How barbecue, farming and Kentucky pride inspired english professor’s recipe book

At his farm in Richardsvile, WKU English professor Wes Berry has found relief from the pressures of the pandemic. Berry, who lives on the farm with his wife and Great Pyrenees dog Moses, raises goats and chickens, and maintains a garden.

Wes Berry’s passion for growing food and cooking barbecue dates back to when he would visit his grandparents’ farm in southern Kentucky.

While his mother, grandmother and aunt would cook in the kitchen, Berry and his grandfather would shuck corn and snap beans. A five-year-old Berry would be mesmerized by the processes that resulted from the death of a pig.

“There was a big cast iron cauldron that [my family] would use to render the pig fat for lard,” Berry said. “A delicious byproduct of that would be the cracklings—the skins that float to the top and there’s like little pieces of meat on there. My Granddad would give me cracklings and I would eat enough to get sick.”


Berry, who has been an English professor at WKU since 2005, lives on a farm full of sheep, rabbits, chickens and goats with his wife Elisa. Berry manages food preservation while his wife conceptualizes the property’s garden.

“She likes putting the seeds in the ground, messing around the soil, and weeding,” Berry said. “I do some of that and I help her haul manure.”

Berry is proud of his farm’s environmental benefits. The livestock are a source of fertilizer, so the Berry’s do not have to use chemical products. Since the Berry’s cultivate their own food, they can avoid the international imports that emit fossil fuels.

“It’s certainly great when you pluck something right from the garden and eat it that night,” Berry said. “The difference in taste is astounding for certain things, like tomatoes.”

Approximately 15 to 20 years ago, Berry was watching a Food Network show that introduced several critically-acclaimed barbecue destinations in the United States. A location from Kentucky was not included in the show.

“I knew that Kentucky has some barbecue,” Berry said. “Specifically, the stuff that I grew up eating in Barren and Monroe County, which is the kind of stuff you can get at the Smokey Pig here in Bowling Green.”

Berry’s interest in Kentucky barbecue led him on a quest to highlight the state’s best barbecue spots in a book.

“Well, nobody had ever written a book about it, so that’s why I chose to write a book on Kentucky barbecue or at least to set out to explore what kind of barbecue the state had,” Berry said.

Berry’s Kentucky barbecue guide, “KY BBQ: The Kentucky Barbecue Book,” was released in 2013. It took Berry four years to complete his barbecue-filled journey. His travels spanned from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River.

“When I started, I just took off in my truck,” Berry said. “I had already made a comprehensive list of Kentucky barbecue joints based on internet searches and a lot of phone calls.”

Berry is pleased with his guide because he was able to share the uniqueness of Kentucky barbecue with the public.

“If I don’t publish another book, that will be my one little spit in the bucket of cultural anthropology,” Berry said.

Leo Bertucci can be reached at [email protected]  Follow him on Twitter @leober2chee.