How Chef Kevin Bludso Is Helping Young African American BBQ Cooks Get Into The Game - Exclusive

Just as blues, jazz, and, by extension, rock and roll are uniquely American cultural phenomena, it's hard to argue that barbecue is not the most uniquely American style of cooking. Granted, Live Science tells us that the term comes from "barbacoa," a word used by a Caribbean tribe called the Taino, and flavors and traditions from cultures spread as far and wide as the Caribbean to West Africa to Spain to many natives living in what would become the United States influenced barbecue cooking. But what's more American than a confluence of cultural influences leading to something entirely new?

In the early years of post-Revolutionary American history, cooking meats and other foods over smoky, smoldering coals was usually the purview of enslaved people, and according to Smithsonian Magazine, barbecue would remain a largely Black and southern cooking tradition even well after the Civil War. That's why it's a bitter irony that today, it's often hard for the rightful inheritors of this tradition — namely African American chefs — to stake a proper claim in the world of professional BBQ cooking.

Now, people are on a mission to change that. Pitmaster Kevin Bludso is one of those people. To do so, he has teamed up with some of the leading members of the black BBQ community — including Dr. Howard Conyers, a pitmaster and educator on the history of southern barbecue — as well as a company anyone who does any BBQ cooking has probably heard of: Kingsford.

The Kingsford Preserve the Pit fellowship

During an exclusive interview with Mashed, Kevin Bludso explained how Kingsford's new Preserve the Pit fellowship program was working to help the next generation of black BBQ cooks stake their claim in the American food scene, and he shared why he was so proud to be part of the effort. "The African American pitmaster is left out of the history of American barbecue," he says. "That's why I give so much props to Kingsford for bringing that back and letting them know that the African Americans played a big part in barbecue and making barbecue so popular in America."

"It's so hard for African Americans, especially young African Americans, that don't have the money to get a business, that's the hardest thing about opening up a business, is getting funding," he continued. "The first thing you [have to do], you go to the Small Business Association, you go to them and they want to see some type of credit. They want to see some type of history. They want to see some type of credential on why they should give you that money. And 10 out of 10 times, the young African American is not going to get funded." 

This program aims to change that, one accepted fellow at a time. "Kingsford is stepping in and taking that place and helping funding and helping these dreams come true and strengthening the future of the African American pit master," Bludso says, adding, "I got nothing but love for them ... I'm very proud to be part of this."

You can learn more about Kingsford's Preserve the Pit fellowship, and how to apply to it, here.