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Pork chopped: Rick Perry takes heat for barbecue blast

September 27, 2011|By Robin Abcarian | Los Angeles Times
  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry's nearly 20-year-old comments about Carolina barbecue have become a hot topic on the campaign trail.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry's nearly 20-year-old comments about Carolina… (Michael Nagle / Getty Images )

Reporting from Greenville, S.C.   — Rick Perry is learning all kinds of ways that words can come back to haunt a guy.

There’s his  famous “Ponzi scheme” remark about Social Security from his book “Fed Up!,” which former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has used to bludgeon the Texas governor in their last couple of debates.

And now Perry’s in hot water in North Carolina for a remark he made all the way back in 1992, when he was Texas agriculture commissioner and Houston was hosting the Republican National Convention.

Last week, in the Raleigh News & Observer’s “Under the Dome” politics blog, staffers Rob Christensen and Craig Jarvis wrote:

According to "Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue," in 1992 when Perry was a promising Texas politician but not yet governor, he tried some Eastern North Carolina barbecue from King's of Kinston, which was served at the Republican National Convention in Houston.  "I've had road kill that tasted better than that," Perry was quoted as saying.

The offending quote took a circuitous journey to the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination. It first appeared in 1992, in a Raleigh News & Observer story about the convention,  then was borrowed by the authors of “Holy Smoke” in 1998, then was resurrected last week.

Reaction was surprisingly swift, given the quote was 19 years old.

“People across North Carolina are outraged over a presidential candidate's comments on ENC [Eastern North Carolina] barbecue,” said a story on the website of WCTI-TV, the region's ABC affiliate. ENC barbecue is known for smoking the whole hog and dousing it with a vinegar-based sauce. (Western North Carolina is known for using pork shoulders with a tomato-based sauce. In South Carolina, the preference for a mustard-based sauce makes North Carolinians crazy.)

Texas barbecue is all about the beef, which inspired mock incredulity in some North Carolina quarters. “Now I have heard that Texans like to drink a lot, and I guess it must be true, because only a state full of drunken cowboys could come up with the crazy idea that you make BBQ out of cows,” wrote Jeffrey Weeks in the Charlotte Examiner. “People of America, you make steaks out of cows. Read my lips, BBQ comes from a gosh-darned pig.”

Smithfield’s Chicken ’N Bar-B-Q, a North Carolina chain, immediately sent Perry two pounds of its barbecue, one pound of slaw and a pint of house hot sauce. 

“While we acknowledge Texas-style barbecue is different from Eastern North Carolina Bar-B-Q,” wrote Smithfield director of marketing Richard Averitte in a letter to Perry that was posted Friday on the restaurant’s blog , “we are stunned that you feel barbecue from the Old North State pales so greatly in comparison.”

WCTI tracked down the proprietor of the restaurant whose ’cue Perry dissed all those years ago. Wilbur King of King’s restaurant in Kinston, N.C., told the station that Perry had clearly made the comment in jest.

But King wasn’t willing to let the would-be presidential nominee off the hook. "I do have one problem with his statement," King said. "He has admitted to eating road-kill, and knowing what it tastes like. How can this person possibly judge any food?"

“Holy Smoke” co-author John Shelton Reed, a retired University of North Carolina sociology professor, said Monday that people in his state do not mess around with this form of cooking. “Barbecue,” he said, “is the third rail of North Carolina politics.”

Don’t laugh.

In 1984, Democrat Rufus Edmisten, while running for governor, happened to call barbecue “that damnable stuff.” He lost, and blamed his intemperate description of barbecue. Recently, in a letter to supporters about the 2012 Democratic National Convention coming to Charlotte, N.C., First Lady Michele Obama mentioned the Southern hospitality, diversity “and of course, great barbecue.”

That landed with a thud.

It is well known in North Carolina that Charlotte does not have great barbecue.

“Even the News & Observer said if she knew of a good barbecue place in Charlotte to please let them know,” said Reed.

It’s a little early to make predictions, but let’s put it this way: Barack Obama’s victory over John McCain in North Carolina was razor thin--49.9% to McCain’s 49.5%. If Obama loses the state in 2012 … well, could have been that barbecue snafu.

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

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