Monk’s Top 10 Favorite Barbecue Meals of 2018

Monk: Last year I provided a ranking of my 10 favorite barbecue meals eaten in 2017 so trying to make it an annual thing by doing the same for 2018. Happy New Year!

10. Brisket, sausage, pork ribs and a taste of the beef rib from Louie Mueller Barbecue (review)

I was a little let down by the brisket at Louie Mueller’s (as was Rudy) but I’ll chalk that up to a bad day. However, the beef rib and sausage more than made up for it. Plus, the number of of legendary Texas joints I’ve visited is quite low so I was glad to visit one of the OG’s.

9. Barbecue tray from Smokey Joe’s (review)

8. Barbecue tray from Speedy Lohr’s (review)

I hope to one day make a comprehensive list of Lexington barbecue joints, but in early 2018 I was able to knock two off the list in Smokey Joe’s and Speedy Lohr’s, with neither tray disappointing.

7. Whole hog from NC State BBQ Camp (link)

At the NC State BBQ Camp, I was honored to be a guest panelist for a barbecue roundtable led by none other than Bob Garner. After that chat, the campers and panelists all partook in a whole hog pig pickin’ with some dang fine whole hog. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch who did the smoking but whoever you are, well done.

6. Chopped pork plate and brunswick stew from Stamey’s Barbecue (last review from 2013)

My takeout meal the day after Thanksgiving of pulled pork and brunswick stew only proves that I need to make it a point to get to Stamey’s more often.

5. Chopped pork and brisket from Sweet Lew’s BBQ (review)

There are certainly big things coming for Sweet Lew’s BBQ which only opened in early December. I look forward to many more meals here over the coming months and years.

4. Big Poppa Sampler (Full Rack Ribs, 12oz Pork, 12oz Brisket, ½ Chicken) and 6 Memphis dry rub wings from Martin’s BBQ Joint (review)

I couldn’t have been more impressed with everything on our visit to the downtown Nashville location of Martin’s in late summer – from the space itself to the open air beer garden to each and every delicious meat. Speedy is quite lucky to have Martin’s as his local joint.

3. Whole hog platter with barbecue hash from Buxton Hall Barbecue (review from 2016)

A visit to Buxton Hall once every two years simply isn’t gonna cut it for me. With the consistently amazing whole hog, the fantastic barbecue hash, and at least a couple other items I haven’t even tried such as fried catfish and smoked fried chicken, it should be at least a twice per year affair for me.

2. Brisket, sausage, and chopped pork from Lewis Barbecue (review from 2017)

As confirmed by the #hogtripping crew of the Tales from the Pits podcast as well as The Smoking Ho during their travels in late August, Lewis truly is legit Texas barbecue in the lowcountry. The Carolinas and in particular the lowcountry should count itself very lucky.

1. Brisket, chopped pork, Porky Brewster sandwich, and taco from Jon G’s Barbecue (review)

My only complaint with Jon G’s Barbecue is that lately they’ve focused more on catering gigs instead of public servings. In any case, Garren and Kelly continue to kill it.

Honorable Mentions: Q – Houston, TX (review), LeRoy & Lewis – Austin, TX (review)

Linkdown: 8/29/18

– Brett Martin (for GQ) on how Houston got cool

– According to this article (which is about a new Jim Noble fried chicken concept), Noble Smoke is now being targeted to open in March 2019

– You can now vote for the best barbecue joints by state in Southern Living’s “South’s Best 2019” poll

– Texas Monthly on the Barbecue Nation exhibit in Atlanta

– According to this list, The Pit is one of Raleigh’s best soul food restaurants

– Yea…I’m gonna need to try this out soon on my own Weber

– A comparison of the two out-of-state whole hog joints coming to Birmingham in the coming months – Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint and Rodney Scott’s BBQ

– Your move, Texas Pete:

Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint – Nashville, TN

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Name
: Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint (Downtown location)
Date: 7/21/18
Address: 410 4th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37201
Order: Big Poppa Sampler (Full Rack Ribs, 12oz Pork, 12oz Brisket, ½ Chicken, mac and cheese, green beans, fries) with 6 Memphis dry rub wings, 2 orders of hush puppies, and 2 cornbread hoe cakes (link to menu)
Price: $141 (for 6)

Speedy: With Monk coming to town, I had to take him to my favorite ‘cue in town – Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint. I had reviewed the OG location of Martin’s many years ago, but since then, three other Tennessee locations (as well as two Kentucky ones) have opened. While I greatly enjoy the food, I took Monk (and crew) to the downtown location, which is one of my favorite places in Nashville – barbecue or otherwise.

Monk: The downtown location of Martin’s is amazing – flat out. As soon as we stepped up into the upstairs beer garden, I knew it was going to get 5 hogs for atmosphere and ambiance. The upstairs was an airy, open air space with plenty of natural lighting and big ass fans to keep the air circulating. Besides the smokeroom off to the side, it had a small stage, two small bars flanking either side of the room, several long beer garden-style tables, ping pong, shufflepuck, and dartboards. If we ever hit it big from barbecue blogging, I will be taking photos of this space to an architect to replicate at the loft I would buy once I’m flush with all that theoretical barbecue blogging cashish.

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Speedy: With six of us in tow, we ordered the Big Poppa Platter, which consists of a full rack of ribs, 12 oz pork, 12 oz brisket, ½ chicken, and 3 pints of sides. We tacked on a few extra sides and a half dozen wings and we were good to go.

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I’ll start with the ribs. We ordered spare ribs instead of baby backs since they are bigger and we had six hungry men. The rack of ribs was massive – plenty for us all to eat. We ordered dry ribs, and they showed up heavily seasoned as a full slab. The ribs were tender, cooked perfectly, and delicious. I do wish we had ordered baby back ribs, as the quality of the meat is better. On the spare ribs, there was a big more tendon than I like, but that’s a nit-picky complaint. Overall, I could have used a little more spice in the rub, but the ribs are very, very solid.

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Monk: Martin’s is one of the few restaurants in Tennessee (or anywhere else, for that matter) that is still doing whole hog barbecue. With the purchasing power of a growing regional chain, I imagine they are able to make the economics work, but regardless I applaud them for continuing the whole hog tradition. As for the pork itself, our portion was a mixture of pork that was overall lighter than the darker meat of the shoulders predominantly used in the NC piedmont (though shoulders are also available on the menu). I’m not quite sure what the nuances are between western TN whole hog and what you’ll find in eastern NC or the Pee Dee region of SC (a topic which I’ll gladly earmark for more research later), but I quite enjoyed what Martin’s served.

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Speedy: The brisket is about as good as you can find in Tennessee. It had good bark and was cooked pretty well (maybe ever so slightly overcooked), but it is not on the same level as some of the Texas joints. Martin’s brisket does have nice tug and flavor, and has good bark, but it just doesn’t quite have the peppery goodness needed to reach the upper brisket tier. However, if I’m hankerin’ for a good brisket in Tennessee, Martin’s is the best choice there is. As a side note, while not sampled on this visit, Martin’s does offer a cheeseburger topped with brisket that simply is not to be missed. Beef on beef – brilliant!

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Monk: We don’t normally order chicken but seeing as how it came with the Big Poppa, we embraced it. Smoked chicken is not my jam but it definitely worked when dipped in the Alabama white sauce that came with the tray.

Speedy: The wings were good – using the same dry rub as the ribs (other flavors are available, but we went with the dry rub). They were smoked well, but could have stood to be a little meatier. Like everything at Martin’s, the wings were very good. Smoked wings can be a little difficult to find, so I appreciate a place that does them right, and Martin’s is that.

Monk: There were literally no complaints about any of the sides we got. Some of our group raved about the mac and cheese, others loved the green beans, and I thought the hush puppies were solidly above average. But I was most intrigued by the cornbread hoe cakes, an item I’ve not ever seen on a barbecue menu before. In western NC, our cornmeal comes in the form of hush puppies whereas in the east you’ll see cornsticks or more traditional cornbread. The hoecakes were savory and not overly sweet  but I would definitely get them again – I know Speedy gets them most times he visits. Oh, and they have Cheerwine and Sun Drop in glass bottles! So awesome.

With Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in Downtown Nashville, all of the meats are consistently above average, the sides were great, and the space was awesome. One more thought on the space – after we finished our meal, our group stuck around for another hour or so, grabbing another pitcher while playing darts. I would have gladly stuck around for several more hours, but alas we were headed to Third Man Records before throwing axes in East Nashville (side note – Speedy showed the guys a great time that weekend in Nashville). I can see why Martin’s is Speedy’s favorite joint in the city and I would gladly go back for another meal at this or any of the other locations.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 5 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Chicken – 3.5 hogs
Wings – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Linkdown: 4/4/18

– A quick primer on NC state symbols, including that the Barbecue Festival in Lexington is the official food festival of the state

– Speaking of festivals, there are a few barbecue festivals coming up in NC over the next few months including BBQ Festival on the Neuse in Kinston, Jiggy with the Piggy Fest in Kannapolis, and the Eastern BBQ Festival in Rocky Mount

– Asian Smokehouse? I’m in!

– Charlotte Agenda’s city guide for Asheville includes Buxton Hall Barbecue and 12 Bones

– Marie, Let’s Eat! tries Martins’ Bar-B-Que Joint in Nolensville and pleads for them to open a store in Chattanooga

– Midwood Smokehouse gets some recognition as TripExpert Expert’s Choice Award 2018 and was named Best of Charlotte

Based on 1M+ reviews from 85 different publications, the award recognizes the best restaurants around the world. TripExpert takes a new approach to ratings by using only professional reviews from travel guides, magazines, newspapers and other respected sources.

– A few barbecue joints gets covered in this Alabama tourism video – BBQ on the Blvd in Florence and Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur

– How did I miss this a few weeks back?

 

Friday Find: Whole Hog BBQ is Alive and Well in Nashville Thanks To Pat Martin’s Bar-B-Que

Eater’s How We Eat video series takes a trip to Nashville to talk with Pat Martin of Martin’s Bar-B-Que.

In West Tennessee, whole hog barbecue is a dying art, but pitmaster Pat Martin is working to change the story. How We Eat visits Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in Nashville this week to learn about the smokey tradition, how it differs from other barbecue methods around the country, and what Martin and his team are doing to preserve the practice.

 

Linkdown: 11/30/16

– A few more stops in the Carolina’s for Grant: Stephenson’s Bar-B-Q in Willow Spring, Skylight Inn in Ayden, and Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que down in Holly Hill, SC

– Robert Moss has an introduction to Georgia BBQ to kickoff Georgia BBQ Week, which Grant will surely love

– Coming to West Nashville soon from Pitmaster Pat Martin

– Daniel Vaughn of TMBBQ muses on a couple of easy rules for barbecue line etiquette

– From last month, Destination BBQ has an interview with Daniel Doyle of Poogan’s Smokehouse in Charleston

– The highly-anticipated Scott’s BBQ has broken ground at its Charleston location

– John Shelton Reed has a pretty out there barbecue theory on why Donald Trump carried the state of NC and I’ll just let him have at it

The latest, he told me the other day, was Hillary Clinton’s choice of a barbecue stop in Charlotte at the end of the presidential campaign. She and President Obama ate at the Midwood Smokehouse. It has a varied and upscale menu, but it is not a traditional barbecue eatery. Meanwhile, Donald Trump was buying one of those $3.50 barbecue sandwiches at Stamey’s in Greensboro.

“Maybe Clinton’s choice sold in Charlotte,” Reed said, “but the rest of the state was thinking Drumpf was eating at a real North Carolina barbecue stop, a big reason he won and she lost.

 

Linkdown: 7/1/15

– Chef Michael Symon is apparently trying to invent Cleveland-style barbecue

According to Symon, Cleveland-style barbecue will pay homage to the city’s Eastern European population with kielbasa and sauerkraut. As for the meat, it will be smoked over applewood “because of the large amount of apple orchards in northeastern Ohio.” It will also include its own signature style of barbecue sauce. Symon reveals:

“Because ketchup is made in Pittsburgh, we would never serve a tomato-based sauce in Cleveland. Cleveland’s known for its mustard, and I wanted to use that as the base of our sauce. But instead of the classic, Carolina, yellow-mustard BBQ sauce, I’m using Cleveland’s famous brown mustard, Bertman’s.”

– Another week, another list: First We Feast’s 29 Bucket List BBQ Joints for Every Smoked-Meat Connoisseur, though this list has quite the pedigree for its contributors ranging from reknowned pitmasters to barbecue editors to James Beard Award-winning authors

– Food and Wine has 7 tips for the backyard barbecuer including my favorite: pick pork

– Might want to steer clear of Tarheel Q in Lexington for awhile after nearly 100 216 people have gotten sick off their ‘cue; gotta say, with a placed named Tarheel I’m not too surprised

– Franklin Barbecue makes The National Eater 38 for 2015

– Barbecue Rankings read Franklin’s book, and here are the seven best things about it according to him

– Barbecuing on the Fourth of July is an American tradition

– Midwood Smokehouse and 10 Park Lanes makes Fervent Foodie’s list of Best Charlotte Restaurants

– The best barbecue side dishes, according to Southern Living

– Thrillist: 12 of the most important women in barbecue

– This listicle of 10 delicious joints in NC includes a couple of barbecue joints – B’s Barbecue and Lexington #1

– Speedy: look away…now

Spending the day at the North Carolina State Barbecue Championship in Tryon from early June

–  A rundown of the barbecue styles you can find in NYC

– Frank Kaminsky: Public Enemy #1

Linkdown: 8/13/14

– This is my nightmare: the Lone Star Tick (named for Texas) can make you allergic to barbecue as well as burgers

– The 2014 NC Whole Hog Barbecue State Championship will be October 3/4 in Downtown Raleigh

This year, the State Championship will return to Downtown Raleigh as part of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Wide Open Bluegrass Festival. After the judging is complete, the mouth-watering barbecue will be chopped and sold in sandwiches to festival attendees on Saturday, October 4.

Another article from the Mooresville Tribune on The Great NC BBQ Map; it was also listed this week as one of the 5 things you need to know in the South right now from Southern Living

– Barbecue on other lists, pt. 1: Garden and Gun named their top breakfast joints in the South and Southern Soul Barbeque in St. Simons Island, GA made the list

– Barbecue on other lists, pt. 2: in addition to legendary barbecue, Skylight Inn in Ayden apparently has one of the NC’s best burgers

– Thrillist’s list of The 15 Best New BBQ Joints in America

A letter to the president regarding NC barbecue, plus a pork butt recipe

Dear President Obama,

It seems you like barbecue. You broke in line at Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, but I guess the headaches of being president allow you some leeway. You had a cold Bud Light when you hit Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City, even if they had run out of slaw, but you stood in line there, so between the beer and waiting your turn, you showed your humanity and touch with the common man.

I know you’ve been to North Carolina many times, but I’ve yet to hear about you stopping at one of our well-smoked, traditional barbecue joints. They really are your kind of places. I’m not talking about the newfangled ones, where the emphasis is on selling you a liquor drink. No, we have some time-honored places where wood smoke meets the meat.

– 12 Bones Smokehouse makes this list of places to eat from The Telegraph’s (UK) guide to Asheville as well as Culture Trip’s 10 “must-try” local restaurants in Asheville

How I Built A Barbecue Restaurant in Brookyln: A Lease Safari, from Tyson Ho of Arrogant Swine – you remember, Arrogant Swine is the Carolina style whole hog joint who is using Heritage Cheshire hogs that I want to go to next time I’m in NYC (via)

– A shot of the space where Buxton Hall will be housed

– Pat Martin, pitmaster of Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, cooked the annual barbecue dinner at the James Beard House last Thursday and here was the draft menu

Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint – Nolensville, TN

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Name: Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint
Date: 9/28/12
Location: 7238 Nolensville Road, Nolensville, TN
Order: ½ rack of ribs – dry with fries and cornbread, 2 pulled pork sliders, 1 brisket slider (link to menu)
Bill: $12 (ribs/sides), $5 (3 sliders)

Speedy: From September 2009 – March 2010, I spent nearly every week flying to Nashville for work. I had been to the city once before, but only for a wedding, so I didn’t get to explore the city much. I was pleasantly surprised when it became my pseudo-home for six months, as it’s a great city with a lot more going for it than the honky tonks (which themselves are pretty darn fun under the right circumstances). What I didn’t find in the city, however, was good barbecue. Given the city’s proximity to Memphis (where I had been once previously and sampled some fantastic ribs at Rendezvous), I was shocked that I couldn’t seem to find some decent ‘cue anywhere. I tried all the downtown spots, and a couple outside of downtown, but to no avail. During that time, I never made it to (or even heard of) Martin’s.

My friend and host for the weekend, Drew, wanted to get my opinion on Martin’s, a place he had been a few times and enjoyed. Martin’s is not convenient to downtown Nashville – it actually resides about 20 minutes away in Nolensville – so it was a bit of a hike to get there. We went at lunch time on Friday, and when we arrived, there wasn’t much of a crowd. The restaurant has a great ambiance, as it has wood counters and tables, a screened-in porch, and has a bit of an old school feel. However, it also has several nice TVs with sports playing and a bar with 5-6 beers on tap. AKA the best of both worlds.

Monk: Some people say that it’s not a barbecue joint worth visiting if it serves alcohol. Maybe I see the point they are trying to make, but mostly I just think these people are dumb.

Speedy: At Martin’s, you order at the counter, choose a table, and food is brought to you once it was prepared. I liked what I saw on the menu, and wanted to sample the ribs, pork, and brisket, so I ordered a half rack and three sliders. The ribs were offered either wet or dry, and I ordered dry, making the assumption that the Memphis-style ribs would shine here. I think this was a mistake, but more on that later. The ribs came with two sides, and I ordered fries and the cornbread. I asked what color the slaw was and the cashier told me it was white, but that it was cream, not mayo, based. I have an intolerance of all things lactose, so I passed on the slaw.

Monk: What exactly does she mean by cream? Like half and half? Heavy cream? Whatever the case, that sounds awful.

Speedy: Drew and I sat down just as a whole hog was brought into a pit in the middle of the restaurant to be prepped for cooking. It was actually pretty neat getting to see the workers split the pig and trim off some of the fat to prepare for cooking. I’ve never smoked a whole hog before, so I was pretty excited to see some of the prep.

Monk: Now that sounds cool. Fortuitous timing on your part.

Rudy: I once saw a place wheeling whole dead pigs inside in grocery carts.  I figured that place was pretty fresh. And it was a bit freaky to see.

Speedy: Funny you mentioned that – someone called trying to buy a whole pig while we were there and, after much discussion, the guy prepping the pig decided it was illegal for them to sell uncooked meat. Not sure if that’s accurate or if it’s just a Tennessee law, but there you have it.

Anyway, the food was promptly brought out to our table. The portion size for the half-rack of ribs meal was pretty big – certainly enough for an entire meal. The ribs themselves were absolutely covered in dry rub. It was very clear that rub was dumped on the ribs before, during, and after smoking. While I like a good rub as much as anyone, it was clearly overdone here. The overwhelming flavor of the rub took away from the taste of the pork, and you could barely taste what type of meat you were eating. The ribs were pretty tender, but could have been more so. I was very disappointed to see that the membrane from the back of the rib had not been removed prior to smoking. This, to me, seems like an amateur mistake, and could account for some of the lack of tenderness. Drew informed me that the wet ribs were much better, and I have to believe this to be true, because the dry ribs were just not good.

Monk: I do have to think that if the wet ribs were prepared in the same way as the dry, just with the addition of sauce then they sound like they wouldn’t have been too great either.

Speedy: The sliders were much better. They are served on small buns with only a dab of sweet, tomato based sauce. I actually didn’t think the sauce worked that well with the pork, but there was so little on there, it was hard to notice. The pork would’ve been better if you slapped some vinegar or Lexington style sauce on it, but it was good as it was. The brisket was slightly better. It was served chopped and with the same sauce, but the sauce seemed to work better than the beef. The brisket slider was probably my favorite part of the meal.

Monk: There goes chopped brisket again. I still feel like that is heresy in some way.

Rudy: I agree. I’m starting to see it more here in Texas than I had before. Typically it is served on sandwiches. It just tastes like a fancy Sloppy Joe to me.  

Speedy: The fries were fine, and the cornbread was good, though it looked more like a pancake than bread.

All in all, I did enjoy my experience at Martin’s. I was greatly disappointed in the ribs, but would definitely like to give it another try to check out the sauced ribs. And if those aren’t any good, pork/brisket sliders, beer, and sports are a great consolation.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance –  3.5 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Ribs – 2 hogs
Brisket – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

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