Today in History: The New Years Day Grand Barbecue

On New Years Day 1870, Syracuse Brewer John Greenway, one of the wealthiest brewers in the country, hosted a barbecue for the city in Clinton Square. Greenway, an English immigrant, decided to host a feast for the city’s poor, which included the cooking of thee steers in 9-foot tall, 14-foot wide ovens along with 5,000 loaves of bread over 2,000 pounds of pudding, which arrived by the brewery’s sleighs pulled by 12 horses. Hardwood logs were piled on iron grates and burned for ten hours before two very large beef cattle were arranged on heavy rods fourteen feet in length. The animals were turned slowly while huge basting pans, each measuring 12 feet long, caught all the drippings underneath.  The loaves of bread were placed on a long table where they were eventually joined by twelve plum puddings, each weighing 200 pounds.

Unfortunately, while the beef was being carved, one of the butchers tripped and fell into one of the basting pans!  Luckily, he slid in feet first and his thick leather boots prevented him from being severely scalded by the hot drippings. He was rescued immediately by his fellow carvers and escorted to his nearby home where he made a full recovery.  Despite the accident, the juices were subsequently used for the hot roast beef sandwiches served to the public.  Sanitation was obviously not a big priority at the time.

The event was advertised throughout the region with guests traveling from as far away as Albany and Binghamton. The Daily Standard estimated that around 20,000 people attended “The Great Barbecue.” The event began at 10am and, by 1:30pm, most of the food had been served.

This barbecue was only one example of Greenway’s benevolence. He continued to aid the city’s poor until his death in 1887.

Learn and see more in this CNY Central special on the story: