The Oak Texas BBQ & Catering – Nashville, TN (food truck)

Name: The Oak Texas BBQ & Catering
Order: 3 meat combo (brisket, beef hot link, bacon brisket) + cilantro slaw
Pricing: $$

Speedy: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times – ordering brisket outside of Texas is a dangerous proposition. However, a few places have opened my eyes to the possibility of awesome brisket outside of Texas, and one in particular made me a believer in food trucks. So when I found out The Oak Texas BBQ was going to be outside my new favorite brewery in Nashville (shout out, Crazy Gnome), I knew I had to try. 

Monk: It’s been a fun ride watching Speedy walk back his original declaration of never having brisket outside of Texas.  

Speedy: I showed up just after noon to a small line, and I quickly got excited seeing the two large Texas style offset smokers burning large chunks of wood. By the look (and smell) of things, I was in for a treat.

Of course, I went with all three meats offered, plus the cilantro slaw on the side (skipping the cheese grits). It wasn’t long before this delicious Texas trio was delivered to my picnic table and I was able to dig in. Of course I started with the brisket. I asked for a mix of fatty and lean and was given two generous slices of brisket. The brisket was cooked perfectly, had sufficient moisture, and a wonderful, peppery bark. It didn’t quite melt in my mouth in the same way that the best brisket does, but it was definitely a brisket to be remembered. Martin’s has officially been unseated as the best brisket I’ve had in Tennessee. 

Monk: Wow, that’s high praise, as Martin’s was fantastic when we tried a couple years back and declared that it was just a slight notch below the best in Texas.

Speedy: Next up was the beef hot link. The hot link had good flavor but could have used a little more snap in the casing, and maybe a touch more heat. I enjoyed it, but it was a distant third place in terms of meats for me. 

Finally, saving the best for last, was the “bacon brisket” aka smoked pork belly. My goodness was this delicious. Surrounded by the same peppery bark as the brisket, but with that great pork flavor, this was the best barbecued meat I’d had in months. Really, really phenomenal stuff and a must order. 

Monk: I smoked a pork belly a few months back in a similar manner (in addition to pork belly burnt ends) and freakin’ loved it. I still haven’t smoked a second one yet, so I need to do that soon so I don’t make myself a liar.

Speedy: The cilantro slaw was nice and crunchy, but could have used a little more vinegar zing. However, it was worth ordering. 

Monk: The Oak sounds fantastic and definitely worth a stop next time I’m in Nashville. Will they be a regular food truck at Crazy Gnome (which I also want to check out)?

Speedy: Great question, Monk. I know they have plans to be back on September 26, but don’t know otherwise. I’m definitely hopeful that it becomes a regular occurrence. 

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 5 hogs (at Crazy Gnome)
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Beef Hot Link – 3 hogs
“Bacon Brisket” – 5 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Monk’s 5 Favorite Barbecue Meals of the First Half of 2020

Monk: A little later than I’d normally like to post a first half look-back but then again, I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a weird year. At least barbecue is (mostly) back. After a lot of backyard smoking (a little more on that below) and an attempt at mail order, barbecue restaurants started to reopen in late spring and adapted to the current situation with all formerly extinct practices like curbside service and carhops that made perfect sense in a pandemic environment.

In alphabetical order:

Chopped pork tray from Backcountry BBQ (review)

A barn full of firewood out back was a sign of good things to come when it came to Backcountry Barbeque, an unassuming barbecue joint south of Lexington that landed in the top tier of my Lexington barbecue rankings.

Pork belly burnt ends and sliced pork belly from my backyard (story)

While I haven’t quite lived up to my promise that I would smoke pork belly again very soon, it is very much on my to-do list for upcoming backyard smokes. Particularly as the weather starts to cool down this fall. I still think about those pork belly burnt ends from time to time.

Beef rib, brisket, ribs, and cheddar bossa sausage from Jon G’s Barbecue (review)

You guys all know how I feel about Jon G’s by now, so not too much more needs to be written here except that you should make the trip, particularly if they have a beef rib on special (but be prepared to pay for it). I’ll also reiterate how glad I am that Garren and Kelly finally opened their store and are doing it their way.

Chopped pork from Rick’s Smokehouse (review)

Rick’s was the favorite of my new Lexington discoveries as part of my recent Lexington barbecue quest, landing just below my co-favorites Lexington Barbecue and Bar-B-Q Center.

Pork, ribs, and chicken from Southern Smoke BBQ (review)

Not too much more to add from my recent review other than Southern Smoke was my absolutely favorite new barbecue I’ve tried this year. I’ll repeat myself from my review: “Do yourself a favor and find time to make the trip like I did. You won’t regret it.”

What should I try in the second half (or what’s remaining of it) of 2020? Leave a comment with your recommendation.

Quarantinication: My First Time Smoking Pork Belly Will Not Be My Last

Monk: During the pandemic, more people are resorting to backyard smoking. Between the meat shortage due to supply chain issues and inventory being picked up by restaurants, selection can be hit or miss. This means I can’t just walk into my neighborhood grocery store and pick up a pork butt like I used to. However, this does allow for the opportunity to try some different cuts, assuming I come across them.

Pork belly is one such cut I’ve been looking to smoke but hadn’t come across it, even pre-pandemic. However, on a recent trip to Costco they were flush with pork bellies even though the rest of the beef and pork meat case was pretty bare.

But what to do with the 9 pound pork belly? Should I cube it and make pork belly burnt ends or smoke it whole with a salt and pepper rub a la a brisket? Robbie from City Limits Q down in Columbia suggested over Instagram that I split it in half and do both, which only made too much sense. His big thing, however, was to be sure I brine the belly and I did exactly that with kosher salt overnight the night before.

That morning, as I fired up the smoker and let it get to temp, I sliced the pork belly in half and cubed one half and sprinkled in with Hardcore Carnivore’s Red rub. For the “whole” half, I sprinkled the same kosher salt and coarse ground pepper rub I’ve used on tri-tip and other beef cuts. Then, onto the smoker they went.

After 2 hours at 250-275 degrees, the burnt ends were done with their smoke bath. The next step was to toss them in barbecue sauce, honey, and butter and put back on the smoker in a covered pan.

After 1.5 hours, I took off the foil and finished the final 30 minutes uncovered. Then, they came out in sauced little nuggets of pork and fat. About 4 hours total, and I got this perfect sweet and savory bite.

As for the other half of the belly, a little after 3 hours it was already up to 200 degrees internal temperature. I wrapped in butcher paper and rested in a cooler for a few hours until dinner time.

…But not before slicing off a couple slices and throwing onto a potato roll with some homemade pickles I made a few weeks back. The pork belly is such a fatty, rich cut that the acid from the pickles nicely counteracts it. The combination of which makes a pretty darn good sandwich.

I’m not saying this will replace my pork butt as my go-to but it’s nice to have it in the arsenal. While a pork butt will take me 10-12 hours depending on the size of the butt and how fast I’m smoking, I smoked this pork belly two ways and got two fantastic dishes in less than 5 hours total (both of which I have received really good feedback on). On one hand, it was nice to knock out the smoke before lunch but on the other, I didn’t get any extended beer drinking time.

As others have urged, if you are apt to smoking, use this weird time of pandemic as a reason to try something new. You may just love the results.

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