Pigskin Pursuit

An eight year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Tag: BBQ (page 1 of 9)

Atlanta BBQ Battle: Heirloom Market vs Fox Bros…

Although a familiar refrain this season, only moments after touching down in Hartsfield Atlanta Airport, I am gleefully awaiting my order at one of the finer barbecue establishments in the city.  In what has become a thriving barbecue scene in Atlanta, Heirloom Market BBQ – with their unique brand of American and Korean BBQ fusion – has quickly asserted itself as one of the best in the city.  Tucked off the side of Interstate 285, I pull into the parking lot of a shady convenience store, the kind of place with bars on the windows and a rainbow assortment of bum wines.  A red vinyl banner hanging over a corner of the building announces Heirloom Market, the tiny joint tucked inside a small side building.


My friend Katy greets me there, her tailored blue dress and matching pumps elegantly out of place among the usual rabble.  Although a staunch vegetarian, she graciously agreed to meet me here and give an appropriate evaluation of the rotating menu of crafted side dishes at Heirloom.  An avid chef and purveyor of Squash Blossom Kitchens, a local boutique catering company, Katy has a developed palette despite those dubious dietary restrictions. Squash Blossom Kitchens Website

I order up the “Texas Trinity” an appropriate name for my usual order of brisket, pork ribs and sausage, and an acknowledgment of the joints Texas roots.  We round out the order with some spicy mac & cheese, kimchi cole slaw and a cucumber radish salad.  Once our number is called, we retreat to one of the few, standing only, outdoor tables under the shade of a pop up tent.  Standing next to a few of their custom built, Southern Pride smokers, it’s an easy glimpse into the workhorses behind their reputed fare.

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True to its reputation, the barbecue here is excellent all the way around.  The brisket was heavily smoked with a pronounced smoke ring and well developed bark.  The only fault with the brisket is that it had dried out a bit, and some fresher slices probably would have been better.  The sausage was fair, while it’s house made (a move that I typically applaud), it had an overpowering sweetness that just didn’t agree with my palette.  Ribs, however, were expertly cooked with a deep pink color inside and pulled from the bone with a slight tug.  They had a delicately sweet profile with a touch of Korean influence, but the flavors worked perfectly.  These are first class ribs all the way around.  Even the hand crafted sides here have a nice attention to detail, the spicy mac and cheese in particular was completely ravaged.

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My appetite satiated, but not dead, I decided to squeeze in an epic BBQ doubleheader before the Georgia Tech game.  Fox Brothers BBQ with their Texas roots and one of the most decorated joints in Atlanta would be the perfect head to head comparison with the fare at Heirloom.  After a quick jaunt down the highway, I pull into the gravel parking lot and take a seat, jostling to make room for my second meal only 30 minutes later.


Here, I order my typical brisket and pork rib combo, but after hearing legends about their wings, I toss an order in for some poultry to complete the trifecta.  Rounding out the order is a side of mac & cheese, as well as Brunswick Stew – an elusive southern bbq staple.  A few minutes later, the waitress sets the heaping platter in front of me, and I’m elbow deep in another couple pounds of meat.


The brisket here is well cooked, and delightfully, they provide slices from the fattier point end of the brisket – always the more flavorful side of the cut.  While the protein is cooked appropriately with well rendered fat, the meat isn’t as smoky as I would have hoped for and could have benefited from a few more logs on the fire.  Baby Back ribs are cooked well, but a bit on the dry side, although the savory rub really accentuates the sweet flavor of the pork.  The wings, true to reputation, were sublime.  Perfectly crispy on the outside, and delectably smoky and pull apart tender on the inside, they really are about as good as chicken wings get.  Brunswick stew was hearty and delicious, and reminded me of a summer in North Carolina where I routinely ate it with a pile of ribs.  It’s a side dish I wish a few more Texas places would readily adopt.

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In the end, the Atlanta BBQ scene certainly impressed, their pork is expectedly top notch and they and had some of the better briskets I’ve found outside of the state of Texas.  Oddly enough, since both of these joints have Texas roots (both founders have ties to Texas) it’s no accident that they have risen to the top of the Atlanta BBQ heap.  If you forced me to choose one, I’d probably have to give the nod to Heirloom Market – their brisket has a better smoke profile, and the ribs are absolutely perfect.  But on a day when you get to eat BBQ twice in the span of an hour, everybody is a winner in my book….

Special thanks to my friend Katy for accompanying me on the BBQ trip, and a broader culinary tour of the thriving Atlanta food scene!

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Peg Leg Porker – Getting a leg up on the Nashville BBQ scene…

In the pantheon of Tennessee barbecue the city of Nashville is far out shadowed by its more reputable brother Memphis.  Memphis lays claim to the most famous BBQ joints in the state (arguably the country), and even it’s own regional style of BBQ aka “Memphis Style” which espouses a dry rub finish on ribs.  Nashville, despite being an emerging food city, hasn’t garnered the same acclaim in the BBQ arena.  During my brief time in the Music City, I endeavored to find to find the real deal.

Peg Leg Porker, my friend Merritt assured me, was the best that she had tasted during her three years in Nashville.  Having provided a few top notch recommendations before, her cue’ credentials were bonified.  Founded by accomplished BBQ competition pitmaster Cary Bringle, the sit down restaurant has only been open since May of this year, but has already garnered high praise for BBQ in the Nashville area.  Cheekily dubbed “Peg Leg Porker”, the name is a reference to the prosthetic leg that Bringle totes around on behind the counter of the restaurant.  His leg lost to cancer at age 17, the prosthetic replacement actually sports a hog butchering diagram.  Even the t-shirts here sport the slogan “limpin’ ain’t easy”.  Between that sense of humor and well over 20 years on the competition circuit, Peg Leg Porker held high hopes.

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Sauntering in on Friday afternoon, and arriving just before the lunch rush, I promptly order up a full rack of their baby back ribs (dry), pulled pork plate, and a couple of sides.  After a few minute wait, our name is called and we collect the hefty trays at the counter and retreat to an open wood table.  Merritt eyes me nervously as I survey our formidable tray.  She is well aware of my BBQ snobbiness, and bears the heavy responsibility of having personally endorsed the swine at Peg Leg Porker.  Her reputation is on the line here…

Any fears there may have been, however, were quickly erased with the first bite of succulent pork that I tugged gently away from the ribs.  Expertly cooked, the ribs pulled cleanly from the bone with only a slight tug.  The dry rub had and ever slight kick that complemented the sweet pork perfectly.  I picked up notes of rosemary, cumin and paprika – and I’m sure a host of other spices which Bringle would be unlikely to reveal.  The pulled pork was pleasantly tender and moist with a nice pink smoke ring.  If I found any fault with the pulled pork, it’s that I would have liked a bit more crust or “outside brown” mixed in with it.  But I also understand that isn’t necessarily the regional style.  Even the sides here have an appropriate attention to detail, especially the smoky, sweet baked beans.

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Having sampled a few other Nashville BBQ joints, I can say with confidence that Peg Leg Porker is the clear winner in Nashville.  Though it may still be early, based on the meal I had here, I’d say it could stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the titans of the Memphis BBQ scene as well.  More importantly, Merritt can breathe a contented sigh of relief knowing her endorsement record now stands at an unblemished 3-0.

Peg Leg Porker Website:

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Pecan Lodge – Finding Real BBQ in Dallas…

Staying in Fort Worth for the epic Notre Dame vs Oklahoma tilt, I needed my routine fix of proper Texas barbecue.  Traditionally this entailed an exhausting three hour (one way) jaunt down to Austin, such are the levels of my depravity.  Since bursting onto the Dallas BBQ scene three years ago, however, Pecan Lodge has been dishing out epic smoked meats that rival anything Central Texas has to offer.  Initially bestowed with an elusive 5 star rating on Full Custom Gospel BBQ, the frenzy around the tiny storefront in the Dallas Farmers Market exploded following a visit from Guy Fieri on the Food Network hit Diners Drive-Ins and Dives. Waiting times for a few morsels of their BBQ have swelled proportionally. Stretching up to 2 hours during peak times, my father, friend Bryce and I brave the lines for a Friday afternoon lunch with eager appetites.

After exchanging a few tweets, the man himself, the BBQ Snob of Full Custom Gospel BBQ fame, agrees to join us for lunch, greeting our crew at one of the rickety metal tables.  I had lured him from his brisket fortress of solitude with the promise of a massive Pecan Lodge beef rib, and irresistible offering for anyone, much less a BBQ fanatic.  The ruse works, he surveys our formidable tray discerningly, an epic offering of brisket, pork ribs, sausage, and beef ribs.  An eyebrow noticeably rises above his rimless glasses, a most subtle gesture of praise.  He approves of the hefty meat pile, and settles into a chair.

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Though he refers to himself as the BBQ “Snob”, in person Daniel is anything but.  The conversation is amicable, and despite the notoriety that he has garnered over the past couple of years while personally surveying over 500 different BBQ joints, he remains notably humble and approachable. From even a few minutes of conversation, it’s clear he is far more than a critic.  BBQ is his passion.  He lives it.  To boot, his knowledge on the subject matter is remarkable.  Beyond chatting about a few of our favorite joints, he drops terms like “phenols” and “nitrogen dioxide”, expounding on the science of great barbecue down to the molecular level.  He even offers a few tips for the group, as we discuss the particulars of our amateur BBQ attempts on Big Green Egg smokers.    I learn more about barbecue in fifteen minutes with Daniel, than most people would in a year.  It even turns out he’ll be attending the same Oklahoma vs Notre Dame fiasco tomorrow too, though the table collectively grumbles when it’s revealed he’ll be garbed in crimson and cream.

As his belt busting tales of Texas BBQ road trips can attest, the man can eat.  Like an epic clash of titans we exchange blows, each of us grabbing fistfuls of smoked goodness, waiting for the other to show even the slightest flinch of appetite.  Neither does.  After fifteen minutes our pristine tray of red ribboned beef is ransacked. Picked over like a pack of wild hyenas, the flimsy plastic tray itself is lucky to survive unscathed, and sits disheveled, heaped with stacks of bones and greasy butcher paper. It’s complete carnage.

If you’re wondering, the food at Pecan Lodge is, quite simply, remarkable.

I’ll spare the hyperbole.  This is best BBQ in Dallas.  Period.  And second place isn’t even close.  It rivals anything to be found in Central Texas.

The brisket is silky, pull apart tender, enveloped in a jet black bark and laced with robust notes of mesquite smoke.

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*Smoking over mesquite is one area Pecan Lodge differentiates itself, as most traditional Texas BBQ joints espouse post oak

**On even more elusive days, Pecan Lodge features smoked Waygu (American Kobe) beef brisket, which, although expensive at $25lb, might be the single greatest thing you could ever put in your mouth.

Beef ribs are massive, quivering mountains of velvet beef.  Perfectly broken down until tender, a thick red smoke ring belies their time and attention in the smoker.  While these aren’t an everyday item from what I understand, if they have them – buy them.

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A bright red sausage features a coarse grind with a good snap and peppery building heat.  Perfectly smoked to juicy perfection, it’s also house made, a refreshing departure from the Sysco crap that pervades so many menus.

The pork ribs, well smoked and lightly sauce glazed, are probably the fourth best thing on the menu.  Which is saying something, because they would be the best thing on the menu anywhere else in the DFW Metroplex.

Even the sides here are good, not that anyone should care.  But still, the attention to detail is nice.

If you find yourself in the DFW Metroplex in the near future, your lunch time decision just became an easy one: Pecan Lodge.  The food is second to none, and you might just get to break brisket with a BBQ legend…or snob….


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Podnahs Pit BBQ – Finding a real pit in the Pacific Northwest…

As this season has taken me to new corners of the country, and largely out of the great barbecue geographies, it’s been a challenge to keep up my recommended daily allowance of ribs, brisket and sausage.  Trips to Florida and the west coast reveal great vacuums of proper BBQ on the coasts, and I endeavored to find something truly worthy of my discerning palette.  Surely the city of Portland with its vibrant food scene and counter culture motif would be able to deliver the goods, right?

Enter Podnahs Pit BBQ  Founded by transplanted Texan Rodney Muirhead in 2006, Podnahs appears to be the only authentic Texas BBQ joint in the Portland area.  Confirmed by Daniel over at Full Custom Gospel BBQ, it quickly became the only logical BBQ stop during my Oregon State Beavers football weekend.   They claim to smoke exclusively over oak, using the same painstakingly slow and low methods common to greats of Central Texas.  There are even pictures of Smitty’s Market, the Lockhart, Texas BBQ legend, tacked up on the walls of the restrooms.  With eager appetites, my cohort Colin and I sauntered in for Sunday lunch before my departing flight out of PDX Airport.

An amply pierced waitress shows us to our seats, her shaved scalp embossed with colorful tattoos of flowers and stars.  In Portland, you don’t even look twice at this kind of person.  Placing the menus in front of us, she fetches my Hub Brewing Company Survival 7 Grain Stout, a porridge thick obsidian microbrew from one of the scores of breweries in town.  I love great beer towns, and Portland is among the best.  An obligatory glance at the menu and my decision quickly settles on the “Pitboss Platter”, a hearty sampling of sausage, ribs, pulled pork and brisket.

My food arrives quickly, a quivering mountain of aromatic meat, enticingly smoky and all of it delightfully void of sauce.  The sausage has good snap to it, but a powerful breakfast-ey taste that doesn’t quite work for me.  Pulled pork is a solid offering, drizzled in a light vinegar sauce to give it a Carolina feel to it, helping to cut some of the dryness that often plagues pulled pork.  Brisket is well cared for here, with an enticing black crust and deep smoke flavor it clearly has the right foundations of a first class brisket.  But the fat was still a bit chewy and unrendered, so the beef would certainly benefit from a few more hours in the smoker.  Pork ribs were the best offering in my opinion, large spare cuts featuring a deep red smoke ring, pulling from the bone with only a slight tug.

While the Pacific Northwest isn’t the first place that comes to mind for BBQ sampling, if you find yourself in the Portland area with a hankering for some decent cue’, Podnahs is a place certainly doing it right.


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