For the first half of this podcast, Aaron Franklin sits down for a cordial interview about steak and his recent cookbook Franklin Steak. While the conversation is not specifically about barbecue, brisket does get weaved into it several times during the discussion by Franklin. Check it out to hear his thoughtful discussion on live fire cooking as well as a tip on how long in advance to salt a steak.
Name: Central BBQ Date: 5/16/19 Address: 147 E Butler Ave, Memphis, TN 38103 Order: Rib combo with brisket, pork, collards, chips (link to menu) Pricing: $$
Monk: I should have listened to Speedy…
Speedy: …a lesson you can never learn often enough…
Monk: Actually, to be more precise, I should have consulted Speedy’s review of the original Central BBQ location to help figure out my order and that specifically I shouldn’t have ordered the brisket. To not bury the lede, I found the rest of the meal a bit underwhelming as well. But I’m getting ahead of myself….
This year for the Memphis in May Barbecue Championship (aka Barbecue Fest), I wanted to actually go to a Memphis barbecue restaurant (or two) outside of the festival. So first things first, as soon as we (our current neighbors and former Memphis residents, Mrs. Monk, and I) landed we headed to Central BBQ’s downtown location for a late lunch before checking into our our AirBnB. And by downtown, this Central BBQ is directly across the street from the Lorraine Hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and where the National Civil Rights Museum is currently located.
We waited in a brief line to place an order and then proceeded to the open air patio. It was already a hot day in Memphis, but the indoor dining room was still pretty packed for lunch. Usually a good sign.
I’ll start with the ribs, the meat that Speedy gave 5 hogs in his review and called “without hesitation that these were the best ribs [he’s] ever had…These are ribs that I’m going to dream about.” So, clearly the highest of praise from a man who knows his way around a rib. I…did not find them to be anywhere near that good. They were the best of the 3 meats I tried, but definitely not among the best ribs I’ve ever had. Not even close, really. I went for the dry rub ribs and while they were tender enough, I found them to be a bit bland, taste-wise.
The pulled pork was a bit dry and a slight notch below the just average ribs. It absolutely needed sauce and I wondered if it could have been from the previous day.
Now, the brisket. Or rather, the thinly sliced, dry roast beef-like meat served instead of brisket. Had I read Speedy’s review, surely I would have heeded his advice: “It was dry and lacked flavor, so just don’t order it, k?” So reader, don’t be like Monk and order the brisket. Listen to your friend Speedy, he’s a cool dude.
The collards were disappointing to Mrs. Monk (the collards aficionado), and I couldn’t agree more. The chips were recommended by our neighbors but I wished we had gone with a more classic barbecue side than a standard house made crunchy chip.
Speedy: In talking to Monk about his experience, I was disappointed to hear it. I myself am still a frequent visitor to Central BBQ, usually focusing on the ribs and wings. I don’t think I’ve had an experience as bad as Monk describes, but I have noticed some variability among visits. I also have concerns that the expansion of the restaurant (now open in four locations, with another opening in Nashville this year) has allowed quality to suffer. That said, its the most common barbecue joint I visit in Memphis (partly due to location, but also because I’ve had good experiences more often than not).
Monk: I was quite disappointed with Central BBQ and unfortunately, this would be the only Memphis joint I got to this weekend. I know Memphis has great barbecue joints and someday I’ll get to more of them (looking at you, Payne’s!).
Beaufort vs Beaufort: in the battle of the two coastal Carolina towns, barbecue probably isn’t the main reason to go, but each has their own longstanding joints in Roland’s Barbecue and Duke’s Bar-B-Que
In this conversation, Dave Chang focuses on how Franklin has become a shokunin, or master craftsman, for barbecue. In addition to the usual barbecue talk, Chang also asks Franklin a lot of questions about the hospitality that Franklin shows everyone that comes to Franklin Barbecue and how hard it was for him to step away from being in the restaurant almost 22 hours day.
In 2009, when Aaron Franklin and his wife, Stacy, opened up a barbecue trailer on the side of a highway in Austin, Texas, they had no idea it would snowball into one of the most popular barbecue restaurants in the nation. But Franklin Barbecue wouldn’t have become what it is without Aaron’s unwavering commitment to hard work and dedication. A decade removed from the Austin institution’s humble beginnings, Dave speaks with the world-class pitmaster from the Uber Eats House during SXSW about transfusing love and care into cooking, making an intentional effort to maintain work-life balance, and growing the restaurant through failure.
Albemarle, NC has their own branch of the NC barbecue family tree via the Galloway family who have opened three barbecue restaurants over he years in the small town: Log Cabin, Whispering Pines, and Darrell’s Bar-B-Que in nearby Rockwell
Hogs for the Cause is not just a regular barbecue festival
Name: Gibson’s Family BBQ Date: 3/29/19 Order: Pulled pork sandwich and brisket (link to menu) Pricing: $$
Monk: Last fall, I received word that Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen, who at one point was our favorite barbecue in Charlotte, had closed (at least according to their page on Yelp). I reached out via Facebook (though their page had not been updated since the summer) but never received any word. As reader “John” pointed out in the comments a few weeks back, Boone’s had rebranded as Gibson’s Family BBQ, presumably with Dan “Boone” Gibson still involved.
In the years since we had initially named Boone’s our Charlotte #1 back in 2014, a lot has changed in the world of Charlotte barbecue. Having been a few years since I had tried them, how would Boone’s/Gibson’s stack up? They’ve been making the rounds at the local breweries lately, so this past Friday I got a chance to try them at Pilot Brewing, a small brewery that recently opened in Plaza Midwood.
Things appear to be status quo between Gibson’s as it was with Boone’s. The menu has the same items, all of the sauces have the same packaging, and the food truck even still has the branding of Boone’s. At this stop, however, Boone himself wasn’t there, though that may or may not be significant if he was back at their commissary kitchen in Southend. Everything felt very familiar up to this point.
That mostly includes the food itself. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich and brisket with no sides. I imagine Boone is still smoking on a Southern Pride gasser, which he was always able to coax some good smokey cue out of. On this day, I could taste the smoke but the pulled pork itself was quite dry as if it had possibly been reheated. Eaten on the humongous brioche roll, it was a big mouthful of dryness even after adding the slaw and their eastern vinegar sauce. I’ll chalk it up to an off day unless that’s the case next time.
On the other hand, the brisket slices definitely could not be accused of being dry. Upon opening the box, I was reminded how Boone’s brisket bears very little resemblance to just about all brisket out there. The brisket slices are finished on a grill and then doused in their sweeter PoPo’s sauce. It’s not a bad bite of barbecue, but just don’t expect anything in the Central Texas tradition as this preparation is unique to Boone.
I had removed Boone’s from the Charlotte Big Board a few months back when I believed they had closed. Of course I’ll be adding it back now that I’ve tried Gibson’s, but it won’t be anywhere near the top of the leader board. Charlotte barbecue, and perhaps more specifically my tastes, has evolved in the past 6 years and as a result, Gibson’s Family BBQ no longer stands out like Boone’s once did.