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.

IMG_0363 IMG_0371

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.

IMG_0367 IMG_0366

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.

IMG_0375 IMG_0374

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!

Full clickable gallery below:


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.

IMG_0212 IMG_0217

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.

IMG_0213 IMG_0214

IMG_0215 IMG_0216

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:

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.

Pecan Lodge 1.jpeg

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.

Pecan Lodge 2.jpeg

*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.

Pecan Lodge 3.jpeg

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….

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.


Smoque BBQ – Where there’s smoque, there’s good cue’…

On Smoque BBQ, Daniel Vaughn writes “This is the closest thing to true Texas Style BBQ that I’ve found outside of Texas.”  With time for only one lunch in Chicago, my barbecue destination was quickly settled on his words alone.

Vaughn is a man that knows barbecue. As the proprietor of Full Custom Gospel BBQ, he’s catalogued a compendium of over 500 in person reviews of joints throughout the state of Texas and beyond.  And while I’ve been following his smoky footsteps for quite a few years now, his recent list of accolades, including an appearance on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”, has elevated him to a national authority on the subject.   While he doesn’t travel outside of Texas often (and frankly, I don’t know why any true BBQ fan would) when he does, you better pay attention.  I’ve counted on Daniel’s recommendations for a number of years now, and with this upcoming trip to Chicago in my sights, his website was the first place I checked for some proper cue’.  Once again, Daniels expertise did not disappoint.

Walking into to Smoque, the aroma of a proper BBQ joint tingles the nose.  Smoke wafts through the air, permeating clothes and pores alike, and the sweet smell of pork stirs my appetite.  Taking only an obligatory glance at the chalk menu board, I place my order for the “holy trinity” of traditional Texas barbecue: sausage, pork ribs and brisket.  Through years of experience, these are the three best barometers for evaluating the mettle of a proper pitmaster.  After watching a few plates prepared with sauce, I recoil in my customary fashion, instructing the counter girl not to sauce my order.  Given Smoque’s anti sauce manifesto (read here) I’m surprised this step is required.  Handing me my ticket number, I remind her one more time not to sauce me, just to be safe.

I watch the cook staff while I wait, delicately slicing orders in the open kitchen, Smoque clearly takes pride in their work.  A moment later my order arrives, the three meats arranged neatly on a wax paper lined aluminum tray.  An individual serving of house made mac & cheese and baked beans round out the feast, even the sides are given proper attention here.  As I dig in, the sausage has a familiar flavor profile to it. Imported from Rudy Mikeska’s in Taylor, Texas it has the spice and snap of true Texas sausage.  Sweet smoky ribs pulled from the bone with only the slightest of tugs, the St. Louis cut yielding gobs of porky goodness.  The brisket, however, I hoarded.  Like a child setting dessert aside greedily for the end of the meal, I rationed bites of brisket, savoring each morsel. Without a trip to Texas scheduled this season, it might be my only chance for some proper brisket. Tender fatty cuts from the point end had a crisp jet black bark, giving way to luxurious smoked beefy velvet.

This is, quite simply, the best brisket I have ever had outside of Texas.

There are precious few places anywhere in the country that show mastery over several kinds of protein.  There are even fewer still that exist outside of Texas.  Having visited, I can now add Smoque to that elite, short list of places.  If you’re ever in Chicago craving BBQ, your only question should be where to eat third?  Because the first two places better be Smoque.

Click here for Full Custom Gospel BBQ

Click here for Smoque BBQ

Full clickable gallery of Smoque pictures below.

Blue City Cafe – Memphis BBQ on Beale…

On the return trip back through Memphis on Sunday, the exhaustion of a two game Southern road trip weekend was starting to take its toll. After dropping Dad off at the airport for an early morning flight, I had time for one last meal in Memphis before making the final charge back home to Saint Louis. Though tempted to simply pull back into the BBQ Shop after an epic Thursday visit and order up a few slabs of their ribs, there were still a handful of places on my Memphis list to check off.

After exchanging a few texts with my friend Joe, a former Memphis resident and fellow BBQ aficionado, he pointed me in the direction of the Blues City Café on infamous Beale Street. Besides Joe, Blues City has an impressive list of accolades, having been featured on various food shows and magazines.

I found street parking a few steps away from Beale, and casually wandered down the street waiting for the doors to open at 11AM. Beale is one of the main nightlife streets in Memphis, often drawing comparisons to Bourbon Street in New Orleans. On an early Sunday morning the thoroughfare still reeked of the party the night before, garbage lined the sidewalks and shopkeepers were out hosing off their sections of the concrete. Reservations began to creep in about BBQ in such an obvious tourist area.

Once the doors opened, I walked into the empty restaurant and settled into a plush vinyl booth. There were a handful of offerings on the menu, but ribs were the only barbecue option. After my dubious encounters with beef the entire weekend, ribs were the only option I was interested in anyway.

The ribs arrived quickly, with a pile of french fries and a few other sides filling out the plate. Despite my initial reservations, and the touristy location, the ribs had all the hallmarks of some excellent cue’. They had a well developed crust on the outside, sliding easily off the bone to reveal the pink smoky meat beneath. Although there could have been more depth to the smoke profile (given the location I’m guessing its an exclusively gas fired smoker), and they didn’t share quite the same fanfare as the BBQ Shop ribs, this was still skilled BBQ by any measure. Certainly worth a stop if you find yourself wandering down Beale Street in Memphis, just be sure to arrive a bit later in the afternoon once they’ve hosed the place down a bit…

Dreamland BBQ – The Other Alabama Legend…

Poll anyone wearing khakis and a crimson polo for the one place in Tuscaloosa that you absolutely must try before leaving, and the inevitable answer will be Dreamland BBQ. The original location on Jug Factory Road in Jerusalem Heights, specifically, typifies the kind of ramshackle Southern BBQ joint that lives in American folklore. Dating back to 1958, when John “Big Daddy” Bishop first opened its doors, Dreamland has become an institution in Tuscaloosa, and little has changed in the original location since that time.

Alabama paraphernalia adorns the walls inside, the interior dark and dimly lit, punctuated with a few neon beer signs and flat screen TV’s flashing the current SEC matchup. Hungry patrons draped in shades of crimson and houndstooth huddle around tables with generous slabs of ribs, piles of picked bones and stacks of pristine white bread.

Well aware of its iconic status, I planned our arrival early, strolling through the doors at about 11am on a Saturday morning, and we slid effortlessly into a corner table. Others arriving later would face a daunting line stacked up in the parking lot. The perky waitress recited the elegantly simple menu aloud: “We have ribs and sausage.”

“I guess we’ll have both” I replied, saluting the simplicity of choice at Dreamland.

Risking the wrath of some of my Alabama friends, on an objective level, the actual BBQ here resides somewhere closer to average. The ribs chewed a little hard, and tasted closer to grilled rather than slow smoked. The sausage was fairly standard grocery store fare, but a dip in the spicy sauce actually perked it up a bit. The reality is that given the massive influx of customers during a home game weekend, Dreamland is simply challenged to churn out as much food as possible to feed all those hungry appetites. It simply wouldn’t be possible to turn out that much food, and sustain the highest level of quality.

The real allure of a place like Dreamland, however, lies not in the actual food on the table, but in the tradition and heritage lining the walls. Generations of Alabama fans have eaten here, gathered around a table with friends, family and strangers, and broken white bread and ribs together. There’s a generational and sentimental attachment to a place like Dreamland that transcends regular food, sometimes the magic of barbecue lies in the timeless way it brings people together. Dreamland embodies that amongst the Crimson Tide faithful, and we were fortunate to share a piece of it on a Football Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

Little Dooey BBQ in Starkville

Despite being a formidable Southern college town, barbecue options in Starkville are actually somewhat limited. Only a handful of places show up on a google search, one of which includes Applebee’s. As much as I enjoy pizza shooters and jalapeno blasters, real barbecue was the only option we were looking for on a Friday afternoon.

Fortunately, the Little Dooey has been dishing out barbecue and southern food in Starkville since 1985, and it’s the place to stop for a bite if you’re in town for the Bulldogs. We pulled up to the rickety building, encouraged by the giant iron pit proudly displayed out front. A couple ESPN banners hung from the rafters, and an ancient Coca Cola chest sat on the trodden plywood floor. The menu is broad, featuring a slew of barbecue offerings along with assorted other Southern options like catfish and fried sides.

I opted for a three meat plate, featuring ribs, pulled pork and beef brisket, accompanied by a pile of deep fried okra. The food arrived a few minutes later, flopping over the sides of the flimsy paper plate. A quick visual inspection and a couple bites confirmed that the cue’ here was mediocre. All of the meats lacked smokiness, the pulled pork was especially dry and stringy. Ribs were soggy and flopping off the bone, presumably from too much time under a heat lamp. The brisket was barely discernible as beef, and confirmed my position that one should stick with pork exclusively for BBQ in the South.

In all, I expected more from the Little Dooey. It was the day after a game, so there wasn’t a massive influx of people to feed. The worn little building has a certain Southern charm to it, and with a rusty iron smoker decorating the front my expectations ran high. Unfortunately the food just didn’t deliver. Maybe they ought to fire up that old iron pit and breath some new life into the barbecue here, or maybe next time I ought to try the fried catfish instead…

BBQ Shop in Memphis – Gettin’ Sauced…

Hot off the runway, I slung my fathers bag into the back seat of the car and sped back North into Memphis for a quick BBQ lunch. We were under the gun to get into Starkville before kickoff, and this would be his only chance to sample legendary Memphis Barbecue. According to the discerning taste buds of my friends Merritt and Dave, if you had one stop in Memphis, BBQ Shop was the one to make.

Walking down the sidewalk, a gleam spread across Dad’s face, the telltale aroma of BBQ wafting through the air as we approached. Sliding into a table we placed our orders, opting for a sampling of the pulled pork, brisket and signature ribs that are the foundation of Memphis barbecue. Given my usual aversion to all forms of obfuscating sauces, I prepared my usual request for dry ribs with sauce on the side. Through experience, this is the only accurate barometer for evaluating regional nuances in barbecue skill.

“I’d like that whole order dry please. Sauce on the side.” I explained politely in my customary fashion. Dad cringed, gun-shy about how a cleaver wielding southern pitmaster in the back might receive my blasphemous demand. He’d been in the South for all of fifteen minutes, and I was about to drag him into a spat about regional barbecue preferences. I’ve made this simple request dozens of times, usually to little resistance.

Not so this time.

“The ribs come with sauce”. The waiter explained, brushing away my request.

“I know. I want them dry, please, sauce on the side”.

“Where are you from?” He inquired raising an eyebrow, dumbfounded at such an outlandish affront.

“Texas. We like our barbecue dry.”

“Well you’re in Memphis and we serve them with sauce here”.

“No thanks. Make it dry. But I’ll try your sauce on the side.” I responded curtly, beginning to lose my patience.

“Listen, we’ve won awards for our sauce. I don’t want you to leave here without trying them the way they are supposed to be.”

I stared back blankly. I’ve heard the “award winning” spiel before. I searched his face for weakness, waiting for him to flinch first.

“Tell you what” he responded “I’ll meet you in the middle. We’ll make half of em’ dry for you, and we’ll put sauce on the other half. That way you can try them both ways. Sound fair?”

“Let’s do it.” I relented. I’d never had someone protest this vehemently, so perhaps there was something special about this sauce. With all that fuss, there had better be.

Our food arrived a few minutes later, and with eager appetites we dug in ferociously. The pulled pork was fairly standard, albeit a touch on the dry side and thirsting for a bit of sauce. Beef brisket was forgettable, having been chopped and losing the moisture that a properly sliced brisket would retain. As I would stubbornly learn the rest of the weekend, a properly cooked brisket eludes Southern barbecue joints. For all the accolades of their pork barbecue, I wouldn’t bother ordering beef in this part of the country again. They just don’t seem to grasp it.

The ribs, on the other hand, were a different story. Having eaten as much barbecue as I have at this point, there are very few instances where I am genuinely surprised. There are even fewer where that surprise is for the better. This was one of those rare instances where I was not only surprised, but completely blown away by something magical.

These ribs were absolutely phenomenal. Quite literally some of the best I have ever had – anywhere. Ever.

They were expertly cooked, showing a fat pink smoke ring and pulling effortlessly from the bone. The sticky sweetness of the sauce perfectly complemented the deep smoke profile permeating the pork. The sauce here is deftly applied to the meat, not slathered on carelessly. The ribs are then finished in the smoker for a few minutes, so the sauce melds perfectly with the ribs. Notes of brown sugar and cinnamon offset the saltiness, applied in just the right proportion to work together. One of those elusive instances where all the ingredients complement each other harmoniously.

Simply put, these are in the Top 5 ribs I have ever eaten. Period. (You can email me for the other four.)

I saluted the waiter on the way out, tipping him generously, and thanking him for the unusual display of fortitude in his product. If I’m ever within a few hours of Memphis again, I’ll be returning for these ribs alone. And I won’t be protesting the sauce the next time around…

Special thanks to my friends Merritt and Dave for their recommendation of BBQ Shop in Memphis. It’s a daunting task to send BBQ recommendations my way, but they offered up an entire list of Tennessee BBQ joints to try, and highlighted this one as not to be missed. Walk-off homerun on this one guys, absolutely perfect food. Now I can’t wait to visit you in Nashville for more!