Monk’s Favorite Barbecue Meals of 2020

Monk: Our last piece of business before we close the door on 2020, here are my favorite barbecue meals of 2020. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I’d get to a full list of 10 like I did for 2019, but even with everything going on I still had some great meals.

10. Beef rib from Midwood Smokehouse

Midwood Smokehouse has a weekend beef rib special available every weekend for the (relatively) low price of $32 per bone. Midwood charges a flat fee and compared with what you’d pay if you had to pay by the pound, that’s a saving of at least $10-15.

9. “Bird is the word” smoked then fried chicken sandwich and smoked gulf shrimp from Leah and Louise (Charlotte)

“Bird is the Word” is a smoked then fried chicken sandwich topped with pickles and comeback sauce from Leah and Louise from James Beard-nominated chef Greg Collier and his wife Sabrina. It was also one of the best sandwiches I ate all year, even if it was technically not at a barbecue joint. The other smoked item I enjoyed on that visit was the “On My Way Home” which was “big a$$ smoked gulf shrimp” in a lemon, butter, and worcestershire sauce with cornmeal brioche.

If you are anywhere near Charlotte, get yourself too Leah and Louise at Camp Northend.

8. Smoked beef tenderloin from my backyard

My big Christmas smoke this year was both a smoked turkey breast but most importantly, a smoked beef tenderloin. I dry rubbed the tenderloin with kosher salt earlier that day before rubbing it with Billy Twang’s Old No. 3 Rub (review here) as I got my Oklahoma Joe’s offset up to temp. Two hours later, I had a perfectly medium tenderloin that sliced into perfect medallions. Yet another winner to file away for future smokes.

7. Chopped pork from Rick’s Smokehouse (review)

Rick’s was the favorite of my new Lexington discoveries as part of last year’s Lexington barbecue quest, landing just below my co-favorites Lexington Barbecue and Bar-B-Q Center and the re-review of Smiley’s (see below). Nonetheless, Rick’s is a winner that carries on the Lexington tradition for a relatively new restaurant (opened in 2009).

6. Tres Amigos platter (brisket, pork, and ribs) with smoked turkey and jalapeno cheddar sausage from The Smoke Pit

Mine and Speedy’s full review is forthcoming, but we enjoyed our visit to the newest location of the expanding local restaurant chain, which started in Concord and has grown to 4 locations. Charlotte-area folks: don’t sleep on The Smoke Pit.

5. Texas Trinity and beef rib from Prime BBQ (story)

At last February’s media event for Prime BBQ (in before times), after an extensive tour of the then-in construction Prime BBQ, the group was treated to a lovely meal of brisket, ribs, and sausage (aka the Texas Trinity) and a small beef rib. Eventually I will make it back to Knightdale for an official review, but this was quite the meal.

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

While I still 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 in 2021. I still dream about those pork belly burnt ends from time to time.

3. Chopped barbecue sandwich with hush puppies and a Cheerwine from Smiley’s Lexington Barbecue (review)

Eight years after my first and only visit to Smiley’s, I wanted to get another visit end in case it truly does end up closing due to road expansion. And what I found was a 5 hog joint in limbo, unsure of the timing when it will be forced to close. Nevertheless, the sandwich I got on that day was the perfect Lexington barbecue sandwich.

2. 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 out to Peachland, particularly if they have a beef rib on special (but be prepared to pay for it). One of my barbecue new year’s resolution is to make the trip more often and continue to spread the word of Jon G’s.

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

Southern Smoke was my favorite barbecue at the midpoint of last year and that carried on through to the end of 2020. Matthew Register and team are doing great things in Garland, and I urge folks to make the trip like I did.

Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace – Pioneertown, CA

Name: Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace
Address: 53688 Pioneertown Rd, Pioneertown, CA 92268
Order: Tri-tip and half rack of baby back ribs, red rice, pinto beans (link to menu)
Pricing: $$$

Monk: Last month, Mrs. Monk and I found ourselves in southern California spending time in Temecula Wine Country and Palm Springs for our 10th wedding anniversary. This being a big anniversary, my gift to her was going to be not forcing her to go to a barbecue restaurant. I’m kind of a romantic that way.

After spending a few nights in Temecula’s wonderful wineries, we set off to spend a day hiking in Joshua Tree National Park. Looking for a lunch spot nearby, we were recommended Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown by my cousin who lives in the area. I do want to make it clear that I only asked my cousin for a food recommendation and she was the one who brought up barbecue. So I still (technically) kept my promise. Thankfully, Mrs. Monk obliged and we set our GPS coordinates to Pioneertown. She’s a keeper, that one.

Pioneertown has an interesting history since its inception in 1946 as a living old western movie set, with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry being some of they initial investors. During normal times, Pappy & Harriet’s is a live music and dance hall that since its opening in 1982 has hosted the likes of Victoria Williams and Robert Plant to nowadays more indie rock bands such as Vampire Weekend or Jenny Lewis. The original owners sold it in 2003 and it was then taken over by two New Yorkers who seem to have largely kept the original vibe while making it sightly more hipster.

In addition to the live music, P&H also grills their meats over mesquite wood in a Santa Maria-style wood-fired grill. I focused in on the tri-tip and the baby back ribs on the menu, but there was no combo plate listed. Thankfully, the waitress helpfully let me know that it could be done for a price, of course. The tri-tip came cooked medium with a slight pink on the inside for the middle slices but was a little cool to the touch by the time in arrived. It had good flavor, though I could have used a little more pepper. It also came with a ramekin of thin barbecue sauce for dipping.

The ribs were sauced with a savory-and-not-too-sweet sauce but were well cooked. I should note here that neither meat was overly smoky with mesquite smoke, a concern of mine going in.

The sides of rice and beans were bland and a little forgettable but the chili fries we ordered as our appetizer hit the spot after our morning hike.

Pappy & Harriet’s is a fun spot in a cool setting in a historic town. The weather was nice enough (if a bit chilly in the shade) to sit outside and enjoy the food with mesquite smoke wafting in the air. And the food isn’t too bad, either (if not a bit pricey). It was well worth our trip into Pioneertown.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 5 hogs
Tri-tip – 3 hogs
Ribs – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

Honeyfire BBQ – Nashville, TN

Name: Honeyfire BBQ
Date: 11/13/20
Address: 8127 Sawyer Brown Rd #304, Nashville, TN 37221
Order: Three meat combo – brisket, pork, ribs, baked apples, fries (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Speedy: I recently heard about Honeyfire BBQ when talking to a friend about restaurants with good whiskey selections. Honeyfire sits in the Bellevue neighborhood, which is in the western part of the city. I don’t frequent this part of town too often, but I found myself with a leisurely Friday afternoon and decided to bring back one of my favorite work traditions – long lunch Friday.

Honeyfire sits in a pretty sizable shopping center, which is a bit of a red flag for me from a barbecue perspective (where do they do the smoking???), but seeing a sizable woodpile walking in made me feel better.

Monk: But is the wood pile for show or for realsies? If its all the way in the front of the restaurant then surely its not the wood they are using for smoking. My guess is they are probably using a Southern Pride (or similar gasser) and throwing in a stick or two occasionally from a similar wood stack in the back to get a little wood smoke on the meats.

Speedy: The restaurant is sleek and clean, so I walked up to the counter and placed my order. I was asked wet or dry ribs (dry, duh) and fatty, lean, or mixed brisket (mix), which I also consider to be a good sign. 

The food was brought out quickly and it was time to dig in. I’ll start with the ribs. The three bones that came were St. Louis style cut, dry with visible rub sprinkled on. They were meaty and cooked well (maybe slightly overdone), but the rub was a little challenging to me. This will be a theme of the review, but the rub was just very sweet. It seemed to be brown sugar based and mixed decently with the flavor of the ribs, but the sweetness was just too much to handle. The pulled pork was a similar story, as it was finished with a dusting of the same rub. The pork was tender, had some good bark mixed in, but was just too sweet for my liking. There was a sauce provided on the side, so I thought maybe some good vinegar sauce would offset the sweetness. Well one taste and I learned this was no vinegar sauce – it was actually a honey barbecue sauce. So what started as a little too sweet became way too sweet. 

Monk: Wonder if the folks behind Honeyfire have a competition background, where the winning flavor profile tends to be on the sweeter side. Sounds like they could stand to add a vinegar sauce alternative.

Speedy: The brisket was a different story. Rubbed with just salt and peppery, there was (thankfully) no sweetness. The bark on the brisket was tasty and the overall flavor was good. The brisket, like the ribs, was slightly overcooked, so just a touch dry, but overall, it was a pretty nice effort.

As far as sides go, mine were fine. However, one reason I like to get baked apples with barbecue meals is to have a little sweetness to go along with savory meat. In this instance, the meat gave me all the sweetness I could handle, so the apples remained unfinished.

Overall, Honeyfire BBQ is a tough one to rate. I think they actually do a pretty good job hitting the flavor profile that they want to – it’s just not the right profile for me. However, if you’ve got a sweet tooth, I’d definitely recommend checking it out.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Pork – 2.5 hogs (.5 point deduction for the sauce)
Ribs – 3 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

Friday Find: “Why Texans Call This The Best BBQ Spot In Dallas”

Monk: If this pandemic ever comes to an end, I would love to make it to Cattleack BBQ in Dallas. For now, I will dream.

Description: Ranked best barbecue by D Magazine in 2018, the meat cutters at Cattleack serve beef ribs, brisket, and pork ribs to lines of people waiting to eat at the backyard-themed restaurant. What started off as a hobby for owners Todd and Misty David, Cattleack BBQ has now become a popular lunch spot able to seat hundreds of people.

Despite its popularity, it remains open for lunch only twice a week on Thursdays, Fridays, and the first Saturday of each month. We visited the popular BBQ joint to check out the seven smokers on their property, try our hand at slicing brisket, and serve customers alongside the owners.

For more, visit: http://www.cattleackbbq.com/