I’ve said it before. I eat at a BBQ joint just about every chance I get. Even if I’ve eaten there before. Now I try to be respectful of other folks if I’m out to lunch etc., but given the choice I’ll nearly always choose good BBQ over the other food groups.
I also find that in most BBQ joints, the BBQ is pretty decent. Not always great, but good. In fact, anyone that knows me knows that I critique the hell out of most of the places we go to. And, I believe that my BBQ is just as good.
But sometimes I walk out of a BBQ joint and say, “That was great”. So I’ve begun to ponder what the difference is between “good” & “great” BBQ joints. Is it the meat, or is it something else? I’m not a big sauce guy, so it’s not the BBQ sauce. Every BBQ joint you eat in these days all look the same, so it’s not the atmosphere. Is it their reputation? I don’t think so. I’ve eaten in some notable joints and walked away underwhelmed.
So what’s the difference between “good” & “great” BBQ joints? I’ll tell you what I think it is. It’s a combination of all the things I’ve already mentioned, plus awesome side dishes. While I can cook the heck out of BBQ, I’m not as good at side dishes. So I guess I put a high value on the things that I can’t do myself.
If you want to take your BBQ joint from “good’ to “great”, you have to do all the basics and you have to do them well. But you have to have great side dishes too. It’s not enough to have good meat, a selection of sauces, a big glass of sweet tea, and a down home atmosphere. You have to close the deal with some great sides.
I mean, have you had the BBQ beans at Martin’s BBQ Joint or the creamed corn at 17th Street Bar & Grill? Shut my mouth & slap your grandma! Now that’s good eatin’, and those are “great” BBQ joints.
Recently, I was having lunch with Carey Bringle of Peg Leg Porker at Pat Martin’s BBQ Joint in Nolensville, TN. Peg Leg Porker will be at Memphis in May as they usually are, and we began to talk about the difference between MBN competitions and KCBScompetitions. Our conversation got me thinking a little bit. You see, Carey’s position is that the presentation that is part of MBN competitions is really the essence of BBQ, more so than the nondescript Styrofoam box that’s judged blindly in KCBS competitions.
The more I ponder it, I think he’s right. I walk into BBQ joints every chance I get and I eat BBQ. No offense to great BBQ joints like Pat’s or 17th Street, but I often walk away thinking that I can cook just as good. In fairness, I’m not cooking for the masses (usually). But is BBQ really just about the food? Or is the enjoyment of my own BBQ a result of the experience, the tradition, the stories told around the BBQ pit, or maybe just the satisfaction of doing it myself?
I can enjoy good food in a restaurant. But if you believe that BBQ is the sum of all those things I mentioned previously, you can’t get BBQ in a restaurant.
While I’ve always appreciated good BBQ, I haven’t always been able to create good BBQ. Over the years, I’ve tried my hand at it with a variety of different BBQ pits. My failures usually left me thinking that it was an equipment problem. Finally, after going through a couple of ECB’s (El Cheapo Brinkman water smokers) and an off-set cooker, I finally decided that maybe the common denomenator was the guy running the show.
I began to read a lot of the BBQ forums on line and decided to give it one more shot. My folks had a gas powered, bullet smoker that they’d never used. I pressed it into service and applied the techniques I’d read about and much to my surprise, I turned out some awesome pulled pork. I finally realized the most important ingredient that I’d been missing in my previous attempts.
You see, I’d been following the FDA guidelines regarding safe temps for food preparation. You know, those numbers printed on the back of meat thermometers and such. I’d always pulled pork shoulder off of the cooker when it reached 165 degrees. What I failed to realize is that while no one will die from eating pork cooked to 165 degrees, that doesn’t mean it’s done. In fact, the magic is only starting when pork shoulder hits 165 degress.
The ingredient that I’d been missing all along wasn’t a rub, a sauce, or a cooker. It was patience. It turns out that you can’t rush good BBQ. You can’t cook by your watch. You have to cook by temperature (for the most part) and pork shoulder isn’t done at 165 degrees, it’s done at 195 deegrees.
So grasshopper, now that you know the secret. Be patient, cause great things come to those who wait!