The big young man in denim overalls, baby blue polo, curly red hair from head to chin, and baby blue eyes sat there in his team booth at the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in Tom Lee Park on the banks of the Mississippi. I happened by on that sunny day in 1987 as he was holding court. He beckoned me to “Come on in!”
We had instant rapport. His Southern drawl; the mischievous twinkle in his eye, and his knack for telling stories that were believable and full of chuckles bonded us as friends for life right there and then.
As Jim told me about his hog—how it was nurtured by Mennonite pig farmers with the best of diets and tender loving care—not even allowed to wallow in mud—he handed me a cold beer and shared a few racy hearsay anecdotes about Arkansas Governor Clinton, along with some Elvis jokes. When I thanked him for his hospitality and said I needed to move on, he said, “You come back tomorrow afternoon and help us eat the rest of this hog when the judges are done with it. I guarantee it’s best tasting hog you or any of the judges have ever eaten.” I did return the next afternoon, and I swear to this day I have never tasted a more tender, flavorful, seasoned-to-perfection barbecued hog in my lifetime. That hog should have won Jim the Grand Championship. I’ll never understand why it didn’t.
From then on we were brothers in smoke for eternity. Memphis, Des Moines, Kansas City—we cooked, partied, philosophized, drank, smoked, and had fun—year after year, and kept in touch with phone calls between times. We worked on a Barbecue Whole Earth Catalog that never saw publisher’s ink, but we had fun working on it and dreaming about what a success it would be.
Jim Quessenberry is an American Original. Jim and Arthur, his right hand man, plus Donna, his wife, and Lee and Michael, his sons—they know barbecue, and I am elated that Jim’s legacy lives on from father to sons. Today Jim smokes heavenly hogs while Lee and Michael smoke hogs and other meats here on Planet Earth. Kudos to them for picking up Jim’s tongs, firing up his pits, making and marketing his fantastic Arkansas Trav’ler sauces and rub, and giving Jim’s many fans a double dose of red-haired Quessenberry magic! Blessed are they who knew Ques. Long live his legacy!