Listen to This: Oral Histories from this Weekend’s Big Apple BBQ Pitmasters

Click on this image to listen to the oral histories collected from Big Apple barbecuers by the SFA.

Earlier this year the Times technology section wrote about the rise of social networking projects that dealt with spoken words, music and other sound files. One of those was a Brooklyn-based web start-up still in beta-testing called Broadcastr, started by two students at Brooklyn College who were pursuing MFAs in fiction writing.

Love for the story is part of this project, too: Broadcastr groups recordings of stories recorded and posted by users by location. So if you click on a map Chinatown, say, you can listen to Asian chefs tell you where to buy the good stuff, or maybe you listen to memories of Italian-American feasts when strolling Little Italy, or maybe when you’re in Chicago later this year you’ll hear a first-generation Polish immigrant talking about what it was like to make peirogies back in the day.

You can upload your own stories and listen to others directly through the site, or through apps you can download on your smart phone. More importantly, Broadcastr also has been working with large groups with sound archives and mapping them geographically, such as the Southern Foodways Association’s Oral History Project. The SFA is based in Oxford, Miss., but members will be in here in force this weekend for Union Square Hospitality Group’s Big Apple BBQ Block Party, that two-day cue fest in Madison Square Park.

On both Saturday and Sunday SFA and on an audio booth, inviting visting and displaced Southerners (like yours truly) to share stories about great barbecue, and the stories will be uploaded in real time to a map called HometownBBQ. Luckily Broadcastr was nice enough to create a starter map for us (that’s it up above) with a few stories from a few pitmasters and other cooks who will be at the event this weekend, and placed them appropriately on a map of Madison Square Park.

Those stories include Don McLemore of Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ in Decatur, Alabama, whose grandfather started barbecuing in 1945. There’s Ed Mitchell, who recently retired from The Pit in Raleigh, N.C.; Leroy “Spooney” Kenter, who runs Spooney’s Bar-Be-Que in Greenwood, Miss., and Desiree Robison of The Cozy Corner in Memphis, Tenn., and Larry Proffitt from The Original Ridgewood Barbecue in Bluff, Tenn., who tells of the multiple times his family barbecue joint burned down until they figured out how to use flame-retardant fire brick. (It was actually just a “beer joint,” he recalls, until the county went dry in 1952 and “we had to make a living,” he says.)

At a point when most of us can’t focus on a 4-minute  Youtube video, you might find as we do that the sound of those who feed us telling us their stories is so moving you’ll stop and listen to every last word. Which in this day and age is about as hard to find as a Southern pitmaster stoking the fires right on 23rd Street.

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