Barbecue reviewers–myself included–almost always feel the need to assign some sort of rating to each joint they review. Alas, ten or so hours of slow-cooking pig gets boiled down to one simple letter, word or symbol. Today’s post takes a look at the different barbecue rating systems we’ve come across. Here’s the universe of NC ‘cue rating systems we’ve unearthed (let us know if we missed any):
- H. Kent Craig’s website uses a simple yet elegant scale of assigning from one to four pigs to each joint. This classic system is easily understood, matches well with people’s concept of four start restaurants, and features a nice little pig image to boot. What are the drawbacks of Craig’s system? Having only four different ratings for the wide range of quality he has encountered seems inadequate. Admittedly, a half-pig might look ugly (especially if it were the back half), but surely Craig could have thrown in some half-pigs (hams? shoulders?) to further distinguish among our state’s many joints.
- Dave Filpus’ NC Barbecue Musings site uses a graphically lacking but practical scale that ranges from Barely Acceptable to Acceptable to Recommended. Offering a recommended list is quite helpful, though one wonders if having just three categories is really enough. In particular, certainly there is wide range of ‘cue quality within the recommended list. And what exactly does “acceptable” mean on Filpus’ rating scale, a pretty good meal or just not bad enough to actively avoid? Still, this rating system is respectable and modest.
- Holly Moore’s blog raises the bar in the creativity category with its use of grease stains as the rating scale. Also, Moore pairs each level of grease stains with a descriptive word–e.g., 5 grease stains is “outstanding.” My only critiques of this system is that the grease stain logo is weak (it looks more like a map of Ethiopia than a grease stain), and adds to the somewhat misguided idea that NC BBQ is greasy. But that’s picky, as the grease stain system puts a nice twist on a classic 1 to 5 scale.
- Finally, Dave Lineback’s site uses a system that really cuts to the chase: he assigns 1 to 3 stars, which equate to “Wannabees & Fallen Angels,” “Other Log Burners,” and “Best of the Best.” This rating system is a good one, though it leaves some room for confusion in the Other Log Burners category–are these good places to eat or just places that use wood?
As you may have noticed, bbqjew.com utilizes the tried and true, albeit rather dull, letter grade system. We figure that if such a system is good enough for assessing America’s school age youth, it is good enough for assessing swine. Also, having multiple letters, as well as pluses and minuses, gives us lots of leeway to make fine distinctions among joints, including distinguishing among those at the top of their class and among those whose pitmasters should be put into remedial courses. Whether we are qualified to make these fine distinctions, well, that’s another discussion.