An ambitious exhibit celebrating the bark arts has been mounted at the Atlanta History Center
Louie Mueller Barbecue
Credit: Louie Mueller Barbecue

An oasis of calm just a block or two from the beating heart of Buckhead, the Atlanta History Center is not just a museum, it's a 33-acre respite from the flashiness and the traffic, a place where you can tour a nearly century-old neo-classical mansion built for a cotton baron, tour a reconstructed 1800's farm (and hang out with sheep), roam wooded grounds, examine pieces from one of the largest collections of Civil War artifacts around, seek quiet in an Asian garden, or just grab a really good cup of coffee. Through September of 2019, the museum is also one of the very best places to come and learn more about the history behind one of the hottest trends going in American food right now, and of course we're talking about barbecue.

Suddenly the must-have in every town and city from coast to coast (and even far beyond the United States), barbecue—what's more American than that, right?—has never been more popular. A new exhibit, Barbecue Nation, pulled together by a talented team of academics, advocates, historians and pitmasters, asks the question: how much do we really know? Do we know where barbecue, or BBQ, or Bar-B-Q, or barbeque came from? (It came from everywhere, just like Americans, and from right here, under our feet—indigenous Americans have been smoking meat for thousands of years.) Do we know why it survived in The South, all these years, smoking slowly, waiting for the rest of the country to climb aboard? And furthermore, did we know that Andy Griffith used to do ads for Open Pit brand barbecue sauce? (He did, and you can see the ad for yourself.)

Horn Barbecue
Credit: Steven Pham

A pleasurable blend of the serious (barbecue during the Civil Rights Era), the useful (a quick education on what wood works best for which meats), and the straight-up entertaining (a clip of the notoriously meat-obsessed Ron Swanson from NBC's "Parks and Recreation", playing on a loop) make for a satisying hour, or so. There's a lot of reading, but there are also some interesting artifacts, along with a few highly photogenic moments, courtesy of a blazing neon sign at the entrance, not to mention the fantastic wall of sauce bottles, trucked in from all over the country—this thing is almost a work of art.

One of the best assets of the show, which continues until September 29, 2019, is one you can take home with you—created by Wildsam Field Guides and featuring a very knowledgeable group of authors, The Original Guide to Barbecue in the South is available for purchase in the gift shop, once you're done. Featuring everything from an excerpt from Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (the part where she talks about barbecue, of course) to explanations as to why there are slices of white bread on so many barbecue plates (and what you should do with it), along with a complete guide to some of the best barbecue throughout the entire South—lots of places you'll have heard of, and some you need to know about—this is a winning little companion guide, the sort that could very easily inspire a road trip.

Moo's Craft Barbecue
Credit: Courtesy of Moo's Craft Barbecue

Learn more about Barbecue Nation at the Atlanta History Center here; purchase Wildsam's The Original Guide to Barbecue in the South here, for $18.