By Sofia Perez
[Published by Gourmet, June 2004]
Rock n’ roll built a shrine to its own history. Even mustard has its own museum. Why not a barbecue hall of fame? Some folks in Kansas City wondered the same thing and formed a nonprofit group, led by restaurateur George Vesel, to make their vision a reality—they’re now raising funds and searching for a space.
But the very nature of the enterprise is complicated: How do you build a shrine to barbecue when people can’t even agree on how to spell the word? The prospect of a national museum in one of the self-proclaimed barbecue capitals sends out smoke signals to ‘cue cognoscenti.
“Memphis is where it all began,” says John Willingham, the winner of several national competitions. “Kansas City has as much right to a hall of fame as I do to get on the next flight to the moon.” Kansas City’s prodigal son Calvin Trillin sees things differently. “I can’t imagine why barbecue fans from other places question the appropriateness of Kansas City. Catholics from, say, Manchester don’t go around asking why the Vatican is in Rome.”
Vesel takes pains to point out that the museum will honor the field’s luminaries, and exhibits will trace the evolution of barbecue in all its regional glory. Plans also include a working pit and a demo kitchen to be used by visiting pit masters, as well as barbecue-related art. Says Vesel, “It’s going to be a place that all barbecue lovers can be proud of.”