Jon G’s BBQ – Monroe, NC

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Name: Jon G’s BBQ (monthly pop up at Southern Range Brewing)
Date: 2/25/17
Address: 151 S Stewart St, Monroe, NC 28112
Order: Two meat platter (brisket and pulled pork) with coleslaw and jalapeno cheddar grits
Price: $17

Monk: For the past few months, Jon G’s BBQ has been hosting a monthly pop-up dubbed “BBQ Saturdays” at Southern Range BBQ in Monroe, NC (about 30 miles southeast of Charlotte on US-74). On a beautiful mild February day (what day this past February wasn’t?), I was able to convince my trooper of a wife two days past her due date to make the 35 minute trek with me to finally check it out after months of Instagram stalking.

Jon G’s BBQ is the barbecue catering operation of Garren Kirkman and his wife Kelly. Garren is a NC guy but his barbecue is heavily influenced by Central Texas. He routinely makes trips to Texas and you can tell he’s done his research in his product.

Getting right to it, the brisket without a doubt is one of the best briskets I’ve had in NC . Garren has gone to pains to recreate the Central Texas style of his brisket, down to constructing his giant offset smoker out of a 500 gallon propane tank and smoking with a mixture of pecan and oak. And it showed – the bark was thick and peppery and the beautifully smoked meat had a nice tug to it. Granted, I haven’t really made the rounds in Texas like Rudy or even Speedy have but this was a damn fine brisket.

While Garren has clearly focused on his brisket, his pork doesn’t suffer in the least. He smokes Boston butts and the coarsely pulled strands of pork were tender and flavorful. It did not require any sauce but one of the three available was an eastern NC vinegar sauce and it paired well with the pork.

I found my sides (cole slaw and jalapeno cheese grits) to be solid, but the real stars of the show were the meats.

Jon G’s BBQ is absolutely worth the trip to Monroe. The portions are quite generous (I got a second meal out of it) and the beer at Southern Range ain’t so bad either. However, be sure not to delay too much after they begin serving as they tend to sell out of meat within a couple of hours. If you make the trip (and you absolutely should), be assured that you are tasting the best barbecue in the Charlotte area.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – N/A
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Bar-B-Q King – Lincolnton, NC

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Name
: Bar-B-Q King
Date: 1/16/17
Address: 2613 E Main St, Lincolnton, NC 28092
Order: Q King sandwich with hush puppies, onion rings, and sweet tea (link to menu)
Price: $0 (my meal was graciously picked up but that did not in any way affect my review)

Monk: Bar-B-Q King in Lincolnton (not to be confused with the drive in of the same name in Charlotte) is one of those joints I’ve always been somewhat aware of but haven’t ever made a point to go to. After checking it out recently on the invitation of Jordan, a son of co-owner Keith Smith and the social media manager, I wish I had gone much sooner.

At the lunch hour on a Monday, a steady stream of locals are usually lined up several deep at the multiple register counter. “Hollerin’ orders” has apparently been the longtime system to communicate orders in the kitchen and was certainly the first time I’ve ever witnessed anything like it. In case its not evident in the name, as customers order at the register their order is literally yelled from the order taker to the kitchen staff who then acknowledge the order and begin putting it together. It’s surely a sight to see.

That alone would be worth the visit to Bar-B-Q King but thankfully the barbecue more than backs it up. They smoke their pork shoulders daily over hickory coals and hand chop the pork each morning. I would call their style pretty closely aligned to Lexington-style, though they do offer a white slaw option. The sandwich I got was fantastic – the chop was not too coarse, the pork was tender and smoky, and the red slaw accentuated it all perfectly.

The house-made hush puppies were quite good and the onion rings are their best selling side for a obvious reasons after tasting them. Had I not been checking out another joint an hour later I would have gladly finished both of them and left completely stuffed.

Last fall, Bar-B-Q King celebrated its 45th anniversary, so I can imagine that it’s quite an institution in the town of Lincolnton – and rightly so. If Jordan, who took me on a tour of the smokehouse and kitchen, is any indication there are quality people behind the joint who work hard to put out a great product six days out of the week (closed on Sundays). Lincolnton is about a half hour down highway 150 from Shelby and Barbecue Bros fave Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge. In my book Bar-B-Q King is nearly as good, which longtime readers of the blog will know is high praise. Get yourself to Bar-B-Q King in Lincolnton.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs
Bar-B-Q King Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Bar-B-Q King

B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque – Atlanta, GA

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Name
: B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque
Date: 12/31/2016
Address: 2061 Main St NW, Atlanta, GA 30318
Order: Sampler platter (pork, ribs, chicken) add brisket, fried okra, collards (link to menu)
Price: $25

Speedy: So it’s no secret that I’ve been a little slack in my barbecue eating since moving to Atlanta. So when Grant from Marie, Let’s Eat! reached out to me letting me know he and Marie (along with their boychild) would be in town on Saturday and asking if I were interested in meeting up for a meal, I jumped at the chance. Grant and Marie used to live in Atlanta, so are very in-tune with the culinary scene, including the ‘cue. Grant suggested that we meet at B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque and after reading his review, I was pumped to check it out.

Monk: Big thanks to Grant and co for dragging Speedy back into the land of barbecue blogging. And let me be the first to say that I can’t wait to see how this visit turned out.

Speedy: I arrived mere minutes before Grant, Marie, and the boychild, and we walked in at 5 pm on New Year’s Eve to find ourselves the only patrons. Grant greeted pitmaster Bryan “B” Furman on the way in, a good sign for sure.

Monk: I’m a little shocked that you were the only folks in there, but I’m assuming that has more to do with New Year’s Eve because everything I’ve read about B’s since its September opening has been supremely positive.

Speedy: Definitely, Monk. And I think there were plenty of people there for lunch, leading to a brisket shortage. But more on that later. Walking in, B’s has an old-school feel with plenty of seating, a big outdoor space, and a counter to place the order. I could smell the smoke upon walking in – not in an overpowering way, but in a way that made my mouth water. Obviously I ordered as much meat as possible on one plate, along with collards and fried okra, while Grant went with the two meat plate (pork and brisket) with a double order of the hash and rice (bold move, Grant). The staff informed us that they were out of brisket for the day, apparently a pretty common occurrence. Our disappointment was short-lived, as pitmaster Bryan told us that he could carve some directly off the smoker for us, as long as we don’t tell anyone. (We didn’t at the time, but now you know the secret loyal readers – blogging pays off.)

The meal was delivered shortly, and we eagerly dug in. Let me say this first off – I had enough food to feed three people easily – portions were not skimpy by any means.

I’ll start with what was my favorite portion – the brisket. Being carved fresh off the smoker, I could tell we got a little extra outside (bonus!). Also, it definitely came from the point of the brisket, as it was on the fatty side. Not that this is a complaint at all – the brisket was absolutely delicious. The seasoning was amazing, and the meat was tender and juicy. Overall, this was in the upper echelon of briskets that I’ve tasted. I’m curious as to what this tastes like in a normal setting, but overall, I was really pleased with a meat that is hard to find done well in these parts.

The pork at B’s is whole hog, which is also rarely found in Georgia. The meat here was also plenty tender, but came unsauced, making it slightly dry. At B’s, there are two sauces on the table – a spicy vinegar and a peach mustard. Normally, I would immediately douse the ‘cue in spicy vinegar, but Grant just raved about the peach mustard, so that’s what I tried first. Despite my well known aversion to mustard on pork barbecue, this stuff was excellent. It’s not anything like the traditional SC mustard sauce, but is rather quite sweet without the expected tang. I ended up having a conversation with Bryan about this sauce while eating – more on that later. Of course I tried the spice vinegar as well. Adding this to the whole hog pork would let it stack up favorably to nearly anything I’ve had in eastern NC. If I had to nitpick (and I do), I would love for some cracklin’ to be included in the pork to give it a little more texture, and I feel it would be fitting given the name. But I would definitely consider the pork and brisket “must orders” at B’s.

Monk: I am shocked (shocked!) to hear that Speedy willingly tried a mustard sauce on his pork. I think this shows real growth. Well done, Speedy.

Speedy: Only  because of the recommendation, Monk. The ribs were also very good. B’s serves big, meaty dry spare ribs that have been seasoned to near perfection. They were cooked perfectly – not too tender to fall off the bone, but well enough that you got an easy, clean bite. I personally prefer baby back ribs, but I can’t say I’ve had too many spare ribs that are better. I didn’t end up adding any sauce to my ribs, but would consider seeing how the peach mustard would taste on it. Overall, though, none was needed.

The chicken was also smoked perfectly and seasoned really well. The plate came with a quarter chicken, including the wing. The skin tasted smoky and good, and the chicken was tender without being dry. As a barbecue lover, this is never my top meat choice, and it isn’t at B’s either, but it was still very enjoyable.

The sides at B’s are also quite good. The fried okra had a really tasty seasoning on it, and the collards (made with turkey) are quite flavorful. I didn’t try Grant’s hash and rice (he offered, but I stupidly declined), but it looked fantastic. I think I’ll try that out next time.

Monk: I will say, hash and rise is becoming one of those dishes that I am becoming more and more interested in. With Grant getting a double order, sounds like it’s a dish I definitely need when we go to B’s next time I’m in Atlanta. Along with everything else you ate because it all sounds pretty darn good. At the very least, we could basically get the same order and you’ll just have less leftovers.

Speedy: I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about how nice of a guy pitmaster Bryan is. He came and spoke with us for quite a while during our meal. To me, the most interesting piece was his upcoming partnership with Heinz for a mustard sauce (not the peach mustard – they wanted that recipe, but Bryan wouldn’t give it to them). Bryan said the sauce the ended up with is close, but not quite the same. He mentioned that it is a sweet mustard sauce, though (“it had to be sweet if I was going to put my name on it”). I’m looking forward to trying it!

At the end of the day, this was by far the best barbecue I’ve had in Georgia. It’s good to have a go to place to take visitors. Bryan, I’ll be seeing you again soon!

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Chicken – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs
B's Cracklin' Barbeque

Hometown Bar-B-Que – Brooklyn, NY

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Name: Hometown Bar-B-Que
Date: 12/2/16
Address: 454 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY 11231
Order: ½ pound pulled pork. ½ pound brisket, ½ pound lamb belly, beef rib, medium queso mac and cheese, medium collards (link to menu)
Price: ~$90 (for 3)

Speedy: NO SLEEP TIL BROOKLYN. That’s right, Monk and I took a trip to the big city to play hipster for the weekend, so what’s the first thing on our agenda? Barbecue, of course!

Monk: And not just any barbecue, but artisanal wood smoked barbecue in Red Hook! Friend of the blog Johnny Fugitt actually ranked Hometown Bar-B-Que #2 in his book, The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America. I wanted to check it out last fall when we spent 8 nights in New York but it just didn’t pan out. Mostly because we realized that Red Hook is just not so convenient to get to whether by Uber (much less on fixies, another approved transportation method), whether you are in Manhattan or even in a different part of Brooklyn (as we hipsters found out staying in Williamsburg that weekend).

Speedy: So we rolled up to Hometown, a standalone building near the Upper Bay. The atmosphere is supercool for a couple hipsters like us. It definitely reminded me of a Texas joint, with a cafeteria-style line, a separate bar, and a second dining room complete with a band setup (so hipster!). Monk and I immediately went to work and ordered a little bit of most things on the menu. The meat was cut and weighed right in front of us and we were good to go.

Monk: Well, good to go in the sense that they charged us a buttload of money just to get a decent amount of barbecue. But I guess that’s kind of touristy of us to complain about high prices in New York, so nevermind, back to hipster mode…

Speedy: The first thing to discuss is definitely the beef rib. It was definitely quite the piece of meat. It was seasoned well, providing some bark on the outside, and was cooked to perfection – tender but not overly so. Overall, this was a great start!

Monk: This was my first real beef rib and I agree that it was pretty great, though of course I don’t have the frame of reference that Rudy or even Speedy have. As for the pulled pork, it was fine minus the small pool of grease it was sitting in. This got more and more unappetizing as our lunch went on. I would rank it last of the meats we tried but it was still above average.

Speedy: The brisket definitely exceeded expectations. Monk and I got a cut off a fresh brisket, complete with extra outside.

Monk: Real recognize real…

Speedy: …It was oh-so-peppery and delicious. Not overly seasoned at all – just a really good brisket. The only drawback is that it was a little on the fatty side (we weren’t asked fatty or lean), but I’m nitpicking. This is one thing I’ll be ordering again if I ever find myself in Red Hook again.

Monk: Why would you find yourself in Red Hook again? Pre-gaming for a Bon Iver show or something?

The most interesting meat we ordered was the lamb belly, which was served pulled similar to the pork. In fact, if you weren’t paying attention it was hard to tell the difference between the two just by looking – just a slight variation in brown. It was very, very good albeit again I had nothing to compare it to. The texture varied slightly from the pulled pork and it was more succulent maybe? This being my first time, I’m not doing a good job describing it but I would order it again even if it did have the same pool of grease issue as the pork.

Speedy: I thought the lamb belly was excellent. I was expecting it to look/taste more like pork belly (the only belly with which I’m familiar), but it ended up being quite different. There was definitely a lot of flavor, some vinegar tang, and a little sweetness. I think it tied the brisket for me for my favorite meat of the day (something I try to pick out at the end of every day).

Monk: For a couple of wannabe hipsters like us, Hometown Bar-B-Que was worth the trip from Williamsburg and is now my favorite barbecue joint in New York over Arrogant Swine, Mighty Quinn’s, and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que (still so mad about The Smoke Joint, which came up again during this trip).

Speedy: Totally agree, Monk. Overall, I haven’t been uber impressed with NYC ‘cue, but you could drop Hometown in the middle of Lockhart and it would pass just fine.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 3.5 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Beef Rib – 4 hogs
Lamb belly – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs
Hometown Bar-B-Que Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Hometown Bar-B-Que

Buxton Hall Barbecue – Asheville, NC (Monk’s take)

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Name
: Buxton Hall Barbecue
Date: 6/18/16
Address: 32 Banks Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Order: Pulled whole hog barbecue plate with hush puppies appetizer and sides of chicken bog, waffle-cut fries; Cheerwine (link to menu)
Price: $23

Monk: I’ve been following Pitmaster Elliot Moss’s pursuit to open a whole hog barbecue joint for what seems like most of the life of this blog (4+ years). What was initially announced as Buxton Hill Barbecue with one business partner later turned into a venture with another called Buxton Hall Barbecue. As I understand it, throughout the journey bringing whole hog barbecue to Asheville remained the focus, and it finally opened in Asheville’s booming South Slope neighborhood (literally heading south downhill from downtown) last August.

Buxton Hall took over part of an old building that used to house a skating rink and its immediate neighbors include Catawba Brewing and Vortex Doughnuts. The interior maintains some of the character from the skating rink (like some of the old paintings on the wall) while adding modern craftsman touches (Edison bulb fixtures, subway tiling, etc). An open air kitchen contains two BQ smokers and wood smoke wafts into the dining area when logs are added to the in-kitchen firebox to create coals to place into the smoker. In short, it’s exactly the type of barbecue place that I would try to open if I were able to.

The whole hog barbecue is a just about perfect recreation of eastern NC/SC pulled pork (Moss himself is originally from the Florence, SC area). Tender strands of moist pork with a little hint of wood smoke and spice – just fantastic. While I didn’t order it on this visit, I’m still curious about barbecue hash (a nod to his SC roots) and would likely try that next time in addition to the pork. In any case, everyone should order the pork at the very least.

Chicken bog is not a barbecue dish I am familiar with and thus, had to try it as one of my two sides. It’s essentially a rice dish with chicken, sausage, and veggies topped with dashes of Texas Pete. I have no comparison, but I thought it was a very successful side and loved every bite of it. The plate came with a small ramekin of a vinegar-based coleslaw, so instead of doubling up I got waffle-cut fries in case the Monkette wanted some. They are almost exactly like Chic-Fil-A fries in all of the best ways. Plus, Buxton Hall made a smart decision to include barbecue-perfect drink options like RC Cola, Diet Rite, Cheerwine, and Sun Drop. Naturally, I opted for Cheerwine.

Speedy: I just want to jump in here, as I visited Buxton Hall just short of a week after Monk did with my bro (same parents variety, not barbecue variety). This was my second visit (the first being shortly after it opened), and I once again had a great meal. I think Monk is spot on in his description of the pork – it’s excellent – but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the collards are flat out phenomenal. A can’t-miss side, in my opinion. I also like that Elliott puts different specials on the menu to keep things fresh – when I was in, it was a pulled rib meat sandwich, which I didn’t try, but sounded intriguing. Anyway, carry on, Monk…

Monk: Oh hey there, Speedy – thanks for the input. After our meal, we had moved on to Burial Brewing around the corner but as it so happens ran into Moss where him and I were able to talk all things Asheville and barbecue over a beer. He was then nice enough to take us back to the restaurant to give us a quick tour of the kitchen (something he’ll do for anyone who asks, I believe). Elliot is a super nice guy and though I was initially hesitant to approach him (for my own shy reasons), I’m glad it worked out. He even sent us away with a piece of delicious fresh peach pie which while did not influence the ultimate rating, it certainly did not hurt.

At Buxton Hall Barbecue, Pitmaster Elliot Moss is part of the new breed of pitmasters (along with Tyson Ho at Arrogant Swine, Bryan Furman at B’s Barbecue, Sam Jones at his new Sam Jones BBQ, among others) who are opting for smoking barbecue in more traditional ways that take a lot of time and effort. That means all night smokes 6 out of 7 nights of the week (Moss himself doing it a couple nights each week). More often than not, the time and effort is worth it and in the case of Buxton Hall it definitely is. In the tl;dr version of this review, it would simply read: “Just go there.”

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 5 hogs
Pork – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs
Buxton Hall Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Buxton Hall Barbecue

Louie Mueller Barbecue – Taylor, TX

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Name: Louie Mueller Barbecue
Date: 7/18/15
Location: 206 W. 2nd St., Taylor, TX
Order: 1 & 1/2 Lb Moist Brisket, 2 Jalapeno Sausages, ¼ Lb Turkey, Peach Cobbler, 3 Teas (link to menu)
Bill: $55

Rudy: I had already visited and reviewed two of the top 4 barbecue places in the state according to Texas Monthly BBQ so I figured it was time to make the short drive to Taylor and review Louie Mueller Barbecue, who was also ranked in the top 4. This is the second time I have eaten at Louie Mueller’s, but the first time reviewing what is considered one of the grandfathers of central Texas barbecue. To give you an idea of the history and excellence that is on hand at LM’s: they won the James Beard Foundation Award for excellence, becoming the first Texas barbecue restaurant to win that award. They also are the family where many of the best Texas barbecue restaurants find their roots. The expectations for LM’s was off the charts.

Monk: Wow, they certainly fit the bill of a legendary Texas joint. The family tree aspect almost sounds similar to Warner Stamey and his legacy in Lexington-style barbecue in NC.

Rudy: LM has been in their current location since 1959 and have a great, great atmosphere. They have a large open seating area near where you line up to order, but they also have a great seating area attached that is basically a large screened porch. It has such a classic feel, which makes sense considering how long it has been in that building. Even though it is a top notch barbecue spot only 30 minutes from Austin, both times I have gone to LM’s the line is never more than 10-15 minutes. That immediately skyrockets it’s rating on my board because I have no desire to wait for hours upon hours for barbecue that is on the same level as one that takes 15 minutes to get (even on top of the hour round-trip drive).

I only have 2 knocks on LM. One is the set up they have for drinks (you get them while you are standing in line) makes it hard to get refills because you have to swim through the line. The second is the fact that it is BYOB, but there is no way of knowing that.  It isn’t listed on their website and there is no sign telling you this. However, I did count at least 19 beer signs around the restaurant, so you can understand my surprise and disappointment when I was told that they didn’t serve beer there and I had to bring my own.

Monk: Being BYOB certainly didn’t help you on this trip but now that you know it, that’s great. Will be nice the next time you stop in for sure.

Rudy: On to the food. The brisket. Oh. My. God. It was amazing. AMAZING. Perfect amount of seasoning, not too overpowered with salt or pepper. Fat was perfectly rendered, so it just melted in your mouth. Tender, but didn’t fall apart. I really can’t heap enough praise on the brisket. They provide a side of sauce that can be used as a compliment, but it is not needed in any way. Plus, they cut you a sample of the brisket when you order, so you immediately up the amount that you are planning on ordering. They haven’t been in business this long without knowing a few tricks.

The sausage left a little to be desired. The first time I came to LM’s it was really juicy, but this time it was a little dry. I have given it a lower rating, based on this visit, but I’m willing to give it another try on my next visit to break the tie.

Monk: Since *spoiler alert* you didn’t give them 5 hogs, I wonder if a better sausage next time would put them over the top for you?

Rudy: Absolutely, because everything else was over the top good – even the turkey. That’s right, this was the first time I ordered turkey at a barbecue restaurant. I just have a hard time ordering it and like to stick to brisket, sausage, and ribs. But with Rudy Jr. along for the ride, I figured I would feed it to him. It was a huge hit. He ate the entire thing and was asking for more. I tried a piece and was surprised at how good it was. The meat had great flavor, but most importantly was extremely moist and not dried out as I have seen at other places.

Lastly, we finished it off with peach cobbler and ice cream. It was a bit heavy on the breading and low on the fruit, at least the serving we got, but it was still so good. It was obvious that it was homemade and delicious.

Speedy: I’m a little late to this review party, but I just wanted to chime in that this sounds incredible. Plan on taking a trip next time I’m in town, Rudy.

Rudy: Overall, Louie Mueller lived up the the high expectations and showed why it is always ranked as highly as it is. There is no doubt that I will be making the short drive back up there in the future, and I’ll make sure I bring my own beer next time.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance –  4.5 Hogs
Brisket – 5 Hogs
Sausage – 3.5 Hogs
Turkey – 5 Hogs
Cobbler – 4.5 Hogs
Overall – 4.5 Hogs
Click to add a blog post for Louie Mueller Barbecue on Zomato

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Heirloom Market BBQ – Atlanta, GA

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Name: Heirloom Market BBQ
Date: 6/27/14
Address: 2243 Akers Mill Rd., Atlanta, GA 30339
Order: Spicy korean pork with kimchi slaw, and brunswick stew (link to menu)
Price: $12

In advance of a recent long weekend to visit friends in Atlanta, our original plan was to go to Fox Brothers but after I consulted with Grant of Marie, Let’s Eat! on Twitter (who then wrote a funny letter to Mrs. Monk) we decided that Heirloom Market BBQ would be a better way to go. Not that Fox Brothers wouldn’t have been good (especially since Mrs. Monk and I could have used a beer or three after a 4 hour drive with a sometimes fussy 15 month old), but it probably wouldn’t have been as representative of Atlanta as Heirloom Market seeing as how Fox Brothers is a Texas-style joint.

Heirloom Market is located at the opposite end of a convenience store and doesn’t offer much in the way of seating other than an outdoor deck that is standing only. Diners can also take respite in the tent over a long rectangular table or in the shade next to their mobile smoker, as some did on this slightly steamy late-June afternoon. Also out back is the smokehouse, into which I periodically saw a worker carting pallets of split logs for smoking.

The spicy Korean pork comes in chunks as opposed to pulled or chopped. The platters come with a substantial bun so folks can make a sandwich with a portion of the meat and then finish the rest with a fork. I piled on the kimchi slaw and a little spicy korean sauce called “KB” and the resulting sandwich was a revelation. I hadn’t tasted any barbecue like this before, with the smokiness of the pork from the wood smoke mixing with the spicy korean sauce and the crunchy kimchi slaw. There are no words to express just how fantastic it was.

I was also able to taste both the regular pork and the brisket from Mrs. Monk and my buddy Jimbo. Mrs. Monk didn’t come close to finishing her pork platter, so naturally I obliged in helping her do so. I found it to have nice smokiness, good bark, moist texture. The brisket had a Texas-style black bark, but was a tad on the dry side that day. Still, both were fantastic albeit maybe a level below the spicy pork.

I already mentioned the kimchi slaw I had with the bread, and my second side was Brunswick stew; I’m not a huge Brunswick stew fan but “when in Georgia,” I figured. Though honestly, hot stew didn’t make a lot of sense on an hot day in June when I was already sweating due to the spicy pork, even if the stew did have chunks of smoky pork and obviously not frozen veggies. Worth getting, but preferably during the cooler months or if you take it back to home or work in AC. I also tried some of the collards, which were also quite good.

Even though I left a little bit sweaty due in equal parts to the spicy sauce as well as the fact that we found a spot on the deck where there wasn’t much shade, I left very satisfied. Maybe during our next trip down to Atlanta we will make it to Fox Brothers, but it was clear to me that we made the right choice in choosing Heirloom Market BBQ this time instead.

Monk

(For another review of Heirloom Market BBQ, check out Marie, Let’s Eat!)

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Spicy Korean Pork – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Heirloom Market BBQ on Urbanspoon

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Ed Mitchell’s Que – Durham, NC

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Name: Ed Mitchell’s Que
Date: 5/26/14
Address: 359 Blackwell St, Durham, NC 27701
Order: Chopped whole hog and brisket combo platter (off menu) with collards and fries (link to menu)
Price: $16

Speedy: I’ve previously declared my love for Raleigh’s The Pit, so I was pumped to hear Ed Mitchell return to the restaurant world with his new restaurant Que (Monk note: It should be noted that Ed Mitchell was gone by the time we visited The Pit in 2012; Speedy note: It should be double noted that I had previously eaten at the Pit when Ed Mitchell was still there – it was just pre-blog.). A work outing to a Durham Bulls game afforded me the opportunity to give it a try (the restaurant is right next to the stadium).

Monk: Also worth mentioning is that Ed Mitchell has a barbecue stall inside the Durham Bulls stadium as well, and I’ve heard on at least one occasion of Mitchell himself working the stall during a ballgame, although that was before Que opened.

Speedy: Walking in, the restaurant has a very modern feel. I didn’t venture too far in, as the bar is there to greet you right as you walk in. It definitely does not look like a stereotypical ‘cue joint, but the upside to that is the awesome beer and whiskey selection. I quickly bellied up to the bar, ordered a beer, and picked up a menu.

Monk: I’m already so in on this place…

Speedy: I knew I wanted to try both the whole hog and the brisket, but unfortunately, a combo plate isn’t on the menu. However, I didn’t even have to play the blog card (would that work???) to convince the bartender to let me order it.

Monk: I can see it now…”but, but, but…I have a barbecue blog and need a combo plate so I can properly review!”

Speedy: As is my custom, I asked if the slaw was mayo based and passed on it when I found out that it was, opting for collards and fries instead. The food came out quickly, and it turned out to be a considerable portion, so I dug in.

At this point, I need to make a confession: I like eastern style chopped pork as much as Lexington style.

Monk: This is honestly the first time I’ve heard you say anything about this. And frankly, I’m shocked. I like eastern a lot but it plays second fiddle to Lexington in my book. Although tasting Skylight Inn’s barbecue at Midwood Smokehouse last fall has me reconsidering. I can only imagine that Ed Mitchell’s might help the case for eastern as well.

Speedy: Ed Mitchell’s pork was nearly perfect. Chopped finely, with the awesome tang of a great vinegar sauce. The one inherent problem with whole hog is the lack of bark relative to Lexington style, and while I did notice that, it did not take away from my enjoyment. There were two dips provided on the table, but I didn’t touch either – there was just no need to.

Monk: And that’s exactly why I will almost always prefer Lexington – the amount of bark created by cooking shoulders, and the inherent smokiness and flavor that comes with it.

Speedy: Rudy is fond of saying the Texas barbecue joints use sauce to cover up bad brisket, so I was a little concerned when this brisket came out slathered in sauce. I don’t think that it was the case that the sauce was really needed, as the brisket had good tug and seemed plenty moist. It wasn’t the best brisket I’ve had, but it was still very good and I easily finished my entire plate.

The collards were very good. They tasted like good southern collards are supposed to and had little bits of bacon thrown in for good measure. The fries were also good, but I would’ve prefered to see fried okra on the menu. That’s getting pretty nitpicky, but I don’t have much else bad to say about the meal.

Overall, this was one of the top barbecue experiences I’ve had in a while. I really loved Ed Mitchell’s Que and can’t wait to go back.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 5 hogs
Brisket – 4 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 Hogs
Ed Mitchell's Que on Urbanspoon
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La Barbecue – Austin, TX

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Name: La Barbecue
Date: 5/17/14
Address: 1200 E. 6th St., Austin, TX 78702 (link to menu)
Order: ¾ pound of brisket, ½ pound of ribs, 1 sausage, side of potato salad
Price: $30

Rudy: After spending hours in the classroom, minutes in the library, and many thousands of dollars earning a graduate degree, what’s the only thing I wanted to do on graduation day? Go pick up great barbecue instead of going to pick up my degree.

Monk: Congratulations on all that learning, Rudy!

Rudy: I have been hearing great things about La Barbecue for well over a year, but haven’t had the time to go wait in the line (much shorter than at Franklin’s, but still a line). So I figured this would be as good of an occasion as any.

La Barbecue was originally established LeAnn Mueller who is the granddaughter of the famous Texas pitmaster Louie Mueller. She has moved on, and in her place John Lewis has taken over, keeping the name and raising the level of barbecue that’s produced.

It still operates out of a trailer, but it has set up permanent residence, so they have plenty of picnic benches and shade tarps. They opened at 11:00, so I got there at 9:30 hoping to snag a good spot, which I did, 3rd in line. As the line grew, everyone sat on the picnic benches creating a makeshift queue. Adding to the atmosphere was the offering of free beer on weekends. Let that sink in, free beer, not some bread for the table as a freebie. FREE BEER!

Monk: Uhhh wow, best idea ever. Who is going to bring this idea to NC?

Rudy: La Barbecue is known for their massive beef ribs, but I decided to opt out of that and try as much of the other meats as possible. When I got up to the front to order, Lewis (who was taking the orders and cutting the meat) handed me a piece of brisket to try. This is a dirty trick, because I immediately upped the amount of brisket that I was planning on ordering. I started with the brisket, which was amazing. It was so juicy with a great amount of smoke and crust. They served two different sauces with it, but I have no idea what those even taste like because the meat was perfect by itself. La serves thicker slices than many of the other places, and that helps to keep the pieces super juicy.

Next I moved on to the ribs, which were the best I’ve ever had. Very meaty, super moist, and extremely tender. The problem that I have had with most ribs is that they are usually tough or they don’t have much meat. These had a similar rub to the brisket, but they also had a glaze that had just a hint of sweetness and spice. They were perfect.

The last meat that I had was one of their sausages, which they called “Hot Guts.”

Monk: Hot guts? Sounds appetizing…

Rudy: This was the least impressive meat I had. The link that I had was a bit dry and a bit disappointing. They make their sausage in-house and make it from 100% beef, which causes some of the dryness, but it was still more than I cared for.

I also ordered a side of their buttermilk bacon potato salad. It was better than most efforts at potato salad, but it still wasn’t anything to write home about. What’s still my complaint about Texas barbecue is that they put so much time and effort into cooking the meat, and then put little effort into the sides. Most places offer the same ones, which means I usually just end up ordering meat.

La Barbecue pitmaster John Lewis has completely mastered Texas barbecue. For my money, this is the best in Austin. This shouldn’t come at any surprise, because Lewis’s first job as a barbecue cook was to help Aaron Franklin open Franklin’s. He then cooked for them for 2 ½ years before taking over la Barbecue and transferring what he learned at Franklin’s and adding his own touch. It doesn’t have the hype that Franklin’s does, but it also doesn’t have near the line. When you are weighing taste and length of wait, it isn’t even close.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 4.5 Hogs (Half Hog bump for the free beer)
Brisket – 5 Hogs
Ribs – 5 Hogs (because 6 isn’t allowed)
Sausage – 3 Hogs
Sides – 3 Hogs
Overall – 4.5 Hogs
La Barbecue Cuisine Texicana on Urbanspoon
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Bonus photos after the jump

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Kreuz Market and Black’s Barbecue – Lockhart, TX

“The Lockhart Showdown”

Rudy: Lockhart, Texas, is a small town (population around 12,000) just outside of Austin that is known all over the country for producing some of the best barbecue in the world. The Huffington Post recently listed it as the #1 best city for barbecue in America.  

Speedy: I made a visit to San Antonio, so Rudy and I decided to take in 2 of the big 4 barbecue places in town.

Rudy: I don’t want to say there is a trend, but Speedy has come twice to taste some of Texas’ best barbecue, yet no signs of Monk.

Monk: Hey now! I mean I’d love to have been able to come one or both times, but such is the life of a new dad. Not that I need to tell you…

Speedy: Rudy solved that problem by bringing his son with. More on that later…with so many great spots so close together, we figured this would be a good time to try a barbecue showdown and see which place was the best. We chose Kreuz’s Market and Black’s Barbecue. Both were ranked in Texas Monthly’s Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas The World!

Monk: …uhhh

Rudy: …Don’t blame me or get territorial, that’s the name of the article. Anyway, this would be some great eating.

Speedy: So let’s break it down into the different categories, give a winner for each category, and then we’ll crown the overall champion.

Atmosphere:

Rudy: This one isn’t even close. Kreuz Market looks like an old barn from the outside, and has a great barbecue joint feel to the inside. Even though they moved into a new building in 1999, lots of old photos and memorabilia hangs on the walls to give it a historic feel. They have plenty of signs around stating their slogan “No Sauce, No Forks, No Kidding.” After standing in line for 15 minutes, we walked into the smoker. That’s right, you walk right into the room where they are smoking the meat and they cut your order right in front of you.

Speedy: Black’s looks more like a cafeteria line, where you come through and spoon your own side. Like Kreuz’s, they do cut the meat right in front of you, and  throw it on the scale to price out. There’s a fair amount of seating indoors that feels very “diner-ish” (as opposed to the plethora of long picnic tables at Kreuz’s) and very minimal seating in an outside area that, frankly, isn’t well kept up. Like Rudy said, from an atmosphere standpoint, we have a blowout.

Winner: Kreuz’s Market

Brisket:

Rudy: Kreuz is serious about their slogan that they don’t offer any sauce or any forks. And it really doesn’t matter, because neither is needed. I had the fatty brisket, which had great flavor, a good smoke ring, and a good amount of tug. While I liked it, the bark had no crunch to it and seemed to have little pepper in the seasoning. The brisket was good but not great.

Speedy: Agreed. One of the guys I was visiting in San Antonio ordered the lean brisket (amateur…) and it was very dry. Kreuz’s advertises that they don’t carry sauce because their brisket doesn’t need it, but this lean brisket most certainly did. With that being said, I was not disappointed at all with the moist brisket – it seemed to be cooked perfectly, but I think Kreuz’s takes the “let the meat speak for itself” thing a little too far. Rubbing on a little black pepper before the smoke never made anything taste worse.

As for Black’s brisket, I have no suggestion for how the brisket could be improved. It was perfect. It had just the right amount of tug, a good smoke ring, excellent flavor, and the right amount of bark. Being the brisket novice that I am, eating Kreuz’s and Black’s brisket back to back really let me see the difference between good brisket and great brisket.

Winner: Black’s

Sausage:

Rudy: Kreuz is famous for their sausage and ship them all over the world. They serve 2 different types of sausage, plain and jalapeno cheddar. I had both and thought, while both were very good, the jalapeno cheese was much better. Both had great flavor and a good amount of snap to the casings. The spice from the jalapeno, combined with the creaminess of the cheese was fantastic.  

Speedy: I only had the plain sausage, which I thought was fine. I wouldn’t place an order to have it delivered to NC or anything, but I did enjoy my link. As Black’s was the second stop on our BBQ tour, neither Rudy nor I had the stomach room to try the sausage there.

Winner: Incomplete

Ribs:

Rudy: At Black’s I opted for the giant beef rib. When they weighed it and brought it to me, they said “Congrats, you got the 2 pound rib!” Getting the large portion is a normally a good thing, except when you are buying meat by weight and have already eaten the equivalent of two full meals. This rib was unbelievable. The meat was tender and flavorful. There was a great bark, and the fat was rendered evenly throughout the rib, resulting in every bite being tender and juicy. The only complaint that I have about it is the same one that I had about the brisket: I would have liked a little more pepper in the seasoning and a crunchier bark. But even without it, this rib was great.

Speedy: I had a similar rib, though mine was only one pound (which was still more than enough). I have no complaints. I thought it was perfect. Members from our group also got pork spare and baby back ribs. The baby backs were awesome – perfectly cooked and super tender. The spare ribs were good, but not great.

At Kreuz’s, the only ribs they serve are pork spare ribs. Honestly, I thought these were better than the spare ribs at Black’s, but not as good as the baby backs. And I don’t think anything on Kreuz’s menu could touch the glory of the giant beef rib we had at Black’s. It was that good.

Winner: Black’s

Sides:

Speedy: Since I knew we were visiting two joints in the span of a couple hours, I didn’t waste any stomach room on sides, save for a couple of bites of jalapeno corn bread at Black’s. But I’ll tell you who did: Rudy, Jr. RJ went to town on some mac and cheese at Kreuz’s. He must’ve eaten a pound of that stuff. When offered brisket, he would just throw it aside and dive right back in to the mac and cheese. What’s up with that, Rudy? Your son can’t eat some meat like a man? How are you raising this kid? I’m really starting to question your parenting skills…

Rudy: I can’t really explain it either. I was a bit ashamed of him turning away the brisket, but I guess it was good because that means there is more meat for me.  However, if he loved barbecue, that would give me more ammo for taking him to more places.  This was his first experience eating barbecue, so hopefully he’ll pick up on how it’s done before next time.

Monk: Well, congrats guys. Well done. You’ve officially made me even more jealous of the trip than I was before. Really wish I could have been there.

Winner: Who cares?

Overall:

The group consensus is that we all liked Black’s better. There was a noticeable difference in the quality of the food, which more than made up for the lesser atmosphere.

Winner: Black’s BBQ

Ratings:
Kreuz Market:
Atmosphere – 5 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Sausage – 4 hogs
Ribs – 3 hogs (docked for lack of variety)
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Kreuz Market on Urbanspoon

Black’s Barbecue:
Atmosphere – 2 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Black's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Kreuz Market

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Black’s Barbecue

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