Tuesday, November 20, 2012

BBQ: A Journey in Meat

 A Guest Post by The Dining Companion

Several years ago, while working as a contractor at FHR, I was exposed, for the ‘first’ time, to BBQ. FHR had several outside caterers come in for functions held at their facility. Through this, I was able to try many things called BBQ that I hadn’t gotten around to trying over the years previously. However, the best part of the time at FHR was the individual who sat in the cube next to me. He was from San Antonio, and he said the product being served called BBQ by the outside caterers was SH!T.  He proceeded over the next few months to educate a few of us on this subject by preparing many different items and bringing them into the office to share. While the product served by the caterers was good (Divine Swine for another former employer) or OK, the items prepared by Eric were far superior. Unfortunately, my time at FHR came to an end and shortly thereafter Eric relocated to Alaska.

Over the next few years HappiTraveler & I continued to eat the BBQ prepared by local chains. For the most part it was good, but never up to the level of Eric. We also made several journeys to San Antonio and tried the BBQ (County Line) there (I was retrying some of the places I had eaten BBQ at 20 years prior – Bill Miller). These were also local SA chains and on par with the MN chains, but also not up to Eric's quality. We also tried some transplanted BBQer’s in Florida & some local variations in Puerto Rico

This brings us up to the fall/summer of 2011 I think. We began to notice several non-chain BBQ places opening up south of the river (Baldy’s & Rack Shack) as well as a national chain (Dickeys). We proceeded to try them and for the most part we were disappointed. As time progressed, I believe Mpls/St Paul magazine published an issue declaring the top BBQ places throughout the state. So began to form the ‘Summer of BBQ’ idea that winter. The idea being that we would road trip around the state that summer trying the places called out in the article.

As fate would have it, I found myself unemployed that spring. The ‘Summer of BBQ’ would continue, but at a somewhat reduced pace or scale. Over several weekends we tried 3 or 4 places in southern Minnesota. We also tried a place in St Paul (Roosters BBQ) that I had been driving by for years, but had never stopped. With the exception of the chicken at Roosters, I found the offerings disappointing. I had plans to try some other places in metro area (QFanatic) as time progressed, but once again fate intervened. We were on our way to SC. The ‘Summer of BBQ’ would proceed on for a longer period of time and in an unplanned area.

In SC, we could sample the product called out as ‘Carolina BBQ’ close to the source. I understand Carolina BBQ centers mainly on pork, specifically pulled pork. Up to this point, we had just experienced what may be called Minnesota BBQ (along with Texas BBQ). My understanding is BBQ served in Minnesota is based on some technique that was developed elsewhere, Minnesota having no BBQ culture of its own. We quickly discovered in SC, that if you wanted something other than pork, brisket for instance, the product sold SUCKED (Tom’s BBQ, Little Pigs, Henry's Smokehouse, Smokin Stokes, just to name a few). Not that the pulled pork was any better. Generally the product served was overcooked, dry and used mainly as a vehicle to serve some god-awful sauce (most proudly ' homemade'). During our time in SC, we made several journeys to Knoxville, TN to eat at the local MN chain’s outpost there.

After 6 months, our time in SC came to an end and we journeyed back to the Midwest. We spent the winter in Sioux Falls SD. South Dakota like Minnesota has no BBQ culture of its own. Reading some local news articles while there it sounded like some of the local restaurants were beginning to experiment with bringing in smokers. There was an outpost of the local MN BBQ chain and a fairly decent Brazilian steakhouse, so we were able to get by. We would leave SD before the local smokers got online. Returning to MN for a few weeks, fate intervened once again. We would be spending some time in GA.

While journeying to GA, we had the opportunity to stop in Kansas City for a night. Being in a city that is famed for its BBQ, we stop at a BBQ place close to the hotel (Zardas BBQ). What was served was for the most part disgusting. Hopefully this experience wasn’t indicative of Kansas City BBQ as a whole. We hope to get back to Kansas City again and would solicit some suggestions on where to stop and try next time (Woodyard, Oklahoma Joe’s, LC BBQ, Fiorella Jack Shack). We also went through St Louis, but didn’t stop. My understanding is that there is a St Louis style of BBQ and would like some suggestions to try when we get back there.

We are now in GA and have tried many places (Big Shanty, Williamson Bros, Sonny’s, Fox Brothers, Rib Ranch, Spiced Right, Barbeque Street Inn and the Peach and Pig BBQ event). I’m not sure if GA has a specific culture different from the pork that the Carolinas have (I notice more differentiation toward the sauces). I have come to understand a few things about what I like in my BBQ:
-Pulled pork sucks. It’s generally overcooked sh!t used as a vehicle for somebodies idea of good sauce.
-If you want pork, get it sliced (hopefully served with Texas toast).
-The Puerto Ricans do whole hog way better than a Carolinian.
-The Texans are right; BBQ is about the meat & smoke, not the sauce (Carolinian’s consider that smoking, not BBQ).
-I love good beef brisket (best served with a Shiner), but I can’t eat much of it anymore.
-I want to find somebody who smokes leg of lamb.

The Dining Companion

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