Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que – Kansas City, KS (mail order)

Name: Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que
Order: Ribs, Brisket, Burnt Ends Combo (1 slab pork spare ribs, sliced brisket – 1 pound, chopped burnt ends – 1 pound, 1 bottle of barbecue sauce)

Speedy: After a successful mail order from Black’s Barbecue, and considering I was still sheltering in place, it seemed like a good idea to order some more ‘cue. After some serious Googling, I decided on Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que. Like Black’s, the order came super quick, and packed very well, and took several sittings to eat. The meat came with a detailed instruction book that recommended warming the brisket and burnt ends in boiling water, while using the oven for the ribs. I went first with the brisket, which came pre-sliced in pretty thin slices.

After warming the package in boiling water (as directed, while still in the packaging), I cut open the package and got a good smell of smokey ‘cue. I tasted first without the sauce, and it was just OK for me. With such thin slices, there was no bark, and it missed that peppery seasoning. While the taste was good, it felt like more high-end deli roast beef, as the thin slices made it seem like it was made for sandwiches, and not sliced thickly as proper brisket should be. Everyone knows that bark can make or break a brisket, and without it, the brisket was lacking. Adding the sauce helped with the flavor, but having to do that tells you all you need to know. 

Monk: From my experience at the Kansas City-style barbecue at John Brown Smokehouse with native Kansas Citizen (City-an? City-ite?) Sean Ludwig of NYC BBQ and The Smoke Sheet, his guidance (for at least that place) was to stay away from the thinly-sliced brisket and go for the burnt ends if you wanted brisket. Guess the whole thinly-sliced deal for brisket is kind of a Kansas City thing based on this admittedly small sample size.

Speedy: I had a similar experience with the ribs, finding them underseasoned. These were warmed in the oven, which gave me the opportunity to add seasoning myself, I ended up not doing that, which was a mistake. While cooked well and tender, I just wanted more flavor. Overall, I didn’t find these to be any better than store bought pre-cooked ribs.

This leaves us with the Kansas City staple – burnt ends. Going in, I was most excited for the burnt ends, a meat I don’t often get a chance to eat. Reheating the burnt ends in boiling water worked well, leading to piping hot meat, which was tender, but also lacked the bold flavor I was hoping for. The sauce complimented the burnt ends very nicely, but in the end, I still found them to just be average. By no means am I a connoisseur of burnt ends, but I certainly expected more. 

Monk: I was going to order the same package from Joe’s KC but a week after Speedy since I already had ordered bulk barbecue from Jon G’s Barbecue for pick up here in Charlotte for the weekend. However, after his experience Speedy went ahead and let me know that I could probably skip them and spend my money elsewhere. Which is a shame because I too was looking forward to the burnt ends. In any case, thanks for the heads up, bro.

Speedy: At the end of the day, my second experiment with mail order ‘cue didn’t go off quite so well. I just felt there was an overall lack of seasoning, leading to a bland product. I’d be interested in visiting Joe’s KC Bar-Be-Que in person, but I won’t order from them again.

Ratings:
Experience – 2 hogs
Brisket – 2 hogs
Ribs – 2.5 hogs
Burnt Ends – 3 hogs
Overall – 2.5 hogs

John Brown Smokehouse – Long Island City, NY

Name: John Brown Smokehouse
Address: 10-43 44th Dr, Long Island City, NY 11101
Order: 1/2 lb of burnt ends, 1/2 lb pork belly, and 1/2 lb pulled pork with corn bread and collards (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

A quick work trip to New York City allowed me to accomplish a couple of barbecue-related things while in town (after finishing up my day job requirements, of course): try another New York barbecue joint to see how its barbecue scene continues to develop and also meet up with Sean Ludwig of NYC BBQ and The Smoke Sheet.

Regarding the latter, I had met up with Ryan Cooper (aka BBQ Tourist), the other half of The Smoke Sheet, last year in Charlotte so meeting Sean would complete my Smoke Sheet punch card. Turns out, Sean is also a great guy and I enjoyed “talking shop” regarding all things barbecue and how they run The Smoke Sheet. Sean is a thoughtful guy and gave me a lot of great things to think about when it comes to Barbecue Bros.

In terms of barbecue, I knew I would be limited when it comes to barbecue options after 8pm on a Monday night. Consulting with Sean ahead of time, we settled on John Brown Smokehouse in Long Island City since it’s open until 10 and was convenient to both my midtown hotel and Sean’s apartment. John Brown’s is a Kansas City-style barbecue joint that opened in 2012 and its co-owner and pitmaster Josh Bowen has also opened the Texas-themed Mothership Meat Company a few miles away, but that appears to be more of a warm weather patio spot.

Thankfully, John Brown Smokehouse was able to mostly deliver when it came to barbecue though some meats were understandably out by the time we get there (which is of course always preferable to serving old or not-up-to-par meats). Sean took the lead in terms of the order and we settled on a 1/2 lb each of burnt ends, pork belly, and pulled pork.

I’ll get the pulled pork out of the way since it was my least favorite of the three meats. John Brown Smokehouse served a coarsely chopped pulled pork that had good bark that surprisingly lacked much flavor.

The brisket is apparently not the order at John Brown and instead Sean recommended that we should go for the burnt ends. According to Sean, the brisket is sliced too thin while the burnt ends are taken from the fatty point of the brisket so you should just order them instead. Curiously, the burnt ends were not sauced as you might expect from a Kansas City joint but regardless, they were moist and flavorful.

I’m not sure if pork belly is typical at Kansas City barbecue restaurants or if this was a case of just wanting to have a variety of meats on John Brown’s menu, but it was yet another case of a successful protein available past 9. Similar to the other meats, it came sauceless but the well-rendered fattiness of the pork belly didn’t require any sauce.

Speaking of sauces, be sure to taste test your sauce bottles if you do go for sauce, as the highly spicy variant of the barbecue was mistakenly labeled and could have led to unexpected results had I been overly aggressive with the sauce.

In terms of sides, the cornbread is a must order at John Brown Smokehouse. Though its not a traditional cornbread cake, instead having a texture of a corn pudding. Moist and sweet, their version of cornbread was a different twist on cornmeal I hadn’t seen before that more than made up for their lackluster collards.

John Brown Smokehouse would have been forgiven for mediocre meats at a less-than-optimal time of day. Thankfully, they more than delivered a great meal on a rainy, nasty Monday night and I can imagine earlier in the day it would have been even better.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 3.5 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Burnt Ends – 3.5 hogs
Pork Belly – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs

Monk’s Favorite Barbecue Meals of 2019

Monk: I never got those “best of the year” lists that publish in early December, whether it’s barbecue, music, or film (yes, I understand deadlines but stay with me here). What, do they think they aren’t going to potentially eat a great barbecue meal (or discover a new album or film) sometime in the last three weeks of the year? Not me; I’m always going to give myself every opportunity to eat a meal which could possibly make the list. And then I’m going to post that list in January.

That being said, with no signs of the barbecue boom slowing down any time soon, some of the best meals I’ve had yet in the history of this blog happened in 2019. Here were the best of those, and here’s hoping 2020 is full of even more great barbecue.

Honorable Mentions: Brisket and pork from Farmhouse BBQ (review), Whole hog sandwich from Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint (review)

10 (tie). Chopped sandwich with hush puppies and Cheerwine from Mr. Barbecue (review)

Sadly, shortly after my visit in March Mr. Barbecue experienced a fire in their stick burning brick pits that has temporarily closed the restaurant but hopefully they will reopen soon and continue slinging their Lexington-style barbecue to the lucky citizens of Winston-Salem.

10 (tie). Pork, brisket, ribs, burnt ends, chicken from Hubba Hubba Smokehouse (review)

Hubba Hubba Smokehouse has been quietly churning out great barbecue from their massive brick pits in the mountains of NC since the early 2000s. They had been on my list for years and I finally got a chance to check them out this year and also spend a little time with pitmaster Spencer Purcell. They are closed for the winter but any serious barbecue fan should check them out once they reopen in the Spring.

9. Bryan Furman’s whole hog and brisket at Sweet Lew’s BBQ (post)

In September, Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque in Atlanta and Savannah did a “pit takeover” of Sweet Lew’s and brought together several of Charlotte’s pitmasters for his overnight cook. He also brought his whole hog barbecue and brisket to Charlotte, and here’s hoping it was a trial run for a future restaurant in Charlotte.

8. Brisket, pork, ribs from Revenge BBQ (review)

Revenge BBQ is one of two places on this list from an unexpected barbecue location, with Revenge being in the scenic Hudson Valley town of Irvington, about 45 minutes north of New York City. And as is the case with just about any restaurant in an unexpected location, they adhere to the Texas tradition pretty closely and with good results. The brisket shone that day and the Kreuz Market-imported sausages were properly smoked, proving that disciples of Texas barbecue are continuing to spread the message far and wide.

7. Chopped barbecue tray with onion rings from BBQ King (review from 2017)

This meal from late December is exactly why I waited to publish my list until January. My previous stop at BBQ King was nearly 3 years before this visit but this simple tray of fresh barbecue on a Friday at 3pm on December 27 reminded me that I need to make it a point to stop by there more often. As should all barbecue fans in western NC.

6. Pork, ribs, and brisket from Apple City BBQ (review)

While Apple City BBQ had been on my radar for some time, my visit this year was completely unplanned and only happened as a result of several detours on the way from Charlotte to the Wilkesboro area for a weekend getaway with the oldest Monkette. As soon as I passed Apple City in Taylorsville right at dinner time on that Friday, I turned the car around and made the stop. Thankfully I did, as it was a fantastic meal of pork, ribs, and brisket. Plus, those deep fried corn nuggets were a unique and noteworthy side.

5. Cheerwine hot link from Jon G’s Barbecue (Speedy’s take)

While the brisket, pulled pork, and ribs were on point each and every time I had Jon G’s Barbecue this year, the Cheerwine hot link represented a cool and exciting development for owners Garren and Kelly. From what I am hearing, 2020 is going to be a big year for them and I can’t wait for more folks in the Charlotte area to be able to try their barbecue. It is our #1 on the Charlotte Big Board, after all.

4. Brisket, pork belly, ribs, and pulled pork from Owlbear Barbecue (review)

I certainly didn’t expect one of the best barbecue meals I had in 2019 to be in Denver, CO. While in the past I would have considered Denver to be a bit of a barbecue wasteland (from a local circa 2013: “Head to Texas if you want good barbecue”), that appears to be changing as part of the nationwide barbecue boom. Owlbear Barbecue owner and pitmaster Karl Fallenius is originally from Texas and previously worked at Franklin Barbecue and has brought that approach to Denver. The brisket rivaled some of the best I’ve had in or out of Texas and the pork belly was the best meat on the platter that day and one of the best meats I tasted in 2019.

3. Whole hog barbecue sandwich and hash and rice from Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que (review)

The simplicity of the whole hog sandwich from Sweatman’s reminded me that, when done right, mustard-based barbecue isn’t some unholy union of sauce and pork. Plus, that hash and rice was life-changingly good.

2. The Miss Mary Platter (Lexington-style barbecue, brisket, turkey, ribs plus eastern and red slaw) and smoked wings from Noble Smoke (review)

In July, Noble Smoke gave Charlotte a true destination barbecue joint and based on several recent visits, locals and out-of-towners alike have shown up for it. I can only hope that with the recent additions of Noble Smoke and Sweet Lew’s BBQ, both in our top 3, Charlotte’s barbecue scene continues the momentum into 2020.

1. Mine and Speedy’s own whole hog (post)

2019 certainly was the year of whole hog barbecue, and that looks to be continuing into 2020 (Particularly in Raleigh, who is getting no less than 4 whole hog joints – Sam Jones BBQ, Wyatt’s Barbecue, Ed Mitchell’s new place The Preserve, and Lawrence BBQ). 2019 was also the year that I finally achieved what I had been hoping to do for several years – smoke a whole hog on a cinder block pit in my backyard. Speedy made the trip into town and the two of us took shifts manning the pit overnight. I was extremely pleased with how (relatively) easy it was and how good the barbecue turned out. For my first whole hog, I couldn’t have been happier (or more tired).

So that’s it. What were some of your favorite barbecue meals this year?

Hubba Hubba Smokehouse – Flat Rock, NC

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 Purcell.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 3.5 hogs
Ribs – 4.5 hogs
Burnt Ends – 4 hogs
Chicken – 3 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

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