by Ray Linville
What makes our state so special for grilling ribs? Most of us can remember our first cookout when someone in the family, neighborhood, or church served home-cooked ribs. They were so tender that the meat literally fell off the bones. The homemade sauce was delicious, and often the recipe was a secret not to be shared.
Some of us can’t wait for the next home-cooked ribs, yet we do have to wait because family reunions, church suppers, and neighborhood gatherings aren’t held that frequently.
Even before travelers see the smoke, they usually spot the sign that simply says, “Ribs.” These ribs have been cooking since morning by the master chefs of the roadside grill – Tony Washington and Leo Thomas, who have perfected the right combination of meat, sauce, temperature, and cooking time for a cause that satisfies more than hunger.
Serving the Lord has never created a tastier rib. The two have teamed in their grill ministry for several years that has been interrupted only by Washington’s deployments to the Middle East with the Army. Because each one is indispensable to the other, the roadside grill is suspended when Washington is deployed.
When asked if he missed his grilling partner during the deployment, Thomas said, “I missed him mostly in church. We are brothers in the ministry.”
Washington, who earned a Bronze Star for his last 12-month deployment to Iraq where he served as a chaplain’s assistant as U.S. combat operations were ending, also missed his partner in the grill ministry – and he missed his grill too.
“We missed it. Our customers missed it. We wanted to pick back up,” he said after he returned to North Carolina.
The customers know that Washington and Thomas are only available for a couple of Fridays each month and look for smoke as the guarantee that the grilling ministers are serving ribs again.
“We usually grill twice a month, depending on the weather,” Washington says.
Both Washington and Thomas think their ribs are the best – and their customers agree. In fact, Washington boast that he would never enter their ribs into any competitive event.
“It wouldn’t be fair,” he says. “We would win all the time.”
Ray Linville is an associate professor of English and humanities at Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst, NC, and serves on the board of the N.C. Folklore Society. Read more about Ray’s ramblings at his blog: Sights, Sounds and Tastes of the American South.