Juneteenth, the longest running African-American holiday, is celebrated throughout the United States, and barbecue is central to the festivities. This holiday commemorates the date of June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, not only to inform enslaved peoples of their freedom but to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln 2 1/2 years earlier and 2 months after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox.
As culinary historian Robert Moss explains in this article and in his book Barbecue: The History of an American Institution, Emancipation Day barbecues had been held at other times and in other parts of the country since abolition went into effect, but the Texas celebration date of June 19 has become the one that endured. After consistent campaigning from Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) to recognize “Juneteenth Independence Day” as a national holiday, the day became an official federal holiday on June 17, 2021.
Juneteenth, or Jubilee as it’s also called, is celebrated nationwide and there will be barbecue, not least because barbecue is central to African American heritage. “Barbecue is as African as it is Native American and European,” explains culinary historian Michael Twitty in this article and in his award-winning book The Cooking Gene.
Originally Barbecue and Baseball was a theme, but baseball sort of fell away leaving the barbecue pit at the center of the event, according to Juneteenth.com. According to culinary historian Adrian Miller, author of Black Smoke, the traditional trinity of the meal was red, including a red drink (sometimes a Big Red Soda from Waco), pork ribs with red BBQ sauce, and watermelon. Some folks throw in some red velvet cake too. But it is a feast, so don’t forget the fried okra, fried chicken, fried catfish, hushpuppies, cornbread, chitterlings, collards, and sweet potatoes. Maybe some goat. With plenty of hot sauce.
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A Juneteenth barbecue menu could—and should—include whatever foods are most meaningful (and delicious!) to you. But since Juneteenth is historically rooted in the Lone Star State, we offer up a classic Texan BBQ menu, including the Holy Trinity of Texas BBQ: brisket, ribs, and sausage. To round out the plate, check out our recipes for Cowboy Candy (candied jalapenos), lean and vinegary cole slaw, pinto beans, potato salad, and mac and cheese. And don’t forget to include something red.
However you choose to celebrate Juneteenth this year, we hope that the food, friends, and family at this cookout all come together to reaffirm the significance of this historic day in American history.
Published On: 6/17/2020 Last Modified: 11/19/2022