Catching up with “The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America” Author Johnny Fugitt

Monk: In October 2013, St. Louis native Johnny Fugitt set off on an epic road trip across the lower 48 US states to try one barbecue restaurant per day for an entire year (Speedy and I were able to meet up with him in Charlotte). Johnny accomplished that feat, and his 2015 book “The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America” was the result (our book club review here), where his #1 was an unexpected Austin joint (no spoilers here).

However, in the years since we haven’t heard much from Johnny; his site Barbecue Rankings hasn’t consistently been updated since 2016 and his Twitter since 2017. I recently wondered the reasons behind the hiatus of sorts, so I reached out to him for an interview to see what he’s been up to lately. Big thanks to Johnny for his time and thoughtful answers as well as the use of some of his photos from the big trip.

So last time we caught up during your yearlong barbecue odyssey I believe you were based in St. Louis. Where are you now and what have you been up to for the past few years?
Missouri is home, but I haven’t been there much the last few years. I’m in the Navy Reserves and that brought me to the Middle East in early 2016 for what was supposed to be a year. Three years later I’m still here. I agreed to extend and support so it wasn’t as if I was forced into anything. I’m not here for too much longer, however, as I’ll return to the States this summer. Obviously friends and family are the main thing one misses when away, but it’ll also be great to get back to the regular, American patterns of life. Among other things, I miss watching sports and sharing that experience with a community, the ease of American life and, as you can imagine, foods. Barbecue is at the top of that list, but Mexican food and Chick-Fil-A are up there too. I also just miss the ritual and shared experiences of big meals with loved ones – the prep work in the kitchen, passing plates around the table and the simple laughs over a meal. 

You mentioned you had been focusing on freelancing more recently. What type of work have you been doing?
I started freelancing when I kicked off the book project in 2013. Once the book came out I wrote and edited full-time for a couple years and really enjoyed it, even though it isn’t the easiest way to make a living. I loved meeting a variety of people, the flexibility of the work and being my own boss. Unfortunately I have had little opportunity to keep that up over the last three years as you can tell by my outdated Barbecue Rankings site. Nevertheless, I still write and edit just a little bit for some St. Louis-based outlets. It’s actually quite therapeutic for me as it helps take me home mentally for a few hours and offers an escape. I’ve written a little bit about some of my international travels while on leave and covered a few things where a local presence is not required.

Are you still eating barbecue much and if so, how often? And are you still as skinny as ever?
I don’t think I’ll ever match the pace or amount of barbecue I ate on my tour for the book. With that said, my barbecue consumption is definitely at a low point now, not by choice but simply by my surroundings. First, on occasions when the galley serves something akin to barbecue (often baked or steamed), let’s just say I go with another entree. Locally, pork isn’t easy to find in the Middle East and I don’t have a smoker or even charcoal grill with which to work. Options are not great. I am still pretty lanky. An active lifestyle is a big part of that now.

What’s the best barbecue you’ve had recently?
It’s been a while. I was able to spend four days in Missouri last May – just enough time to see family for a couple days, watch the Cardinals play at Busch Stadium and get some City Butcher in Springfield, Missouri. Some restaurants drop off over time for a variety of reasons – over-expansion, cost cutting, pitmaster departures, for example – but I think City Butcher is only getting better and it was already one of my favorite places years ago when I did my book tour and they had just opened. I look forward to a barbecue binge this summer when I get home.

Any plans to get back into barbecue game in some aspect? No chance there’s going to be a second book, right?
I certainly hope to reintegrate into the barbecue community upon my return home. Maybe I’ll do some freelance work covering barbecue restaurants, maybe join a competition team sometime down the road, maybe do a little more restaurant consulting, who knows? I don’t know exactly how that will look, but I miss it. I miss the food, but also the community. You can meet some incredibly kind, interesting, gracious, hard-working people in the barbecue world. I certainly hope to write more books, but I don’t know that I’ll ever get to embark upon a year-long road trip around America again. 

Anything else?
I’m glad you guys are so dedicated to Barbecue Bros. We started around the same time with, I believe, some shared values and goals – provide a local voice in barbecue to share news, give honest opinions, build community and explore something we love.

Linkdown: 3/2/16

– This article on barbecue treats from Robert Moss considers the misleading names of Texas Pete, Cheerwine, and burnt ends

– Sam Jones has partnered with Heinz to create a “Carolina Vinegar Style” barbecue sauce

– John Shelton Reed has a new barbecue cookbook coming – appropriately titled “Barbecue”

– He’s also having an event at the new Durham barbecue restaurant Picnic to celebrate the release of his book

– Midwood Smokehouse is havin a ‘cue and wine pairing at their Ballantyne location on March 16

– Only In Your State has 10 More Restaurants That Serve The Best Barbecue in North Carolina and well, it certainly is a list

– Interview with our friend Johnny Fugitt

– Midwood Smokehouse is asking for votes for Charlotte Magazine’s Best of the Best Awards 2016

Congrats to Johnny Fugitt on his new book, The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America!

front cover

Congrats to our friend Johnny Fugitt (aka Barbecue Rankings) on today’s release of his book, The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America. Speedy and I were fortunate enough to meet up with Johnny last year on his way through Charlotte and we couldn’t have met a nicer person (or one more passionate about barbecue). I can’t wait to get my hands on the book to see all  of his rankings and where some of my favorites (both NC and beyond) landed on the list (or not, as the case may be).

Order from Amazon today

In one year, barbecue critic Johnny Fugitt visited 365 barbecue restaurants across 48 states. The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America chronicles the journey, shares secrets of barbecue legends and points you to America’s best plates of barbecue. Educational, humorous and hunger-inducing, this book raises the bar for investigative food journalism. Caution: Side effects of this book may include late night cravings, spontaneous road trips and the meat sweats. Not all material may be appropriate for vegetarians. Carnivore discretion is advised.

Monk

Linkdown: 5/13/15

– The new Midwood Smokehouse gets a short write-up in Charlotte Magazine and sounds great; can’t wait to try it out

The new Midwood stays true to the original Central Avenue location, with beer signs and similar decor along the walls, but a more modern vibe to it. Rounded bench seating is a new take on a booth, and barbecue- and beer-themed cut metal art, designed by a restaurant employee, splits two sections of the dining room. The bar surface is made of reclaimed pine, and old barn siding with signs of aging bring back a rustic touch to the front of the bar and the ceiling. Rustic, but not old-fashioned: along the bar, USB ports are tucked underneath for customers who need to charge their devices.

– Charlotte Business Journal also has some coverage on Midwood Smokehouse as well

– Bill Spoon’s makes this Thrillist list of Best restaurants in Charlotte

– Marie, Let’s Eat! visits a heavy hitter in Archibald’s Bar-B-Que in Northport, AL and comes out raving about the ribs

– Some nice photos from last weekend’s Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ Festival, which is now a NC BBQ Association event

– West Asheville is getting a new barbecue restaurant, Bonfire Barbecue, this week

– Spicy pork sandwich at Heirloom Market and brisket at La Barbecue both make Zagat’s list of America’s most iconic new dishes

– Looks like Moe’s Original Bar-B-Que is getting into the food truck game in Charlotte

– Congrats to friend of the blog Johnny aka Barbecue Rankings on the imminent release of his new book