When you’re thinking about a romantic dinner, or maybe just the romance of food in general, barbecue probably isn’t your first choice. Barbecue was originally blue collar food, or sometimes even no collar food. You don’t put filet mignon into your smoker, needless to say. You put cuts of meat that are so tough they need all day over the coals to break down and become delicious.
Even now, when barbecue has achieved a kind of cult status among regional food, you don’t think of it as something you’d fix when you want to inspire passion in your sweetie (unless it’s a passionate argument over the presence or absence of tomato-based sauce). But barbecue is also a way of life for some cooks, both professional and amateur, and it was that fact that I wanted to talk about in my eighth book set in Konigsburg, Texas: Hungry Heart.
My heroes are both passionate about ’cue. One, Harris Temple the Barbecue King, cooks barbecue professionally, selling it off his truck in downtown Konigsburg. The other, Chico Burnside, is an amateur pit master who’s come up with his own sublime recipe for pulled pork. Harris and Chico decide to join forces on a competitive barbecue team (yes, there really are competitive barbecue teams—lots of them), entering Konigsburg’s first Fourth of July barbecue cook-off.
Of course, Harris and Chico both have Significant Others who complicate things. Harris’s girlfriend is Darcy Cunningham, sous chef of the Rose restaurant, who’s a lot more skilled in professional cooking than he is. But when it comes to barbecue, Darcy’s newbie, and a sarcastic newbie at that. Chico’s true love, Andy Wells, has a barbecue background of her own, but it’s bittersweet. Andy’s ex-husband was a competitive barbecue cook and his devotion to barbecue (along with his own “winning” personality) broke up their marriage.
It’s these four people who make up the barbecue team and provide the romance. Because when you’re doing things together, even if those things involve brisket and pork loin, romance can flourish. Here’s a quick excerpt:
He lifted his hand, brushing the hair back from her temple with his fingertips.
Not a good idea. You shouldn’t get involved here. But all of a sudden she couldn’t exactly remember why she shouldn’t.
He leaned forward slowly, maybe giving her a chance to run. A chance she wasn’t going to take. His lips brushed hers, lightly, as his hands cupped her face. He rubbed his thumbs across her cheekbones, dark eyes watching her carefully.
The flecks of green had deepened, making his eyes even darker now. She leaned forward, placing her hands on his shoulders, bringing her mouth against his more firmly. The contact seemed to send an arrow of heat through her body, making her nipples ache, her pulse warm again.
His mouth opened against hers and she let him inside, rubbing her tongue against his, feeling it rasp against her teeth. She sucked his lower lip for a moment, nipping him lightly, hearing the catch in his breath.
His hands dropped to her breasts, cupping, then rubbing them, his palms brushing her nipples to hard points. She felt cool air against her back as he pushed her shirt up, his fingers fumbling with the catch on her bra. His lips drifted down the side of her throat, leaving a trail of heat as he did.
She pushed his shirt up, running her fingers through the slight dusting of hair across his chest, then down along the ripple of muscle over his stomach.
His hands cupped her breasts, pushing the bra aside. He leaned down, taking one nipple into his mouth, sucking, his tongue laving the aching peak.
Somewhere behind them something beeped loudly. Porky came awake with a woof.
“Shit.” His hands dropped to her hips, his forehead pressed against her breasts. “Shit. Fuck. Goddamn.”
“Timer’s beeping,” she muttered. “And Porky’s awake.”
He nodded, his forehead still resting on her collarbone.
“Fire’s ready. And you’re behind with the meat as it is.”
He raised his head to look at her. “I didn’t plan this.”
“I know.” She wasn’t entirely sure what he meant—the timing with the meat or the timing with the two of them. She brushed a hand across his cheek, pushing his hair back from his face.
“I don’t want to stop.”
“I don’t either.” She slid back a few inches, moving her hands to his shoulders. “But like you once said, barbecue waits for no man.”
“Shit,” he repeated. “Caught in my own trap.”