Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What exactly is a barbecue “joint”?

Authentic Buffalo "joint".
Let’s get something straight, just because some line cook in a restaurant serves pork ribs that came out of a freezer or splashes some sauce on half a chicken and calls it barbecue, does not mean it is. Sure, maybe they can serve something that looks like barbecue, and if they get lucky, might even be somewhat tasty, but true barbecue it ain’t. A restaurant like that might be fine for the kids (or a date with your ugly cousin), but true barbecue aficionados seek a holier temple: the lowly, roadside, hole-in-the-wall barbecue joint.

Okay, maybe that description is a bit harsh, but for a cornhole like me, there is a mysterious reverence and admiration for places that only do barbecue and do it extremely well. Let other restaurants worry about offering gourmet crap burgers and low-cal fart salads. I’m simply looking for the best damn barbecue I can find: ribs, pork, brisket, chicken, and a couple homemade side dishes. That’s it. Oh, and maybe a bowl of chili or homemade soup. That’s it. Oh, and maybe some fresh baked pie for desert, but shit, that’s it!

Real bbq means real smoke.
Barbecue joints (or shacks) first and foremost are completely dedicated to making true, slow-cooked, American barbecue. This means they are probably cooking on an outdoor pit in the back, and burning a good amount of wood. They are craftsmen at what they do, spending years perfecting their rubs, sauces, and cooking techniques, and they are extremely proud of their ‘q. I would say that most pit masters would be happy to take you around back and show you their cooker if you ask nicely and if they have the time. Being dedicated solely to the art of barbecue is really the one overwhelming feature that sets a joint apart from just a regular family restaurant.

At best, a barbecue joint is decorated with a couple faded pictures of Elvis and maybe some old bottles of Redneck Ass Blaster hot sauce. In some joints you might even find one of those mechanic’s posters with a hot chick in short shorts bending over a tool box. Eat up boys! The point here is simple stupid so take note: it’s all about the ‘q and not much else. Mismatched tables and chairs, plastic silverware, and beer straight from the bottle is all the ambiance you’re gonna get, and it’s all you need. Sit back and just enjoy the laid back, uniqueness a joint offers, and don’t be a snob. Oh, and unless your hearing some southern rock or classic rhythm and blues in there, you might want to ask if you’re in a legit joint.

Barbecue joints offer only the best in custom decor.
Have you ever heard of Cattleman’s BBQ Sauce? Maybe not, but it’s the brand of choice you will be served in thousands of restaurant kitchens around the country where they buy it in 5-gallon drums. Pretty original, huh? Joints and shacks don’t put up with this fuckin’ non-sense and are mixing up their own unique dry rubs and sauces in-house. Most joints will offer a sweet, tomato-based sauce, a vinegar-based Carolina sauce, and some sort of spicier sauce. Joint owners are just as proud of their sauces as they are of their barbecue, and will eagerly tell you about all the sauces they offer, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Memphis Championship BBQ
I have nothing against chain restaurants, but with all due respect Famous Dave, your cookie cutter restaurants are not real barbecue joints no matter how hard you try to give them that ‘ole down home décor. When I was in Las Vegas last year, I made a point to visit Memphis Championship Barbecue, one of the restaurants owned by competition circuit legend Mike Mills. It’s not so much that the barbecue was bad, it was average, but the place just felt very “corporate” and impersonal. When I got home, I saw another Vegas joint featured on the Food Network, where this pit master was firing up his smoker outside the back of a gas station and serving ribs up to bikers right there at a bunch of broken down picnic tables. Now that’s a barbecue joint, and the place I should have sought out while I was there!

So, seek and you shall find. The best barbeque is not gonna be found at your local Smokey Bones or corner Arby’s. The best barbecue is hiding in a small, unambiguous (didn’t think I knew big words like that, did you) shack along the roadside somewhere. It won’t be fancy, but there will be a real pit master at work, smoking some of the best damn ribs and chicken you will ever taste. So grab yourself a pretty girl (or guy, or one of each...hey, we don’t judge here) and dammit, go eat!

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