A happy crowd at Tom Cormen’s Backyard BBQ

Chilling Out in Lebanon


Submitted a year ago
Created by
Cindy Heath

In New Hampshire, our short, blissful summers give rise to a wonderful array of community and family celebrations. Be it a family reunion at a cottage on the lake, enjoying a Farmers’ Market picnic every week with friends, or the annual backyard summer BBQ or pig roast, the tradition of connecting with family and friends is not only fun, but creates long-lasting memories.

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The research is clear – traditions and rituals can provide an important connection to one’s past, especially for children. I learned the value of this by attending the family reunion of my partner, Henry Homeyer. The elders told stories about their parents and grandparents, and cousins added to the collective memory, sometimes surprising the older generation with new information. The essence of the family ancestors was brought to life for the youngest members of the group, and they left with a greater sense of their place in the family and a new respect for tradition.

What is a tradition anyway? One notation from Webster’s defines tradition as “…the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs from one generation to another”.

Tom Cormen in his element

There’s something special, even magical, about understanding your past and being part of creating a collective memory. Children can also feel more comfortable and secure developing relationships with extended family members, and some research has shown that traditions help children develop greater resiliency.

In our fast-paced digital world, traditions can help people get to know each other better, and the face-to-face connection helps to build trust. One long-time Lebanon resident loves the tradition of an annual backyard BBQ. Tom Cormen likes to BBQ so much, in fact, that each summer he hosts faculty, staff, and students from Dartmouth’s Computer Science Department in his backyard. This year, he had 90 guests.  To pull this off, Tom smokes 10 slabs of pork ribs, 8 whole chickens, and lots of sausages on his 600-pound Klose 20x42 wood-fired pit smoker and his 22-inch Weber Smokey Mountain smoker. He also grills 10 gallons of vegetables for guests who aren’t meat-eaters, although, as Tom put it, “Over the years, I’ve had a few vegetarians go off the wagon.” 

With few exceptions, Tom has hosted his backyard BBQ since 1993, more than two decades. Why does he do it? “It’s a fun social and professional networking activity for the members of the department. Students, faculty, and staff get to know each other outside the college environment.” Only half joking, Tom thinks the BBQ tradition is also a helpful recruiting tool. “I tell them that the BBQ is one of the many perks of becoming a Computer Science major. That’s not the only reason they decide to major in Computer Science, but it seems to help.”

Tom has evolved the art of the backyard BBQ to a high level. It all began when he was living in Santa Cruz, CA, “the most vegetarian town in the US,” and he and a friend who went from vegetarian to meat-eater got into grilling. Fast forward to 1998, when Tom and his wife Nicole went on a BBQ tour of the south, visiting 14 BBQ restaurants. That year, he bought the Klose smoker, replacing a smaller offset smoker, as a tenure present to himself. At one point, Tom was an official Kansas City Barbecue Society judge.

One of the things Tom has decided over the years is that BBQ sauce is overrated. “Sauce is for hiding mistakes, and I don’t make mistakes,” he says with a smile.  Before getting the 22-inch Weber Smokey Mountain, he had the 18-inch variety, but it was blown over by a gust of wind one day while Tom was operating it.  “I took that as a sign to get a bigger smoker,” Tom recalls. He also forgoes marinating the meat in favor of BBQ rubs.

Summer crowd at the Lebanon Farmers Market

Lebanon natives Doug and Tanya Boisvert operate Boisvert’s Curbside Kitchen, serving a varied menu and their signature lobster rolls. Cooks to the core, the Boisverts also enjoy hosting an annual pig roast in their backyard each summer.

The Boisverts have been hosting pig roasts since the mid-’80s, originally buying the pigs from Doug’s uncle, who owned a local farm. “The first pig we ever cooked we made a huge amount of stuffing and filled the entire body cavity. We spent a lot of time sewing it up, and cooked it on a rotisserie. About half way through the cooking process, the stitches broke and all of the stuffing ended up in the fire. That was the last time we tried that,” recalls Doug. Then came the East Thetford Livestock Auction, and for the last several years a friend in Vermont has supplied the pigs. “Over the years we’ve hosted pig roasts for different occasions like weddings, anniversaries, graduations, birthdays and bachelor parties, but we try to make sure we have an annual get together for family and friends.”

Now for the particulars of a Boisvert Pig Roast. The size of the pig depends on the amount of people that will be attending the event, and one pig can weigh as much as 200 pounds. Doug and Tanya have cooked with charcoal, propane, hardwood, and hot rocks (the pig is buried in the ground and cooked for 24 hours). “Most of the time we use hardwood and cook it in an old 275 gallon barrel that we turned into a grill. For us simple is the best. We usually just baste the pig with spices, maple syrup or apple juice, and cook it on a low heat.” Part of the enjoyment is the challenge of cooking such a large piece of meat,  keeping the fire at the correct temperature without burning it and having it done at the time you have set for eating it.

But the real appeal for Doug and Tanya comes from spending time with the cooking team, reminiscing about previous roasts, coming up with ways of improving the grill, or just catching up with each other. “The cooking of the pig is as much of a social event as the actual party we are cooking it for. “    

Venturing beyond the personal backyard, one might consider Colburn Park to be the city’s largest outdoor public gathering place. In the summer, the long-standing concerts in the park, children’s music and theater, and a thriving Farmers’ market inspire the classic tradition of a picnic lunch or dinner on a blanket. Park visitors greet one another, admire children and dogs, meet up with friends, and just enjoy being outdoors. It’s a well-established fact that being in nature makes you nicer, enhances social interactions, and develops closer relationships. Many long time residents and visitors to Lebanon have been coming to Colburn Park in the summer every week for decades.

So go ahead and create a backyard tradition of your own this summer, then pass it on!

*****

Cindy Heath is fiber artist, massage therapist, and gardener. She tries to limit her visits to Big
Fatty’s BBQ to once a month.

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