Food Insider makes the rounds at some of Austin’s best barbecue spots before declaring a winner.
Description: Austin is one of the best places in the country to get barbecue, especially if you’re looking for Central Texas-style. These are the best places to get brisket, ribs, and sausage from the most popular spots to the hidden gems. 1:20: Louie Mueller Barbecue 4:25: Micklethwait Craft Meats 7:35: Franklin Barbecue 10:14: LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue 13:25: The winner
Some of the founders and mainstays of my favorite barbecue restaurants and comfort food eateries died recently. So I have to insert “the late” beside their names when I describe their lifetimes’ great accomplishments, the eateries they made into an icons.
Say it ain’t so, Subway (it is so)
Fox Bros BBQ is finally opening a second location in Atlanta
James Beard Award-winning author Adrian Miller is in Cleveland for his forthcoming book “Black Smoke” if you can help with his research:
More on Miller and his forthcoming book
Add this to your DVR…err, Hulu Watch List
Charlotte’s Midwood Smokehouse got inspired by Valentina’s Tex Mex on a recent research and development trip to Texas; here’s hoping this becomes a more regular thing
Name: Farmhouse BBQ Order: Combo plate with brisket and pork with 4 cheese mac, sweet potato crisp, vegan collard greens, and cheddar brioche rolls (link to menu) Pricing: $$
Monk: Farmhouse BBQ owners and pitmasters Lindsay Williamson and Vance Lin first met in the Hamptons of New York working for Argentine celebrity chef and restaurateur Francis Mallman. From working under Mallman, they caught the live fire cooking bug and a few years after moving to NC they started Farmhouse BBQ in 2014. Williamson and Lin are big believers in grass-fed brisket, pasture-raised pork, and not using any GMO’s, MSG, or high fructose corn syrup in their food. This belief in quality food that is is even expressed in their website URL: goodforyoubbq.com. Explains Williamson: “Animals nourished on grass yield beneficial nutrients that come only from photosynthesis: Vitamin D and high in Omega-3s, both of which are difficult to come by. You truly are what you eat, and if you start from a good place, if you begin with something healthy and top-notch, you don’t have to do much to let it speak and shine for itself. That’s something that Francis Mallman taught me with the food that he created.”
Farmhouse has been making stops at breweries in Charlotte the past few years, and I was finally able to catch them on a Sunday at Birdsong Brewing for their “End of Summer BBQ,” where they set up their 500 gallon offset smoker and serving tent in front of the patio on a still-steamy last day of summer.
Farmhouse touts their use of grass-fed briskets, which are more expensive than normal briskets but are also less fatty and require less trimming. Truthfully, I am not versed enough in the meat science of brisket to understand the nuances between the brisket I had that day and say, USDA Prime briskets from other barbecue restaurants. But I did quite like what I had – a moist, smokey brisket with a nice bark even if it was sliced a little thinner than I prefer.
Similar to their grass-fed briskets, Farmhouse uses pasture-raised, heritage-breed pork for their barbecue. They don’t appear to be trying to do either Lexington-style or eastern NC style but what they do serve had nice flavor and smoke, if not being a tad bit on the greasy side on this day.
The scratch-made sides also shine at Farmhouse: the mac and cheese is creamy, the collards are nice and vinegar-laden, the sweet potato crisp reminds me of one of my favorite sides from Thanksgiving, and I could have eaten at least a half dozen of those cheddar brioche rolls. A solid meal all around.
Farmhouse BBQ is a less well-known barbecue option in the Charlotte area but perhaps they shouldn’t be. Their approach to barbecue helps them stand out among other barbecue food truck and catering options and is to be applauded.
Monk: In the years since the original location of Midwood Smokehouse opened in 2011, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ordered non-traditional barbecue (i.e. something other than chopped pork, brisket, ribs, burnt ends, pork burnt ends, etc). But recently I had the opportunity to sit down with head chef and pitmaster Matthew Barry as well as FS Food Group Brand Director Rémy Thurston and Callie Langhorne from M Squared PR, and taste several of their best barbecue-inspired sandwiches and apps.
On this day of delicious sandwiches, this was my favorite of the bunch. The Midwood take on a Philly cheese steak uses thinly-sliced smoked brisket and Boar’s Head white american cheese, but what I really loved was the Philly roll that is shipped in from JJ Cassone Bakery of Port Chester, NY, which has been in business since 1910. It had nice, crispy crust and a chewy interior. I learned to love Philly cheese steaks from my high school days working at a Jersey Mike’s, and as good as those are this one simply blows them out of the water.
Months before the great fried chicken sandwich debate of late summer, Midwood Smokehouse rolled out their two versions of fried chicken sandwiches in the springtime. The Pollo Texano is the better-selling of the two, and for good reason. The Springer Mountain Farms chicken thigh is brined, smoked, buttermilk marinated then fried before being dipped in a honey chipotle sauce. It is then topped with “angry pickles” and apple- jalapeño slaw, which add crunch and cuts into the sweetness of the sauce. I’m not sure if its intentional, but it pays homage to Carolina dipped fried chicken that is prevalent in the Piedmont of NC, albeit with a different sauce than the vinegar dip used by places such as Keaton’s in Cleveland, NC.
Appalachian Yard Bird
While it’s not the top seller, the other fried chicken sandwich on the menu is nothing to be trifled with. The combination of the same fried chicken thigh as the Pollo Texano topped with pimento cheese and their “angry pickles” is downright comfort food. You would be forgiven if you just wanted to eat this glorious mess of a sandwich with a knife and fork. Thankfully, the sturdy brioche bun from local Charlotte bakery Golden Grains is more than up to the task if you want to take a chance and eat with your hands.
The Fatt Matt is a more straightforward version of a barbecue sandwich, with Midwood’s sliced USDA prime brisket topped with the same apple-jalapeño slaw as the Pollo Texano. This tasty sandwich definitely would’t look too out of place in Texas.
Our appetizer before the course of sandwiches were the Smoked Meatballs, a trio of meatballs made with the smoked trimmings from their briskets. A mixture of smoked jalapeño BBQ sauce and melted cheese tops the meatballs, along with some green onions as garnish. These guys are listed as an appetizer on the menu, but I would’t blame you if you ordered these solo as an entree, maybe adding a side of fries.
Name: Hubba Hubba Smokehouse Location: 2724 Greenville Hwy, Flat Rock, NC 28731 Order: Indecision Plate (pulled pork, sliced brisket, pulled chicken) with vinegar slaw and tangy baked beans; half rack ribs plus burnt ends special and apple crisp (link to menu) Pricing: $$
Monk: Hubba Hubba Smokehouse is a wood-smoking hidden gem barbecue restaurant in western NC that has been around for well over a decade. It is open from March to October and appears to do steady business from tourists coming through Flat Rock (home to the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site), particularly during apple picking season after families have finished up at one of the many orchards in the Hendersonville area.
Pitmaster Spencer Purcell is a Chicago transplant who has the enormous responsible of smoking all of the meat served at Hubba Hubba on a huge brick masonry pit (not too dissimilar from something you might find in Lexington, NC) originally built by owner Star Teel about 15 years ago. Spencer has been at Hubba Hubba for a little over a year after getting a call from Teel, who took him under his wing. While he had spent some time in school working for a barbecue joint up in Chicago, it wasn’t until Hubba Hubba Smokehouse that Spencer began to take barbecue seriously as a craft. He toured barbecue restaurants in North Carolina and Chicago last off season and even spent a week training at the famed Southern Soul Barbecue in Saint Simon’s Island, GA to continue to learn and hone his craft.
At Hubba Hubba, Spencer learned from the classically trained Teel not only the smoking of the meats but also the science and art of fire control. He smokes with all native hardwoods in the form of hickory and both red and white oak. And he churns out some damn fine barbecue
The burnt ends were on special the Saturday I was there and was my favorite of all the meats I tried. I was fortunate enough to get them pretty fresh off the smoker but I liked that they weren’t overly sauced like Kansas City-style burnt ends tend to be. The meaty ribs sprinkled with a savory/sweet finishing dust were a close second. Turns out both of these are Spencer’s favorites at the restaurant, and for good reason.
The “Indecision Plate” is their sampler of pulled pork, sliced brisket, and pulled chicken. The meats aren’t pre-sauced, which I appreciate, and a sauce station more than has you covered with a variety of traditional and non-traditional barbecue sauces. The pulled pork was decently smokey and moist but still benefited from the tang of the eastern NC vinegar sauce. The brisket wouldn’t be considered a central Texas brisket but still had a nice if not overly peppery bark. The pulled chicken was a tad on the dry side and lacking discernible smoke on that day, but I am not normally a huge fan of smoked chicken anyways.
I enjoyed my sides of vinegar slaw and tangy baked beans, but I especially enjoyed the sweet cornbread that come with every plate. The warm small apple crisp dessert was a nice way to finish the meal.
If you are reading this before October 26th, 2019 and are near anywhere near Asheville or Hendersonville in NC or Greenville, SC, do yourself a favor and head to Hubba Hubba Smokehouse before they close for the season until March. This year, they are closing a little earlier than normal for owner Starr Teel to open a small plate/barbecue spot down the street called Campfire. That restaurant has apparently even built a small brick pit and will be utilizing a Santa Maria-style grill from J&R Manufacturing (the folks behind Oyler) at that establishment, which definitely sounds worthy of a visit once they open in the December time frame.
For a wood-smoked barbecue joint in a very scenic part of North Carolina, more people should know about Hubba Hubba Smokehouse, and not just as a lunch stop after apple picking at one of the many nearby apple orchards. Head there to check out the old style brick masonry pit and the cool courtyard which sometimes have chickens roaming free (thankfully not the case on this day for the sake of Mrs. Monk), but mainly to check out the impressive array of smoked meats from Spencer P
Jim Noble sits down with Kevin Kelly to discuss his NC upbringing, his history as a restaurateur, and the path that led the opening of Noble Smoke earlier this year. As Speedy and I noted in our chat with him earlier this year, his passion for barbecue is evident and I think that come through in this conversation. Funny aside, Kevin is originally from California but used to travel to Jim’s hometown of High Point (our hometown as well) twice a year for the Furniture Market. It wasn’t until this conversation that he realized he had previously eaten at his first restaurant, Noble’s.
Description: In this episode I chat with Chef Jim Noble from Noble Smoke: Heartfelt Southern Barbecue in Charlotte, North Carolina. We discuss his upbringing, culinary experience, his first restaurant in High Point, Roosters (which he has 3 locations, but is expanding), and finally Noble Smoke, which is a project he has wanted to take on for a long time. He is extremely passionate about barbecue, the history of barbecue in the region (which we go into deeply), and about putting out incredible [product]. We also discuss his 6 1,000 gallon offset smokers along with Lexington style brick pits that he has in his pit room. It’s a large restaurant which you will want to visit when you come to Charlotte.
Name: Jon G’s Barbecue (Speedy’s Take) Date: 9/26/19 Order: ½ lb brisket, ½ lb pork, 1 Cheerwine sausage link Pricing: $$
Speedy: For a couple years now, Monk has been raving about (and rubbing in) his times eating Jon G’s Barbecue. So when I was in Charlotte on an evening when Jon G was parked outside The Chamber by Wooden Robot in NoDa, I knew I had to go. Hat tip to Monk for the heads up.
Monk: While Jon G’s has been making inroads into Charlotte more and more, a mid-week pop-up was a rare occurrence. With Speedy in town for a wedding, luckily the timing worked out nicely.
Speedy: I arrived a little late to the party, and Monk had already left, but fortunately for me, he had let pitmaster Garren know I was coming. I learned very quickly the Garren is a smart man, as he offered me a bite of brisket before I ordered. Like I had done at La Barbecue and Franklin before that, I graciously accepted the bite and was immediately in heaven. It didn’t change my order, but it did let me know I was in for a treat. Knowing I had to try everything, I ordered a half pound of brisket, the same amount of pork, and 1 (the last!) Cheerwine hot link. Slap on a side of baked beans and we were ready to roll.
My name was called a few minutes later and it was go time. We have to start with the brisket. I later told Garren that I had previously refused to order brisket in the Carolinas, but John Lewis and Jim Noble changed that for me. And I think Jon G’s one upped both of them. The peppery moist goodness of the brisket (I ordered a mix of the fatty and lean) was top notch. This brisket was 99% as good as what I’d had at the top Texas joints, and on a good day could equal that. Garren had given me a sample of all of their sauces to try, but I didn’t dare use any on this brisket, because there was no improvement needed.
Monk: I haven’t been as fortunate as Speedy when it comes to trying brisket at the top places in Texas, so while I was high on Garren’s brisket I simply had no true baseline. I do know that Garren has traveled to Texas a lot for research, so its nice to get some agreement from Speedy here.
Speedy: The pork was next on the list, and, while it made me happy, it took a back seat to the brisket. I found it to have a nice smoky flavor, but I did need to add a bit of the vinegar sauce to get the full effect.
Monk: Pork can be a bit of an afterthought in Texas, but that’s certainly not the case here. I always get the pork and do agree that a bit of the vinegar sauce sets it off. Maybe we can get some big Texas Pete bottles in the future, Garren?!?
Speedy: Huge applause to Garren and team for making their own sausage – a Cheerwine hot link (which eventually ran out during service due to popularity). The link had great flavor and consistency and I definitely recommend it. It stayed together unlike some scratch made sausages I’ve had. My only complaint (with the whole meal) is that I’d like a little more snap when biting in, but it’s hard to find anything else that can be improved.
Monk: I was waiting to order until Speedy got there so when he was held up and then I had to leave before he got there, so sadly I still have not tasted the magical, mysterious Cheerwine hot link. Per Garren, it seems as if this sausage may lead to some partnering opportunities with Cheerwine in the future, so it sounds as if its here to stay. I can’t wait to eventually try it.
Speedy: With all that meat, I was only able to eat a couple bites of baked beans, which we good, but very sweet. I’m more a savory guy, so I found myself focusing my attention back to the brisket.
Monk has labelled Jon G’s Barbecue the best in Charlotte, and I’m here to confirm that he’s right. Everything about this platter was perfect, and I can’t wait to see Garren and team again.
Monk: Bryan Furman, pitmaster of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque and a 2019 Food & Wine Best New Chef, was back in Charlotte last weekend though it was not to continue scouting Charlotte for locations for expansion as far as I’m aware (unfortunately). It was, however, for a “BBQ Takeover” at Sweet Lew’s BBQ – think a tap takeover at a bar, but for barbecue. That Sunday, DJ Smitty was providing tunes on the patio, Birdsong Brewing was serving beer outside, smoked oysters were a special on the menu, and the line may have been slightly longer than normal but other than that it was more or less business as usual, just with Furman’s very good barbecue instead of Sweet Lew’s also very good barbecue.
The real boon for Charlotte’s burgeoning barbecue community didn’t take place that day but instead the night before, and I was sad to be out of town and unable to experience first hand. There, in the parking lot of Sweet Lew’s, some of Charlotte’s best pitmasters hung out, sampled each other’s barbecue, and assisted Furman in the smoking of several whole hogs. Garren Kirkman from Jon G’s Barbecue brought his brisket and Cheerwine hot links, Michael Wagner and Matthew Berry from Midwood Smokehouse brought their mobile BQ smoker to help smoke hogs, and of course Lewis Donald was there as the gracious host.
I have spoken separately with Midwood Smokehouse’s Wagner and Berry and Garren from Jon G’s about the lack of a cohesive Charlotte barbecue community, and this is certainly a step in the right direction to say the least. FS Food Group (the parent company of Midwood Smokehouse) Brand Director Rémy Thurston has recently mentioned to me that they want to be on the forefront of making Charlotte a true barbecue city, and some things may be in the works to bring these pitmasters (and perhaps more) back together sooner rather than later. All of this makes me hopeful that Charlotte barbecue is on the upswing and I truly believe that the best things are yet to come. World, you are on notice.
Name: Skull Camp Brewing Date: 9/27/19 Address: 2000 N. Bridge Street, Elkin, NC 28621 Order: Brisket platter with collards and cole slaw plus side of pulled pork and smoked wings (link to menu) Pricing: $$
Monk: A few years ago when Mrs. Monk and I took a short self-guided winery tour of the Yadkin Valley wine region of NC, I encountered Skull Camp Brewing beers (and in particular, one named “Mahgeetah” after the My Morning Jacket song) at Round Peak Winery and learned that at that point they were in the process of opening a taproom and smokehouse in the small town of Elkin (pop. 4001). My interest has remained piqued over the years, and on the way to another Y Guides Longhouse weekend with the elder Monkette in the mountains of NC I finally got a chance 6 years later to try.
Unfortunately, what I did try was a bit lackluster when it comes to the smoked meats. The smoked wings were flavorful but lacked a lot of smoke. This would be a sign of things to come, unfortunately.
The pork and chopped brisket were both dry and fairly flavorless, with the main difference being that the brisket was covered in a thick, sweet barbecue sauce. The menu states that the meats are smoked using “local hard woods” but again, I didn’t detect even the faintest of smoke in either meat. Come to mention it, I didn’t see any stacks of wood or chimneys, which would lead me to believe that at best, they were using a gasser that possibly had some wood fed.
I did get to try a rib from a fellow dad at my table, and it was obviously hiding its lacks of smoke by being slathered in a thick, sweet sauce.
The sides were a mixed bag, with the mayo-drenched cole slaw being my least favorite. The collards were topped with bits of bacon but lacked vinegar. A pleasant surprise was the hard biscuit that came with each platter, a passable starch.
Skull Camp Smokehouse, Brewery & Wine Loft has a great setting with its multiple patios and outdoor fire pit and cornhole space out back. Unfortunately when it comes to barbecue, it has plenty of other foods on the menu that you should check out instead.
Name: Revenge BBQ Date: 9/19/19 Address: 48 Main St, Irvington, NY 10533 Order: Lone Star Sampler (1 lb brisket/pork/ribs, mac and cheese, custard corncake), jalapeno cheddar sausage (link to menu) Pricing: $$
Monk: While the Hudson Valley barbecue scene is apparently burgeoning, it’s still a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to quality according to Eater food critic Robert Sietsema. One hidden gem he found a few years back was Revenge BBQ in the town of Irvington, and having the occasion to pass through the Hudson Valley last week, it was the obvious target for me.
Revenge BBQ is a Texas-focused barbecue joint a few blocks from the Hudson River in downtown Irvington that’s been in operation since 2017. They import sausages from Kreuz Market in Lockhart, they smoke dinosaur beef ribs on the weekend, and feature both a “Lonestar Sampler” platter for 1-2 people as well as an even bigger “Texas Trinity Feast.” So yes, Texas is the main concern at Revenge. Co-owner Jacob Styburski (a former senior director of design at PayPal and one half of the husband and wife owner duo along with his wife Catherine) has even done his time in Texas, both at Texas A&M’s Camp Brisket as well as interning under Russell Roegels of Roegel’s Barbecue in Houston.
That work and research shows through in the meats I tried that day, all of which are smoked in an onsite Ole Hickory smoker. The brisket (both lean and fatty) had a proper peppery bark, with both cuts of meat maintaining their moisture. The pork ribs were nice and peppery and adhering to Texas tradition thankfully avoided being sauced.
As I mentioned above, Revenge BBQ imports their sausages from Kreuz and the jalapeno cheddar ring sausage was properly spicy and one of the best I’ve had. Keeping with Texas tradition, the pulled pork was perhaps a bit of an afterthought and thus the least successful of the meats. Not bad, but nothing comparable to NC barbecue (which would be a tall task).
The creamy mac and cheese was good but the real star of the show was the custard corncake, a new and different version of cornmeal from the hush puppies, cornbread, or cornsticks found in NC. I won’t stay that it topped hush puppies for me, but it came pretty close. I loved the sweet and creamy custard texture and will be thinking of that side for a while.
Revenge BBQ (named after their son’s middle name) is located on Main Street on an idyllic town on the Hudson River and is well worth the detour if you are looking for above average Texas barbecue.