Take a bite of Southern culture and tradition
Regions of the South are defined by their approaches to BBQ and to BBQ sauce. Some areas opt for a sweeter, more sugary tomato-based sauce (Memphis) versus a vinegar-based one (the Carolinas) while others (Alabama) go off the radar entirely with a white sauce (admittedly, traditional red sauces are served in most BBQ joints throughout the land).
Then, there’s the meat itself. Each state and region has a part of the pig (yes, it’s pretty much always pig) that they cook best, whether it’s the shoulder or the ribs or another cut of some other meat (brisket), the particular cut is also (usually) regionally determined.
I’m from Alabama, where it’s practically a command to be able to smoke moist and tender pulled meats (whole chicken or pork shoulder) and to be able to make one heck of a fall-off-the-bone rack of ribs. Say what you will about the South, BBQ is King.
Doing your own BBQ
Real, smoked BBQ is hard. I have the best tool a home cook can have for the job (Kamado Joe smoker), and I still acknowledge that getting to know your grill is as hard as getting to know a person of the opposite sex (at some point, you will scream, “What do you want from me?” and throw BBQ sauce against a wall). Smoking BBQ is a complex chemical process (Aaron Franklin of the famous Franklin Barbecue in Austin has some brilliant insight on the subject). I should point out that when I’m talking about BBQ, in the context of this article, I’m talking about smoking. Yes, grilled BBQ and the sauce matters, but let’s be honest … these places define themselves by their smoking and their respective abilities to produce fall-off-the-bone good meat.
Best of Southern BBQ
I know I’m biting off more than I can chew (pun intended) by trying to write a best of BBQ blurb here. One: it’s not possible … there are too many ridiculously good BBQ joints and BBQ mavens out there. Two: I haven’t eaten all of the best BBQ in the region or even the state … sorry.
That said, I have (in the Gulf Coast region at least) made a spectacle of myself enjoying some really good BBQ with abandon.
- The Shed: The Shed is a Mississippi-based restaurant located off of I-10 in Ocean Springs, MS (with a second location in Gulfport). The Shed has their smoking priorities straight. My favorite thing about The Shed is that it’s a ramshackle shantytown establishment that makes darn good BBQ while hosting a fine array of Southern country/rock entertainers.
- Jim & Nick’s: Based in Birmingham but located throughout the Southeast, Jim & Nick’s may seem more commercial, but their integrity is in the right place, and a trusted hand helms each restaurant. Their sauce is tangy with a little bit of spice, which hits their smoked heritage hog entrees in all the right places.
- Moe’s Original BBQ: Like Jim & Nicks, Moe’s is a slightly more commercial establishment; however, you really wouldn’t be able to tell. They have several sauces for their food in addition to the classic tangy sweet sauce. Also, they have “Fried Chicken Sundays”, which my husband loves because he can get an immaculately fried breast of chicken with a honey sauce. It’s his reason to keep going back.
Other incredible BBQ joints include the highly acclaimed Dreamland BBQ, which is based out of Tuscaloosa, The Brick Pit of Mobile, Corky’s (fairly well-known) of Memphis … the point is, you can’t Google “best BBQ” without running into a list ten miles deep of truly amazing BBQ suggestions.
So, because so many places (we’re talking hundreds … have you not Googled yet?) are on the top lists, I think that it would be awesome if we could have a Battle of the Bands-style BBQ festival called Battle of the BBQ. Folks will camp out. Smokers will go the whole weekends. There will be presentations … beer vendors will be very wealthy. I think it’s a good idea. Not only that, we—the Southeast—could ultimately declare among ourselves the best chicken, pork, brisket, ribs, etc.
One category that should, nay, must be included is the sides category. Far too often, a BBQ joint will hone in on its meat product while neglecting the sides. Sides are important. Typical BBQ sides include:
- Potato salad
• Cole slaw
• Macaroni and cheese
• Baked beans
• Pasta salad
• Corn on the cob
The execution of a side dish (believe it or not) has a huge influence on a Southerner’s appreciation for a BBQ restaurant’s overall performance. If you give me mac and cheese that’s not creamy, cheesy, I-just-committed-a-sin good, I’m not happy. The same is true of baked beans and potato salad. I shouldn’t be able to make your sides at home; I should be eye-popping excited about your coleslaw. (Side Note: Moe’s Original nails it in the sides category).
Thus, in this Battle of the BBQ, sides matter.
Picking your meat
That said, every restaurant is different, and everyone is known for something different. While I wouldn’t begrudge you getting your favorite menu item, I think you owe it to yourself (until we have this Battle of the BBQ thing, which I’m planning to work out with people when they contact me, which will be some time between now and never) to try the best of the best.
In other words, try the ribs at Dreamland—it’s what they stake their claim on. Don’t wander into a place and get the chicken just because you always get chicken. Get the meat that the place you’re visiting has a reputation based upon. For example, I can’t imagine going to Franklin, waiting in line, and then not trying the brisket. I’m just saying.
BBQ is like a taste of Southern soul, and it’s what we do best … and it’s what we’ll keep doing. We’ll keep smoking those meats, getting that telltale pink ring, and servin’ it up, Southern style. Time to eat, BBQ, folks!