James Boo is one of those incredible writers that you have to assume that food blogging was created JUST for the likes of people like him. He has a phenomenal gift both in expressing himself in writing and with photographing that food as well. I have actually been blown away by the photos he’s taken on more than three or four dozen occasions. If you are just getting introduced to him, he’s the Barbecue Bureau Chief for Serious Eats and is the founder, editor, and head writer of the amazing blog The Eaten Path. I am honored to have him as a contributor and after reading his piece below I can’t imagine this wouldn’t be a BBQ Joint list you’l print up and save for future BBQ journeys. Here he is in his own words:
I’ve been on the barbecue trail for four years now, which, frankly, is a pitiful amount of time to be considered any kind of authority. Given the fact that I’m still on the learning curve, I’ve left out some joints that are surely worthy of mention, and plenty of joints I just haven’t had the good luck of being able to visit. I hope to change this over the years, and with luck, my list will keep on growing — along with my stomach and quite possibly my capacity for regret.
Chef Edwards’ Bar-B-Que – Oakland, CA
Hopefully, everyone remembers his first taste of real barbecue. Mine was handed to me in a styrofoam box at the business end of a cramped, single-row diner just a few blocks from the Greyhound station in Oakland. John Edwards passed a box of smoked chicken across the counter, then his signature sandwich, the Piggly Wiggly — chopped shoulder and vinegar slaw on white bread, with a spicy red barbecue sauce to make a believer out the most committed sauce opponent. The good Chef has let things slip a bit since he moved to nicer digs across the street, but every time I’ve been back to visit, sidling up for a Piggly Wiggly has been as inevitable as hunger itself.
Photo of Chef Edwards Bar-B-Que courtesy of Serious Eats
Lexington Barbecue (Honey Monk’s) – Lexington, NC
Lexington’s chopped shoulder sandwich with outside brown and barbecue slaw wasn’t my first taste of regional barbecue. It wasn’t my first taste of Carolina barbecue, either, and as I’ve discovered on repeat visits, Lexington’s ‘cue isn’t exactly the apex of tender, moist, smoked pork. Still, the moment I bit into my first sandwich at Lexington Barbecue was the moment that I got it. I sensed the history behind the food and the improbability of its survival in the fast food age. This was something special, in a special place, going toe-to-toe with a world that prizes a way of business totally opposite to the experience I was having in Lexington, North Carolina. I treasured every smoky bite, and I still do.
Photo of Lexington Barbecue courtesy of Roadfood.com
Scott’s Variety and Bar-B-Q – Hemingway, SC
My one trip to Scott’s is the closest I’ve come to a through-and-through pilgrimage in the name of holy smoke. Rodney Scott’s open-pit-smoked whole hog achieves the perfect texture: tender, juicy, and plenty fatty. Equally important is Scott’s integrity of flavor: his barbecue is naturally sweet, meaty, and just slightly funky — tasting like a pig should — with a balanced smokiness that makes it all seem way too easy. When paired with Scott’s fantastic pepper-and-vinegar sauce and a slice of white bread, it is quite literally the perfect food.
Photo of Scott’s courtesy of Serious Eats
Fresh Air BBQ – Jackson, GA
I’ll be honest: I liked the barbecue here just fine, but that’s not why I’m putting it on this list. A good regional barbecue side is not something to be taken lightly, and Fresh Air served me the most addictive Brunswick stew I have ever tasted. It takes a certain mind to avoid turning a beautiful thing like slow-cooked, indeterminate glop into a chunky, undercooked backwoods chili. Fresh Air has what it takes to keep its stew simple, satisfying, and so good that I’d eat it for breakfast. I have done it before, after all.
Photo of Fresh Air BBQ courtesy of porkbelly24 – flickr
Payne’s – Memphis, TN
I went into Memphis thinking it was a rib town and came out realizing that my favorite barbecue in the city is served at what seems like a former gas station. The Payne family not only makes a strong case for the chopped shoulder sandwich as the rightful icon of Memphis barbecue, it makes one of the best barbecue sandwiches in the country. And the Paynes do it in a tiny, home-style kitchen stocked with one modest smoking chamber and a four-burner range. Order the large sandwich, ask for it spicy, and grab a side of beans. You’ll want to stay a while.
Photo of Payne’s courtesy of Serious Eats
The Bar-B-Que Shop – Memphis, TN
There comes a time when the people you’re with don’t want to drive two hours into the rolling hills or sit down at a picnic table outside a city smoke shack to experience a piece of barbecue history. In Memphis, that’s when you head to the BBQ Shop, an accessible and friendly barbecue restaurant that serves their pulled pork and slaw on Texas toast, has plenty of beer on tap, and allows you to order a single spare rib if you so choose. The ‘cue is legit, the spicy sauce is a killer, and the atmosphere can’t be beat for the spirit of barbecue. I’ll go on record saying Memphis is the most fun you’ll ever have in the way of a barbecue trip, and the BBQ Shop is part of what’s convinced me to do so.
Photo of The Bar-B-Q Shop courtesy of Ulika Food Blog
Craig’s – De Valls Bluff, AR
When I first stumbled across a mention of Craig’s chopped pork sandwich and neighborhood pies, I gave the joint a call to make sure they’d be open on the day I was driving from Memphis to Dallas. Here follows our conversation:
James: Hi, is this Craig’s Bar-B-Q?
J: Hi, could you tell me what your hours are?
J: Your hours. The times that you’re open.
W: Well, I come into work at nine and I go home at five.
J: Okay, thanks. Are there any days you’re not open?
J: Um, are there any days of the week you’re closed?
W: I come into work at nine. And I go home at five.
The deal was sealed, and eventually I did make it to Craig’s for one wonderful barbecue sandwich. If you make it to De Valls Bluff, show up before closing time, and for the love of all things chocolate, do not miss out on their pie.
Photo of Craig Bros. BBQ courtesy of Urbanspoon
LC’s – Kansas City
LC Richardson was in the house when I first tasted his fatty, smoky, gloriously juicy burnt ends. He watched my every bite, occasionally looking back down to the sprawl of papers on the table in front of him. He watched as I wolfed down each chunk of brisket. He watched as I sopped up the last bit of sauce with a scrap of white bread. He watched as I slid my paper plate into the garbage, and made my way to the door. Just before I left, he gave me a silent nod. I’ve never been happier to be stared down by the proprietor of a business.
Photo of LC’s courtesy of The Eaten Path
Hill Country – New York
Hill Country has the balls to transport Kreuz sausages, which can be picked up for pocket change in Lockhart, Texas, halfway across the country and sell them to New Yorkers at $6.00 a pop. They have the balls to do this because they’re right to think we’ll pay for it, and I’ll be damned if I’m not willing to throw down $6 for an oak-smoked Kreuz sausage any day of the week. Hill Country also has the balls to charge $6 for a Lone Star, which I suppose is just a downright funny thing to do. I can’t not say no to those people — they know what it takes to make barbecue work in the big city.
Photo of Hill Country Barbecue