National BBQ Week, Barbecue Diplomacy and the Most Important BBQ That Never Was – Oh and a recipe for Texas-style BBQ Sauce

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It is another of those food days / weeks, I have written recipes when it has been National Toast Day ( yes really ), National Fish and Chips Day, Bramley Apple Week and National Yorkshire Pudding Day, this time I won’t complain too much as it one of my favourites National BBQ Week. I adore smoky, sticky BBQ food and love to cook it but do you know the most important BBQ in history?

Well by nineteen sixty-three Lyndon B. Johnson had risen above the hurly-burly politics of his native Texas to become vice president of the United States in the administration of the meteoric John F Kennedy. In a government of outstanding personalities including the president’s charismatic brother the attorney general, secretary of defense Robert McNamara and secretary of state Dean Rusk, many saw Johnson’s role as mere window dressing. Yet this homely former school teacher established himself with quiet determination and pioneered what became known as barbecue diplomacy. As people relaxed due to the informal atmosphere of a barbecue around a pit or grill it was often easier for LBJ to talk business than in the rigid formal settings of a state banquette.

LBJ Photo.jpg

At his home on the banks of the Perdernale river, LBJ hosted an array of important barbecues for VIP dignitaries and most of these were catered for by Walter Jettson. He ran a local, well for Texas, catering company in Fort Worth and prepared the food at the LBJ ranch. On November 23, 1963, the staff of the ranch and Jettson were preparing for the biggest event of their lives the president was to visit and eat smoked ribs and brisket. As we all know he was never to make it. LBJ was sworn in as the thirty-sixth president of the United States on board airforce one carrying the body of President Kennedy back to Washington. Jettson was to become the President’s Pitmaster * and LBJ even flew him around the country to cater at political rallies. On the back of his celebrity, Jetton published a barbecue cookbook, which is unfortunately out of print but available on Amazon and other retailers.

Jetton catered for the first barbecue at the White House and continued to do so during LBJ’s term in office. When he decided not to stand for re-election LBJ hosted one last farewell barbecue on the White House lawns for over two hundred friends and supporters. The Texas-style ribs must have been quite special as the Swiss-born, formally trained, White House head chef Henry Haller, wrote in his The White House Family Cookbook, ” He did a terrific job and I was most impressed with the results. His barbecue sauce avoided all of the common flaws (oversweetening, overcooking, excessive thinning) and by serving the sauce separately, he also avoided drying out the meat. ”

*Pit Master : An experienced barbecue cook, a skilled craftsman, who watches over the pit and can tell by sight, sound, smell, and touch, if it is running too hot or too cold, when it needs fuel, when to add wood, when to add sauce, and when the meat is ready.

Barbecue Sauce

Here is my only slightly amended version of Walter Jetton’s recipe as always as the full recipe is of authentic American origin it is measured in cups. A cup is between 200 and 250ml, providing one standard cup is used the proportions will work.

Walter Jettons’s Texas – style BBQ Sauce

1 1/2 cups Water

1 cup Ketchup

1/2 cup Cider Vinegar

3 Stalks Celery, washed and chopped

1/4 cup Butter

1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce

1/2 cup Onion, peeled and finely chopped

3 Bay Leaves

1 Large Clove Garlic, peeled and minced

½ tablespoon Sugar

1 teaspoon Chilli Powder

1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika

1/8 teaspoon Sea Salt

pinch of freshly ground Black Pepper

Mix all ingredients together. Place in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil and simmer for ½ an hour. Remove from heat and strain.

Walter Jetton’s LBJ Barbecue Cookbook– By the Caterer to the LBJ Ranch, Written with Arthur Whitman, 1965, Pocket Books.

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