December 5th, 2012
03:00 PM ET
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Drew Robinson is the pitmaster at Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q. He previously wrote about serving up gratitude in trouble times, why barbecue matters and the historic rivalry between Alabama and LSU.

No matter who you are or where you live, rituals are an intrinsic element to human life. Whether they’re based in religion, home, work, the kitchen or elsewhere, people rely on rituals to bring rhythm and order to their lives. They are the place where tradition and superstition intersect, and this is as much the case with tailgating as with any other ritual I can think of.

There is not a more superstitious group of people than sports fans who typically develop their own rituals and turn to traditions to assist them in helping carry their team to victory. Arguably, the cornerstone of every tailgating ritual is the food.

At the best tailgates, preparing the food is as important as the act of eating itself. Because my friends and I at Jim ‘N Nick’s love football passionately (Roll Tide!), we tailgate often - and it almost always involves barbecue. At a recent tailgate, someone asked me, "What is it about barbecue that lends itself so perfectly to the circumstance?"

drew robinson iii

The question made me pause for a moment because I had never really considered it, but the answer came to me almost immediately. I replied that as a foodways and ritual, barbecue is one of our greatest equalizers. People gather in the spirit of celebration, without concern for their differences. It unites us on common ground, making it the ideal food metaphor for a great tailgate.

The whole hog that we barbecued for the SEC Championship was one of the Mangalitsa pigs we raised. It wasn’t just some pig we purchased. It was ours, from our farm, raised with care, and now sacrificed for a very special occasion. What sets the stage for ceremony and ritual more than a “sacrificial lamb,” so to speak?

We had our pig, we lit a fire - and then stayed up for hours tending to the whole affair. This part is always particularly significant to us because people obviously tailgate to build excitement for the game and cheer their team to victory, but, more broadly, they do it to feel part of a community.

The fire, paired with a whole animal slowly smoking, serves as the centerpiece of the experience. It transports us to a place where people didn’t expect an instant connection with cell phones and the internet, but instead came together purposefully. That’s the part of ritual that helps us maintain the sense of order in our lives that we don’t just need, we crave.

Personally, I love all the elements of whole hog barbecue. Staying up late, drinking a little bourbon and telling stories with my friends, all the while maintaining the fire and caring for a delicious pig.

Ultimately, every ritual has to have a point of culmination. For our tailgate, it was the pig pickin’.

Once the hog was done and everyone gathered together to pick meat, it was time for communion. People stole bites as they cleaned the meat and discussed the feast (and game) with excitement, before we ultimately ate as one.

We are clearly in the business of barbecue at Jim ‘N Nick’s. Like everyone else we get up and go to work every day, but we just happen to be fortunate enough to cook barbecue for a living. Beyond professional life, however, is a community where gathering to share and celebrate our rituals keeps us strongly bonded together.

Barbecue and tailgating may fundamentally be two very simple things, but what they more deeply represent lives long after the fire has died, the embers have cooled and the game is over. Thankfully, we have our ritual to return to when it’s time to celebrate again.

Video by Qin Chen - Special to CNN Original Video

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Filed under: Barbecue • Bite • Cuisines • Culture • Tailgating • Think • Video

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soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Craig

    I produce an indie cooking series called Real Food Real Kitchens and we featured a newly wed couple who's new tradition was a New Orleans style BBQ, in a sense honoring their BOND of BBQ, it's a cool episode and free on Hulu

    December 29, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  2. Nick Naranja

    Gator Hammock in Felda, FL. It is some great swamp food. I think they only do catering anymore, but it is so good.

    December 11, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  3. NoTags

    @Bubba; I used to go to Fresh Air Barbeque on highway 42 years ago. They had the best BBQ I have ever eaten. These people know how to do it right.

    December 9, 2012 at 6:47 am |
  4. Matt

    For a Barbecue experience near you- and a community of fellow pig-ficianados... check out I was introduced to these folks, and they know how to do it right!

    December 6, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  5. Yakman2

    Hey Lauralee
    May God keep you and your husband safe till his return....My buddy Rabbit is doing his second tour at Bagram till the end of Feb.....God Bless all of you military personel and your families this Holiday season.....

    December 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  6. Loopman

    When my kids were much younger they were on a local competitive swim team. One way that the team parents raised money to help with team expenses was to do hog roasts for chuch socials, wedding receptions and other types of celebrations. Long story short, we had as much fun roasting the hog as the people attending the event had eating it. Good times and good memories.

    December 6, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  7. Ray

    nom nom nom nom nom

    December 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  8. bzaulds

    I think someone is confusing the term "barbeque" with "grilling" do not barbeque hamburgers on a barbeque, you grill them on a grill. BBQ is an art form of slowly roasting meat over a carefully stoked coal fire or smoker.

    December 6, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • HarleyGirl

      Yes, you are correct on that one. In my world, if you put it on the grill, and slap some "Pineapple Willy's" bbq sauce ( using their recipe), it is bbq. Ribs, chicken, smoked sausage, roasts, and yes, even burgers, whatever the meat, always tastes great coming from the grill, and even better with a good bbq sauce. Someday, I do plan on buying a small smoker, so we can have even tastier meat to experiment with. I humbly bow to your knowledge.

      December 6, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  9. Bubba

    Fresh Air Barbeque, Jackson, GA

    Since 1929 the mother church of BBQ in Georgia.

    If you are seeking wings, tofu or a salad bar, keep on looking !

    December 6, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  10. HarleyGirl

    We grill all year long here. It doesn't matter if there is a foot of snow on the grill. Nothing deters us from our grilling. Besides, almost everything taste better when it comes off the grill. @Lauralee- I'm sorry your husband won't be home for the holidays. That must be extremely hard on your family. Please send him our thanks for his service.

    December 6, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  11. Lauralee

    The grill is my husbands stomping ground while he deployed we don't BBQ. It is the high light of his return be it summer or middle of winter he lights up the grill and cooks a big feast for our family and friend to enjoy. I look out at the deck and the grill and day dream of that moment when he out their again. This Christmas will be the first one he gone away from home.

    December 6, 2012 at 1:59 am |


      December 6, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • Matt

      We'll do up a smoked butt in his honor, LauraLee!!!

      December 6, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  12. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    BBQ chicken can be pretty good. Otherwise, I think I'm the only meat eater I know that can't stand chicken.

    December 5, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
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