe Mayor Pigg has some ideas.
If you do, leave them in the comments below or e-mail me at email@example.com.
Next week: I offer some suggestions for the Barbecue Hall of Fame.
Follow me on Twitter @jimshahin .