Tag: review

Review: Famous Dave’s BBQ

I wanted to like it.  Really, I did.  I mean I’ve seen Famous Dave on TV and really wanted to like my first experience eating at one of his BBQ restaurants.  But unfortunately, I was underwhelmed.  


Okay, I liked a couple of the spicier BBQ sauces on the table, the sweet cornbread muffin, and the complimentary sample of BBQ chips that was served for the purposes of sampling the 5 BBQ sauces on the table.  My wife ordered the smoked salmon spread from the appetizer menu and it was pretty good.

But as for the BBQ, I found it to be medicore.  It wasn’t smokey, it didn’t seem all that fresh, and unfortunately they served it with a big dose of their house sauce on top.  I had the combo lunch plate with pulled pork and brisket.  I found it to be very bland when I could get a taste around the sauce.

This seems to me like an example of the franchise concept driving the quality of the food to a level less than the founder started with or intended.  At least, I hope so.  

The restaurant itself felt like I’d stepped into an Applebees or a TGI Fridays.  Again, the franchise thing has driven all the originality and uniqueness right out of the place.  If you blindfolded me before I entered and then you handed me a menu from one of the aforementioned franchises, I would’ve thought that’s where I was.  It’s kinda sad actually.

Here’s my report card:

  • BBQ – C
  • Side Dishes – B
  • Atmosphere – C
  • Value – C
  • Overall – C

Nonetheless, I’d rather eat mediocre, chain-BBQ-restaurant food than a lot of other franchises.  So considering the alternatives in the greater Branson, MO area, I’d probably eat at Famous Dave’s again.


Review: Country BBQ – Bethalto, IL

It’s been awhile since I found and reviewed a new BBQ joint.  However, this past weekend I had some time to kill and I was in an area that I don’t often visit.  So, I plugged “BBQ” into Google Maps on my iPhone and found out that I was only a couple of miles from Country BBQ.

I followed the guidance directions and pretty soon, I’d located Country BBQ.  It’s a small place that you’d miss if you weren’t looking for it, but that’s usually where you find the best BBQ.  So I found a spot to park, stepped to the counter, ordered, and grabbed one of the dozen or so tables in the place.

I ordered the 2-meat plate.  Sliced beef and pulled pork, along with sides of cole slow and BBQ beans.  They did have sweet tea (the mark of any good BBQ joint), but I skipped it as I’m watching the extra calories and cutting them out where I can.

Country BBQ - Bethalto, IL

The food came out quick enough and I was impressed by the generous portions. Definitely a good value.  The cole slaw was kind of a cross between a vinegar and creamy based slaw, but it was very good.  The BBQ beans were okay, but there was a flavor there that I couldn’t put my finger on and frankly didn’t care for all that much.  When I ordered “sliced beef”, I assumed that would be brisket.  Disappointingly, it was closer to a shaved roast beef and not very “bbq like”.  However, the pulled pork was very good.  It was finely chopped, but I really enjoyed the flavor.  

There were 3 kinds of sauce on the table.  I chose the “regular” sauce and while it was thin, I thought it was very good.  I did not try the mustard sauce or the other sauce that appeared to be a thick KC style sauce.  Two giant slabs of Texas toast rounded out the meal.

Overall, I liked the joint.  I’d recommend the pulled pork for sure.  Here’s how Country BBQ in Bethalto, IL stacks up on my score card:

  • BBQ – B
  • Side Dishes – B
  • Atmosphere – B
  • Value – A
  • Overall – B

If you find yourself in the area, give this place a shot.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.  


Review: Draper’s BBQ Rub & Sauce

I love the “microbrew” movement in BBQ sauces and rubs.  It has created many new products and companies that share the love of good BBQ with a passion to make a great product.

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Shane Draper at Draper’s BBQ is one of those folks who is sharing his passion and family traditions via his own “microbrew” BBQ sauce and rub.  Shane is a 3rd generation pitmaster from Western Kentucky and as the label states, there’s “3 generations of pride and flavor in a bottle” that honors his family hertiage.  While I had met Shane on line awhile back, it was only recently that I actually got to chat with him a little at the Kentucky Bluegrass festival where he was sharing samples of his products.

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I came home with a bottle of both the A.P. Rub and the Smokin’ Sauce.  I’d planned to cook with these products righ away, but a little knife accident sidelined me for a couple of weeks.  I finally had the opportunity to fire up the grill and try out Draper’s rub & sauce.  I like to sample rubs and sauces with pork tenderloin or chicken.  I think flavors stand out a little more with these meats.

So, we had a couple of pork tenderloins ready to go for dinner last night.  I applied the A.P. Rub to both and grilled them on the Bubba Keg.  When they were nearly done, I gave one of them a coat of Smokin’ Sauce as a finish.  Then, I sliced them and the family sat down to dinner.  

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Now usually, my wife and I like a finish sauce on pork tenderloin, but my kids prefer them dry.  The Smokin’ Sauce definitely changed that.  Much to my surprise, the kids couldn’t get enough of the sauced tenderloin.  In fact, one of my daughters said, “I can’t eat any more, but can I lick the sauce off that last piece?”  Now if that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is!  

In all seriousness, Smokin’ Sauce is a tomato based sauce with a slightly sweet finish and just a little kick.  Don’t think “Kansas City” when I say sweet, cause that’s not what I’m talking about.  This is more Memphis than KC, but I’d even hesitate to put it in the category of Memphis style sauces.  I have also tried the sauce on brisket and for me, I’d have to say that I prefered it on pork.  But it was a good compliment to both.

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The A.P. Rub is a really nice balance of salt, spice, and sweet.  In fact Shane was sampling the product sprinkled on popcorn in Danville, KY.  I found it just a little sweeter than the rubs I’ve been using most often.  That’s probably what makes it more all purpose than rubs targeted at a specific meat.  For comparison, I’d definitely put it in the cateogry of a Dizzy Pig or Yardbird type of rub.  Truly, it’s an all-purpose (or A.P.) rub. 

I’m very happy with the products and I’ll continue to cook with them.  I’m also anxious to try the other sauces that Shane’s working on.

Check out Draper’s BBQ at http://www.drapersbbq.com


Photo Tour of a Backwoods Smoker

If you’ve been following along here, you know that I’ve been in a continuous upgrade pattern for the past couple of years.  I still enjoy cooking on my Big Green Egg & the Bubba Keg, but I first purchased a Backwoods Fatboy for more capacity.  Then, I upgraded to a Backwoods Pro Jr. for even more capacity.  This cooker seems to be big enough and still take up a reasonable amount of space in my garage since it’s a cabinet/vertical style unit.

I thought I’d take a minute to breakdown how this vertical smoker is put together.  First, the units are all configured with a firebox below the cooking chamber.  The firebox is seperated by a water pan at the bottom of the cooking chamber.


Optionally, a heat deflector is available to act as a further barrier between the hot coals and the bottom of the water pan.


The commercial fire grate (on the Fatboy & larger models and optional on the smaller cookers), is suspended above the bottom of the cooker.  An ash pan sits on the floor to collect the ashes for disposal.  This grate is made of expanded metal to allow the ash to drop through onto the ash pan.


The stainless cooking racks are evenly spaced and mounted on rails that allow you to slide them out for easy access to the items that you’re cooking.


The back wall of the cooker is hollow and seperated into 3 chambers.  The 2 outside chambers allow smoke & heat to travel from the fire box, up the back of the cooker, and into the top of the cooking chamber.  The heat & smoke are then drawn down through the cooking chamber (and over and around the meat) to the bottom of the cooker where the exhaust port is located just above the water pan.  The exhaust then runs up the middle of the rear wall of the cooker to the vent on the top of the cooker.


Here’s a shot of the top vents or point of entry for heat & smoke into the cooking chamber.And this is a shot of the exhaust port at the bottom of the cooker.The air flow is controlled by two vents at the bottom of the cooker. The vents have slider openings and one is located on the right front side, the other is on the left rear.The exhaust stack on the top of the cooker is very simple and has a door to swing over the opening. On the Fatboy, I always cooked with the exhaust wide open. The Pro Jr. works a little differently and I run with it about half open.Finally, when you’re done cooking on a Backwoods you will have to drain & dispose of the greasy water in the water pan. There’s a large drain valve on the side of the cooker to help with that task since the water pans aren’t removable unless custom ordered.That’s a quick (and picture heavy) overview of how a Backwoods Smoker is put together. There are variations and you an customize your cooker. However, for the mid-sized cookers this is pretty accurate.

Questions about a Backwoods Smoker? I’d be happy to help. Drop me a note or leave a comment below.



Review: Bogart’s Smokehouse

Over the past month or so, I’ve become aware of a new BBQ joint in St. Louis called Bogart’s Smokehouse.  Now all I really need is an excuse to go eat BBQ so when one of the owners dropped me a line here at Grill & Barrel asking me to pay them a visit, I had all the excuse I needed.


I didn’t annonce myself, but I showed up this afternoon on my way home from work.  I timed my visit to be just after the lunch rush since I’d heard that they do a crazy amount of business at lunch time.  Even at 2:00pm, there were no empty tables inside to be had.  I figure that’s a good sign.

I was met at the door by Mike Macchi, one of the partners, but I kept a low profile, stepped to the counter, ordered a combo plate, and took up a seat to sample the fare.  What I got was a plate piled high with brisket & pulled pork on an open hoagie roll, pit beans, and a side of pork rinds.  


I sampled each of the four sauces that were on the table.  They were all uniquely named and uniquely different.  There was what I’d call a St. Louis style sauce called Sweet Maegan Ann’s.  It’s a sweet tomato based sauce.  Mad Maddie’s Vinegar sauce is a thin vinegar based sauce as the name suggests.  Pineapple Express is a thin sauce that unmistakably has a hint of pineapple flavor.  And the sauce that I like the best, VooDoo Sauce.  That’s a thinner sauce with a peppery kick.


So how’s the food?  The pulled pork was some of the best in St. Louis.  I really enjoyed the taste and texture, and the VooDoo sauce was a great compliment.  The brisket was very good, though I wasn’t a huge fan of the rub.  I couldn’t tell if the rub was applied pre or post cook, but there was a beautiful smoke ring and it was very tender and flavorful.  And the pit beans?  Some of the best BBQ beans I’ve had.  I learned that they cook the beans on the pit with the brsiket for 12 hrs.  They were smokey, peppery, and really tasty.


As I was wrapping up my lunch, one of the partners stopped by my table and we began to chat.  Mike gave me the background on the relationship between Bogart’s & Pappy’s(one of my Top 5 BBQ Joints in St. Louis).  It turns out that the 4 partners who own Bogart’s started it up with Pappy’s blessings.  They still work with Pappy’s, but they now have a chance to do their own thing as well.  That’s a pretty sweet deal, and Pappy’s deserves a tip of the hat for being open to helping their folks spread their wings a bit.

Mike took me out back and showed me the Ole Hickory & Southern Pride pits that they’re cooking with.  We chatted about the pits and he let me peek at the butts that were finishing up on the Ole Hickory.  


All in all, I enjoyed my visit and will definitely return to try the other items on the menu.  Here’s how I’d rate Bogart’s Smokehouse:

  • BBQ – A
  • Side Dishes – A
  • Atmosphere – A
  • Value – B
  • Overall – A

Bogart’s is definitely worthy of a stop if you’re in the St. Louis area.  They’re in the Soulard neighborhood between Busch Stadium and Anheuser Busch Brewery, and right behind the Soulard Farmer’s Market.  I think I’ll be revising my “Best in St. Louis” list to include Bogart’s.

Here’s their address:

Bogarts Smokehouse

1627 S. 9th Street

St. Louis, MO


Review: Big Green Egg

Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve been cooking on a Big Green Egg.  But it dawned on me recently that as much as I evangelize the merits of the Big Green Egg, I’ve never actually written a review on the product.  What prompted this review is the number of people that are coming to GrillandBarrel.comafter doing a search for “Big Green Egg Review”.  Well for those of you that have gotten here through that method, here goes.

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For centuries, people have cooked in clay vessels.  Evidence of clay cooking vessels have been found all over the world.  From the tandoor cooker in India to the mushikamodo in Japan, it’s believed that these are the precursors to today’s kamado style cooker.


Kamados became popular in the US after World War II.  Today, there are a number of companies making kamado style cookers using ceramic and refractory materials in their construction.  Big Green Egg began production in 1974, first using clay materials and finally the ceramic construction used today.  Based in Atlanta, Big Green Egg is the world’s largest producer and international distributor of ceramic, kamado style cookers.

There are many advantages to this style of cooker and in particular, the Big Green Egg.

  • Temperature Control – once the ceramic material comes up to temp, it retains the heat for hours and doesn’t require a large fire to maintain that temp.
  • Low Fuel Consumption – as stated above since the ceramic is radiating retained heat, only a small fire is needed for low temperature smoking and thus only a small amount of fuel is required.
  • Moisture – this style of cooker does not require a pan for water or other liquids.  The ceramic retains the moisture in the cooking chamber and produces moist & flavorful results
  • Grill or Smoke –  Of course you can cook indirect on lots of grills, but few afford you the ability to smoke or grill equally well.
  • Active User Community – There’s a very strong following of fanatical owners of the Big Green Egg online.  Called “Eggheads”, you can find them hanging out at the Egghead Forum or gathering at regional “Eggfests” around the country.  The granddaddy of all eggfests is in Atlanta in October called Eggtoberfest.  There’s plenty of advice, tips, techniques, and recipes willing shared among the loyal following.

Of course there are some drawbacks to any product, and the Big Green Egg is no exception. 

  • Capacity – Although you can add additional cooking grates higher into the dome, there’s no getting around the fact that capacity can be an issue if you often cook for large groups.  Now by “large”, I mean more than ~20 folks or so (depending on what your cooking).
  • Portability – These things are heavy.  As such, they’re not great for tailgating, camping etc.

Personally, I find that the advantages to a Big Green Egg outweigh the disadvantages.  And since the product comes in sizes ranging from mini to X-Large, I’m confident that there’s a size that’s right for everyone.

Since I acquired my Big Green Egg, the way we eat as a family has completely changed.  I cook nearly every weekend and often times throughout the week.  With a little practice, you can have the cooker running and ready to cook in less than 15 minutes even though it’s charcoal.  So being able to cook dinner after work is very easy to do.  When I cook on Sundays, I am most often smoking (or cooking low & slow).  This typically means a larger meal with plenty of left overs.  

Throughout the pages of GrillandBarrel.com, you’ll find lots of my own experiences with the Big Green Egg.  So peruse the information here and let me know if you have questions or feedback on the product.

Maybe I’ll run into you at an Eggfest someday!


Review: Martin’s BBQ Joint

A couple of years ago, I stumbled on the blog of a guy in Tennessee who was chronicling his journey in starting a BBQ joint.  Now I don’t think there’s a restaurant in my future…ever.  But I thoroughly enjoyed following the story of Martin’s BBQ Joint and pitmaster Pat Martin.  I mentally put his joint on my list of places to visit if the opportunity ever arose.

Martin’s BBQ Joint – Nolensville, TNWell recently I had the opportunity to travel through Nashville on a BBQ related trip of my own.  I’d also had the good fortune to meet Carey Bringle of Peg Leg Porker at the Business of BBQ class in January.  When Carey found out I was coming through town, we agreed to meet up for lunch.  Carey told me on the phone that “Pat’s is the best place in town”.  It took me a minute to realize that he was talking about Pat Martin.  That sealed the deal, we were headed to Martin’s BBQ to meet Carey for lunch.

The Hog CoffinI’d read about the original joint and frankly forgotten that Pat had moved into a new building.  But when we rolled through Nolensville, TN, there was no mistaking that we were at Martin’s when we spotted the “Hog Coffin” parked out front.  Now that’s a serious BBQ rig.  It’ll cook 6 hogs at once and has a big Ole Hickory pit mounted on it as well.  We took a few minutes to admire the rig while we waited for Carey.

Once inside, do you know how I could tell we were in a BBQ joint?  There’s a freakin’ pit in the middle of the dining area.  I’m talking about a hog cookin’ pit.  Whole hog is Pat’s specialty and they cook them in full view of the diners.  Now I wasn’t there on a day when they were cooking whole hog, so that means I have to get back there another time when they are.

We ordered up a couple of sampler platters and Carey had the brisket tacos.  We had baby back ribs, brisket, pulled pork, bbq beans, green beans, and cornbread on the platters.  I’ll just cut to the chase, I loved it all.  The brisket was probably my favorite meat, and the bbq beans were my favorite side dish.  But it was all good!

As we were finishing our lunch Pat came by and we spent some time talking about their pending trip to Memphis in May, the merits of the Backwoods Smoker that I was there to pick up, the Big Apple Block Party, and a variety of other bbq topics.  It was great to have lunch with Carey & Pat, a couple of guys who are definitely living out their bbq dreams.

If you find yourself anywhere near Nashville, TN, then I’d recommend diverting to Nolensville (just southeast of Nashville) and eating at Martin’s BBQ.



Review: Bandana’s BBQ

I’ve delayed writing this restaurant review for a long time.  I can’t explain why, but I guess it’s because it feels so overly commercial that I don’t place it in the same category as most BBQ joints.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s an honest-to-goodness BBQ restaurant, but it just feels like they are trying way too hard to be “authentic”. 

Bandana’s is a St. Louis based BBQ restaurant that has franchised to roughly 25 locations in 3 states and growing.  I’ve tried at least 6 of their locations and I can say that they’re very consistent.  But with that consistency, comes a lack of authenticity.  This is evident in the way the place feels when you walk in the door.  From the wash tub light fixtures to the handkerchief curtains, it’s obvious that they’re executing on a theme.  It’s like walking into an Applebee’s or a TGI Fridays.  You know that it’s supposed to be kitschy and cool, but it just doesn’t feel authentic when there’s one on every corner.

But enough about how the place looks and feels, how’s the BBQ you might ask?  Well, it’s just okay.  In at least one of their locations, I’ve seen the pit and they are sure enough cooking on site.  However, I wouldn’t say that the results are great.  I find the ribs to be too tough, ditto the brisket, and the pulled pork is hit or miss.  On the other hand, I do enjoy their side dishes.  I like their baked beans, green beans, corn, and especially the garlic bread that accompanies every lunch or dinner plate.

Another area where they’ve done a nice job is in their selection of sauces.  I can’t say that it’s necessarily an original idea, but they have a six-pack of sauces on every table.  Each sauce is designed to capture a different regional form of BBQ.  From a thick, sweet Kansas City style sauce to a mustard-based Carolina sauce, they offer a taste for just about everyone.  The only anomaly here is their Chicago Style sauce.  I never knew that there was such a thing as “Chicago Style” BBQ, did you?

Here’s how I’d rate Bandana’s BBQ:

  • BBQ – C
  • Side Dishes – B
  • Atmosphere – C+
  • Value – A
  • Overall – B-

Banadana’s has done a nice job of making BBQ affordable and accessible to a lot of people.  I just wish the food was a little better. 


Review: Peg-Leg Porker BBQ Rub

I recently attended the Business of BBQ with Mike & Amy Mills in Murphysboro, IL.  I met lots of great folks, including Carey Bringle of Peg Leg Porker.  I’ve read about Carey, his competition team, his team mates, and his line of signature BBQ products.

Carey is a seasoned competition cook and I’m really glad that I got to know him.  As the 2-day class wrapped up, Carey tossed me some of his rub to try out and reveiw.  So I brought it home and finally got around to firing up the Big Green Egg and giving it a try.

This is a classic Memphis style dry rub.  It’s not sweet.  In fact, I’m not sure there’s any sugar in it at all.  But that’s okay.  It has a very rich, earthy flavor with a slight hint of chili powder or something similar.  Don’t get me wrong…it’s not spicey, but it has a nice flavor.  If you’ve ever eaten ribs at the Rendezvous in Memphis, this rub is similar to the dry rub they serve.

I like to taste test rubs on chicken.  I think you get a better idea of the flavor profile with the lighter flavor of chicken.  I hit some chicken with Peg Leg’s rub and smoked it for a couple hours.  I thought the rub had a great taste and went great with chicken.  I’m sure it’ll go great on pork too, and I’ll be trying that soon.

Peg Leg has a couple of other products available at their website, as well as information on the competition team.  You can also catch up with them at Memphis in May.

Here’s their contact info:

Follow Peg Leg Porker on Twitter 
Peg Leg Porker Twitter Page
Join their Facebook Page:
Peg Leg Porker Facebook Page


Review: Hick’s BBQ Company

I found myself at loose ends for lunch today and decided to take the opportunity to sample a new BBQ joint that’s sprung up in my own backyard.

Hicks BBQ opened just last year in Belleville, IL.  I became aware of the place after one the BBQ shops in St. Louis recommended their sauce and told me about the restaraunt.  Funny how the place is within 10 mins of the house & I didn’t even know it was there.

The place is in a newer building, but on the outside it sure looks like a BBQ joint complete with a big off-set smoker in the parking lot and a front porch full of tables.  As I said, their sauce had been recommended to me.  I bought a bottle and enjoyed the heck out of it, so I stepped up to the counter to order with hopeful anticipation. 

They had a great lunch special consisting of a pulled pork or chicken sandwich, 1 side, and a drink for just $7 including tax.  So I ordered up the pulled pork lunch special and dejectedly found a seat when I found out they didn’t have sweet tea.  The place was half full when I sat down but it was completely full by the time I left.

When they brought out my lunch, I was impressed by the generous portions.  I was pleased to see they had their own sauce on the table, but surprised to see bottles of Sweet Baby Rays as well.  Oh well, I was only interested in Hicks’ own concoction so I hit the sandwich with some sauce and dug in.

The pulled pork was good, but not great.  They had applied a generous sprinkling of BBQ rub on the sandwich that provided a little flavor, but overall I didn’t taste much smoke or bark in the pork.  In fact, I’d call it chopped pork rather than pulled pork.

There’s an extensive menu there that I need to work through and the ribs looked good.  I’ll provide updates on my next trip when I try the brisket or the ribs.  Overall, I’m super pleased to see a new joint opening up and you can bet I’ll go back. 

By the way, if you get a chance to try their sauce I highly recommend it.

Here’s my final report card for Hicks Bar-B-Que Company:

  • BBQ – B
  • Side Dishes – B
  • Atmosphere – A
  • Value – A
  • Overall – B+