Monk’s 5 Favorite Barbecue Meals of the First Half of 2020

Monk: A little later than I’d normally like to post a first half look-back but then again, I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a weird year. At least barbecue is (mostly) back. After a lot of backyard smoking (a little more on that below) and an attempt at mail order, barbecue restaurants started to reopen in late spring and adapted to the current situation with all formerly extinct practices like curbside service and carhops that made perfect sense in a pandemic environment.

In alphabetical order:

Chopped pork tray from Backcountry BBQ (review)

A barn full of firewood out back was a sign of good things to come when it came to Backcountry Barbeque, an unassuming barbecue joint south of Lexington that landed in the top tier of my Lexington barbecue rankings.

Pork belly burnt ends and sliced pork belly from my backyard (story)

While I haven’t quite lived up to my promise that I would smoke pork belly again very soon, it is very much on my to-do list for upcoming backyard smokes. Particularly as the weather starts to cool down this fall. I still think about those pork belly burnt ends from time to time.

Beef rib, brisket, ribs, and cheddar bossa sausage from Jon G’s Barbecue (review)

You guys all know how I feel about Jon G’s by now, so not too much more needs to be written here except that you should make the trip, particularly if they have a beef rib on special (but be prepared to pay for it). I’ll also reiterate how glad I am that Garren and Kelly finally opened their store and are doing it their way.

Chopped pork from Rick’s Smokehouse (review)

Rick’s was the favorite of my new Lexington discoveries as part of my recent Lexington barbecue quest, landing just below my co-favorites Lexington Barbecue and Bar-B-Q Center.

Pork, ribs, and chicken from Southern Smoke BBQ (review)

Not too much more to add from my recent review other than Southern Smoke was my absolutely favorite new barbecue I’ve tried this year. I’ll repeat myself from my review: “Do yourself a favor and find time to make the trip like I did. You won’t regret it.”

What should I try in the second half (or what’s remaining of it) of 2020? Leave a comment with your recommendation.

Friday Find: “Pastrami Beef Ribs are Interstellar’s Spin on Classic Texas Barbecue”

Monk: Eater’s Smoke Point series takes a look at the “cheffed-up” barbecue at Austin’s Interstellar BBQ, including the pastrami beef rib.

Description:
At Austin’s Interstellar BBQ, pitmaster John Bates and his right-hand man, Warren McDonald, a.k.a “War Dog,” put a spin on classic Texas fare. Using all of the kitchen skills and attention to detail he learned as a chef in high end restaurants, Bates plays up traditional ribs by rubbing them with a mole seasoning, serving them with a riff on mole sauce and cotija cheese, and makes other distinct offerings like pastrami beef ribs and jalapeño popper-stuffed sausages.

Midwood Smokehouse (Park Road) – Charlotte, NC

Name: Midwood Smokehouse
Address: 540 Brandywine Rd, Charlotte, NC 28209
Order: Beef rib with collards and creamed corn, basket of hush puppies (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: Somehow, it has been almost five years. That is, five years since we officially reviewed any location of Midwood Smokehouse, the standard bearer for Charlotte barbecue restaurants since we started the blog in 2012 and a regular go-to for the Barbecue Bros. In that time, they’ve opened two more stores: one in Huntersville north of Charlotte and the other in the back lot of the Park Road Shopping Center, which I’ve eaten at many times since opened in spring 2017 but somehow never thought (or remembered) to review. Regardless, I figured it was time to reassess Midwood Smokehouse in the current climate of Charlotte Barbecue.

If you are new to this blog or to Charlotte barbecue, you may not realize that there was a time not too long ago (way back in early 2011) where wood fired barbecue joints were nearly extinct in a town not really known for great barbecue to begin with. Then, Frank Scibelli along with Executive Chef and Pitmaster Matthew Berry opened their original Plaza Midwood location off of Central Avenue with its Oyler smoker imported from J&R Manufacturing out of Texas. I have always tried not to ding them too much for their overly Texas influence (though they do have eastern NC chopped pork and hush puppies on their menu), because the fact stands that they changed Charlotte barbecue for the better in May 2011 by reintroducing wood-smoked barbecue.

On my last visit, I went for it with the beef rib, a weekend special I had been wanting to try for a couple of years now. While it was a tad on the fatty side, it had great flavor and I liked the aggressive, peppery bark. It did come with a somewhat hefty $32 price tag, though I guess I can’t complain too much because Midwood doesn’t charge by the pound like most Texas joints. Had that been the case, this 1+ lb. rib surely would have resulted in a price tag closer to the $50 mark.

We got a basket of hush puppies for the table and they were a hit with the in-laws and the family. I’ve always been a fan of Midwood’s sides and their creamed corn and collards were solid as ever on this visit. The standard offering of pickles and onions (again, very much Texas-influced) were a nice touch to counteract the fattiness of the beef rib.

While a few places have opened in recent years that I might like just a little better (i.e. Noble Smoke and Sweet Lew’s BBQ), there’s something comforting knowing you can go to any Midwood Smokehouse location (four in the Charlotte area and one in Columbia) on any day of the week and get a consistently legit meal of wood-smoked barbecue. For that, they should be celebrated and not taken for granted.

For more on Midwood Smokehouse:
Big Wayner’s BBQ Blog
Marie, Let’s Eat!
Our review of the Central Avenue from 2012
Our review of the Central Avenue from 2014
Our review of the Ballantyne from 2015
Our review of Midwood Smokeshack (now closed)

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 3.5 hogs
Beef rib – 4 hog
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Midwood Smokehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Little Miss BBQ – Phoenix, AZ

Name: Little Miss BBQ
Date: 3/7/20
Address: 4301 E University Dr Phoenix, AZ 85034
Order: 1 beef rib, 3/4lb brisket, 1/4 lb pork, ¼ pound turkey (link to menu)
Pricing: $$$

Speedy: A weekend trip to Phoenix had me searching out the city’s best barbecue spot to find. We ended up choosing Little Miss BBQ largely thanks to a spring training guide by sportswriter Keith Law, claiming that it was the best brisket he’s had outside of Austin – high praise indeed. 

Monk: That’s high praise! Searching for good barbecue in Phoenix seemed like a bit of a fool’s errand (Rudy had a really bad experience in Sedona two hours north, for instance), but any praise that high is worth dispatching a Barbecue Bro to investigate.

Speedy: My friend James and I arrived at Little Miss BBQ around 10:30 AM, ahead of their 11 AM opening. We were around 60th in line (a good sign). The building itself wasn’t much to look at, but there was a decent amount of outdoor seating and there were a lot of people milling around, though no line, per se. We quickly learned that upon arriving, you’re handed a ticket to hold your place in line, and they start lining people up in order around 10:45. There’s plenty of water available, but unfortunately, no beer. Still, it was a very organized affair. While waiting in line, just looking at the impressive Camelback offset smokers got me hungry, and I knew these guys meant business.

Workers come through the line explaining how the process works (essentially a Texas joint where meat is sliced in front of you), and expecting it to take 90 seconds per person in line (bummer). They also handed out samples of their house made pork/beef/jalapeno sausage, a nice touch. The sausage had really good flavor, and the jalapeno flavor was evident, but with the volume of meat we were about to consume, we decided against ordering a link. The 90 seconds per person ended up being about right, so it was around 12:30 before we made it to the front of the line.

After ordering enough meat to feed a small army, we were ready to dig in. The first thing I tried was the brisket, which was impressive indeed. We chose fatty brisket, and it was really nice and moist. My only complaint is it could have used a little more pepper to create more of a bark, but this was still a top ten brisket of my life. A step below Franklin, Pecan Lodge, La Barbecue, and Killen’s, but impressive none-the-less. 

Monk: Wow, top 10 brisket for you, Speedy, is impressive, as you are definitely our Senior Brisket Correspondent at this point. 

Speedy: I am often a tough critic on pulled pork, but these guys did a nice job on that as well. It was definitely more similar to the pulled pork I’ve had in Texas, as the butt was wrapped during the cook to retain more of the natural juices. This certainly helps keeping it from drying out, and enhances the flavor, but also gives the pork a greasier feel, making it difficult to eat in large quantities. 

Historically, I’ve been mostly anti-poultry at ‘cue joints, but some recent excellent smoked turkey has changed that, and Little Miss BBQ is only going to add to that. The turkey was cooked perfectly, moist with great flavor. It passed the pull test easily and was seasoned well, and definitely worth ordering.

Monk: I’m also coming around more and more on smoked turkey at barbecue joints and think its worth considering more often in my barbecue travels. 

Speedy: Saving the best for last was the beef rib. Goodness gracious. The flavor of the meat itself was outstanding, and the quality of the cut was apparent. It was perfectly seasoned to create the peppery bark that I have learned to love. This, to me, was a must get item at Little Miss BBQ. Make sure you’re there for a weekend, as the beef rib is only available Friday and Saturday. At $22 per pound (ours came in at 1.1 pounds), the price was more reasonable than I’d seen elsewhere as well.

Overall, this was the only ‘cue joint I tried in Phoenix, but you’d be hard pressed to find any place anywhere that tops it. This was also the second longest I’d ever waited in line for barbecue (behind Franklin’s) and I do think it was worth the wait. I think the line could have moved faster if the slicers had been a little more efficient. Don’t get me wrong – they were good and knew what they were doing, but took some time to talk to customers, which, though a nice touch, adds 15-30 seconds per person. So if you’re going to visit Little Miss BBQ, and you should, it’s worth getting there a bit early.

Ratings:
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Sausage – 4 hogs
Turkey – 5 hogs
Beef Rib – 5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 Hogs

Little Miss BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato