Memphis in May 2019

Monk: For my second Memphis in May with the Cotton Pickin’ Porkers, they finished a very respectable 12th out of 35 teams in whole hog (just missing a call) in addition to 18th out of 118 in tomato sauce, 23rd out of 95 in mustard sauce, and 71st out of 145 in wings. Not bad for a group of guys that gets together once a year to do this festival, even if they’ve been doing it for the past 29 straight years (one of only a handful of teams that can claim that). In any case, Memphis once again proved to be a fun weekend of barbecue and drinks. Can’t wait for next year!

Cotton Pickin’ Porkers

Some of the other tents

Speedy, Mrs. Monk and me

Miscellaneous shots from the festival weekend

Linkdown 2/20/19

Author Adrian Miller made his way through NC, SC, GA, and FL last week doing research for his forthcoming book “Black Smoke” and made a stop at Grady’s BBQ

The new Rodney Scott’s BBQ has opened in Birmingham and is one of three new spots to check out

While back in Charleston, Rodney flew back in town to meet with presidential candidate Kamala Harris at the Charleston store

South Carolina Tourism is breaking records in part due to the Barbecue Trail

RIP Rick Schmidt of Kreuz Market

Last weekend’s Whole Hog Summit in Kinston was a “great success”

According to Travel Channel, Memphis is a the hottest southern destination to visit in 2019, partially due to barbecue

In Memphis, you’ll be surrounded by some of the most finger-licking delicious barbecue joints in the country. Whether you prefer brisket, pulled pork, or a slab of baby back ribs, more than 100 barbecue joints across town are ready to wow you (mostly with pork since that’s what Memphis-style is all about). The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest each May draws more than 75,000 barbeque-loving attendees. While in town, sign up for a class with Memphis Barbecue Supply, including free classes on how to cook competition-quality pulled pork and pork ribs. Yum.

Meatfest: NM style

Charlie Vergos Rendezvous – Memphis, TN

Name: Charlie Vergos Rendezvous
Date: 12/18/18
Address: 52 S 2nd St, Memphis, TN
Order: Pork ribs and brisket combination (link to menu)

Speedy: I’ve been spending a lot of time in Memphis lately for work, working mostly with a local team. When my co-workers learned of this blog, they started peppering me with recommendations, but not once did a local tell me to visit Rendezvous. Apparently it is considered more of a tourist destination, but it is 1) super famous and 2) two blocks from my client site, so a visit seemed in order.

Monk: My neighbor here in Charlotte who used to live in Memphis confirmed that it is a bit of a tourist destination but that he always found their ribs to be pretty good, actually.

Speedy: The sign on Rendezvous advertises “charcoal ribs,” and walking up, it’s easy to smell the charcoal smoker throughout Rendezvous alley. As I went with a co-worker on a Tuesday night, the restaurant was fairly empty and we didn’t have to wait for a table. Upon entering Rendezvous, you descend into a basement and come to an old dinner-esque place. It doesn’t look like the decor has been updated a whole lot since it’s 1948 opening, but still, it’s spacious and comfortable.

The menu at Rendezvous is pretty simple. I knew I was getting ribs, but the waiter also recommended brisket, so I took him up on it. Standard sides are beans and slaw, and there’s not much else in terms of sides, so I just went with what was given.

The food came out super fast. The waiter told us that there was both spicy and normal sauce on the table, but advised we try the ribs dry first, which I obliged. I’ll say this right off – Rendezvous is not the best barbecue meal I’ve had in Memphis, but I don’t understand why it’s so shunned. The ribs were meaty, cooked well (maybe slightly undercooked) and had a nice, smoky flavor. They were fine without the sauce, but I did enjoy the spicy sauce as well.

Monk: It’s looking likely that I will be back for Memphis in May next year so if I’m wandering around downtown is it worth a stop?

Speedy: Well, there’s a Central BBQ downtown as well, so I’d recommend that first, but I wouldn’t steer you away from Rendezvous.

I didn’t expect much from the brisket (I never do outside of Texas), but it was actually decent. It had good tug and nice flavor. I could’ve used a little more bark and ended up using the spicy sauce on this as well, but I would order it again. Overall, a solid effort.

The one thing that surprised me was the slaw. Rendezvous’ slaw is mustard/vinegar based, and really is quite enjoyable.

Monk: Having not tasted it, it sounds like the slaw at Bill Spoon’s here in Charlotte. I’m curious if there is a Memphis connection there.

Speedy: I thought of Bill Spoon’s as well – it’s very similar.

Overall, if you’re expecting the best barbecue meal of your life at Rendezvous, you might be disappointed. But if you go in with realistic expectations, you’ll find it to be just fine.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs

Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday Find: The ‘Vous Trailer

This was forwarded to me by Captain Bob of the Cotton Pickin’ Porkers, whose brother-in-law is working on this documentary. This trailer gives a taste of what the documentary will be, and I can only imagine the stories that the joint has seen. To be released sometime in 2019.

“The ‘Vous” is a feature length documentary about the world famous barbecue restaurant The Rendezvous as a microcosm for Memphis and the South from the 1940s to today. In addition to memories and celebrity stories from the larger than life waiters of “the ‘Vous,” the film explores the culture, politics, music, and societal struggles that embody Memphis’ rich history.
**To Be Served in 2019**

Germantown Commissary – Germantown, TN

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Name
: Germantown Commissary
Date: 6/10/18
Address: 2290 S Germantown Rd, Germantown, TN 38138
Order: Speedy: 3 meat plate (pork, ribs, sausage, fries, green beans) (link to menu)
Price: $23

Speedy: Earlier in my career, I did quite a bit of travelling, which caused me to eat out a lot and eat barbecue all over the country. That has slowed down quite a bit over the past 2-3 years, but I recently started hitting the road a bit again, starting with a client in Memphis. Expect several reviews over the next few months from this neck of the woods, but the first place I stopped was Germantown Commissary.

Monk: Those miles in the car won’t be ideal from a Speedy’s work/life perspective but on the other hand, it should be great for the blog!

Speedy: Germantown Commissary is not really a commissary at all – it’s really just a barbecue joint. It apparently started that way, but after selling some ‘cue he had been smoking in his parking lot for a party, owner Walker Taylor decided to continue selling pork shoulder. It’s got the look and feel of an old timey barbecue joint and my guess is that things have not changed there a whole lot over the years. I was seated immediately and approached by a waiter, who enthusiastically took my order.

In true Barbecue Bros fashion, I ordered a combo plate, with pork, ribs, and sausage. The Commissary was out of brisket (it was late in the day), so I’ll have to wait for the next trip to try that. The food came out quickly and I was ready to dig in.

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As expected, the three meat combo was easily enough food for two people. I started my meal with the pulled pork, which came with large pulled chunks with a sweet sauce already applied. Overall, the pork was tender and I could taste the smoke, but the sauce lacked the tang that I normally enjoy. I also wish it had been pulled a little better, as the chunks were a little hard to navigate. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed it, but i think this pork would suit better a sandwich than eating alone.

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I next went to the sausage, which I thought was quite good. It had a nice snap and a good, slightly spicy flavor. I could taste the smoke, but was not overpowered with it. The sausage also came with sweet barbecue sauce on it (the same sauce as the pork), but it worked better with the sausage than the pork, in my opinion. The plate came with two full links, so there was plenty of sausage. I would certainly order this again.

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Monk: Next time, would you order either the pork or sausage with the sauce on the side?

Speedy: I’d probably stay away from the pork altogether, unless I just wanted a sammie. The sausage I thought was very good with the sauce on.

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The star of the show, however, was the ribs. A full slab of spare ribs was delivered, topped by only dry rub (I was not asked wet or dry). I understand why no sauce was applied – none was needed. The ribs were cooked perfectly, offering a clean bite without falling off the bone. The flavor was great – able to taste a mixture of the pork, the smoke, and the seasoning, which had a hint of spice and a hint of sweetness. My only complaint is that i thought the slab could have been a little meatier, and it was a little awkward to handle, as the meat was not trimmed at all. Overall, the ribs are a must order at Germantown Commissary.

Monk: I predict that Speedy will become a Memphis ribs expert over the next few months. Hmm, perhaps a power rankings of them will be in order…

Speedy: As with all barbecue in Memphis, I entered into this meal with high expectations. While I was slightly let down by the pork, the sausage and ribs more than made up for it. I also want to mention that the service I received at Germantown Commissary was top notch – everyone could not have been nicer. All this means I will definitely be back.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pulled Pork – 3 hogs
Sausage – 4 hogs
Ribs – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs
Germantown Commissary Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Memphis in May 2018, or How I Spent an Entire Weekend Between Dave Grohl and the World Champion Barbecue Team The Shed

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Monk: I’m not a competition barbecue guy in that I haven’t ever participated in one and I don’t really go out of my way to attend them. The ones I’ve been to have mainly been smaller ones in Charlotte when its easy and convenient. However, when my neighbor, a former Memphis resident, insisted I come with him and join his former barbecue team at the 2018 edition of Memphis in May, it was hard to turn that opportunity down.

The Cotton Pickin’ Porkers have been competing in the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest for over 20 years and is comprised of a great group of guys: Bob is the team captain, Sleepy was the lead pitmaster, Heavy plays the role of muscle and bouncer, and there were countless others who filled various roles on the team. And they all welcomed me in pretty quickly. I wasn’t going to be expected to help with the whole hog – they’ve got their process down – but I would try to pitch in where I could whether that meant picking up kegs for the booth from the gate, leading flip cup tournaments, or setting up tables and chairs for dinner. Their booth, and my home for the weekend, was a two story structure with a smoker in the center with dedicated prep area, lots of tents providing shade, a frozen margarita machine running 24/7, and 3 kegs available at all times (though the two craft beer kegs were for team members only).

On one side of our booth was a team called The Beached Pig out of Nashville, who had a peculiar setup in that they were the only team who had a chain link fence surrounding their area with black fabric panels providing privacy. I would later come to learn why: Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters was on their team for the weekend. And he was just hanging out drinking beer and shooting the breeze…literally all weekend long. No security, no entourage, just Dave and his apparent buddies from The Beached Pig competition team (though I never did learn what the connection was).

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On the other side was the team from The Shed, the famed barbecue restaurant in Ocean Springs, MS, that had an army of workers and camera crews following them around all weekend and documenting on video and photo. Oh, not to mention they had some recent success at the competition – just a small matter of being 2015 Grand Champions. Cotton Pickin’ Porkers has had some success themselves in whole hog – a 4th in 2013 and a 3rd in 2014 – but if our immediate neighbors were any indication, it was going to be a tough competition.

Whole hog prep began Friday morning. The hog was trimmed before I arrived there mid-morning and yellow mustard was being slathered all over before a rub (dubbed “Uber Rub”) was applied to the inside of the hog. A handful of Boston butts were also brought out and some where butterflied while others stayed in tact but all were injected with a solution. These would be placed on top of the hog in the smoker so that certain parts of the hog – the loin in particular – wouldn’t dry out before the fattier parts cook. Being a newbie, I don’t know if this is a common technique in competitions but it was something I hadn’t seen before. Then, the hog with the shoulders on top was loaded into the smoker, its home for the next 24 or so hours.

Our smoker set up was certainly different than The Shed, who sat their hogs (that’s right, plural) upright in their custom smoker made from an old pickup truck.

A few hours later, the team rotated the hog in the smoker and adding towels. I assume the towels are to retain moisture but never got exactly what purpose they served.

Another two or so hours after that, the hog was pulled out again and covered in foil. This time, the hog was left in (I believe) for the night until early Saturday morning.

At that point, the Cotton Pickin’ Porkers booth turns into a dinner for the team and their invited guests before a straight up dance party, going into the late hours. Now if you are Sleepy, one of the head pitmasters, you are calling it quits somewhat early after dinner so that you can wake up and get back to the booth at 5am the next morning to tend to the hog. If you are someone like me who has no specific responsibilities, you stay late and rage. Many jello shots, Kahlua strawberries (yes, you read that right), margaritas, and beers later, I called it a night (but not before getting a late night soul burger at Earnestine and Hazel’s). After a slow start to the morning, I didn’t make an appearance until close to 11 the next morning.

For whole hog, blind box turn-ins are at 12pm noon on Saturday and the judges start coming by at 12:15. Around 11 some of the team starts building the blind box…

…while others dress and garnish the whole hog for the judges presentation.

The three judges come by, one by one, and the team is feeling about as good as possible after its all said and done (well, Sleepy said he never feels good even when they’ve won but at least it was over). A couple judges even come back and give positive feedback, though signaling that we came in behind The Shed but ahead of The Beached Pig out of our block of teams. A bit later, a judge comes by The Shed to let them know that they are finalists and they erupt in wild cheering. Of course, we aren’t so lucky but there’s always a chance to get a call and make the top 10.

My neighbor and I then stepped away to hit up Beale Street for the afternoon only to find that not only did we miss the team photo, but I missed my best chance to meet Dave Grohl. UGH.

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Also while we were away, apparently the competition liaison gave our team captain Bob the impression that we definitely want to show up for awards ceremony. Who knows what exactly that means – could it be a top 10 placement or are they just wanting to make sure that folks show up for the awards (though I doubt this is a problem)?

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Everyone on the team is hopeful for a top 10 and all but we make our way to the stage right at 6 for the awards ceremony…only to not end up getting a call. Our neighbors The Shed not only win 1st place for whole hog but they end up winning the entire shooting match – grand champions for the second time.

Aside from the competition itself, I got to meet a lot of great people at barbecue fest: Jess Pryles of the Hardcore Carnivore cookbook and rubs, Matt Pittman of Meat Church who has judged on BBQ Pitmasters, Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue in Savannah and Atlanta was smoking wings and brisket at BBQ Alley, and when Speedy visited for a few hours Saturday we ran into our old buddy Elliot Moss of Buxton Hall Barbecue who was helping out on the Peg Leg Porker shoulder team.

I had always heard what a great time the Memphis in May barbecue fest was, and now I can definitively say so for myself after four days of partying and barbecue. Regardless of the outcome of the competition for us, I had a blast and hope to join the Cotton Pickin’ Porkers again next year and help bring home some hardware.

Friday Find: Searching for the Birthplace of Southern Barbecue in Memphis

Unfortunately I didn’t make it to any barbecue restaurants in Memphis eventhough Payne’s, Central, German Commissary, Bar-B-Que Shop all would have been worthy excursions from the festival. Here’s a taste of what I missed.

The birthplace of Southern barbecue as we know it is almost impossible to nail down; cities from across America’s “barbecue belt” are responsible for different flavor profiles and techniques that have grown and shaped the cuisine’s history. Today, we visit Memphis for an inside look at the smoky, meaty dishes coming out of Tennessee.

Photos: Sights from Memphis in May 2018

I will write up more from my Memphis in May Barbecue Fest experience with the Cotton Pickin’ Porkers competition team once I get some rest but for now here’s a few photos I captured from the festival. More to come…

Monk

Linkdown: 5/16/18

– Here’s whats going on at this weekend’s Memphis in May Barbecue Competition; I’ll see you out there

– Been a big couple of weeks for Rodney Scott:

– The Charlotte Observer’s Kathleen Purvis puts his James Beard win in perspective in this essay

– Justin Brunson of Old Major in Denver has a BQ Grill that he uses for catering as well as for fun

When I arrived at Old Major, Brunson was already stoking the fire in his BQ Grill, a steel behemoth sporting two huge drawers for coals, four air vents, enough horizontal space to cook a 250-pound pig, and a wood storage rack in the back. “It’s pretty much just a big, metal oven,” says Brunson. “This is the same grill that Sam Jones [of Sam Jones BBQ in Winterville, North Carolina] and Elliott Moss [of Buxton Hall BBQ in Asheville, North Carolina] use for barbecue. They make a gas model, but that’s not real barbecue. It’s got to be all wood, all the time.”

“This is my hobby right now, cooking on this grill,” says Brunson. “With Red Bear about to open, it’s my stress relief.” It’s also about supporting local farmers and producers, and experimenting with the “flavor of Colorado.” Brunson’s goal: To use the grill for catering, special events, and to cook local pigs, lambs, and more for anyone who asks. (Seriously, if you call Old Major and ask for a whole-animal feast, Brunson will cook it for you.)

Here’s the full menu for next month’s Big Apple Barbecue Block Party including ribs from the newly awarded James Beard winner Rodney Scott and whole hog from Ed and Ryan Mitchell as well as Sam Jones

– For such a good docuseries, David Chang’s “Ugly Delicious” gets barbecue wrong

– Midwood Smokehouse’s Park Rd location is having a barbecue bootcamp on June 23

– Big news for Knightdale, NC

Linkdown: 12/6/17

– A review of Sam Jones BBQ from The Daily Reflector

– J.C. Reid’s latest barbecue article reflects on pork belly

– A Minnesota Chef thinks he’s figured out the secret to perfect barbecue…and it’s resting?!?!

The restaurant pays special attention to one crucial aspect of preparing barbeque—the resting process—which he also thinks is the secret to making truly epic barbecue.

To achieve that level of pure deliciousness,  “We use a customized cabinet that specifies the humidity and holding temperature,” the chef says. “It’s insane.”

– Apparently Sarasota’s got a “smokin’ hot” barbecue scene

– Saucy:

Rodney Scott on passing of pitmaster Douglas Oliver: It’s like a legend left us

– Texas politics don’t mess around when it comes to barbecue

 
– Great use of video in this tweet right here: