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Meet the female pitmaster shaking up Georgia's barbecue scene

Meet Georgia’s Amanda Kinsey-Joplin, one of a new wave of female chefs carving out a name for themselves in the time-honoured, male-dominated world of Southern barbecue.

Barbecuing is also the glue that bonds communities in Mississippi. And while the scene remains a traditionally masculine domain, there’s a new crop of trailblazing women pitmasters stepping up to the grill, such as chef and author Melissa Cookston; restaurateur Brooke Orrison Lewis, of The Shed in Mississippi; and pitmaster Amanda Kinsey-Joplin, founder of Amanda’s BarBeeQue & Catering.

Photograph by Andrew Thomas Lee
By Zoey Goto
Published 9 Sept 2021, 10:22 BST

Barbecue is a big deal in the Deep South: as hotly debated as politics, as fiercely competitive as sports and as regionally distinctive as the state flag. While the scene remains a traditionally masculine domain, there’s a new crop of trailblazing women pitmasters stepping up to the grill.

Among them are chef and author Melissa Cookston; restaurateur Brooke Orrison Lewis, of The Shed in Mississippi; and pitmaster Amanda Kinsey-Joplin, founder of Amanda’s BarBeeQue & Catering.

“People just assume my husband is the pitmaster,” she says. “They’re shocked when they see me with this heavy grill, playing with fire. But behind the scenes, women have been doing this for years — we’re just now getting to shine.” Barbecuing — specifically, the method of cooking low and slow over indirect flames — is said to have been brought to the area by Spanish conquistadors travelling from the Caribbean. The practice took off as the go-to method for tenderising cheap off cuts of meat, and today it remains the food of everyday folk — a cuisine that stubbornly resists gentrification. In the Deep South, the hottest barbecue spot in town is often an unassuming hole-in-the-wall joint, recognisable by a snaking queue of loyal customers.

Barbecuing is also the glue that bonds communities in the South. “If somebody lights up a grill, a crowd will come — and we barbecue all year round,” laughs Amanda. While Texas is all about the brisket and Memphis’s signature is the pork rib, Georgia’s barbecue is a little more open to interpretation, reflecting the cultural melting pot of the state. “We’re the real pioneers because we’ve got no rules,” says Amanda. “We have a lot of ethnic groups that bring their own spices and techniques.” It’s this fusion that Amanda feels is the future of the scene. “We have Korean barbecue places here, but it’s a Southern take, so you’ll see ginger sesame sauce mixed with barbecue sauce,” she says. “And I’ve picked up Cuban techniques, too.”

So what’s the dish that every traveller to the Deep South needs to sample? “My favourite is ribs, washed down with sweet tea,” says Amanda. “You can’t go wrong!”

Carving beef brisket at Fox Bros Bar-B-Q.

Photograph by Andrew Thomas Lee

Amanda's top three barbecue spots in Atlanta

1. Fox Bros Bar-B-Q
“Fox Bros has really inspired me. You need to try the beef brisket,” advises Amanda. Twin brothers Jonathan and Justin Fox are also credited with bringing the Texan classic Frito pie — a dish of Frito crisps smothered in indulgent layers of brisket chilli and cheese — to the American southeast. 

2. Lake & Oak Neighborhood BBQ
Run by renowned chefs Todd Richards and Josh Lee, this local joint gets experimental with side dishes. “I tried something here that surprised me: collard greens and fried rice mixed together,” notes Amanda. Be sure to save room for the banana pudding. 

3. Hattie Marie's Texas Style BBQ & Cajun Kitchen
From smoky ribs to Cajun-fried catfish, the menu here runs the gamut of Southern flavours. Amanda says: “It feels like you’re over at your cousin’s house and your grandma is cooking.”

Published in the October issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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