Friday Find: Midwood Smokehouse Pitmasters Matthew Berry and Michael Wagner join the Cheers Charlotte podcast

Berry and Wagner join around the 41:50 mark to discuss Midwood Smokehouse’s approach to Texas barbecue and the difference between Texas barbecue scene versus North Carolina. Michael even drops some knowledge on where the central Texas salt and pepper originally came from before Matt drops some knowledge of his own about the history of brisket as a smoked cut of meat. The total discussion lasts about 12 minutes.

Link to the episode on the Cheers Charlotte website

Lewis Barbecue – Charleston, SC (Speedy’s take)

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Name
: Lewis Barbecue
Date: 8/1/18
Address: 464 N Nassau St, Charleston, SC 29403
Order: 1 pound brisket, 2 hot gut links, 6 bones pork ribs, corn pudding, collards (link to menu)

Speedy: Later in the day after my trip to Rodney Scott’s BBQ (and after visiting a brewery of course), some of my fam and I decided to visit another new-ish Charleston joint I was pumped about – Lewis Barbecue. After superb visits to both Franklin Barbecue and La Barbecue (where John Lewis did stints), my expectations were super high. Finding a true Texas joint in South Carolina is definitely a treat.

The atmosphere at Lewis Barbecue is awesome. There’s an order counter, a bar, a fair amount of indoor seating and ample outdoor seating. Upon arriving, you order and just like in Texas, the meat is cut and weighed right in front of you. Even though we were still full from our earlier lunch, for our second lunch we made sure to order the brisket, pork ribs, and hot guts.

Monk: I was quite jealous when I heard Speedy and crew were doing Rodney Scott’s and then Lewis back-to-back. You may notice that most of my comments below are just agreeing with how good the food is at Lewis, and I hope I get a chance to get back there again soon (Labor Day weekend, perhaps?).

Rudy: I’m jealous too that you were able to visit Lewis Barbecue.  When he was the pitmaster at La Barbecue, that was the best brisket and maybe best ribs I’ve had, so I’ve missed him in Austin and have been wanting to try his place in Charleston.

Monk: Just throwing this out there…Barbecue Bros company retreat in Charleston next year?

Speedy: I’ll start with the brisket, as that’s the flagship meat. In short, it’s the best brisket I’ve had outside of Texas. We got a mix of fatty and lean, and both cuts were smoked to perfection, seasoned perfectly. I liked the fatty better than the lean, as I felt the lean was a bit dry. Unfortunately, this brisket did not enter into the holy quadrumvirate with Franklin, La Barbecue, Killen’s, and Pecan Lodge, but it’s certainly in the next tier down. A must order.

Rudy: Like I said before, his brisket in Texas is the best I’ve ever had (although Franklin and Pecan Lodge are very very close) so I am not surprised that it was great, but am surprised that it did not break into that group.

Speedy: I was a little surprised too, Rudy. It was still darn good and very close, but maybe it was just a slightly sub-par day or that I usually don’t order lean at all, but it just lacked that extra something special.

Monk: While I have a few more Texas joints (notably, Louie Mueller) under my belt from my trip earlier this year, Lewis Barbecue is still the best brisket I’ve personally had at a restaurant. Note that I have yet to visit any of the spots mentioned in Speedy’s quadrumvirate. Also, based on the lack of spell check squigglies, “quadrumvirate” is apparently a real word and not something made up by Speedy.

Speedy: The hot guts took things to the next level. I like smoked sausage, but have always considered it a second tier barbecue meat. Well, John Lewis is challenging that. The sausage had a perfect snap and great flavor, with just  a bit of a kick. I’m not sure the sausage could have been better.

Monk: I didn’t know that you were biased against sausage, Speedy. Six-plus years into this barbecue blog and you still manage to surprise me.

In any case, I too loved the hot guts.

Rudy: I’ve had the hot guts two times and really didn’t like it all that much.  I think they are all beef and I am not a huge fan of that because I think it can sometimes dry out or crumble.  It could have also been because I had heard so much about them and went in with huge expectations. But most people rave about it and you guys are no different.

Speedy: The ribs were also enjoyable – served with just a light glaze, these spare ribs were big and meaty, rich and tender. There was a hint of sweetness associated with the glaze, and you could clearly taste the smoke, but I would have liked a little more rub under the glaze to add a little spice and seasoning. Still quite good, but if you’re going to skip a meat at Lewis, this is the one.

The sides at Lewis Barbecue are worth more than a casual mention – they are really really good. Particularly the corn pudding was amazing, so don’t skip it.

Monk: The corn pudding was both mine and Mrs. Monk’s favorite side from Lewis as well. Jon G’s Barbecue has their own version of a corn pudding inspired by Lewis and it’s nearly as good. The takeaway here is that more joints should add corn pudding to menus.

Speedy: The meal at Lewis Barbecue was really great. Eating it in the same day as Rodney Scott’s was a real treat (as well as a challenge in terms of stomach room). Both joints are must-visit if you’re in the Charleston area and offer great insights into different styles of ‘cue.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Hot guts – 5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

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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Louie Mueller Barbecue – Taylor, TX (RE-REVIEW)

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Name
: Louie Mueller Barbecue
Date: 4/7/18
Address: 206 W. Second Street, Taylor, TX 76574
Order: Monk: ¼ lb mixed brisket, 2 original sausage links,1 pork rib, potato salad, pinto beans, Big Red; Rudy: 1 beef rib, ½ lb brisket, 1 sausages, 2 slices of turkey, potato salad, 2 waters
Price: Monk: $33.15 (for two); Rudy: $70.32 (for two)

Monk: Since the last time I visited Austin (in 2012, about a month before we started this blog), Speedy has made at least two trips there to visit Rudy and rubbed it in my face each time. Well now, it was my turn…suck it, Speedy!

Rudy: Speedy and I had explored some Lockhart and also some of the better places within Austin, so I decided to take you north and to the Granddaddy of Central Texas Barbecue. Louie Mueller is always ranked as one of the best places in the state (#5 in the latest Texas Monthly Top 50) and has been the inspiration for all of the other best barbecue places throughout the state. It’s one of my favorites, so I figured it was a no-brainer destination.  It is 45 minutes outside of Austin, but when you consider there usually is not much of a line, the time to drive there and back is still shorter than the wait at some of the elite places within Austin.

Monk: Louie Mueller is just the type of joint you don’t often see in North Carolina. The open kitchen smoker has built up a layer of soot on the walls over the past 59 or so years at the current location, which is housed in an old gymnasium. The walls are lined with neon beer lights even though they don’t serve alcohol (but don’t frown if you bring in a cooler of beer). And the air is filled with the smell of smoked wood.

In a way, the one NC joint that it does remind me of is Buxton Hall Barbecue in Asheville which is much younger (by about 55 years) but itself is in an old skating rink with the smoker sitting in the open kitchen with little separation from the dining room.

Rudy: Louie Mueller’s is best known for their beef ribs. While I usually shy away from these because of the cost and the amount of meat, I couldn’t resist. And I’m super glad that I couldn’t because it was the best thing that I had that day. My rib was an end rib, so 3 of 4 sides was covered in pepper and had a great crust. There was a good amount of fat on the rib (not too much) that was perfectly rendered and provided the rich moistness to compliment the crunch of the outside crust.

Monk: I had a taste of Rudy’s rib and while I am definitely a newbie when it comes to beef ribs, it was darn good.

To say I was expecting great things from Louie Mueller’s brisket would be an understatement. I got a mixture of moist and lean so I could try each out and while the peppery bark was exactly as I was hoping the brisket was a little…dry? Could this really be? Rudy and I watched the guy pull out a new brisket and slice it in front of us. This was definitely not expected.

Rudy: I agree, the brisket was at best, average. I ordered the fatty cut and it was as dry as you might expect a piece of lean. I have eaten here two other times and each time been blown away by the brisket, so to say I was underwhelmed and a bit disappointed is also an understatement. I am hoping that this was an anomaly and not a sign that they’ve lost their fast ball. I also got the jalapeno sausage (which has also been a staple of my orders here) and it was just as good as it has been in the past. Great snap to the case and great flavor without too much heat. So maybe the brisket today was just off.

Monk: I agree that the sausage was a highlight and had just the right amount of heat. I also got a single pork rib since Mrs. Monk is not a rib gal – technically I ordered a ¼ lb but that’s just the one rib. It had good flavor but to be honest was a little overdone. The meat slipped right off the bone after the first bite.

Now, I feel like I should address my choice of drink (besides the Shiner we brought in). Rudy is on record multiple times in stating that he is no fan of Big Red, which he considers to be a poor substitute for the Cheerwine we grew up on in the Piedmont of NC. Having my first taste of Big Red here at Louie Mueller, I have to say that I…completely agree. It’s way too sweet and I finished it only out of obligation. Give me Cheerwine any day of the week over Big Red.

Rudy: Give me anything other than Big Red any day of the week! I was hoping that the Big Red was going to be the only disappointing thing of this trip. Unfortunately the brisket did not live up to the hype or the drive. It’s still one of my favorite places because of the atmosphere and history, but I’m not sure I’ll be going out of my way too often, or at least will temper expectations in the future.

Monk: Listen, I’m definitely not mad that Rudy drove us to Louie Mueller Barbecue 45 minutes away in Taylor. It’s a classic Texas joint that I’m glad to have crossed off my list. I may have caught them on an off day but no doubts that they are legit. If I ever make it back, I’m sure they will prove that to be true.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 4 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Beef Rib – 4.5 hogs
Sausage – 4 hogs
Ribs – 3 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs
Louie Mueller Barbecue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Q – Houston, TX

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Name
: Q
Date: 4/6/18
Address: Terminal E International Departures (Upper Level), Houston, TX 77032
Order: Smoked Sausage and Brisket combo with coleslaw (link to menu)
Price: $17

MonkIdeally, my first taste of barbecue on a Texas trip wouldn’t be airport barbecue. But the newish Q, a Texas BBQ Smokehouse collaboration with famed Houston pitmaster Greg Gatlin, is far more authentic than your average airport barbecue restaurant. Instead of smoking offsite and trucking it in daily, they have two onsite Oyler smokers with a fancy ventilation system that they are able to keep going 24 hours a day.

Now, I know what you might be thinking – did Monk route his flight to Austin through Houston just for barbecue? While I appreciate that you might have thought that, it wasn’t so pre-planned as that. While Mrs. Monk’s flight was paid for by her job (the impetus for this trip), I went a cheaper route which included a layover and it just so happened to have a stop in Houston. I honestly didn’t realize what was where I was passing through until the morning of my flight, but luckily my 2 ½ layover would allow me plenty of time to check it out once I got to Houston.

If you are not ordering your ‘cue to take back to your gate or onto your plane to taunt your fellow travelers, there is both bar seating and some high top tables around the backside of the to-go counter and kitchen. This being a fancy OTG restaurant, I ordered via iPad at the bar and the food was brought out shortly after.

And my first taste of brisket in Texas in nearly 6 years at an airport joint was…not actually bad at all! The smaller brisket slices (the two meats totaled ½ lb total) had the peppery bark I would expect and was not the least bit dried out. Guess they have started to get the hang of those Oylers.

The all beef sausage passed muster as well, and had a nice little kick to it due to jalapeños. I’m sure there are better sausages out there, but this wasn’t half bad at all. In trying to keep it light, I opted for just one side and ordered the coleslaw which was standard.

When passing through Houston, you could do a lot worse than finding yourself at Q near gate 2 at Terminal E (just follow your nose to smell of smoke). Despite my first barbecue meal of this trip being in an airport, my Texas trip was off to a good start.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 3 hogs
Brisket – 3.5 hogs
Sausage – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs

Myron Mixon’s Pitmaster Barbeque – Alexandria, VA

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Name
: Myron Mixon’s Pitmaster Barbeque
Date: 3/31/18
Address: 220 N Lee St., Alexandria, VA 22314
Order: Speedy: 3 meat plate (brisket, pork, sausage, fried, collards); the Bro: 2 meat plate (pork, pork belly, collards, baked beans) (link to menu)
Price: $24 (3 meat) / $19 (2 meat)

Speedy: Recently, I was in DC visiting my (literal) Bro, and while his wife and kids were out running errands we snuck away for a meal. As the Bro and S-I-L are changing their diet to eat less meat, naturally, I suggested to the Bro that we find a local ‘cue joint. A quick Google search pulled up a name I recognized – Myron Mixon. Well, after great experiences at Aaron Franklin’s and Tuffy Stone’s joints, it was time to round out the BBQ Pitmasters trifecta and check it out.

Monk: Congratulations, Speedy! Turn in your punch card on your next visit and the next meal’s on us. But for real, I’m curious to see how his place actually stacks up.

Speedy: Myron Mixon’s Pitmaster Barbeque is a little different than the other two, as it’s a sit down joint with a wait staff, but it still had a nice, rustic feel and a great (but expensive – this is DC) beer list. The Bro and I were seated immediately and wasted no time ordering – pulled pork and pork belly for him, and pulled pork, brisket, and sausage links for me.

The food arrived fairly quickly, and the portions were quite large. Frankly, we could have split a three meat place between the two of us, but that’s not the Barbecue Bro way. The meats all looked great, and I could tell I was in for a treat.

Monk: Not the Barbecue Bro way…unless one of those bros happens to include Monk and his tiny stomach.

Speedy: I first dug in to the brisket. Not living in Texas, I am used to very mediocre brisket and nothing I’ve had outside of Texas has even come close to what I’ve had in the state. However, this was pretty good. I definitely got the fatty part of the brisket, and could have used a little more bark, but it was not overdone and had good flavor. A solid effort.

While I was trying the brisket, the Bro dug into his pork belly. Upon the first bite, his eyes rolled back into his head and it was clearly an out-of-body experience. I think he could’ve died right there and been OK. Naturally I reached my fork across the table to see what the fuss was about, and oh my – that pork belly was really, really good. Perfectly smoky with a little crispiness, it’s salty flavor was perfect. Definitely the highlight of the meal.

The sausage was my second favorite meat. It had great smoke and snap, and just a really solid flavor. I did use a little of the provided mustard sauce fo the sausage, and it was a great compliment. This is another meat I would order again.

Monk: Any idea if its made in house or imported from somewhere in Texas?

Speedy: I don’t know, Monk, and I didn’t ask. My (hot) gut would say it was imported, only because the casing was so perfect.

Monk: I see what you did there…

Speedy: The pulled pork was also solid. It had good bark and was nice and tender. I did feel the need to add a little vinegar sauce to it, but it was still enjoyable.

The sides were above average – particularly the collards, but with so much meat, I honestly didn’t eat too many of them there.

Overall, this was a very solid barbecue meal. The Bro says it’s the best ‘cue he’s had in the DC area (though I don’t think that’s a high bar), and I was not disappointed at all. In terms of the BBQ Pitmasters trifecta – I think Aaron Franklin’s and Tuffy Stone’s places are a little better, but you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 3.5 hogs
Pork Belly – 4.5 hogs
Sausage – 4 hogs
Pulled Pork – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs
Myron Mixon's Pitmaster Barbecue  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Maverick’s Smokehouse and Taproom – Durham, NC

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Name
: Maverick’s Smokehouse and Taproom
Date: 2/24/18
Address: 900 W Main St, Durham, NC 27701
Order: 2 meat combo with brisket and smoked jalapeno cheddar sausage with hush puppies, collards, and cole slaw (link to menu)
Price: $16

Monk: Maverick’s Smokehouse and Taproom opened in September in a space in downtown Durham that formerly housed Alivia’s Durham Bistro for 10 years. The owners of Alivia’s closed that concept and opened Maverick’s with a menu with an “international house of barbecue” bent to it – which in this case means pulling from Memphis and Texas in addition to North Carolina barbecue traditions.  

One thing that was apparently kept from Alivia’s was the outdoor patio which was perfect on an unusually warm February day. That, however, was the last of anything positive when it came to this lunch.

The first strike of the meal was a warm beer (curiously, Maverick’s had a special on non-NC draft beer which I don’t think I’ve seen at a NC restaurant – it’s usually the other way around). My speculation was that it was served in a pint glass that may have come straight out of the dishwasher but regardless, it was still an oversight. You just simply don’t want a warm-ish Shiner on a patio.

The next strike came when the platters of food came out. Mrs Monk and I got a two meat combo of brisket and sausage – for pork I was gong to sample some of it from our friend’s platter. The brisket and sausage both came out cool to the touch. The bark on the brisket was flavorful, but in addition to being cold it was fairly dried out. To me, it seemed liked it was likely leftover from the day before. I don’t know where the sausage came from but it had the texture of a slightly warmed hot dog – albeit with pieces of jalapeno and cheddar in it. The pork was a little better in terms of temperature but was quite greasy – my buddy didn’t finish his rather small portion of it.

Finally, on this day the sides weren’t going to save the meal. While the hush puppies and fried okra (also sampled from our friend’s plate) were freshly fried and actually decent, the collards could have use some more stewing and the mayo-based cole slaw was lukewarm. Temperature in general seems to need more focus at Maverick’s.

A charitable way to look at Maverick’s Smokehouse and Taproom is that they are still figuring things out. Let’s hope that is the case and that they do figure it out soon. If not, it seems unlikely that they will make it to 10 years like Alivia’s did in the same space before them.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 3 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Brisket – 2.5 hogs
Sausage – 1 hog
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 2 hogs

Killen’s Barbecue – Pearland, TX

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Name
: Killen’s Barbecue
Date: 1/20/18
Address: 3613 E. Broadway, Pearland, TX
Order: ½ pound brisket, ½ pound burnt ends (special), 2 sausage links, 1 beef rib, mac & cheese, fried mac & cheese, onion rings, baked beans, green beans (link to menu)
Price: $90

Speedy: I was down in Houston to visit some friends lately, so of course I convinced everyone to pop over to Killen’s, which is known as one of the top joints in Houston. Killen’s is a bit outside of Houston proper, and we went on a rainy day. All this meant we were left with a short line (though it quickly grew as the weather started to clear). Walking up, I could smell the wood coals burning and got a whiff of some beef on the smoker, so I immediately knew I was somewhere serious.

Monk: Seems like you stumbled onto the perfect time to check out Killen’s, seeing as how I’ve been reading about the long lines there for years. Brilliant, Speedy. Brilliant.

Rudy: Killen’s has been on my must-eat list for a while.  I’ve heard great things about since it opened. Houston is not known for having high quality barbecue like some of the other areas of the state, so I know this place has been getting swamped with people. Since I almost never get down to Houston, I haven’t been able to eat there.

Speedy: Killen’s is cafeteria style, where you first order meat, cut right in front of you, and then sides. One of the guys I was with had been there before and advised to skip the pulled pork, so we went all beef, with the exception of the sausage, which is a pork and beef mix. At Killen’s, you can order plates, or by the weight, and we opted for the latter. They only needed two clarifications with our order – fatty or lean brisket (fatty, duh), and jalapeno sausage or regular (regular). After about 20 minutes in line, we were ready to eat.

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Like at any Texas joint, I started with the brisket. I had high expectations based on my prior Texas trip (when I visited Franklin’s and La Barbecue), and let me tell you, this lived up to expectations. The brisket was peppery, moist, and as good as I could have imagined. I think it was 99% as good as Franklin’s and La Barbecue, and tasted very similar. I did not use any sauce, as none was needed. Overall, nearly flawless execution.

Monk: Wow, 99% as good as Franklin’s and La Barbecue? That’s high praise!

Rudy: Yeah, that is huge praise! Add to that the 20 minute wait and that’s even better.

Speedy: The sausage was also great. Made in house, the casing had good snap and a nice spiciness to it. It did start to fall apart a bit, but overall, it was great and is not to be missed.

The burnt ends were a daily special – made with wagyu beef and covered in sauce, they were tender and perfectly chunked. Overall, there was a little more sauce than I liked, but it was tangy and good.

The beef rib was the only thing that I thought could have been better. The rib was crazy tender and easy to cut with a plastic knife, but the bark was not as good as I had hoped and did not touch the brisket. Our beef rib was 1.4 pounds, so nearly $30 – I would have much preferred another pound of brisket.

The sides were good, but like any good barbecue joint, they were a compliment and did not stand out in any way.

I also really liked the atmosphere at Killen’s, as there was a large area of outside seating and lots of seating inside. It’s the definition of a Texas joint, and though it’s only been open since 2013, it’s damn good and not to be missed if you’re in the Houston area. I, for one, can’t wait to go back.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Brisket – 5 hogs
Beef Rib – 3.5 hogs
Sausage – 4.5 hogs
Burnt Ends – 4 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 5 hogs
Killen's Barbecue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cook’s BBQ – Lexington, NC

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Name
: Cook’s BBQ
Date: 11/25/17
Address: 366 Valiant Dr, Lexington, NC 27292
Order: Monk: Three meat combo plate (chopped pork, sausage, ribs) with red slaw, hush puppies, fries, and Cheerwine; Speedy: Three meat combo plate (coarse chopped pork, brisket, ribs) with red slaw, hush puppies, tater tots, and Cheerwine (link to menu)
Price: ~$17 each

Speedy: Monk and I were both embarking on a post-Thanksgiving drive from High Point to Charlotte (albeit in different vehicles), so we planned on a noon rendezvous at Cook’s BBQ in Lexington. As I was driving up, I thought that I might be entering a scene from Deliverance, and that possibly Monk was trying to kill me. Good news – he wasn’t, and Cook’s BBQ is real.

Monk: It is a bit of a weird location for a barbecue restaurant but I would never “Deliverance” you, Speedy. Off of 85, you go drive down Highway 8 south of Lexington proper and take a few turns on country roads. Then you drive past a few houses before happening on Cook’s in a dead-end at the end of a residential street.

The restaurant has been around since 1969 (though the current owners took over in 1984) so they must be doing something right, even if I feel it’s hardly ever mentioned along with the other Lexington joints. To add to its bona fides, it was also included along with Lexington Barbecue, Skylight Inn, Allen & Son’s, and other NC barbecue heavy hitters in this 2012 Washington Post primer on NC barbecue ahead of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. I had been wanting to stop in for years, particularly once I realized they were open on Sundays – a rarity for most family-owned barbecue joints.

Speedy: One thing that’s a little different about Cook’s from most Lexington style joints is the variety of meats. In addition to pork, they have brisket, ribs, and sausage. As Monk and I do when we see lots of meat, we ordered it all. I opted to go with coarse chopped pork (for a change of pace), the ribs, and the brisket. Monk had the same order, but subbed sausage instead of brisket. We both had red slaw and some form of fried potatoes (tots or fries).

Monk: The table agreed that the sausage was the best meat that we tasted that day, though I don’t know where Cook’s gets its sausage from or whether its house made (I suspect its not). In any case, it’s good.

Speedy: Agree, and I will order it should I go back. The brisket surprised me. NC brisket is generally plain bad (I’ve sworn it off a time or two myself), but this stuff was decent. Not on par with anything I’ve had in Texas, but it was definitely passable.

Monk: I did read afterwards that its one of only two places in Lexington that even serves brisket, so its definitely an anomaly. The ribs were a bit overcooked and fell apart as soon as I attempted to pick up the rack. Not to mention they were overly slathered in a thick, sweet sauce. I would avoid.

Speedy: I didn’t care for the coarse pork. It was a mistake to order it that way. Monk enjoyed the fine chopped better. The sides were all good – particularly the hush puppies.

Monk: I had higher hopes for Cook’s being a hidden gem that might sneak into my personal best of NC list but perhaps my expectations were too high. While Speedy and I agreed that the meats were mostly above average, I don’t know that either of us will be going out of our way to make a special trip out to Cook’s Barbecue anytime soon, threat of Deliverance or not.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 3 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Sausage – 4 hogs
Ribs – 2.5 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs
Cook's Barbecue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Improper Pig – Charlote, NC (RE-REVIEW)

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Name: The Improper Pig
Date: 11/3/17
Address: 110 S Sharon Amity Rd Charlotte, NC 28211
Order: The Cotswold Platter with pulled pork and smoked andouille with asian slaw and collards (link to menu)
Price: $14.99

Monk: Back in late 2014, Speedy and I checked out The Improper Pig within a few weeks of it opening and found it somewhat promising but that they were perhaps still working out the kinks that come with opening a new restaurant. Fast forward nearly 3 years later, and to paraphrase former Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green, they are who we thought they were.

The restaurant interior has changed a bit in the past 3 years. Whereas it used to be dimly lit (which I recall made it hard to take decent photos), the restaurant is now much brighter inside. I also think they have become popular with families with kids, so it would make sense not to have it so dark inside.

I didn’t take a peek into the open kitchen this time around, but I assume The Improper Pig is still using a Southern Pride gasser. Out of it, they are still able to coax some decently smoky meats – pork and andouille sausage this time around for me – but its still not quite there in order to be one of the better barbecue restaurants in Charlotte.

As was the case on our first visit, they still get creative with their sides and many have a slight asian bent. Mrs. Monk and I did try a southern egg roll, but the texture inside was mostly mushy as it is just sweet potato hash and collards inside with a drizzle of hot asian mustard. Certainly not as well executed as the southern egg rolls I’ve tried from The Pit in Raleigh. The asian slaw was more or less a small salad with ginger dressing, though, and I regretted ordering it just a tiny bit. The collards were fine but perhaps overly spicy. While the sides were the best part of the last meal years ago, they didn’t measure up on this visit.

So where does this land us? The restaurant is kid-friendly and I could see myself trying their brisket and ribs next time but I won’t necessarily be in a rush to make it back out. The Improper Pig is still a pretty good concept but yet again the execution isn’t quite there for me.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Sausage – 3 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs
The Improper Pig Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato