In the world of barbecue, as with most any craft, the most deserving people don’t always get the most attention. With this second episode of Fire & Smoke, barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn directs us to a nearly forgotten pitmaster who set up shop in the Texas Panhandle town of Borger in 1934.

Etta Randall, later Etta White, moved from Mineola to the nascent town of Borger in 1926. History isn’t clear on why a young black woman, with an eight-year-old daughter in tow, would set off by herself from East Texas to a tiny oil boomtown in the Panhandle. But whether it was the dream of striking it rich, or just a chance to start over, Randall arrived right as the place was fast growing into what was known as Tent City.

In 1934, after saving their money in cans they buried in the dirt, she and her second husband, S.E. White, opened a barbecue joint. They named it White Way Bar-B-Q, but everyone just called it Etta’s—in 1938, ads started appearing for it in the Borger Daily Herald under the name Etta White’s Barbecue Stand. In 1941, Etta’s was listed in the official Borger business listings, although with a “C” next to it (to designate that it was “colored-owned”).

Before long, Etta’s became a Borger institution. For nearly four decades, until a heart attack forced her to close the restaurant in 1972, people came to Etta’s for a distinctive barbecue style whose influence lasts to this day, even if her name is largely forgotten.

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