By Jordanna Rothman, Food & Wine magazine
(Editor’s Note: Bryan Furman is a Cassatt native. The Chronicle-Independent is reprinting this article with the permission of Food & Wine magazine, which named Furman one of its 10 best new chefs of 2019. The original article can be viewed at www.foodandwine.com/chefs/best-new-chefs-2019-bryan-furman.)
The call came at 2:44 a.m. -- an alarm sounding at B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque. Bryan Furman lives just blocks from his Atlanta restaurant, close enough to smell the pit fire from his living room. But this time he could see it, too, the flames engulfing the pit house. He got there in minutes, but it was too late for the extinguisher to do any good. Fire trucks arrived and started fighting the blaze, but a faulty hydrant stole precious time. The fire spread to the main building, and by daybreak on March 6, 2019, B’s Cracklin’ was gone.
But Furman had been here before. In 2015, a soda machine exploded at his first location in Savannah and turned the place to ashes. The community rallied, and Furman was back on his feet in four months. “I’m in a better situation than last time,” Furman told me days after the Atlanta blaze, between calls of support from, among others, Martha Stewart and a player for the Los Angeles Rams. Within a week he had plans in place to set up a temporary location while B’s rebuilds.
Years before pit fires would make him a dignitary in barbecue circles (and before testing his resilience two times over), Furman worked with another kind of heat -- he was a welder, with a private passion for ’cue. Furman grew up with a great appreciation for heritage hogs, the sort that roamed his grandparents’ farm in South Carolina. Fatigued from the instability of his work, Furman began dreaming of a barbecue joint, reasoning that his welding skill set and deep-groove farm knowledge might serve him well. Soon enough, B’s Cracklin’ was born.
His success (first in Savannah and later in ATL, with the now-in-flux flagship and an outpost at the Hawks basketball arena) has turned Furman into a leading voice in shaping the identity of Georgia-style barbecue. That he puts peaches in the sauce feels fitting, their sweet tang in lockstep with pungent mustard. His hash and rice feels right, too -- originally from South Carolina, the thick mix of tomato and trimmings has become a point of pride. But the magic, of course, is in the meat. Over oak and pecan, Furman coaxes ribs and brisket, crisp-skinned chicken and great haunches of pork -- the hogs are raised a few hours southeast in Statesboro -- into smoke-kissed submission. And then there’s the matter of those cracklings that give the place its name, bubbled and rich and salty, still snapping and popping when they arrive at the table.
That Furman is a black pit master is a proud part of the narrative here. With a few exceptions, the historic black presence around the barbecue pit has been largely erased, and Furman is part of a group reclaiming the legacy for people of color. “Many cultures have shaped American barbecue, but we don’t get enough recognition for the part we played,” says Furman. “That’s why I changed my logo from an Ossabaw pig. It needs to be my face because people need to know that this business is black-owned.” The success of B’s Cracklin’ has inspired thoughts of more expansion, but rather than only proliferate his own brand, Furman plans to connect with black-owned barbecue restaurants around the country that have closed and reopen them with the support of his own infrastructure. “I have this saying, ‘It’s not about me; it’s about us,’” says Furman. “There’s enough for everybody out here.”