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Barbecue, The Perennial Flavor Of North Carolina Politics

In North Carolina, barbecue and politics have been served up together for generations. (Peter O'Dowd/Here & Now)
In North Carolina, barbecue and politics have been served up together for generations. (Peter O'Dowd/Here & Now)

If you’re a politician in North Carolina, you’d better have an appetite.

For generations, barbecue has been dished out at political events.

It started in the 1930s when politicians on the campaign trail would pull into town for a speech and then stick around for food and mingling, according to Bob Garner’s “Book Of Barbecue.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson met with Garner on his home turf – The Pit Authentic Barbecue in Raleigh – where he explains the deep ties between food and the art of campaigning.

“People would argue barbecue has almost everything to do with politics,” Garner said. “First of all, political gatherings just featured barbecue very often because it was a cheap way to feed a crowd…so it’s always been the food of politics for North Carolina, more for practical reasons.”

Garner says there are different styles of barbecue in North Carolina, with their distinct flavors.

In Western North Carolina, the sauce is milder and sweeter than in the Eastern part of the state.

“It’s very peppery and a very vinegary type sauce,” Garner said. “That particular flavoring survives only in Eastern North Carolina.”

One former politician knows the importance of barbecue in the Tar Heel state almost too well.

When running for governor in 1984,Rufus Edmisten was asked if he had enough barbecue to eat. He made a fatal error.

“Something came over me that no one in their right mind would ever do,” Edmisten said. “I said, ‘Yes I certainly have, I’m tired of it. I hope I never see another drop of it as long I live.’ I said that, and I was joking of course!”

The comment created a media storm. Edmisten says the “barbecue faux pas” was a major factor in his loss.

“I never stopped liking barbecue,” Edmisten said. “I have withdrawals at times. I sometimes have to go four, five days on these fancy trips now that I have to make for clients, and I get these distinct barbecue hunger pangs.”

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