By Golly, Barbecue and Hot Tamales

As the summer winds down, it’s high time for a road trip.  After all, even Porky LeSwine can’t eat North Carolina barbecue at every meal.  Sometimes he needs to eat barbecue from other states (and refer to himself in the third person).  So strap on your computer’s seat belt and come along for a ride to the Mississippi Delta, where tamales are king.

That's Willie in front, chomping on a big cigar.

I recently visited family in Illinois, and while there my father-in-law took me on a short trip to Mississippi (thanks Bill!).  How long did it take us to travel from Illinois to Mississippi?  Just a few minutes, since we took  a shortcut by stopping at Willie’s Homemade Tamales and Smokehouse in Sparland, Illinois. 

Willie, who told me he moved to Illinois from Greenville, Mississippi 33 years ago, has been making his own tamales for years.  He started out selling them from a pushcart near the Caterpillar plant in Peoria, Illinois.  About five years ago he took a leap of faith and converted an old gas station into a restaurant in nearby Sparland.  He now sells various kinds of barbecue (ribs, sausage, pulled pork, pork chops and more) alongside his trademark tamales.

But what do tamales have to do with Mississippi? Continue reading

Where Would Waldo Dine?

It’s Friday and it’s a safe bet nobody wants to read yet another long-winded and short-sighted post.  So, let’s play “Where’s Waldo: Barbecue Edition.”  If you think you recognize the below barbecue joint (not yet reviewed on this site but coming soon), let me know in the comment section.  The first person to guess right gets a coveted BBQ Jew fridge magnet just as soon as I can figure out where my stash is hiding.  Bonus points for naming something interesting (but true) about this joint.

Hip Hop You Don’t Stop The BBQ Mop

When most people think of the music that best goes with barbecue, they undoubtedly name blues or bluegrass.  But rap music may be a contender on the barbecue scene.  Witness hip hop icon Snoop Dogg, who according to an incredibly uninformative article in the UK’s Mirror, is reported to  be “sniffing out a recipe to make his own barbecue sauce after finding the quality in Europe was dogg rough.”  It is unclear what this sentence means or why anyone in his right mind would use the phrase “dogg rough,” but it’s an intriguing tidbit nonetheless.  Last I heard of Snoop Dogg’s culinary adventures (okay, I watched “Snoop Dogg’s Father Hood” on TV once or twice, I admit it) he was scarfing down chicken and waffles from the legendary Roscoe’s.  It’s good to hear that the rap legend has a taste for ‘cue too.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that a Kansas City rapper would dedicate some rhymes to his city’s favorite food.  (Rapping about barbecue puts a whole new spin on the phrase “biting rhymes.”)  According to The Pitch music blog, hometown rapper Tech N9ne’s latest album is called “The Gates Mixed Plate,” a reference to legendary Gates Bar-B-Q.  Here’s to hoping Tech N9ne’s album is fresh like Ollie Gates’ ‘cue and not stale like his hip hop moniker. 

Like any good hip hop or barbecue story, there is a feud in the Kansas City BBQ rap world.  Fellow KC MC Mac Lethal, who put out an album called “Crown Prime Rib Mixtape,” says Gates’ place doesn’t hold up to Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue.  As Lethal delicately puts it, “I know it’s like calling Jesus Christ a fa&%ot, but I’m just telling you, out-of-towners without an emotional attachment to Gates invariably say that either Jack Stack or Oklahoma Joe’s is their favorite.” 

I don’t know if any North Carolina hip hop stars like barbecue, but given that 9th Wonder, arguably North Carolina’s most famous rapper, hails from Winston-Salem it seems likely.

RDU Kidding Me?

RDU, can we talk?

A sign of love in MEM

I recently had the pleasure of flying through Memphis and was struck by the emphasis on swine. In the one terminal I traversed, there were two barbecue shops (quite crowded at 9 AM I might add) and one porcine deity (see pic below). And barbecue isn’t even Memphis’ main thing–a distant third to the music/Beale Street and all things Elvis.

Now. Since you’re located in an area with nary a nationally-renowned ‘thing’ (Pharmaceuticals?), RDU, I’d think you would really embrace barbecue. Give me one good reason why there isn’t a mid-terminal pig pickin’ every day.

OK, at least a pickin’ outside the terminal to welcome visitors. And why aren’t there smokers in every Park & Ride lot for returning Carolinians. Inside, there should be rival Lexington and Eastern-style shops, hopefully set up on opposite sides of the airport’s midway point.

At the very least, RDU, we need one decent swine seller.  Instead, you give us the mediocrity that is Brookwood Farms. Now, the eatery’s output ain’t all bad. But Brookwood has its place in the world–the supermarket meat section.

Where are RDU's hog chefs?? (MEM swine idolatry)

Sure, getting a barbecue joint that cooks over coals may be difficult, but I’d settle for a well-done gas operation. A place that serves a decent barbecue sandwich (and sweet tea).

You can do better, RDU. I know you can. And you have just the opportunity–the entire new half of Terminal 2 will be opening soon. Let’s celebrate that event with a new barbecue restaurant or two and a kick-off pig pickin’.

A Shot Across the Bow: Dickey’s Moving Onto Sacred Land

The news out of Raleigh is not good, ladies and gentlemen.  Not since the days of British colonial rule has our state witnessed such a threat to our way of life.  According to the New Raleigh blog, mediocre Texas-based barbecue chain (my words, not their’s) Dickey’s Barbecue Pit will be opening up a store in the Progress Energy Building this fall. 

The Progress Energy Building just so happens to be directly across the street from a certain 70-plus year old local BBQ institution–Clyde Cooper’s.  Shouldn’t the North Carolina Utilities Commission, charged with overseeing companies like Progress Energy, regulate this affront on our state’s values?!  For all we know, Progress Energy is using power customers’ fees to subsidize Dickey’s rent in some sort of Halliburtonesque scheme.* 

Now, in my humble opinion, Clyde Cooper’s ranks squarely in the middle of the pack of NC barbecue joints, but I’m still willing to go to bat for them against the evil forces of mass produced corporate Texas ‘cue.  Let’s make a stand, draw a line in the sand/Davie Street asphalt, and send as many people to eat at Cooper’s during Dickey’s opening weeks as possible. And if you have a “Mess with Texas” t-shirt then this is as good a time as any to wear it.

*Note to Progress Energy’s legal staff: this allegation has no basis in the truth and is presumably patently false. However, the BBQ Jew Legal Department is fully prepared to defend my freedom of speech and dares you to find any court in NC that would take a stand against the state’s barbecue tradition in favor of Texas-sympathizers like yourselves.

Ash(hole) Wednesday

Raleigh-based sculptor Joel Haas sent me a note describing one of his recent projects.  Here’s what he had to say about his folk art pig cooker:

The pig cooker naked


Attached are several photos of a new, larger pig shaped pig cooker I recently made and shipped to a BBQ fanatic in Alabama.  The tail opens to make a smokestack; there is a steel “thought balloon” painted in chalkboard paint on which a cook can write messages or “pig thoughts”; used charcoal and wood is cleaned out of the “ashhole.”   The inside grill racks can be set at a steep angle over the coals allowing one to place slower cooking meat high up on the rack and faster cooking items lower of the racks where they are just over the coals. There are a number of hooks for hanging implements on the push handle; the grill opens using a handle made of forks and spoons.  One of the photos shows the grill at the powder coat painter’s with the side open and tail open (see inset); the black heat resistant paint is good to 1200 degrees F; there is a small hole to set a thermometer in near the tail.    

Note that the pig has my trademark lavender eyelashes and toenails in its final painted form (see photo below). Yes, the outer paint will scorch some around the grill door and along the bottom and maybe even along the top, though I doubt that area will scorch much; the head is merely decorative.  There is a black steel loop above the ashhole to put a chain through so the pig won’t “wander off.”  

As usual, there are NO provisions for the unrighteous and heretical practice of gas grilling.

The pig cooker with its paints on

BBQ Jew’s View: Smiley’s Lexington BBQ

917 Winston Road, Lexington, NC
Hours: Tue-Sun, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A-
Porky Says: “Turn that frown upside down.”

A Young Joint Cooking Old Time
Although Smiley’s has been around for only 8 years, they are proud to cook their ‘cue in the traditional way on a wood pit, an art that is starting to disappear even in tradition-bound Lexington.  On their website, the folks at Smiley’s say,  “Pit Cooked BBQ is different from the electric or gas cooked BBQ processes that are commonly seen in today’s marketplace.  With Pit Cooked BBQ, you can taste the rich flavor of the open flame in every bite.” Ain’t that the truth!  Smiley’s serves up a quality product cooked with care.  Their hard work pays off with tender, moist ‘cue that holds up well against many of Lexington’s best (and better known) barbecue joints.

The Menu
Smiley’s is a fairly typical Lexington-style joint, cooking pork shoulders that are available chopped, coarse-chopped or sliced.  The chopped is an excellent, medium-rough consistency that is not as finely chopped as some joints’, a trait characteristic of places like Smiley’s that continue to Continue reading

Nothing Unlucky About Mountain High BBQ & Music Festival

It’s Friday the 13th, black cats are prowling the streets, and I keep walking under ladders and breaking mirrors.  If you’re like me and need some good luck this weekend, head on down (well, up) to Franklin in the beautiful western NC mountains for the Mountain High BBQ & Music Festival.

The Festival features a KCBS-sanctioned barbecue cookoff, a cornhole tournament, music (including a Johnny Cash tribute band), and more.

Swine & Wine

I’ve had a lot of different drinks with barbecue over the years: beer, water, lemonade, Cheerwine, Pepsi and yes, of course, ice tea, to name a few.  But I’d never thought seriously about pairing wine and barbecue.  Somehow it just didn’t seem right: humble barbecue and that snooty vino stuff.  As far as I was concerned wine belonged with barbecue about as much as lobster belonged on a peanut butter & jelly sandwich.  But a recent experience made me think again.

A wine distributor contacted me and offered to send me a couple bottles of Argentinian wine if I was willing to have some friends over to sample it alongside barbecue.  (Generous offer, not-so-subtle attempt at free advertising, bribe?  You decide).  I was going to say no thanks but curiousity and the willingess to do anything for a free bottle of alcohol swayed me.  Plus, it occurred to me that the people of Argentina are notorious meat eaters and undoubtedly pair wine with their carnivore diet all the time.

The wine I received was a 2008 bottle of Broquel Malbec from Trapiche, which is Argentina’s largest premium wine exporter.  (See this link for some interesting background on Malbec.)  Because Broquel Malbec has a rich, complex flavor Trapiche recommends pairing it with flavorful foods like “stew made of game, lamb, or wild boar.”  Given the surprising lack of availability of wild boar at my local grocer (when is boar season ’round here anyway?), and my distaste for stew in 100 degree August weather, I figured barbecue would be a good substitute.

I invited some friends over for NC-style barbecue pork butt and Texas-style beef brisket.  I told my friends not to bother to bring drinks, since wine was on the menu.  My wine loving friends didn’t flinch but the alert barbecue lovers voiced some concern.  Luckily, free booze and ‘cue is hard to resist. 

The results were great. I can vouch that the complex fruit flavors of the Broquel Malbec paired well with the smoky, rich meaty flavors of the barbecue.  Perhaps because the beef brisket had a stronger flavor, the wine worked particularly well with it.  Still, even the relatively subtle flavors of the pork were not overwhelmed by the Broquel Malbec.  Live, drink and learn.  I’m not giving up ice tea as my preferred BBQ drink but I’ll catch myself next time my eyes roll at the mention of wine and barbecue!

Dear BBQ Jew: Notes from a Virginian

We recently received a letter (okay, just an email) from reader Robbie Robinson of Virginia, and think you might enjoy his comments on a recent barbecue pilgrimmage to the Old North State.  Robbie shares his thoughts on some local joints and also reveals his weight loss secret: the BBQ Atkins diet.  Below is a slightly edited version of Robbie’s correspondence, printed with his permission.

BBQ Jew,

Many, many thanks for your website.  NC BBQ research is a dirty job but we know you are out there for us, leading us into temptation and away from the evil of non-wood cooked BBQ.  I just returned from a few weeks in Chapel Hill but only made it to 11 joints due to circumstances [Editor’s note: only 11?].

I do not understand the raves for Allen and Son (north of Chapel Hill). It has everything going for it,but I have made two visits in the last 60 days and found the pork uninteresting. Nice big moist tender pieces,but no smokey flavor and not much other flavor. Sauce only average. Also,I am on BBQ Atkins diet and Allen and Sons was the only place of 11 that would not make me a low carb plate. They were pleasant but firm, no substitutions. [Editor’s note: I will defend Allen’s until the day I die so will blame your poor judgment on being deprived of essential nutrients–specifically, hush puppies–due to adhering to the BBQ Atkins diet.]

The waitress at Short Sugar’s took it as a personal challenge to make  sure Continue reading