Adrian Miller’s new guide “Black Smoke” tells the story of African American barbecue – The Denver Submit

Denver-based food historian and James Beard Award winner Adrian Miller wants the evolving history of American food to reflect its African-American influence.

“I think the run-through is essentially about writing the untold story of African American food culture,” Miller said of his work. “And ‘Untold’ is a bit of a misnomer because in a way I create new stories, but in a lot of cases I just revive (old) ones.”

Miller’s third book, Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue, is available this week from the University of North Carolina Press. It is the culmination of more than a decade of research that began when the author wrote “Soul Food: The Surprising Story of American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time”.

This book won a James Beard Book Award in 2014, and Miller has written and lectured as a Soul Food Scholar since then.

Adrian Miller at the Hungry Wolf BBQ in Aurora on Sunday April 25th. Miller is a Denver food historian and author of the new book, Black Smoke. (Rachel Woolf, special for The Denver Post)

But the subject of American barbecue – with its intricate history and current spotlight – deserved a written history of its own, Miller said.

“I really thought I was going to write an elegy,” he said of Black Barbecue. Instead, “I think the African American barbecue world has just changed. … Grillers have shown astonishing resilience. “

In Black Smoke, Miller documents the rise of American barbecue, including its origins in Native American fire cooking. He discusses the history of African Americans’ long association with grilling, telling the stories of more than a dozen black grill masters. It also has recipes and recommendations for his favorite Black-owned BBQ spots that you can visit across the country.

“Of course I wanted to say that (Africans invented the barbecue), but I just didn’t see it,” Miller said.

Instead, the barbecue as we know it today began with indigenous Americans and was adopted and modified by European settlers. Black Americans became the first barbecue “practitioners and ambassadors” after being forced into slavery and cooking whole animals for white masters.

American barbecues began in Virginia, Miller said, and then moved “with slavery” south and as far west as East Texas.

“The way grilling is made was very labor-intensive,” said Miller. “That’s why African Americans connect with it. And they were not only involved in cooking … but also in serving and entertaining. So it was a black experience from start to finish through the white gaze. “

In the 1830s, “blackness and barbecuing were so closely related,” Miller said that a Virginia newspaper article at the time recommended that readers find a black chef to cook the barbecuing the right way: “Black people essentially became part of the recipe. “, Said Müller.

After emancipation, black chefs were finally able to travel across the country with this “very marketable ability”. And once they were able to earn their living as a freelance pit supervisor, “suddenly there are white guys who come to the barbecue in the 1890s because there is money to be made.”

The co-opting of grilling by white chefs was so successful that a century later, with the advent of so-called “foodies” and the bourgeois food media, the white grilling tradition began to dominate the discussion surrounding this style of cooking, Miller explained.

In “Black Smoke” he names the four “archetypes” of white grillers that you hear about in the media today: the “Bubba” type, the hipster type, the competitive chef and the gourmet chef.

“The media has drawn itself to the same guys over and over to the point where you rarely see African Americans as barbecue officials,” Miller said. “Now there’s a moment when grilling is hot, you know, and I want African Americans to make money too.”

The history of the Denver barbecue includes, for example, Chef Columbus B. Hill, who became Colorado’s first pitmaster in the late 19th century, and supervised storage areas from July 4th in the state capital to the National Stock Growers’ Convention in the Union Pacific.

A century later, “Daddy” Bruce Randolph was smoking meat for events in Denver and beyond, including serving as the official caterer for the Denver Broncos. He also fed thousands each year at a free Thanksgiving dinner.

Today, Miller’s favorite Denver-owned barbecue in Denver, Boney’s, is closed after the pandemic. The only other operating African American grill shop (which he knows about) is Hungry Wolf on the outskirts of Aurora.

Miller attributes the lack of black-owned barbecue restaurants in his hometown to lack of capital, neighborhood gentrification, and changing needs for small restaurants in terms of online marketing and social media.

Largely over the past year of racial riots and calls for change and action, he hopes people who want to support black-owned food companies will now take their patronage a step further by donating time and skills to help with marketing efforts like Website creation and social media, he said.

And “Black Smoke” is the historian’s own offering to stimulate and re-center the conversation about cooking in America and ask a cause to grill chefs who dominate so many food scenes, including Denver.

“What I hit hard is just the lack of representation,” Miller said. “If you go through the barbecue story, you see lynchings, forced labor, reduced wages while others are successful. And then you see the barriers, often intentional and some unintentional, that have kept black entrepreneurs from thriving. This is not a coincidence.

“But we have a moment when we can change course. Ultimately, if you’ve benefited from African American expertise, I want people outside of black culture to just say it. Know where you got it from. “

“Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue” (University of North Carolina Press) was released on April 27th. You can learn more and order the book directly from Adrian Miller’s website, blacksmoke / buy-black-smoke /.

Old Arthur’s Pork Belly Burnt Ends are brushed with dry grater, smoked and then sauce is added. (Eudell Watts IV, provided by Adrian Miller)

Old Arthur’s pork belly scorched ends

From “Black Smoke” by Adrian Miller. “I am grateful to Eudell Watts IV, Old Arthur’s great-great-grandson, for this recipe,” Miller wrote. “Pork belly scorched ends are a reef away from the traditional beef brisket burned ends. This recipe requires a three step process that involves candying the pork belly by smoking it, then rendering and adding barbecue sauce at the end of the smoking process. You can replace your favorite dry grater and sweet tomato-based barbecue sauce. “

(Makes 6 servings)


  • 6 pounds of pork belly, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup Old Arthur’s Smokestack Dry Rub or your favorite dry rub, divided
  • 1 stick of butter, sliced
  • 1 cup of wrapped dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup of honey
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 1/2 cup apple or fig jam
  • 20 ounces of Old Arthur’s Barbecue Sauce, or your favorite barbecue sauce, divided


  • Put the pork belly in a large mixing bowl.
  • Scatter 1/4 cup of the dry matter into the bowl, then toss it vigorously with your hands to thoroughly coat each piece.
  • Bring the smoker to an internal temperature of approx. 235 degrees. Once the smoker has reached the right temperature, use your favorite fruit or hardwood to create the smoke you want.
  • Spread the seasoned pork belly pieces evenly on a wire rack. Make sure to place the pork belly pieces so that they don’t touch. Put the rack in the smoker.
  • Smoke the pork belly pieces for 3 1/2 hours at 235-250 degrees. If you haven’t already, put your pieces of wood in the fire so that you are now producing smoke.
  • Remove the rack from the smoker. Using your hands (gloved), carefully transfer each cube from the tray to an aluminum foil pan. Arrange the pieces so that they lie evenly in the pan.
  • Spread the butter, brown sugar, honey, apple juice, jam, the remaining 1/4 cup dry grater and 1/2 cup barbecue sauce on the pork cubes.
  • Cover and seal the pan with aluminum foil. Bring the pan back to the heat of the smoker. Let it stay inside for another two hours at a target temperature of 250 degrees.
  • Take the pan out of the smoker. Remove the foil lid and carefully place the individual pieces of this braising liquid in a new, clean foil pan. Discard the old pan and liquid.
  • Drizzle the rest of the barbecue sauce over the pork cubes.
  • Put the cubes in the new pan (without the lid) back in the smoker for another 15-20 minutes to make the sauce a little sticky, but don’t leave the pan for too long or you will be sacrificing the rendered texture that you have worked so hard to achieve!
  • Take it out of the smoker and enjoy!

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