Smoke, Fire as BBQ Bigshots Battle Over Ketchup

ByABC News
June 2, 2005, 11:23 AM

GREENSBORO, N.C., June 5, 2005 — -- There is a great pork wedge between two North Carolina barons of barbecue -- one from the east, and the other from the west.

Dennis Rogers, a columnist for The Raleigh News & Observer, is the champion of the state's eastern style of barbecue. He calls himself the "oracle of the holy grub."

Author Jerry Bledsoe, a lover of western style, claims to be "the world's leading, foremost barbecue authority." He says Rogers "has ruined any chances of this state being distinguished in its barbecue."

Eastern barbecue uses the whole hog. The sauce is made only from vinegar and pepper.

"It doesn't need anything else," Rogers says.

In western barbecue, they cook only the pork shoulder.

But the real difference is in the sauce.

In the west, they add ketchup.

"America loves ketchup," Bledsoe says.

The dividing line for this battle is Route 1, east of which ketchup shall not pass. This sizzling debate bubbled over this year with the introduction of North Carolina House Bill 21 -- "an act to adopt the Lexington barbecue festival as the official barbecue festival of North Carolina."

Lexington barbecue is western barbecue, which means ketchup, which, for Rogers, means blasphemy.

"Somebody who would put ketchup and put it on barbecue and give it to a child is capable of pretty much anything," Rogers says.

For Bledsoe and the warriors of the west, those are fighting words.

"Vinegar is an astringent thing," Bledsoe says. "And it ruins your taste buds, so you can't even appreciate the real thing when you actually get it.

The House bill has little chance of passing. An amended bill suggests making the Lexington Barbecue Festival the official "food" festival of North Carolina, instead of official "barbecue." It is not clear if the skirmishers find that any less offensive.

But people still love the fight. The best part about a feud like this, between east and west, is that there are a lot of winners. Namely, everyone who gets to eat.

ABCNEWS' John Berman originally reported this story May 30, 2005, on "World News Tonight."