Name: Backcountry Barbeque Address: 4014 Linwood-Southmont Rd, Lexington, NC 27295 Order: Chopped barbecue tray with red slaw, hush puppies, and Cheerwine Pricing: $
Monk: In my recent quest to get a better idea of all Lexington-area barbecue joints, I made a late-afternoon stop at Backcountry Barbeque last month on my way back to Charlotte from Knightdale for the Prime BBQ preview.
Before this quest, I had never really heard of Backcountry Barbeque but the best case scenario for a new-to-me joint is 1) they still cook over wood and 2) they’ve been quietly doing their thing and the only reason why I haven’t heard of them is because I haven’t been digging hard enough. Rick’s Smokehouse on the north side of Lexington is one recent example of that best case scenario and as it turns out Backcountry Barbeque south of the city is another. They have a giant barn full of hickory wood out back so they definitely smoke the old way and they opened in 1984, just a few years shy of four decades ago.
For me, the true test of a good Lexington barbecue joint (or any good joint, for that matter) is to never put out a bad tray of barbecue no matter the time of day. If you say you are open until 9pm (as Backcountry does) and you have barbecue on the menu, then it better be up to par at all times of the day. On this day, I stopped by in the bridge time between the late lunch crowd but before the dinner rush and the tray I got was flavorful and moist, with a noticeable smoke taste from the hickory. No reheated or overly dry barbecue here.
Not too much to say about the red slaw and hush puppies, but they were solid and did the trick. On Saturdays it appears that brisket is on special, but I didn’t have the heart or stomach to try it, for fear of ruining a good thing.
Backcountry Barbeque looks and fits the part of a classic, wood-smoked North Carolina roadside barbecue joint and it’s a wonder why more people don’t know about them. Based on my experience, they are in the upper tier of Lexington-area barbecue joints and probably don’t get the respect they rightly deserve.
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.
Name: Little Miss BBQ Date: 3/7/20 Address: 4301 E University Dr Phoenix, AZ 85034 Order: 1 beef rib, 3/4lb brisket, 1/4 lb pork, ¼ pound turkey (link to menu) Pricing: $$$
Speedy: A weekend trip to Phoenix had me searching out the city’s best barbecue spot to find. We ended up choosing Little Miss BBQ largely thanks to a spring training guide by sportswriter Keith Law, claiming that it was the best brisket he’s had outside of Austin – high praise indeed.
Speedy: My friend James and I arrived at Little Miss BBQ around 10:30 AM, ahead of their 11 AM opening. We were around 60th in line (a good sign). The building itself wasn’t much to look at, but there was a decent amount of outdoor seating and there were a lot of people milling around, though no line, per se. We quickly learned that upon arriving, you’re handed a ticket to hold your place in line, and they start lining people up in order around 10:45. There’s plenty of water available, but unfortunately, no beer. Still, it was a very organized affair. While waiting in line, just looking at the impressive Camelback offset smokers got me hungry, and I knew these guys meant business.
Workers come through the line explaining how the process works (essentially a Texas joint where meat is sliced in front of you), and expecting it to take 90 seconds per person in line (bummer). They also handed out samples of their house made pork/beef/jalapeno sausage, a nice touch. The sausage had really good flavor, and the jalapeno flavor was evident, but with the volume of meat we were about to consume, we decided against ordering a link. The 90 seconds per person ended up being about right, so it was around 12:30 before we made it to the front of the line.
After ordering enough meat to feed a small army, we were ready to dig in. The first thing I tried was the brisket, which was impressive indeed. We chose fatty brisket, and it was really nice and moist. My only complaint is it could have used a little more pepper to create more of a bark, but this was still a top ten brisket of my life. A step below Franklin, Pecan Lodge, La Barbecue, and Killen’s, but impressive none-the-less.
Monk: Wow, top 10 brisket for you, Speedy, is impressive, as you are definitely our Senior Brisket Correspondent at this point.
Speedy: I am often a tough critic on pulled pork, but these guys did a nice job on that as well. It was definitely more similar to the pulled pork I’ve had in Texas, as the butt was wrapped during the cook to retain more of the natural juices. This certainly helps keeping it from drying out, and enhances the flavor, but also gives the pork a greasier feel, making it difficult to eat in large quantities.
Historically, I’ve been mostly anti-poultry at ‘cue joints, but some recent excellent smoked turkey has changed that, and Little Miss BBQ is only going to add to that. The turkey was cooked perfectly, moist with great flavor. It passed the pull test easily and was seasoned well, and definitely worth ordering.
Monk: I’m also coming around more and more on smoked turkey at barbecue joints and think its worth considering more often in my barbecue travels.
Speedy: Saving the best for last was the beef rib. Goodness gracious. The flavor of the meat itself was outstanding, and the quality of the cut was apparent. It was perfectly seasoned to create the peppery bark that I have learned to love. This, to me, was a must get item at Little Miss BBQ. Make sure you’re there for a weekend, as the beef rib is only available Friday and Saturday. At $22 per pound (ours came in at 1.1 pounds), the price was more reasonable than I’d seen elsewhere as well.
Overall, this was the only ‘cue joint I tried in Phoenix, but you’d be hard pressed to find any place anywhere that tops it. This was also the second longest I’d ever waited in line for barbecue (behind Franklin’s) and I do think it was worth the wait. I think the line could have moved faster if the slicers had been a little more efficient. Don’t get me wrong – they were good and knew what they were doing, but took some time to talk to customers, which, though a nice touch, adds 15-30 seconds per person. So if you’re going to visit Little Miss BBQ, and you should, it’s worth getting there a bit early.
Name: Rick’s Smokehouse Date: 1/21/20 Address: 6043 Old U.S. Hwy 52, Lexington, NC 27295 Order: Chopped barbecue tray with hush puppies, red slaw, and Cheerwine (link to menu) Pricing: $
Monk: In a continued effort to get to know Lexington Barbecue joints better, I recently made another Lexington run to try three new-to-me barbecue joints. These three are ones that you really don’t hear about, so I was a bit apprehensive as to what I might find on this trip. I’m beginning to think about the Lexington-area barbecue restaurants in terms of tiers so the looming question was: in which tier(s) would these restaurants land?
My first stop was Rick’s Smokehouse which has a Lexington address but is in the small community (or “census designated place” if we’re being technical) of Welcome which is north of Lexington proper. Welcome is home to Richard Childress Racing and North Davidson High School, who I played soccer against 20 or so years ago. And yes, it does have a sign that reads “Welcome to Welcome” as you enter on Old Highway 52.
Rick’s is located off that same Old Highway 52 and actually burned down approximately 10 years ago as a result of a fire in the smokehouse that damaged the kitchen and dining room. Thankfully, they rebuilt their brick pits and reopened a year later and have continued to smoke over wood these days. Despite being a newer barbecue restaurant relatively-speaking (it was opened in 2009), Rick’s has also continued the old Lexington tradition of curb-side service for folks who want to stay in their car and have their cue brought out to them.
I’m happy to report that Rick’s serves a tray of wonderfully smokey and fresh barbecue, which was a bit of a revelation for me. Thinking about those Lexington tiers, this one could definitely challenge for the top tier. The red slaw and hush puppies matched the quality of the pork, so it all added up to a very good meal.
Perhaps I was overly skeptical, but I hadn’t expected such a wonderful and tasty experience, particularly when the restaurant was basically empty when I arrived a little after 11am (to be fair, I was on the early side of any potential lunch rush).
I wouldn’t be so lucky with the other two restaurant visits I made on this Lexington run, but thankfully I did get a very good meal at Rick’s Smokehouse to start off the day. It truly is a hidden gem in the Lexington barbecue landscape.