A lot of y’all know I love to BBQ. And I know, I’ve talked about it in a few sermons already. But wow – it’s an incredible metaphor for our spiritual life. Because there are few foods that are as much art as they are science.
It’s become trendy to smoke everything these days, from tofu to turkey. But BBQ began as a way to cook particularly tough, fatty cuts of meat. The technique originated on the island we call Hispaniola today – home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. From there, it spread to Florida and the South-East to Tennessee and then over to TX, primarily through enslaved populations.
Why? Because BBQ wasn’t originally a prized culinary method. Poor and enslaved populations developed it as a way to prepare cuts of meat that were otherwise pretty gross.
The two most popular incarnations of BBQ are probably pulled pork and brisket. Both cuts are tough, fatty cuts of meat. If you prepare them the way you prepare another cut of meat – cooking at 350 degrees or higher for a relatively short time, the fat turns into rubber. You get meat you have to chew for days to be able to swallow.
Not good. So guess who didn’t buy or cook those cuts of meat? Yeah… anyone who could afford not to.
BBQ is a cooking process developed by oppressed and marginalized peoples. It’s an innovation, a creative means to thrive in the face of oppression. “You’re only going to give us briskets and pork shoulders? Okay, we’ll turn them into the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted.”
The mantra of bbq is ‘low and slow’. Low temperature for a long time. There’s a reason for that – if you stick a thermometer in those fatty cuts of meat and put them in a smoker set at 250 degrees and watch, you’ll see the temperature rise steadily until it hits about 160. Then it stops rising.
This is what pitmasters call ‘the stall’. It looks like nothing is happening. When you’re first learning to smoke, this is where you freak out. What changed? Am I doing something wrong? Why did it quit working???
The secret to a great smoke is that the stall is good. It looks like nothing’s happening, but this is actually the sweet spot. This is where everything is happening.
The reason the temperature stops rising during the Stall is that all that energy from the heat is being used to melt the fat. If you get too far about 250 degrees, the meat cooks too fast and locks all that fat into place. But keep the temp down and be patient – low and slow! – and eventually the fat will all melt and the temperature will start rising again.
That’s when your meat is cooked and you can pull it off the fire, let it rest.
Low and slow. A pork shoulder usually takes around 12 hrs. A brisket closer to 20.
It’s a lot of work. Because during that whole time, you’re tending the fire. That’s the secret to a great smoke: you don’t watch the meat; you watch the fire. Tend to the fire and the meat will come out perfect every time.
But the whole point of the smoke isn’t a big log of charred meat. It’s the feast!
This is where I love BBQ as a metaphor for the spiritual life.
BBQ is a lot of work – from carving and prepping the meat to choosing the right wood to tending the fire for hours. But in all that time, the meat just sits there. The magic that makes it wonderful is happening where we can’t see.
?And of course the whole point isn’t all that work. It’s that feast at the end, this wholly separate experience that couldn’t look less like the smoke itself and yet couldn’t happen without all that work that came before.
Today, we’re exploring the promise of the Christian life – particularly the ideas of God’s peace and joy. The reality is that many of us don’t experience a ton of peace or joy, and that can lead us to wonder if we’re doing this whole faith thing right.
So what happens when we start looking at faith as the ‘low and slow’? To see those hard times not as judgment on our faith, but as the Stall, where all the work God is doing is unseen, but no less real? What does it mean to tend the fire of the Holy Spirit in those times? And how does that lead to those times of feasting?