More than a decade ago, I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the role of barbecue as a creator of community in the South. I spent many pre-dawn hours standing at open barbecue pits and interviewing legends about their craft. To me, these pit masters were keepers of an unquestioned authenticity—grizzled artisans doing selfless work for the hungry masses. Not once did I think about how and why they kept the lights on.

In Real Southern Barbecue, Kaitland M. Byrd mercifully brings us all back to earth with a focus on the real-world implications of authenticity in food culture, specifically that of Southern barbecue. She frames this conversation as one driven by how “producers, restaurant owners, and pit masters constantly negotiate traditional forms and modern constraints to ensure the finished product conforms to consumers’ expectations” (p. 3). The focus on authenticity as a construct of “impression management” by barbecue producers...

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