Speedy: When you think barbecue in Tennessee, your mind naturally goes to Memphis. While that city has a much richer barbecue history, Nashville is no slouch. After living in Music City for 3 years, I felt like it was time to put together the Nashville top 5. So, without further adieu, here are my top 5 favorite ‘cue joints to visit in Nashville:
New to the Nashville scene, Shotgun Willie’s is a Texas style joint that does everything well, but didn’t blow me away with anything in particular. Still, a very solid meal in a place where good brisket is hard to come by. 4000 Gallatin Pike Suite B, Nashville, TN 37216 sgwbbq.com
One of the more well known Nashville spots, owner Carey Bringle is known on both the competition and television circuit. For my money, these are the best ribs in town. 903 Gleaves St, Nashville, TN 37203peglegporker.com
The true Nashville OG, no get no frills when you visit Jack’s, but you do get a damn good barbecue meal. This North Carolina boy considers this to be the best pork in town. Multiple locations jacksbarbque.com
A year ago, I would’ve pegged Martin’s number one for sure, but as they’ve expanded, I’ve noted some inconsistency. Still, all the meats are good to great, the sides are top notch, and the atmosphere (especially at the downtown location) can’t be beat. A must visit in Nashville. Multiple locations martinsbbqjoint.com
I had my first experience with The Oak earlier this year, and have made a point to find their tasty food truck two more times. Each meat I’ve had has been extremely good, including the best brisket I’ve had in Tennessee. Trust me when I say this is one food truck that’s worth seeking out. Food truck facebook.com/theoaktxbbq
Name: Shotgun Willie’s Date: 10/14/20 Address: 4000 Gallatin Pike Suite B, Nashville, TN 37216 Order: Half rack of ribs, ¼ lb brisket, ¼ lb pulled pork and a Big Red (link to menu) Pricing: $$$
Speedy: Shotgun Willie’s is a Texas style barbecue joint that opened up early during the quarantine. I had been hearing really good things about it, so was pumped to finally get a chance to sample the goods.
I walked in early during lunch on a Wednesday (Shotgun Willie’s is only open Wed-Sun, 11-3) and was greeted by a Texas style meat-counter, which included a meat warmer, meat scale, and kept-warm sides. There were no tables inside however there were a few picnic tables outside; I’m not sure if that’s the long term plan or specific to Covid.
I walked up to the slicer and placed my order – trying to sample as much meat as possible. The staff at Shotgun Willie’s couldn’t have been nicer (I think it was owner Bill slicing for me). Other than a lack of trays and butcher paper, it definitely felt like a Texas joint.
Being a Texas joint, of course I started with the brisket. My quarter pound included three small slices of fatty brisket (I wasn’t asked), which had a nice bark and visible pepper seasoning. I’m on record as generally either loving or hating brisket, with rarely in-between, but this brisket defied that a little bit. The brisket was well cooked and moist, but the seasoning was not quite on point for me. Overall, it was good but not in the same league of some of the best. Still, I would order it again, though I would ask for a leaner cut next time.
Monk: I can’t believe we’ve found a “meh” brisket for Speedy! I’m also a bit surprised that they didn’t ask you for a preference of fatty, lean, or both based on your description of the place as a Texas joint. At least you know for next time.
Speedy: The pulled pork was also cooked well and moist with a nice bark. After pulling, a little finishing powder was sprinkled on, which enhanced the flavor. However, I have noticed one thing with Texas style pulled pork. Generally, the pork is pulled right in front of you. While that ensures freshness, I think it also increases the amount of grease in the pulled pork. Pulling (or preferably, chopping) the pork in advance of the order allows some of the grease to drain out. I also have a theory that cooking pork on the Texas style offset smokers does not render all the fat out quite as well. So while this pork had really good flavor, it was a little greasier than I would like.
Monk: Hmm, I think that could make sense. Chopping ahead of time certainly allows juices/grease to flow out onto the board. If you are pulling or chopping fresh, those juices have simply been circulating within the cut of meat.
As far as the offset smokers, I’m not sure but perhaps you are onto something. Classic NC joints smoke the pork over direct heat (albeit a few feet above the coals) so the fat renders out and then drizzles onto the coals and enhances the flavor. The indirect heat from the offset may not allow for this. And while not an offset, I’ve noticed that the pork from certain joints with rotisserie wood smokers can be greasy sometimes, particularly in takeout. Again, not direct heat, but perhaps a similar principle applies. Maybe a reader more versed in thermodynamics can correct us here.
Speedy: Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the ribs were cooked nearly perfectly and had good smoke, but to me, needed some additional seasoning beyond salt and pepper. Still, they were above average and enjoyable.
Monk: But what about the Big Red, Speedy!?!?!
Rudy: …Big Red is THE WORST!!!!
Monk: Remind me, was this your first? And, much like Rudy, did it make you wish you were drinking a Cheerwine instead?
Speedy: Calm down, Monk. This is a barbecue blog, not an obscure soft drink blog.
Overall, Shotgun Willie’s is a good addition to the Nashville barbecue scene. It’s definitely got a different look and feel, and shows off Texas style barbecue nicely. It is not an elite Texas style joint, but it’s very solid, and I’ll definitely be back.
Name: The Gambling Stick Address: 501 Gallatin Ave, Nashville, TN 37206 Order: Beef brisket, pulled pork, “pigsket”, beef back ribs + vegetable slaw (link to menu) Pricing: $$$
Speedy: A place I’ve wanted to visit for a while but just hadn’t gotten around to is The Gambling Stick, a permanent food truck in East Nashville. It’s conveniently located next to the Porter Road Butcher Shop, where they get all of their meat. There are a couple of picnic tables outside The Gambling Stick if you want to eat there, but it’s basically a food truck in a parking lot so I got my order to go. I made sure to try most of the meats available (skipping the hot link), as I’d read good things across the board. The meal was nicely packed, so I dove in as soon as I got home, hoping to continue my streak of good ‘cue lately.
Monk: It looks like Porter Road Butcher Shop specializes in “local, pasture-raised, and antibiotic free with no added hormones” that is regularly visited by the butcher so kudos to them on getting their meat from an ethically responsible shop.
I must say, I’m actually surprised you skipped the hot link, being the spice fiend that you are. Did it have dairy in it?
Speedy: I didn’t ask. Sometimes you just have to make tough decisions, Monk, and I felt four meats was enough for me that day.
Monk: I would say what’s one more meat but glass houses and all…
Speedy: I’ll start with the good: both pork products were good to very good. The pulled pork had a nice smoke flavor, but was just slightly dry. I was provided with some vinegar based sauce (available in regular and spicy); however, I didn’t find the sauce too appealing. It was thicker than I like in a vinegar based sauce and may have had some mustard in it. Overall, I didn’t think it worked.
Fortunately, the “pigsket” which I was told was “pork brisket,” did not need any sauce. It was moist and very well seasoned and just hit the spot. I’m not sure exactly what cut of meat this was – perhaps a tenderloin – but it was by far my favorite part of the meal. In fact, if I go back to The Gambling Stick, this will be the reason.
Monk: This cut of meat really piqued my interest so I did a little digging. Based on the name I half expected it to be some sort of turducken-like frankenstein of pork tenderloin stuffed inside a pork shoulder stuffed inside a brisket but after some half-assed internet research, it appears to be cut from around the breastbone of the pig. It sounds incredible, though.
Speedy: The beef products were both disappointing. The brisket was quite dry and needed more seasoning (both salt and pepper). The need for seasoning also translated to the beef rib. You don’t see beef back ribs often, and I think there’s a reason for that. It’s a tough cut of meat to get tender, and unfortunately these beef ribs failed to hit the mark in taste and tenderness.
Monk: I must say, I’m happy to see you digging into the Nashville barbecue scene. Perhaps a Nashville Top Joints post is in the works?
Speedy: Monk – spoiler alert!
Monk: …my bad…
Speedy: Overall, I was a little disappointed in The Gambling Stick, as I had read really positive things. Overall, I think the pork products were good, but the beef missed the mark. The “pigsket” alone makes it worth a visit, but I don’t see myself becoming a regular.