Melvin’s BBQ Switched (Back) to Wood Smokers in 2015 and Hasn’t Looked Back

Name: Melvin’s BBQ
Date: 4/13/23
Address: 538 Folly Rd, Charleston, SC 29412
Order: Two meat combo platter with pork, turkey, slaw, and hash and rice (link)
Pricing: $$

Monk: Back in 2015, Melvin’s BBQ owner David Bessinger saw the light. As Robert Moss notes at the time in his piece for Southern Living, he saw the writing on the wall and made some changes to his two Charleston-area restaurants that had been smoking on Southern Pride gas-assisted smokers since the early 80’s. He switched to offset wood burners from Georgia-based Lang BBQ Smokers and hasn’t yet looked back. I had overlooked Melvin’s on several Charleston trips since 2015, which turned out to be a mistake after sampling their fare on a rainy Charleston weekday. Melvin’s has two Charleston-area restaurants: one in Mount Pleasant and this location I visited on James Island just a mile from the Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint that opened roughly 4 years back.

Melvin’s now has brisket on the menu, one of the big changes from 2015, but I stuck with pork and turkey with a side of hash and rice and slaw for my order. Cornbread is included with the combos and a pickle bar has an assortment of pickles and onions. All served on a Texas-style platter with butcher paper, a couple more of the changes from 8 years prior.

The pork was piled in a generous serving in the shape of a take out container, and on its own it was fresh and plenty smokey with chunks of bark chopped in. One of the non-Texas-influenced changes from 2015 was switching back to pastured pork, and while I didn’t taste their prior pork I have to assume it makes a difference. I sampled the spicy mustard barbecue sauce and while I’ll never be a huge mustard fan, I did enjoy this spicy version both with the pork and the turkey.

Opting for the lighter option of turkey instead of brisket, I was really pleased with Melvin’s version. It was perfectly moist and tender, with a nice peppery crust. Would definitely order again.

I was not getting out of Charleston with some hash, but was a bit let down by what Melvin’s served. It was a bit thinner in consistency than what I’ve tried (and enjoyed), and not as flavorful. Definitely a let down, and I had a better version of it a few days later at Swig & Swine (more on that soon). The slaw, too was also on the runny side.

Melvin’s has been family-owned by a branch of the famed Bessinger family for well over 80 years, since 1939. Had owner David Bessinger not had the foresight to switch back to all wood cooking, I wonder if they would have made it to the 80 year mark. In any case, I’m glad he did and that I finally took a chance on a joint I had wrongly be skipping over for the past few years. Give them a try if you’re in Charleston.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Turkey – 4 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Truth Barbeque in Houston is Indeed the Truth

Name: Truth Barbeque
Date: 1/7/22
Address: 110 S Heights Blvd, Houston, TX 77007
Order: Brisket, turkey, Carolina whole hog, pork ribs, house sausage link, brussel sprouts, green beans  (link)
Pricing: $$$

Speedy: I have a tradition whenever I travel. The first thing I do is text Monk, tell him where I’m going and ask, “Where should I grab some ‘cue?” On this day, while I was waiting to board in the Nashville airport, Monk responded almost before I even hit send, “Truth Barbeque.” So it was on.

Monk: While I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Truth yet, it received high praise when I recommended it to a friend of the blog a few years back. Not to mention it was #3 on Texas Monthly’s most recent Top 50 list from 2021. So I knew it was definitely going to be the place for Speedy and co. 

Speedy: Our party arrived at exactly 11:00 on a Saturday morning, which is exactly when they open. There was a sizable, but not daunting line out the door. We waited about 30 minutes until it was our turn to order at the cafeteria style counter.

Our group went with a pair of 2 meat plates and added a sausage link so we could try all the meats (save for the beef rib special) and ordered a variety of sides. After getting through the line and taking our pick of tables in the sizable dining room (we chose indoor seating, but outdoor is available), we were ready to eat.

Since this is a Texas joint, we have to start with the brisket. It’s good. Like really good. Peppery, tender, but *maybe* could be slightly more moist. We got the lean cut (we weren’t asked, but others did specify fatty and got that). Was this brisket as good as any I’ve had outside of Texas? Probably. But we’re in Texas, and the standard is different. So I can’t put it in my holy quadrumvirate (Franklin’s, La Barbecue, Pecan Lodge, Killen’s) but it was damn close. 

Monk: Damn, the fact that Speedy has been to enough Texas places to even have a quadrumvirate of Texas places of such high esteem is making me question my life choices. 

Speedy: The turkey, on the other hand, was the best I’ve had. Peppery, tender, moist, melt in your mouth deliciousness. I’ve gone on record lately expressing that turkey is the lost meat of barbecue, but at a place as highly lauded as Truth BBQ, I didn’t expect it to be my favorite part of the meal. But it was, and that’s not to take anything away from the other meats. It’s a must order, period.

Monk: I too am on the turkey train now and this sounds amazing. 

Speedy: The house sausage was also very solid. House-made, this sausage had good snap and nice garlic-y flavor. It had a little bit of grease, but was a solid effort. The pork ribs were also good, although ultimately my least favorite of the meats. The ribs were cooked and seasoned well, and had good flavor, but ultimately didn’t have anything outstanding or unique. 

The surprise of the meal was the Carolina whole hog (a Saturday special). Being in Texas, I didn’t expect much here, but when I bit into that hog and closed my eyes, I was transformed back to eastern NC, tasting delicious chopped pork with just the right coating of vinegar-y sauce. This was the best pork I’ve had outside of North Carolina. What a treat!

Monk: I know that Texas places will use whole hog as a differentiator to stand out from the pack, but glad to hear this was a successful version of it at Truth.

Speedy: Of the sides, I enjoyed the brussels most, but they were roasted and mushy instead of crispy (which I prefer). The mixed in brisket helped with the flavor, and I would order them again, but I don’t think I’d go out of my way for the sides. My party ordered the tater tot casserole and gave it high marks, so if you tolerate dairy, that’s probably the order.

One other thing worth talking about is the “Texas gut bomb,” or the tummy ache and sleepiness after any big Texas bbq meal. I did not feel this after Truth BBQ. I’m not sure if this was because of minimal grease, the high volume of turkey I ate, or some other reason, but my stomach was a happy camper all weekend. 

Monk: Aww, great to hear about your happy tum tum, Speedy! 

Speedy: Overall, as usual, Monk was correct…

Monk: …oh I like the sound of that!

Speedy: Truth BBQ is a truly great barbecue joint and definitely worth a visit. And do yourself a favor and order extra turkey!

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Turkey – 5 hogs
Sausage – 4 hogs
Pork (Carolina whole hog) – 5 hogs
Pork ribs – 4 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Linkdown: 8/31/22

Featured

Monk: Our prolific friend of the blog John Tanner has been at it again making the rounds in eastern NC recently, so let’s follow along in envy to some of the better places from his recent trip.

Wilber’s BBQ in Goldsboro has been back for a couple of years now but in his first dining room meal in some years, John and co. are wowed

Martelle’s Feed House is a restaurant with a buffet that includes great ribs and fantastic barbecue, located in the tiny town of Englehard (pop. 155), a (according to Wikipedia) “fishing community in Lake Landing Township on the mainland of Hyde County, North Carolina” near the Pimlico Sound

John also tried out Old Colony Smokehouse in Edenton, “a fine addition to eastern North Carolina” where they hold onto old traditions but also incorporate new trends

John passes on the buffet at Captain Bob’s Restaurant and Catering in Hertford for a pork plate but immediately regrets that decision

One of the highlights of his trip was a visit to Sid’s Catering in Beaulaville, a small town in southeast North Carolina

Non-Native News

Things are looking dicey for turkeys this Thanksgiving; this is from Heim BBQ

The BBQuest Eater Heat Map

Dispatches from the Tales from the Pits BBQ + Bourbon road trip

Prime Barbecue – Knightdale, NC

Name: Prime Barbecue
Date: 7/28/22
Address: 900 Park Offices Dr Suite 120, Durham, NC 27703
Order: 3 meat sampler with pork, brisket, and ribs, deviled egg potato salad (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Speedy: A quick work trip afforded me an opportunity I’d been looking forward to for a long time – a visit to Prime Barbecue. Monk first clued me in to Prime Barbecue in early 2020, when he was invited to tour the not yet open facility and sample some of the planned menu. Reading his description of Texas style ‘cue in NC got me interested, and pitmaster Christopher Prieto’s time on “BBQ Brawl” season 2 only made me that much more determined to make it out to Knightdale to sample the goods. However, due to various scheduling challenges and a bit of a pandemic, it took me over two years to make it happen. Let me tell you, dear readers, it was worth the wait.

Monk: I haven’t yet made it back out to Knightdale for an official review, but was thrilled to see Speedy was going to check it out for himself while back in NC recently.

Speedy: Walking up on this hot Thursday around 12:30 in the afternoon, I saw a large outdoor space, complete with a play area for kids and covered picnic style seating. On this day, the outdoor area was pretty sparse (did I mention it was hot?), but walking in, the space was buzzing. The large dining room was nearly full, and there was a line of about a dozen customers ahead of me. The line moved quickly until it was time for me to place my order.

The main reason I like dining with Monk is not the company he provides…

Monk: …hey, wait a minute…

Speedy: …but rather the addition of another eater that allows me to order everything on the menu. Alas, on this day, I was dining solo, so I had to make some tough choices.

Monk: Longtime readers know that I feel your pain here.

Speedy: Of course I opted for the three meat platter – selecting brisket, ribs, and turkey (along with sides of barbecue rice and green beans). The pulled pork and sausage will have to wait for my next trip (and there will be a next trip).

Let’s start from the top – the brisket. Generally, I order a mix of fatty/lean, but today it all looked very moist, so I stuck with the lean. I didn’t sample the fatty, but the lean was nearly perfect. Great bark, moist, peppery, and flavorful with just the right amount of tug. Prime Barbecue struck a perfect balance of enough seasoning to penetrate the meat fully without over-seasoning the outside. That kept every bite flavorful. This was a top ten brisket-gasm of my life.

Next up – the ribs. Prime serves pork spare ribs, that to my taste were perfectly seasoned and cooked. I was able to get a good, clean bite, but also pull meat from the bone easily. The ribs were glazed enough to add some sweetness without being too sticky. I have no improvements to offer here either.

Monk: While the brisket was really good during the aforementioned media preview in 2020, the ribs were the star of the show for me. Seems like that is still the case here.

Speedy: I’m on record lately as to really enjoying smoked turkey, so I was excited to try my final meat – the sliced turkey breast. For me, this was the only meat I didn’t love. While cooked perfectly and not at all dry (the usual culprit for imperfect turkey), I found the turkey to be a bit on the buttery side. My presumption is the turkey is wrapped in foil with butter at some point in the smoke process, and while it definitely kept the meat moist, I felt like the turkey and smoke flavors got overpowered. If you are a fan of buttery meat, I still think you will love this dish, but it wasn’t for me.

I was pretty full from the feast above, but did still have room for a couple of bites of each ordered side. The green beans were solid, and worth ordering. The barbecue rice (complete with bits of sausage) was like no other rice I’d had before and will be something I’ll order again. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I washed it all down with Cheerwine from the soda fountain – just an extra cherry on top of a great meal.

Since we started our blogging over ten (!) years ago, the Barbecue Bros have seen the proliferation of Texas-style barbecue all over the country. I’m happy to say that Prime Barbecue takes this style (along with a few twists) and not only does justice, but serves up one of the best meals you can find anywhere. Five hogs.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 4.5 hogs
Brisket – 5 hogs
Ribs – 5 hogs
Turkey – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 5 hogs