Eating & Drinking Poems: Jake York’s ‘United States of Barbecue’

At Tweetspeak, we devote ourselves not only to the practice of poetry but also to the practice of poetic living. In this Eating & Drinking Poems post,  Kathryn Neel shares Jake Adam York’s poem “United States of Barbecue” and a delicious, citrus-flavored barbecue sauce recipe coaxed from a secretive chef. So the next time you and your friends get together at a beach-side barbecue, make sure to swap some cold drinks, fresh-caught shrimp, and the secret recipes and favorite poems we all cling to. 

As most of us have traded in our cold weather gear for shorts and t-shirts, it is also time to shift our cooking habits as well — and what better place to start than with barbecue?

I grew up in the land of exceptional—not just good—barbecue. My home town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama is also home to a world famous BBQ restaurant (called Dreamland) that ships its ribs, chicken and other sauce-dipped items all over the world; it is one of the three excellent barbeque joints listed in Jake Adam York’s poem, “United States of Barbecue.” The style of barbecue you grow up with can become as much a part of you as your regional accent or what football team you root for … especially in the South. However, as much as I love my comfort foods, I love trying new foods and new flavor combinations.

I discovered the following recipe while I was attending the Key West Literary Seminar a few years ago. There is nothing like a group of rowdy writers migrating from restaurant to café to bar in Old Town Key West. To be honest, I can’t remember if we were at Sloppy Joe’s on Duval Street, Sandy’s Café on White Street, or Louie’s Backyard on Waddell Avenue. All I remember is that this barbeque sauce was served over grilled catfish fillets with side orders of hush puppies and coleslaw.

I also remember getting into a deep philosophical discussion of food with the restaurant’s chef of the restaurant and walking away with the recipe for the sauce. Amazing!  The number of Planter’s Punches we consumed while discussing our mutual love of food might have won me the recipe or maybe it was my raving over his preparation of the dish. I really don’t know. I do remember the fish fillets being lightly breaded and fried to a crispy golden brown then served covered in the lemon barbecue sauce. My fellow foodies from New England were trying to figure out ways to smuggle jars of the sauce back home in their carry-on bags!

This lemon barbecue sauce is an interesting departure if you are looking for a new taste to try this summer. It has the zest you would expect of a good barbecue sauce with the clean citrus taste that work so well with more delicate flavors like shrimp and other mild seafood.

In any case, give it a go. It is amazing on fish, chops, ribs, steaks, and shrimp. Happy Grilling!

Java Gal's Lemon Barbecue Sauce
Java Gal's Lemon Barbecue Sauce
  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the lemons, rinds and all, onions, brown sugar, chilies mezcla, cumin, chipotle chilies and water and mix well. Transfer to a large, heavy pot over a medium heat and reduce until the lemons are completely soft.
  2. Pour the lemon mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a clean saucepan and reduce again until only one quart of liquid is left.
  3. Add the ketchup, worcestershire, and tabasco. Mix well. Pour into clean glass bottle or Mason jar and store in the fridge for up to 6 months
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United States of Barbecue

Mud Creek,  Dreamland,  Twixt-n-Tween,

the cue-joints rise through smoke

and glow like roadhouses on Heaven’s way.

Or so the local gospels raise them,

each tongue ready to map the ramshackle

of shacks and houses, secret windows

and business-sector hip in some new

geography of truth. If the meek shall,

then a rib-mobile may shame the fixed pit

in a reading from the book of skill,

the grill-less one cook himself to legend

rib by rib. The great chain’s links

are live and hermetic as bone

and where cue burns hotter than politics,

every mouth’s the forge of change,

all scholars temporary and self-proclaimed.

One says he half-sublimes each time he eats

a rib and expects to go in a puff of smoke

when he finds the perfect pig:

he wanders like a ghost, his eyes

trying everything, a genuine R & D,

and once a day he proclaims the latest find,

a homegrown Moses canting

a vernacular Talmud changeable as wind.

A word could crumble him, some backyard

master slapping mustard on a country rib

to turn the state of things entire.


So every word reverberates and mystery’s

sown again. Rib or rump, dry-rub or ketchup,

the eternal terms turn and barbecue’s rooted

or pulled anew. Theories proliferate

like flies after rain, but that’s the usual business

where Georgia and the Carolinas river in,

the wind spirits Mississippi or Carib,

and piedmont’s melted to the uplands

in open hearths and coke ovens, stitched tight

in cotton fields, and a kudzu vine’s

the proper compass. Beef or pork,

catfish, quail or armadillo,

we’ve tried it all, loved it with brushes,

iss of vinegar, tongue of flame,

so whatever it may not be,

we’ve covered all it is, Vegetarian

exception opens eggplant, means tofu’s

the next horizon, purity an envelope

that’s always opening, So summer afternoons

and Saturdays when the fires go up,

some rised to a signal and shapes

the singe common word,

hand-make silence talking on every tongue.

— Jake Adam York

* Note: this poem has been transcribed from the kindle version of Kevin Young’s ‘The Hungry Ear’ and the line breaks may not match those of other versions. 


Photo by Rob Hyndman. Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Kathryn Neel.

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  1. says

    A “vegetarian exception” exists? Really? And here I thought I might have to partake of plentiful Planter’s Punch – enough to forget I’m vegan – whilst I lick BBQ sauce off of assorted ribs.

    I like this bit best: “If the meek shall,
    then a rib-mobile may shame the fixed pit”

    Thanks for the recipe!

  2. Kathryn Neel says

    Well, for the vegetarian/vegans in the house, I’m sure you can brush some of the sauce on grilled veggies or tofu or whatever catches your fancy and enjoy it that way. A few Planter’s Punches don’t hurt either. :)

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