Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint – Nashville, TN

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Name
: Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint (Downtown location)
Date: 7/21/18
Address: 410 4th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37201
Order: Big Poppa Sampler (Full Rack Ribs, 12oz Pork, 12oz Brisket, ½ Chicken, mac and cheese, green beans, fries) with 6 Memphis dry rub wings, 2 orders of hush puppies, and 2 cornbread hoe cakes (link to menu)
Price: $141 (for 6)

Speedy: With Monk coming to town, I had to take him to my favorite ‘cue in town – Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint. I had reviewed the OG location of Martin’s many years ago, but since then, three other Tennessee locations (as well as two Kentucky ones) have opened. While I greatly enjoy the food, I took Monk (and crew) to the downtown location, which is one of my favorite places in Nashville – barbecue or otherwise.

Monk: The downtown location of Martin’s is amazing – flat out. As soon as we stepped up into the upstairs beer garden, I knew it was going to get 5 hogs for atmosphere and ambiance. The upstairs was an airy, open air space with plenty of natural lighting and big ass fans to keep the air circulating. Besides the smokeroom off to the side, it had a small stage, two small bars flanking either side of the room, several long beer garden-style tables, ping pong, shufflepuck, and dartboards. If we ever hit it big from barbecue blogging, I will be taking photos of this space to an architect to replicate at the loft I would buy once I’m flush with all that theoretical barbecue blogging cashish.

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Speedy: With six of us in tow, we ordered the Big Poppa Platter, which consists of a full rack of ribs, 12 oz pork, 12 oz brisket, ½ chicken, and 3 pints of sides. We tacked on a few extra sides and a half dozen wings and we were good to go.

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I’ll start with the ribs. We ordered spare ribs instead of baby backs since they are bigger and we had six hungry men. The rack of ribs was massive – plenty for us all to eat. We ordered dry ribs, and they showed up heavily seasoned as a full slab. The ribs were tender, cooked perfectly, and delicious. I do wish we had ordered baby back ribs, as the quality of the meat is better. On the spare ribs, there was a big more tendon than I like, but that’s a nit-picky complaint. Overall, I could have used a little more spice in the rub, but the ribs are very, very solid.

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Monk: Martin’s is one of the few restaurants in Tennessee (or anywhere else, for that matter) that is still doing whole hog barbecue. With the purchasing power of a growing regional chain, I imagine they are able to make the economics work, but regardless I applaud them for continuing the whole hog tradition. As for the pork itself, our portion was a mixture of pork that was overall lighter than the darker meat of the shoulders predominantly used in the NC piedmont (though shoulders are also available on the menu). I’m not quite sure what the nuances are between western TN whole hog and what you’ll find in eastern NC or the Pee Dee region of SC (a topic which I’ll gladly earmark for more research later), but I quite enjoyed what Martin’s served.

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Speedy: The brisket is about as good as you can find in Tennessee. It had good bark and was cooked pretty well (maybe ever so slightly overcooked), but it is not on the same level as some of the Texas joints. Martin’s brisket does have nice tug and flavor, and has good bark, but it just doesn’t quite have the peppery goodness needed to reach the upper brisket tier. However, if I’m hankerin’ for a good brisket in Tennessee, Martin’s is the best choice there is. As a side note, while not sampled on this visit, Martin’s does offer a cheeseburger topped with brisket that simply is not to be missed. Beef on beef – brilliant!

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Monk: We don’t normally order chicken but seeing as how it came with the Big Poppa, we embraced it. Smoked chicken is not my jam but it definitely worked when dipped in the Alabama white sauce that came with the tray.

Speedy: The wings were good – using the same dry rub as the ribs (other flavors are available, but we went with the dry rub). They were smoked well, but could have stood to be a little meatier. Like everything at Martin’s, the wings were very good. Smoked wings can be a little difficult to find, so I appreciate a place that does them right, and Martin’s is that.

Monk: There were literally no complaints about any of the sides we got. Some of our group raved about the mac and cheese, others loved the green beans, and I thought the hush puppies were solidly above average. But I was most intrigued by the cornbread hoe cakes, an item I’ve not ever seen on a barbecue menu before. In western NC, our cornmeal comes in the form of hush puppies whereas in the east you’ll see cornsticks or more traditional cornbread. The hoecakes were savory and not overly sweet  but I would definitely get them again – I know Speedy gets them most times he visits. Oh, and they have Cheerwine and Sun Drop in glass bottles! So awesome.

With Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in Downtown Nashville, all of the meats are consistently above average, the sides were great, and the space was awesome. One more thought on the space – after we finished our meal, our group stuck around for another hour or so, grabbing another pitcher while playing darts. I would have gladly stuck around for several more hours, but alas we were headed to Third Man Records before throwing axes in East Nashville (side note – Speedy showed the guys a great time that weekend in Nashville). I can see why Martin’s is Speedy’s favorite joint in the city and I would gladly go back for another meal at this or any of the other locations.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 5 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Chicken – 3.5 hogs
Wings – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

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**

Sweet P’s Barbeque & Soul House – Knoxville, TN

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Name
: Sweet P’s Barbeque & Soul House
Date: 7/19/18
Address: 3725 Maryville Pike, Knoxville, TN 37920
Order: Sampler (brisket, pork, and ribs) with side salad, slaw, greens and beer (link to menu)
Price: $29

Monk: In 1999, the Knoxville, TN funk-soul band Gran Torino had a modest regional radio hit in the southeast with “Moments with You.” I recall liking it in high school but listening today, it seems a bit overproduced and saccharine. In any case, fast forward 10 years and the band is no more but lead singer Chris Ford has found another passion in barbecue. After years of catering, he opens up a barbecue restaurant just outside of Knoxville in a former marina off the Little River, Sweet P’s Barbeque & Soul House. Six years later, he is successful enough to open a second location in downtown Knoxville. While the music life may have not ultimately worked out for Chris Ford, he seems to be in the early stages of building a mini barbecue empire in Knoxville.

I knew that Grant of Marie, Let’s Eat! was a fan of Sweet P’s from his visit and it was his suggestion to stop there two years back when I was last passing through Knoxville on the the way to Lexington, Kentucky. Unfortunately, it would have been too much of a detour on that trip, so I stopped at Full Service BBQ instead (which worked out ok). This time through, I was heading to Nashville, so a swing through south Knoxville to hit Sweet P’s made much more sense.

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I had been on the road for 4+ hours from Charlotte after a small breakfast so went for the sampler platter of pork, brisket, and ribs which came with 3 sides. Grant mentioned in his review that he was a big fan of the pork (the only meat he got on his visit) when he went and for me it was by far the best of the three meats. The pork came unsauced and sitting in a bun but I opted not to eat as a sandwich and instead used a fork. It was smokey and moist and with a few dashes of the table vinegar sauce (one of three available), it stood out above the rest of the meats.

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The brisket was a bit overdone (or perhaps held and reheated from the previous day based on the texture) and sprinkled with a sweet and savory rub that just was not pleasing for me. A few bites in and I knew I didn’t have to finish my portion.

The ¼ rack of ribs were better than the brisket while still being just slightly above average. It was also sprinkled with the same rub as the brisket, though this harkened to more of a Memphis dry rub so didn’t bother me as much as the brisket. They weren’t overdone and pulled away from the bone properly with each bite.

As for sides, the slaw was standard but the greens were a bit of a mess. Knowing what lay ahead in terms of drinking and eating that weekend, I chose a side salad as my third side, which ended up being the side that I ate the most of.

Outside of the pork and side salad most of the meal ended up in the to-go box. If you are stopping at Sweet P’s Barbeque & Soul House while in the Knoxville area, my suggestion would be to save some money and stick with the chopped pork plate.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Brisket – 2 hogs
Ribs – 2.5 hogs
Sides – 2 hogs
Overall – 2.5 hogs
Sweet P's Barbeque and Soul House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

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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What I Ate at BBQ Alley at Memphis in May

Monk: The Memphis in May Barbecue Fest has a few barbecue vendors inside the grounds and while local health regulations prohibit teams from serving barbecue to the general public if you are lucky you might find some barbecue teams handing out samples – for instance the Traeger team was handing out brisket samples all weekend. Another option for barbecue that weekend was BBQ Alley, a “consumer experience” where you can purchase $15 tickets which give you 5 samples of barbecue dishes from Big Green Egg as well as 3 notable restaurants – this year those restaurants were Paradise Grill in Atoka, TN, Dr. BBQ in St. Petersburg, and B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque in Savannah and Atlanta.

Speedy came in town for a few hours around lunchtime on the Saturday of Barbecue Fest so we decided to check BBQ Alley out. I only ended up having four of the five dishes served but here they are in the order that I tried them.

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Pork loin with rice from Big Green Egg/Leisure Boys

I’m not familiar with them but Leisure Boys appeared to be cooking on behalf of Big Green Egg. This well-seasoned pork loin was a fine start the the BBQ Alley experience.

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Snake River Farms ribeye and pork loin with garlic bread from Dr. BBQ

I didn’t snap a photo but the man himself, Dr. BBQ, was hard at work behind the table working the Green Egg to produce this ribeye from Snake River Farms in Idaho.

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Mike’s BBQ Smoked Wings from Paradise Grill

Paradise Grill is a barbecue restaurant in Atoka, about 40 minutes outside of Memphis, and they brought “Mike’s BBQ Smoked Wings” to BBQ Alley. I remember it being a very solid smoked wing.

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Brisket from B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque

The couple of brisket bites from B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque were the best of the bunch (as to be expected) but the best part was meeting pitmaster Bryan Furman and speaking with him for a couple of minutes. Bryan actually grew up in Charlotte and graduated from West Mecklenburg High School, so we talked about Charlotte a little bit in addition to his restaurant and experience at Memphis in May. Brian is a super nice guy, and was even kind enough for a quick photo. If you are in Savannah or Atlanta, go to B’s!

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Bryan Furman of the awesome B’s Cracklin’ Bar-B-Que in Savannah and Atlanta

All in all, BBQ Alley was maybe a little pricey for what you get but was a chance to try some legit barbecue while at Memphis in May Barbecue Fest.

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: 4/4/18

– A quick primer on NC state symbols, including that the Barbecue Festival in Lexington is the official food festival of the state

– Speaking of festivals, there are a few barbecue festivals coming up in NC over the next few months including BBQ Festival on the Neuse in Kinston, Jiggy with the Piggy Fest in Kannapolis, and the Eastern BBQ Festival in Rocky Mount

– Asian Smokehouse? I’m in!

– Charlotte Agenda’s city guide for Asheville includes Buxton Hall Barbecue and 12 Bones

– Marie, Let’s Eat! tries Martins’ Bar-B-Que Joint in Nolensville and pleads for them to open a store in Chattanooga

– Midwood Smokehouse gets some recognition as TripExpert Expert’s Choice Award 2018 and was named Best of Charlotte

Based on 1M+ reviews from 85 different publications, the award recognizes the best restaurants around the world. TripExpert takes a new approach to ratings by using only professional reviews from travel guides, magazines, newspapers and other respected sources.

– A few barbecue joints gets covered in this Alabama tourism video – BBQ on the Blvd in Florence and Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur

– How did I miss this a few weeks back?