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Hardy Jackson’s Alabama

The great goat barbecue of 1962

Illustration by Dennis Auth

There weren’t many “official” Independence Day celebrations when I was a kid.

At least not in my little town.

What Independence Day celebrating was done, was done among little clusters of families and friends, and it usually involved pork, potato salad, deviled eggs, ice tea, and ice cream churned by the bigger kids.

So, from my perspective, Independence Day was about eating.

And of all those Independence Day feasts, the one that stands out above the rest was the great goat barbecue of 1962.

Let me explain.

To earn money for college I worked summers for the county engineers – the survey crew, the rod-man, the bush-cutter. This job put me in contact with road construction men, heavy equipment operators who moved from job to job, often taking their families along. That summer a whole bunch of them set up housekeeping at a knock-together trailer park just south of town.

I got to know them on the job, and while we squatted together in the shade at lunchtime — eating sandwiches from home or potted meat and crackers, a Stage-Plank for dessert, all washed down with an R-O-C Cola or a Big Orange. That was when they invited any and all county employees to join them on the 4th of July.

“Everybody’s welcome. We gonna cook a goat.”

Now friends, I was not unfamiliar with goats. My Uncle Dub raised them.

I was not opposed to goat eating.

So, I accepted the invitation.

Then I began to have second thoughts. Did I really want to spend the day and into the evening with a bunch of trailer park goat eaters, folks whose lifestyle seemed pretty far removed from college-boy me.

My hosts at the goat-cooking seemed like gypsies, rootless nomads who were here today and gone tomorrow.

I wondered what I would find there. Wild women without inhibitions and jealous men with knives? Mamas fanning flies from the food while their kids played in the dirt? Or on the bright side, might I catch the eye of the beautiful teenage daughter of the top dozer man, a girl I had seen one day in town with the others.

So, I went into the uncertainty.

It was great.

I got to be part of a real Independence Day celebration – independence from the job, independence from the boss, independence from the culture of shopkeepers who looked down on them, preachers who told them not to do what they enjoyed doing and creditors who’d take their car if they missed a payment.

They were a community bound together, not by a place but by the experiences they shared.

While the goat cooked slow and tender, the little kids played, the teenagers did what teenagers do, and the women laid everything out on tables made of boards set on saw horses. And because I was a worker from out on the job, I sat with the men, and listened to the talk, the stories, the lies (probably) and the lessons.

And I ate.

Good goat.

Then as it got dark they put down six sheets of plywood, sprinkled corn meal on them, brought out an old record player, dimmed the lights, and everyone danced.

And I got to dance with the dozer daughter.

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.


Seven Jay Barbecued Goat (makes 8-10 pounds)

(Adapted by John Shelton Reed from a recipe originated by Hawley and Barbara Jernigan of the Seven Jay Ranch near Mullin, Texas)

 

1 20-pound (dressed weight) goat

2 cups melted butter, melted bacon drippings, or a combination

 

For the brine (optional, but recommended):

Approximately 3 gallons water

3 cups kosher salt

4 or 5 lemons, halved

 

For the rub:

2 cups kosher salt

2 tablespoons freshly ground pepper

2 teaspoons chipotle powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

 

For the glaze:

2 cups sugar, or to taste

1 cup prepared yellow mustard

½ cup cider vinegar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

 

If brining: Combine the water, salt and vinegar. Squeeze the lemon halves, and add the juice and squeezed halves to the mixture. Seal the meat and brine in a cooler or sturdy plastic bag for at least 1 hour (better is to refrigerate overnight or longer). Remove the meat from the brine and pat it dry.

Combine the rub ingredients, mix thoroughly and apply generously to the meat. Let the mat sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before cooking. Cook the goat, meaty side up, at 220-250 degrees, brushing every hour and a half with butter or drippings.

Combine and heat the glaze ingredients, mixing thoroughly (do not boil). Cook the meat to 175 degrees if slicing, 190 degrees if pulling (maybe 9 to 10 hours).

When the meat reaches the desired temperature, brush both sides liberally with glaze so it will set, and return it to the heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let it rest 20 to 30 minutes. Serve sliced or pulled.

Reprinted with permission from “Barbecue: A Savor the South® Cookbook,” by John Shelton Reed, published by the University of North Carolina Press, 2016.