The 2018 Meat Sweats Tour: Few Things Finer Than Carolina (and Barbecue)

As the first two plates of chopped and sliced pork were placed on the table in front of us, accompanied by sides of Ore-Ida-looking French fries and an entire basket of hush puppies, my first thought was, “I hope I can handle a whole week of Carolina barbecue.”

My son Nick and I were at Lexington Barbecue in Lexington, North Carolina, the first stop on one of our somewhat annual barbecue tours. Our first trip, the Barrage of Brisket Tour back in 2013, took us to the Austin area, where we made five stops. The next tour was 2015’s Madness in Memphis , where we hit six barbecue places (and one fried chicken joint).  In 2016, it was Kicking It in Kansas, for seven stops.

That last name is pretty damn awful, and I admit I’m retroactively naming some of these because I dubbed this year’s trip The Meat Sweats Tour.

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The truth about Brooklyn barbecue

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If you’re gonna take a picture of a tray of meat, THEN ORDER A TRAY OF MEAT. (Photo courtesy of Izzy’s Smokehouse, Brooklyn.)

The article was headlined “Why Is Brooklyn Barbecue Taking Over the World?” I’m not even going to link to it. But it was a perfect example of a certain sort of food writing: provocative clickbait written by someone seemingly ignorant about barbecue and journalism.

It also gave Brooklyn way too much credit while trying to champion something that didn’t need his damn help—which seems to be a particularly Brooklyn thing to do (and by that, I mean a particularly Williamsburg thing to do).

As a certified barbecue judge who’s eaten his way through Austin, Lockhart, Memphis, and Kansas City, with a couple of stops in the Carolinas, I can tell you this: Brooklyn barbecue isn’t taking over the world, but it is good and doesn’t need this trend-setting bullshit.

The piece featured a handful of places, including one Brooklyn barbecue restaurant that’s been closed for over a year. The only thing remotely supporting a claim that Brooklyn barbecue was taking over the world was that people in other locations are using the same sort of decor (which, to be honest, is generic Brooklyn hipster and not remotely unique to Brooklyn barbecue joints).

And there was the photo. On an oversized metal tray lined with butcher paper, five slices of gray brisket, two pickles, what appear to be two Kings Hawaiian rolls, and beer served in a Mason jar (of course). There had to be two inches of real estate between each item.

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Barbecue: Seven Stops in Kansas City

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Nicholas and I have just wrapped up our barbecue tour of Kansas City. Between arriving Sunday evening and Wednesday, we hit the following seven places in this order: Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue (Freight House location), Arthur Bryant’s, Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, Danny Edwards BBQ, Q39, L.C.’s Bar-B-Q, B.B.’s Lawnside Blues & BBQ.

The Short Version
Before I get into the details, some of you might just want to know the answer to the following question: If I only have time to hit one place in Kansas City, what should it be? That’s an easy answer. Joe’s Kansas City. Some people might say it’s touristy or mainstream, but these are the sort of people who start hating a band simply because it becomes popular. Joe’s is popular for a reason. It’s got perhaps the best ribs I’ve ever eaten, the pulled pork was delicious and the beans weren’t sickly sweet like they were at a lot of places.

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Memphis to Kansas

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Payne’s Bar-B-Q, Memphis

I’m writing this from Kansas City, Mo.

My son Nicholas and I are celebrating his graduation from high school with a barbecue tour. Three years ago for his birthday, we did the Austin area. I wrote about that in fairly exhaustive detail shortly after the trip. Short version: Blacks, Stiles Switch, Franklin (where he fainted), Louie Mueller, and Salt Lick. (I’ve sense been back to Austin and tried Lambert’s, Freedmen’s and Iron Works.)

Last year, for his birthday, we went to Memphis. I didn’t write about that. It wasn’t because I prefer Texas cue to Memphis cue, though I do. It wasn’t because we didn’t have a good time or didn’t have interesting stories. We did. I just had a circus going on at work last year and the thought of looking at a computer during my off hours was more than I could stand.

But long story short, between Graceland and the Civil Rights Museum and one non-barbecue detour to Gus’s Fried Chicken, we hit Tom’s Bar-B-Q and Deli, Central BBQ, A&R Bar-B-Cue, Germantown Commissary, Payne’s and Rendezvous. We went to Cozy Corner, but it was closed because someone broke into the place the night before and stole all of the meat. Sad!

Anyway, I just wanted to mention Memphis in hopes that it’ll prompt me to write up the current trip. We made the 11-hour drive from Opelousas, Louisiana today and walked over to Fiorella’s Jack Stack and availed ourself of burnt ends, ribs, sliced beef, sliced pork and some of the sweetest baked beans you’ll ever eat.

From Zero to 270 (Smoker): Trial Run

In the course of getting married, Cara brought up the subject of wedding gifts for each other. I’m sure most men out there could spend a good half an hour ranting about this need women have to exchange gifts for every occasion, and often multiple times for the same occasion. This can get particularly crazy when the Wedding Industrial Complex is involved. Many a man might even think of saying, “Isn’t getting married to me gift enough?”

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A Most Frustrating Brooklyn Barbecue: A Tale

The Command Center
The Command Center

 

It was time again for me to host the annual company barbecue. That meant 30 or more people coming over to the apartment in Brooklyn. That meant pounds and pound of meat. It meant bags and bags of charcoal. It meant hours and hours of work.

All of which is to say I was excited! And agitated. And nervous. A lot could go wrong, starting with the annual prediction of 60% chance of rain. I have a back yard just big enough for 30-some-odd people. I have an apartment that is smaller than the back yard. So, you do the math. But the chance of rain diminished throughout the week until the weather on the day of the actual event looked like it was supposed to be sunshine and lollipops. The day of cooking, on the other hand, looked to be a steady fall of rain.

Oh, yes. This is a two-day cooking affair. Three days if you include shopping. But it was all under control. I’ve done this before. Even if I haven’t mastered my brisket (shut up) just yet, I have the process down to a science.

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Hometown Barbecue Is Good Eats, but …

Perhaps I’m getting old, lazy, spoiled or all three, but my first impression upon walking into Hometown Barbecue in Red Hook was, “Not this bullshit seating situation.”

I know some places in Texas do it. I know Mighty Quinn’s in Manhattan does it. That doesn’t make it okay. And what is it? First you stand in line for 30 minutes or so to get your meat — which I’m perfectly fine with — but then you face the possibility of standing there with a tray of meat hoping someone vacates a table. Not quite as bad as Mighty Quinn’s, but it immediately adds a level of stress to the experience. Or, as one of our party said, after watching people snake tables or sit there for entirely too long, “It makes me think people are dicks. I don’t want to go to a place that makes me think people are dicks.”

I was also a little stressed by the fact that a few people who know from food absolutely raved about this place. I was hoping they were right, that I wouldn’t have to completely re-engineer my opinion of their opinions. As it is, I’m never taking Pete Wells seriously on the subject of barbecue again after I finally ate at Fletchers, which was some of the worst barbecue I’ve had in the city.

Thankfully, my friends aren’t crazy people with deluded taste buds as the product at Hometown is solid. Well, the meat on MY plate was good. All four of us ordered brisket and it wasn’t exactly consistent — some of it moist and delicious, some of it dry and chalky. Brisket, of course, is tough to get right. The pulled pork was excellent. The pork belly was good. The spare ribs were … they were out of spare ribs. Which is fine. This happens at barbecue places. The jerk baby-back ribs, on the other hand, had a nice flavor but also seemed like they’d been drying out in an oven somewhere.

The sauces, which I don’t usually go for, were excellent.

There is no wait service in the traditional sense, but we were definitely taken care of while waiting in line, with a bartender taking drink orders and checking on us from time to time. Nice vibe in the backroom thanks to live country music.

I’d definitely recommend giving it a shot, especially if you happen to be in the neighborhood. It’s better than Dinosaur, Wildwood, Blue Smoke — and I’d probably rank it above Mighty Quinn’s. But if I’m being honest, with Morgan’s a couple blocks from my apartment and a Hill Country in downtown Brooklyn, I’m not sure I’d make a special trip out to Red Hook. Like those other two, it’s a great neighborhood barbecue place — but because of it’s location, it’s a pain in the ass to get to (which, I know, is one of Red Hook’s charms), and I am a lazy person who isn’t a fan of taking two slow buses to get to a place. Of course, you can take a car — it was $11 from Park Slope — which isn’t horrible and the ride was fairly quick.

Meat: Fair to excellent.
Service: Good.
Ambiance: Felt like a barbecue joint, but seating situation may stress you out.

That’s my two cents — and I’ll throw in a couple of smoky barbecue burps.