Sunday, 27 July 2014

Epilogue: end of the BBQ trail

I Do "Que" sign
I Do "Que"
Overall, our approach to Arthur Bryant’s, and Kansas City as a whole, was flawed. We went to the wrong Jack Stack. We did not hit LC’s Bar-B-Q. Arthur Bryant’s was underwhelming. But I am OK with this. In fact, we almost skipped Kansas City altogether. But had we skipped KC, we would have missed Oklahoma Joe’s, which in my mind was the best ribs of the trip and ticked the most boxes for me. No regrets, but I am still thinking of that brisket sandwich at Arthur Bryant’s.

Tennessee was just plain fun. Some great food, even better beer and bourbon and some decent barbecue. We gained some great insight into rubs, sauces and technique and met some great people. And Johnny Cash is again on heavy rotation.

North Carolina was just plain special. Their entire approach to barbecue was so foreign to me, which is why we decided to start the tour there – whilst we were still fresh and had the appetite. This is real barbecue made by real people the real old fashioned way. Wilber’s, Lexington and Gary’s were all different and all special. If I can replicate what they do by 50% as well as they do it, I can die a happy BBQ master.

Arthur Bryant’s

Outside Arthur Bryant’s, Kansas City
Arthur Bryant’s, Kansas City
Everyone in the barbecue world knows about Arthur Bryant’s – it is legendary. Arthur Bryant’s is known really for their beef and pork ribs and we promised the Minneapolis brood that we would bring up a carload so we stopped by for a large takeaway on our way out of Kansas City.

We met a few folks on the 30-minute queue (at 11:30 am on a hot, sunny, summer Sunday morning). We discussed the clear divide between Arthur Bryant’s and Gates Bar-B-Q, the merits of L C’s Bar-B-Q, beef versus pork and how Arthur Bryant’s sauce is an “acquired taste”. More on this later.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue

Outside Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue, Kansas City
Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue, Kansas City
If you haven’t noticed, these blogs are getting shorter. Not because we are losing steam (or interest) but because we are learning more along the way. And what we are learning is that there are come clear patterns emerging. Some are good and some are bad. Regardless, we are beginning to predict the answers to our questions and thus much more focused on the task at hand – trying new dishes and understanding the specifics of how, and of what, the classics are made.

Jack Stack was recommended up and down the friend and Internet sphere so we were pretty excited. The Freight House branch is a lovely renovated warehouse packed to the gills with Kansas City’s finest. Optimism was high.

Oklahoma Joe’s

Queue outside Oklahoma Joe’s, Kansas City
Oklahoma Joe’s, Kansas City 
You never really know what to expect when you arrive at any restaurant for the first time. Despite the reviews, recommendations and common sense, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Jack’s BBQ in Nashville was an example where glowing reviews and a line out the door resulted in pure and utter revulsion. Oklahoma Joe’s could have gone either way. Highly rated and tons of accolades, a one-hour queue for entry into a chain that an acquantence indicated as "just ok".

Friday, 25 July 2014

The Bar-B-Q Shop

The Bar-B-Q Shop, Memphis
The Bar-B-Q Shop, Memphis
You will have to excuse me but I might get emotional here. We had just left a tour of the famed Sun Studios and I was overcome with excitement at what I had just witnessed and heard. Sun Studios is a tiny space that created musical history amongst some of the greatest artists of our time – at times, all of them at once: Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins held a late night jam session in December of 1956, which was recorded and available for purchase.

So upon arrival at the BBQ Shop, a top-rated stop and one that I really had high hopes for, I was ready. And for the most part, it really delivered.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Jim Neely’s Interstate Barbecue

Interstate Barbecue, Memphis
Interstate Barbecue, Memphis
Interstate Barbecue is yet another shining example of a side of the road, non-descript place that has been around forever selling great barbecue. The walls are filled with autographs of A-List celebrities (MC Hammer, Sybil Shepherd) who have graced Interstate for the same reasons that I did – excellent BBQ.

As we all know, Memphis is a dry rib town. Ribs are typically not sauced but given a sprinkling of rub seasoning upon service. Interstate is an exception and was a welcome one. And finally I am getting the thicker St. Louis cut spare ribs that have thus far eluded me. The ribs were nicely rubbed, fairly smoky and adorned with a fairly spicy tomato-based sauce. This sauce was a bit of a surprise, as I have not tasted any notable sauces yet in Tennessee so this was a very welcome surprise.  For those of you who are not saucy rib loving folk, you can probably ask for them dry. If you do, I highly recommend some sauce on the side.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Central BBQ

Central BBQ, Memphis
Central BBQ, Memphis
Finally, what we have all been waiting for: Memphis barbecue. Central BBQ is known for their ribs and pulled pork. I was torn and went for a combo plate. The pork was fine but nothing special – nothing like that found in North Carolina.  Pulled pork gets you specific strands of whatever part of the butt or shoulder you are getting. Chopped pork gets you a bit of everything. In hindsight, I should have gone with my gut and got the ribs only.

The ribs were nice. For the first time I found ribs that were rubbed before cooking. They were moist and a fair amount of smoke. Again, baby back ribs live supreme in Memphis, not my favorite but these were quite flavourful and meaty.  We are getting closer to finding rib perfection but still have a ways to go.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Pearl’s Oyster Bar

Pearl’s Oyster Bar
Pearl’s Oyster Bar
Having had a late lunch at The BBQ Shop, and belching the whole way from Nashville to Memphis, my body was not yet ready for another barbecue meal. And that has been the struggle. If I can't have lunch at an early hour, having a barbecue dinner is almost out of the question. It was easier in the Carolinas because you could get away with a small barbecue sandwich. But in Tennessee, I am on the hunt for ribs. And ribs only come in platters, which means at least half a rack, several sides and a gallon of iced tea. Getting that in twice a day without at least six hours in-between is a real struggle.

Pearl’s Oyster Bar awakened us to the fact that Memphis is much more a “Southern” city than Nashville. Things move a bit slower. The food has more soul, the music as more grit to it. Things are a bit messier here. Well, ok, not at Graceland, but certainly in downtown Memphis.

Peg Leg Porker

Peg Leg Porker, Nashville
Peg Leg Porker, Nashville
Brian, the barman at Merchants, recommended the Peg Leg Porker and we stopped by on our way out of Nashville to Memphis. Peg Leg Porker was a cinder block building on a street with an open pit on the front porch and the staff, all girls it would seem, in Daisy May cut off shorts and well worn cowboy boots. Drinks were offered immediately but we begrudgingly declined as we had a three-hours drive to Memphis ahead of us.

Still in search of better than average ribs, I again went for the half rack with smoked green beans and baked beans.  Sauces were on the table.

Finally, some great BBQ in Tennessee. The ribs were flavourful, tender and some decent smoke and a nice bark. The dry rub surprisingly lacking salt in my opinion. The smoked green beans contained some cured and/or smoked pork and the beans were the best I have had on this trip.

With Carey Bringle of Peg Leg Porker
With Carey Bringle of Peg Leg Porker

Monday, 21 July 2014


Merchants' counter
Merchants' counter
Merchants is not a barbecue restaurant. Because my appetite for barbecue was ruined by the abomination that was Jack’s Bar-B-Que, I not only had no interest in a BBQ dinner, I was very stressed about the prospects of another disappointing meal. Having perused the menus of the many recommendations from our new friend Brian at Merchants during the day…. we went back to Merchants for dinner.

Thank God.

Merchant has a nice horseshoe counter, which surrounds the massive double room/bar.  I love having dinner at a bar counter.

Brian made an amazing cocktail with the 134-proof Corsair Triple Smoked Bourbon.  Jesus was this good…and smokey…and strong. The most sensible thing was to have another another.

Jack’s Bar-B-Que

Jack's BBQ, Nashville TN
Jack's  Bar-B-Que, Nashville TN
The notes I took about Jack’s Bar-B-Que when I did my research were “look’s a bit like a chain.  Might be a good model to emulate, however.” Wrong.

There was nothing about Jack’s worth modeling. The line was out the door to order at the counter. The person taking the order was the one filling the meat order, so incredibly inefficient.

I ordered the three meat sampler of beef brisket, pork ribs and smoked chicken – the most expensive meat dish. Each selection was very small and the whole of the meat portions was less than had I ordered a plate of any one of these meats. My protestations went nowhere – I was scowled at. I then went down the line to get my sides, all of them looking very, very sad and lifeless. I settled on some sort of pickled vegetables. They sat mostly untouched. I regrettably paid for my order, took my drink glass and found a table for one – wifey wisely opted to eat across the street at Merchants.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Sweet P’s Barbeque and Soul House

A ribs plate and sides at Sweet P’s Barbeque and Soul House
A ribs plate and sides at Sweet P’s Barbeque and Soul House
The drive from Raleigh to Nashville was a long one – over eight hours. We did manage to stop for supper just outside of Knoxville at Sweet P’s for our first Tennessee BBQ meal. Sweet P’s is set on a small lake about 15 minutes south of the city – a lovely early evening setting. We ordered at the counter, filled our large glasses with iced tea (half and half, natch) and sat lakeside, next to the smokers awaiting our food.

We shared a single starter – fried pickles with spicy dip. About 6 ¼ pickle spears arrived in a nice crunchy coating, not too terribly greasy. The sauce was pretty much mayo and some other spicy sauce. Pretty good but the pickles were too big and lacked the batter/surface area/mass quotient that I prefer (smaller pieces, more surface area).

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Wilber’s Barbeque

Pork and fried chicken combo at Wilber's Barbeque
For some reason our GPS did not find the exact address for Wilber’s Barbeque. Given how popular the place is, I was a bit surprised; I was even more surprised when we pulled into the parking lot as, not surprisingly, it was packed. Wilber’s is right off the highway, identified with a simple red non-descript sign saying "Wilber’s Barbeque”. As were about to find it, "Wilber" was all that sign needed to say.

Inside, we sat near the front door, take away counter and the two cashier lines. Directly behind me was a large pan of fried chicken ready to be collected; I have not yet had fried chicken my extremely clogged heart started to pump a little harder.

Friday, 18 July 2014

The Pit

Three people sitting at The Pit, Raleigh, NC
Barry Campbell, wifey and myself
One of the purposes of this trip is to get some insight into different BBQ business models and what makes them popular and presumably successful. On one end, there is Allen & Son BBQ, a fishing shack off the newly-paved state highway 86; on another, there's The Pit, a flashy city BBQ restaurant with a visible wine cooler, upscale décor and a good looking local crown. For a Friday night, this made sense and for what The Pit does, it does it well.

We had the very good fortune of dining with Barry Campbell, who I worked with at Summit Systems in NYC, and had not seen in what we realized was 14 years. The Pit was on my itinerary for Friday night. Barry also suggested so the stars were aligned. And Barry picked up the tab so super duper thanks to you old buddy!

Allen & Son Bar-B-Que

Allen & Son Bar-B-Que
Allen & Son Bar-B-Que
We have finally crossed the BBQ divide to the Eastern-North-Carolina style barbecue. And that divide means two things:

1. Whole hog BBQ. The full hog is cooked over a pit and all the meat is chopped together to blend the flavors of the different cuts of the pork. This gives a much more robust flavor, which is at times lacking in the West, as evidenced by what appeared to be the complete removal of the outer crust at Gary’s BBQ.

2. The complete removal of any tomato-based products from any of the sauces. Vinegar and pepper reign supreme out east. And when it comes to whole hog barbeque, Allen & Son Bar-B-Que is the real deal. Some say the best in the state. They certainly are very highly rated and given the lunch I had, there is no question why. The building and interior look like someone’s uncle’s fishing cabin, and the uncle died 45 years ago and no one bothered much to update the place. This truly was a BBQ shack.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Gary's BBQ

Gary's BBQ, Lexington
Gary's BBQ, Lexington
Gary’s BBQ was recommended from a woman we met at Lexington BBQ. A very friendly local if not slightly eccentric woman who insisted we not only go to Gary’s but also only go when we can meet Gary himself. Gary and I spoke on the phone in the morning and he welcomed us to come visit. And so we did.

Gary’s BBQ opened 41 years ago when Gary left the BBQ restaurant he started working at when he was 15 years old and never looked back.

The walls of Gary’s is chock full of signs, clocks, serving trays etc. of old American brands. It is a model that could easily look ridiculous but not at Gary’s; it is the perfect look for an excellent BBQ restaurant.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Original Little Richard's BBQ

The Original Little Richard's Lexington BBQ
Original Little Richard's Lexington BBQ
The Original Little Richard's Lexington BBQ, opened by Richard Berrier in 1991, is the epitome of the picture postcard roadside shack. Located off the road in the parking lot of a car wash, Little Richard's looks like the kind of place you want to visit. Picnic tables outside, roadside service after 4pm, order at the counter and local memorabilia on the walls.

Pork ribs are only offered Wednesdays so I naturally felt obliged. Again, the traditional pit-smoked ribs were very tender and moist, coated with their sticky smoky sauce. And again, there was not much of a rub or smoke flavour. Guessing the Lexington-style pit is not as smoke-driven. Their hush puppies were fine (pale in comparison to Lexington) as was the slaw (pale in comparison to The Old Hickory House). The beans were not memorable.

Little Richard's deserves a full-blown visit and, by 6:00 pm, was a full house. Highly recommended.

Original Little Richard's Lexington BBQ
4885 Country Club Rd,
Winston-Salem, NC
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 11am-9pm
Phone: (336) 760-3457

Lexington Barbecue

Lexington BBQ course chopped pork sandwich
Ok, kids, this is the real deal. Lexington-style barbeque was created here in 1962 and the Monk family is still kicking it old school. Lexington Barbeque is still at the top of the list for a few simple reasons: they keep it simple, they keep it consistent, and they love what they do.

The Food

The course-chopped pork with BBQ slaw on commercial bun was simply sublime. A few drops of their vinegar sauce weren’t really needed but certainly did not detract. It was compact, not overbearing and about $4.00.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

BBQ Trail: And so it begins

The Old Hickory House Bar-B-Q restaurant
We at the BBQ Collective are setting out on a two-week tour of the BBQ trail in the US. Why? Because we love barbecue. Because we hate working for the man. Because we want to expand membership in the Collective. Because we want to bring to the UK better barbecue. Because we in the Collective think we can do it better!

So we are hitting the road, starting in North Carolina and winding our way to Kansas City to visit the barbecue meccas, talk to as many barbecue masters who will meet with us, learn as much as we can comprehend and eat as much as our bodies will take. A tall order no doubt, but nothing that the Collective and our merry band of travelers (and a few vegetarians) can’t tackle. The BBQ Collective 2014 Tour begins!

First stop: The Old Hickory House BBQ in Charlotte, North Carolina.