A Grill a Minute: Memphis Jews on 'Que

By Ted Roberts

Published August 11, 2006, issue of August 11, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

As August’s sun sears the city of Memphis, Tenn., the one source of comfort for the sun-baked Jewish mind is, “Not long now till the ASBEE barbecue.” By that they mean the Anshei Sphard-Beth El Emeth Kroger Kosher Barbecue Contest, an event that has perfumed the skies over Memphis for 18 years. It’s the first and only kosher barbecue contest in America, maybe in the whole Diaspora. Maybe in the solar system.

To understand what goes on at ASBEE in Memphis you must be aware of the Southern fascination with vinegary, peppery barbecue sauce. Start by understanding that Memphis, at the beginning of this third millennium, is the capital of barbecue, or “que” as they call it down here. In the South, lovers of charcoaled chickens, cows and “you know what” kneel by their grills and face Memphis to pray. It’s a city where the inquiry “What’s the best you ever had?” can be addressed without blush to man, woman, or child. It means only barbecue.

Well, the thoughtful, food-obsessed members of ASBEE, a local Orthodox Congregation, watched this mania with wonder in their eyes and hands over their nostrils, lest the porky haze that hangs over Memphis enter therein. But why not, they asked, have a kosher barbecue contest? Pigs, schmigs. What’s wrong with beef ribs and beef brisket from an animal mercifully dispatched according to ritual?

Food is a noble and honorable Jewish theme; are we not the People of the Plate as well as the People of the Book? The Bible is full of kitchens, cooks, blue-plate specials — and barbecues. We’re only halfway through Genesis before Abraham, the world’s first barbecuer, roasts a fat ox for the three divine emissaries who come to visit him. So, a barbecue contest is a natural for a Memphis Orthodox synagogue. It’s a cook-off just like Memphis in May — the World’s Championship Barbecue Contest — except that the three little pigs could attend as guests with no fear of ending up on the wrong side of the grill.

ASBEE does its thing this month. Like Memphis in May, it’s called ASBEE in August. So, each year the environs of the synagogue are thick with the incense of barbecued brisket; like the field around Beersheba when Rebecca, maybe the first female barbecuer, cooked up a mess of spicy, smoky goat for Jacob to present to Isaac. Remember how Isaac reciprocated by giving the blessing to Jacob?






Find us on Facebook!
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.