The Quest for 'Que: Barbeque, BBQ, or Barbecue -- it's smokin'

Barbeque isn't the same all over. First, grilling isn't the same as smoking. Smoking tenderizes the meat with slow, indirect heat and also provides that heavenly flavor. Grilling is when the meat is placed directly over the heat source. 'Que lovers also regularly disagree about what makes great 'que. Should it be wet or dry (with or without sauce). Spicy? Mild? Sweet? Vinegar? Then, of course, there are regional specialties.

Our New Book

Alabama and Big Bob Gibson's

The folks of Alabama are blessed with much 'que, several restaurants in each town. I confess, I adored the food everywhere. It's country cookin' at its best with country fried steak, crisp and moist biscuits, delicately yeasty rolls, and (sigh) fried chicken with gravy. And pie for dessert. Into this wonderland of fabulous food, I was introduced to an Alabama version sandwiched with pool room 'slaw. It's mustard sauced rather than mayonaise. I promise you'll love it, and begin to put it on (almost) every meat you eat.

I ate my way through their menu, from the smokey tender pulled pork through the oh-my-gosh good homemade pie. Started in 1925 by the original Big Bob, who is said to have nailed some planks together, dug a pit and began smoking, their BBQ has been winning award after award.

Florida and Captain's BBQ

Flagler Beach is still very much Old Florida there are plenty of fun and local places to eat. But don't miss the great BBQ at Captain's BBQ at Bing's Landing. Save room for their ohmygosh delicious New York Cheesecake.

Georgia -- Southern Soul BBQ on St. Simon's Island

If BBQ is your thing, Southern Soul BBQ sits alongside a major road and has limited seating so you might need to get their delicious brisket (and other goodies) to go. It's worth it.

New Mexico

I live in New Mexico now and have enjoyed eating my way through much BBQ. Whole Hog Cafe will put you in hog heaven, and brisket heaven as well. They have several locations around the country, with two in New Mexico.

For sit-down dining, the County Line at the foot of the Sandia Mountains can not be beat. The food is smoky delicious.

In Santa Fe, it's the Cowgirl Hall of Fame (and Grill). The Hall of Fame part refers to the memorabilia decorating the interior rooms (and worth a visit) but the long community-eating tables outside in front (although they do have smaller tables as well) are for eatin' and listening to the music.

New York -- Long Island and Smokin' Al's in Bayshore

Once a desert without any 'que at all, Long Island now one really fine places to get traditional BBQ. There were some places in NYC, but the hinterland of Long Island?

For those wishing to sit down indoors and eat, Smokin' Al's in Bayshore is the best place on Long Island. The pulled pork is smoky good, the ribs are finger-lickin' delicious. The sides are all excellent and you can get bacon-y good collard greens with just the right amount of tang. Al also offers one of my favorite appetizers -- a haystack of fried onion sticks with a creamy barbeque favored dipping sauce. The place is easy to miss,

North Carolina -- High Cotton Barbeque in the Outer Banks

The south is pork country. The pork butt should be smoked slowly and lovingly for hours, then mixed with a sassy vinegar-based sauce. Of all the places to eat 'que in North Carolina, why did we pick the Outer Banks? Because it's a great place to visit in its own right. The Outer Banks has long stretches of open ocean beaches, charming towns, and a protected bay. And why not enjoy some special BBQ while you're here.

The local 'que lovers rave about High Cotton BBQ in Kitty Hawk. It's homey inside and out, in a building typical of traditional Outer Banks Nags Head architecture. Although they serve chicken and ribs, you'll go for the traditional North Carolina chopped pork, smoked over hickory coals.

Tennessee -- Jack's Bar-B-Que

We just plain got lucky when we found Jack's in Nashville. Recommended by the concierge at a downtown hotel as great food and pet-friendly (dogs are allowed on the outdoor patio) we walked over and had the best ribs ever. The line was just about out the door, but the food makes it well worthwhile. You can add sauce if you want -- several kinds are available, but don't bother. These succulent, meaty dry rubbed ribs are perfect as served. Anything else would only distract you from savoring the flavor.

Texas

Texas is brisket country. All that cattle, they had to end up specializing in beef. And nobody does it better.

The Swinging Door in a suburb of Houston Texas was where I fell in love with true barbeque. This delicious bit of a honky-tonk haunt was way the heck out. But the meltingly tender smoky brisket was a taste of heaven served with just a hint of sauce, the meat pungent with the flavor of pecan wood smoked slowly for hours. People also rave (and with good reason) about their smoked turkey, and their ribs. And if that wasn't enough, there were sides of mustardy potato salad, slaw, and Texas beans which made my mouth water for more.

Readers Recommendations

'Que fans love to share favorite places, so we're happy to let y'all know about some other "tried and loved" places our readers have recommended.

Off the beaten path is the small town of Smithville in central Texas, southeast of Austin. Try the bar-be-que, sausage, and ribs at Zimmerhanzel's BarBeQue!! Oh, so good!!! Thanks to HW for this delicious suggestion

BBQ Enthusiast (and poet perhaps) Neil Dallenbach writes When I sleep I dream about swirling smoke, hot flames, tender cuts of meat on the grill or smoker, spicy dry rubs, saucy marinades and tangy BBQ sauces. He also offers these favorite places.
Texas: Luling City Market (The Best); and Kreuz Market for the German-style barbecue restaurant in Lockhart.
If you're in Austin, Neil suggestions Iron Works BBQ, and Stubbs. In Houston it's Goode Company.

But Neil saves his highest praise for Rudy's Bar-B-Q in Selma Texas. Just inside the Selma city limits and I pull into what looks to be an 18 wheeler truck stop or old Texas ice house. You immediately know that it is more than a truck stop when you smell that delicious oak smoke from the parking lot. Inside are a myriad of smoky delights. My favorite, and to this day I say it is the best I have ever had, is their smoked turkey.

You begin your Rudy's Bar-B-Q experience by walking through the line and choosing your drinks, picking up a red tray and some silverware and then you arrive at what I believe a BBQ counter in heaven would look and smell like. Behind the counter servers are the pits and the carvers cutting away at the savory tender brisket, sausage links, turkey and several other smoked meats (See the menu below). The meats, seasoned with wonderful dry rub spices, are served to you just like in an old butcher shop or classic meat market, on white butcher paper, by the pound with pickles and plenty of bread. Then after you happily pay the toll (the bill) to the cashier you can head out to the picnic tables, each with their own big bottle of Rudy's "Sause" and plenty of paper towels.

The flavor in all their meats is perfect and in my book they need no sauce. I like to think this is the true measure of good BBQ. In my circle of boucaniers the consensus is that good BBQ meat has a well balanced flavor from the dry rub, the smoke on the meat isn't overpowering and although the meat is thoroughly cooked and it is still moist. BBQ smothered in a sauce can hide a lot of mistakes. That being said their peppery "sause" is delicious. It is a nice complement to any of their meats. Every time I come home to San Antonio I stop into Rudy's for a wonderful south central Texas BBQ meal.

'Que lover Tex Wilson from Louisiana writes that The Salt Lick in Austin is definitely a place to consider. They present truly glorious 'que under the spreading oak trees of the Texas Hill Country. Your mouth starts watering when you hit the screen door of the stone building constructed in 1969, and you're drooling like a mad dog by the time you get your grub to the picnic table. Outstanding food in an east Texas setting--heavenly. Bonus: relatively inexpensive, clever t- shirts--who wouldn't want a "Smell Out Pits" souvenir tog? Super bonus: They ship meat as well as sauce, shirts and the like! A rarity in the bbq world, in my experience, and a lifeline for us transplanted Texans.

A Work in Progress

The search for BBQ never ends, of course. So, as we find great 'que we'll be adding to the listing. Our goal is simple -- eat BBQ across the country.

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Neala McCarten

Updated: January 22, 2017



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