Just add some smoke…

With all public gatherings banned this summer, there are no BBQ competitions this season. And of course, Adrian and I cannot get together for practice sessions either. Up to now, we’ve used Adrian’s Green Mountain Grill pellet smoker together with my homemade barrel smoker. With the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, that’s not going to be an option this summer.

Some extra work over the past few months meant a bit of unexpected money and I managed to convince my wife to let me use part of the money to invest in a new smoker. We agreed a budget of £1,500.

There are a lot of great smokers out there. I’ve used a Bradley smoker for years and have been very happy with the results. Unfortunately, we can’t use the Bradley for competition because it has an electric heat element. So my choice is a pellet smoker or a stick burner (one that uses just wood logs). The good stick burners are way out of reach of my budget, costing well over £4,000. So given the budget, and the competition requirements, it’s going to be a pellet smoker.

The range of smokers available today is immense ranging from simple units of under £500 to commercial products costing thousands. The £1,500 budget reduces the choices significantly. I’m after competition quality and features so the top brands available in the UK came down to these:

We’ve been using a Green Mountain Grills Daniel Boone smoker with good success taking 10th place on brisket and 1st in bread in our first competition. So first thought was to get the latest version of the GMG. Adrian and I talked it over and spent weeks looking at the options. A good mate of ours, Stretch, from Kansas City who is a regular on the BBQ competition circuit suggested we look at Traeger. After sizing up all the options in my budget, I decided to go with the Traeger.

Joe Traeger is credited with creating the first pellet smoker back in 1985. It was an offshoot of his family-owned heating company in Oregon, USA. Patented in 1986, it would be 20 years before anyone else would make a pellet smoker.

I selected the Traeger Ironwood 885. It features 885 square inches of cooking space over two racks. It has a 20-pound pellet hopper giving more than 15 hours of cooking time (depending upon conditions). The digital controller makes it easy to set a temperature and be confident it will held steady.

I got the order placed in mid-March hoping for delivery before it any lockdown hit the UK. But coming from a European distribution facility meant shipping delays, so it didn’t arrive in two days as expected. Finally I got notice it was arriving on April 1st — would this be an April Fool’s joke??

But arrive it did — though social distancing requirements made the delivery a bit more challenging than expected.

The delivery truck arrived and dropped the pallet on the pavement in front of the house. And they delivered a new gas grill we had ordered at the same time quite unexpectedly!

Unfortunately, it was delivered about 3:00 pm so I was still working! Given the massive size of the packaging and the fact it was strapped to a pallet, I wasn’t too concerned. But Angela, a Glasgow native, spent the next two hours looking out the window at every sound! She was convinced someone would come along and carry it off.

Finally about 5:00 pm I got the chance to get it off the street. I got it unpackaged and unstrapped from the pallet and got Angela down to help me carry it inside. But at just under 200 lbs, that just wasn’t happening. So on to Plan B — assemble it on the pavement and roll it inside!

It took about 30 minutes to get it assembled — mostly due to the time it took to unpackage it; Traeger REALLY like cardboard! Assembly itself was less than 15 minutes. We got it inside and parked it in the kitchen so I could get back to work. A couple of hours later and it’s in place on the deck along with the new gas grill.

The next challenge is to get some meat to smoke! That’s proving a bit more challenging than usual!

Lockdown lunches

Well the Covid-19 lockdown has begun. We’re a few days in and already we we are feeling the impact. Working from home has brought its own challenges, but adding the restriction of staying home except for essential shopping brings the isolation to a new level.

We are lucky to have a good stock of food but knowing this is likely to last a while, we are already looking for ways to make use of everything we have. We’ve dug into the freezer to see what we have and are trying to make interesting dishes for lunch to get a break from work — it’s proving too easy to be stuck in front of a computer monitor all day without stopping. So we are setting appointments in our calendar to have lunch.

Angela is a big fan of pho so yesterday we pulled some stock and shredded chicken out of the freezer and added some pho paste and fresh vegetables for an amazing soup.

Today, we’re having nachos. We’ve pulled some taco-spiced mince from the freezer and sprinkled it across tortilla chips with salsa, sour cream and jalapenos. We’re working today so it has to be without the margaritas unfortunately!

Both of these dishes took under 15 minutes to make. Make a point of stopping and having lunch — get a break from that monitor!

BBQ Discovery – the wrap up

Our road trip is now complete. It has been an amazing time and we have tried some really good barbecue — but I don’t think I’ll be able to stomach any red meat for the next couple of months! Vegetarian is even starting to sound interesting.

We’ve gotten to try some of the best of Texas BBQ, deep south style at H.B.’s, transition zone (part Texas, part KC) in City Butcher and Sugarfoot and some of the best KC has to offer. There were many spots we wanted to get to but there just was not enough time (or stomach room) for any more.

Adrian was supposed to be headed back today while I was staying a few days longer to visit with family. Unfortunately, we didn’t count on the weather. The Kansas City airport is closed today due to ice and snow so Adrian is not going to be leaving today. We’ve got to return the rental car anyway so we organise dropping it off in downtown Kansas City instead of the airport and stop in to meet our friend, Stretch, at his restaurant Grinders.

I used to work with Stretch back in my days of virtual reality with my good friend, Eric Lewis. He was a wacky artist with unique ideas back then. Not much has changed except applying his talents to a new art form — cooking.

Grinder – Crossroads, 417 E 18th St, Kansas City, Missouri

Stretch has three restaurant in the KC area (featured on Guy Fieri’s Diner, Drive-Ins and Dives more than once), offers up his talents to cook for the military regularly and manages to compete in more than 25 competitions a year — it must be exhausting. All while making sure he spends time with his amazing wife Becca and his mugwamps (that’s his kids).

Check out his sites:

We spent some time talking to Stretch about his experience on the competition BBQ circuit. As expected of Stretch, he doesn’t do anything the normal way. He has designed his own tools for the work — okay, he cheats a bit here having a plasma cutter and 35,000 square foot workshop at his disposal.

We got some good tips on how to improve our efforts and we are anxious to try a few of them out.

Well its the end of the road for this trip — back to real life now.

BBQ Discovery – Day Six

Well its our final day on this BBQ road trip. We have two final places queued up: Joe’s Kansas City BBQ and Jones BBQ, both in Kansas City, Kansas.

Joe’s Kansas City BBQ


We’re headed out early as this place stays open until they run out. We want to be at the head of the queue so we are out the door by 09:30 planning to be in line at 10:00 for the 11:00 opening.

Joe’s started out life as Oklahoma Joe’s with many people still knowing it under that name. It was started by Jeff and Joy Stehney and Joe Don Davidson (founder of Oklahoma Joe’s Smoker Company), thus the original name. Joe is no longer part of the team, but Jeff and Joy still run the place. And they have quite some pedigree in the BBQ world having taken Grand Champion or 1st place at the American Royal nine times, four trophies at Jack Daniel’s World BBQ Championship, KCBS Team of the Year and many more. We’re excited to try this place!

There are already a few people in the parking lot when we arrive a bit after our planned 10:00 arrival. After about 20 minutes of waiting, a few people are venturing out of their cars to head to the door. We get out of the car to join them expecting to wait in a queue at the door, but the door opens and the manager says, “come on in, we’re open.” It’s actually only about 10:45 but I think he takes pity on us given the cold (15° F / -9° C).

There is one couple in front of us as we go in, but before we even get a chance to order there is a line from the counter all the way out the door. Within 20 minutes the restaurant is completely full with a line out the door. This is the most popular of the spots we’ve been to in KC so far.

This is not a game day, so it’s a bit surprising to see such at crowd at 11:00 on a Thursday. Let’s hope the food is worth it!

We order up a range of items as has become our norm — brisket, pork, ham, burnt ends and ribs. We got to our booth and settled in for the tasting. I pull out my notebook and we start taking notes. This catches the attention of people around us quite quickly. We have a lovely conversation with a couple that is up from Whiteman Air Force Base (about an hour out of KC) talking about our trip and the blog.

After we finish up our tasting — we’ve learned never to eat like its a meal now — I head over to the manager to see if we can get a look in back. His first response was his pitmaster wasn’t in and they were quite busy (both true) but I persist telling him about our trip. Suddenly he says, “wait just a minute”, and he brings back Doug Worgul, Director of Marketing at Joe’s and a bit of a barbecue legend himself.

Doug takes us on a full tour giving us the history of Joe’s along the way.

These guys use the typical low ‘n slow method cooking ribs for 4-5 hours and brisket and pork butt for around 15 hours. They use Ole Hickory (made in Cape Girardeau, Missouri) and Southern Pride smokers. They are gas assisted wood-burning smokers, pretty typical in the BBQ restaurant world.

We didn’t talk quantity, but with the quantity of pits they have and the number of ribs we saw them preparing, it’s clear they churn out a lot of BBQ every day.

They use exclusively Missouri White Oak, a bit of a departure from most KC BBQ joints that use hickory as well. They have a different approach on the brisket as well separating the tip and the flat and cooking the tip along with the pork butts to use for their burnt ends.

We struggle to get briskets as big and marbled as these. That marbling is essential to getting good burnt ends.

They use a complex mix of spices in their rubs with different rubs for each meat. This is very much the KC-style. Their sauce is definitely a KC-style sauce with strong molasses flavour and a sweetness to go with the heat.

Doug has been great taking us through virtually every aspect of their operation. We’re going to have to pick up a couple of his books (he has written several).

We’re off to a unique little place in Kansas City, Kansas that is not much bigger than a trucking container.

Jones Bar-B-Q


Jones Bar-B-Q is owned and operated by Deborah and Mary Jones. This is a tiny spot, originally a taco stand. It has no indoor dining space, just a few picnic tables in the parking lot of Woody’s Happy Foods West in an industrial section of town next to the railroad tracks. These gals have been involved with BBQ since they were little girls, helping out their father at Hezekiah’s on 10th Street in Kansas City, Kansas.

They’ve been in their current location since 2015. They recently had a makeover as part of Netflix’s Queer Eye show who helped them with outfits, branding and getting their sauce manufactured (as well as personal makeovers to boost their confidence). This place is certainly unique as are the gals running it.

As soon as Adrian walked up to the window to order, they came running out from inside with their phone saying they had to have a selfie. These gals are amazingly friendly and clearly love what they do.

This place is definitely old school. They have a single upright wood-fired smoker that they bought second-hand at A-Lotta-Stuff, a thrift store nearby. They’ve done a bit of retrofitting to make it work for them.

The food they serve up here is simple. The ribs are untrimmed and the meat is cooked by eye and feel, not temperature. Doug Worgul, who wrote about Jones in his book “The Grand Barbecue” says, “Our pitmasters are not pitmasters in the sense Deborah and Mary are. What our pitmasters do — which is critical to our operation — is really far less creative. Basically, they follow a procedure. It’s not mastering barbecue; it’s fulfilling that specific technique.”

It’s far too cold to even consider eating here today, so we are back to the car to unthaw and head back to mom’s for the sampling.

BBQ Discovery – Day Five

It’s our last two days of this road trip.  We are now in Kansas City – my hometown and the arguably the spiritual home of barbecue.  With more than 100 BBQ spots, there just may be more BBQ joints per capita than anywhere in America.  And this is also the home of the barbecue competition sanctioning body, the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS).

Picking the best to visit is a challenge.  Our goal here is to sample a variety of different styles within the spectrum of Kansas City BBQ.  We’ve chosen some of the founding fathers along with some of the newer boys (and girls) on the block.  First up, Arthur Bryant’s.

Arthur Bryant’s


This institution of BBQ traces it roots back to Henry Perry who began serving smoked meats to garment workers in 1908.  Charlie Bryant worked for Henry, taking over the place when he died in 1940.  Arthur came to visit his brother not long after and never left, ultimately taking over in 1946.  Arthur moved the restaurant to its current location at 18th and Brooklyn in 1958, a short distance from the Municipal stadium that was home to the Kansas City Blues and Kansas City Athletics.  As people passed through town, they tried out the barbecue and a reputation was launched.  It has since seen celebrities (Tom Watson, Steven Speilberg, Harrison Ford, James Spader) and presidents (Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barak Obama to name a few).

Arthur “created” the burnt ends Kansas City is famous for when he put out chunks of the brisket trimmings for customers to munch on while they waited in line to order.  He was a regular sight at the place right up until his death.

From the moment you enter you see this place just oozes history.  From the old photographs and signs to the worn Formica tables, it is easy to tell this there is a long tradition here.  There is a high menu over the old-fashioned walk-up counter where you watch them preparing your order.

We’ve gotten to this place early, it’s only 11:00, and it is already busy.  There are a number of people already eating in the two dining areas.  As with all KC BBQ joints, you have a range of sandwiches to choose from as well as plain sliced meats, ribs and a bunch of sides.  We place what has become our standard order of ‘everything’ and take a massive tray of meat to our table.

After we finish our sampling and scoring, we ask if we can have a look in the back.  Kristea is happy to show us around.  We head straight to the smokers, a pair of in-direct wood-fired rotisserie Old Hickory Pits smokers.  Kristea says they burn a random mix of hardwoods including oak, hickory and ‘whatever else is sitting there’.

They start their prep at about 18:30, trimming and rubbing down the meats.  These rest until about 18:30 when they finally get put in the smoker.  They cook the briskets and pork butts until about 07:00 (about 12 ½ hours) when they take them out to rest until opening at 11:00.

We’ve got a number of spots to hit today so we are off to the next one, Rosedale BBQ.



We cross downtown to the Kansas side to a joint that started up just as prohibition ended.  They wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to sell beer and opened up a beer and hotdog stand in 1934.  There was a BBQ place a bit down the road and they knew offering up BBQ would increase their beer sales.  They set up a small tin shack and Rosedale BBQ was born.

It has expanded quite a bit now offering take-away, counter and sit down service.  They also gone from a bit of smoked meat to a full menu with a wide range of sides.

This spot is a proper home-town BBQ joint with an old diner feel. They open early on game days (football and baseball) for take-away. You’ve got proper counter service as well as tables and you have your food within minutes of ordering. They have expanded the building several times over the past few years but have maintained their charm.

We’re a bit short on time today so we get our food, take our notes and score them. There is no time for a tour and these guys are swamped anyway as we arrived during lunch rush so its not a good time to ask. We do have a quick chat and mention what we are doing. They are excited to hear about our road trip and quite proud we stopped by.



This spot is not on the list of top 50 BBQ joints in American, but it certainly is a Kansas City institution. It opened in 1986 in its current location. Around Kansas City they are arguably best known for their sponsorship of the Kansas City Chiefs football team. You cannot listen to a game and not hear a commercial for these guys. And they live up to this by opening early every game day to allow people to get BBQ for their tailgate parties.

This is a tiny place that looks like it was last decorated, well, in 1960 — a bit odd since it opened in 1986. Their pit is front and centre in the restaurant and you get to see all the magic happening every time someone orders.

Unfortunately, the pit (and the grease hood in front of it) looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since it was opened. The rest of the place seems clean, but the pit is a mess. And outside is even worse.

But we’re here and we going to give it a go. The staff are friendly and happy to talk to us. The owner is there and we’re told to have a chat with him while we wait for our order — he’s watching a football game on the TV in the corner of the restaurant.

We order up a plate of brisket, ham, pork and ribs. We’re short on time so we get it all to go — we’ll taste it all later.



It’s pushing 17:00 and we are on to our next stop — Gates BBQ. This is another KC institution with bags of history. This spot has close ties with Arthur Bryants. Gates opened in 1946 and like Arthur Bryant’s can trace itself back to Henry Perry, the founder of KC barbecue. Arthur Pinkard, who learned barbecue from Henry Perry himself, was working at Ol’ Kentuck when it was purchased by George and Ollie Gates. He stayed on to run the pits and taught them everything he knew.  

Gates has moved about a bit in KC over the years but it has settled now near its historic location at Linwood and Main. This is the location we are headed to today.

Inside you find not just BBQ but history of the site itself. It’s original trolley car site is inside the building and still taking orders. This site is a restaurant, event site and headquarters for the company as well.

Gates original trolley car site – still present inside their headquarters location

From the moment you walk in it almost feels more like a museum than a restaurant. But their trademark greeting — Hi may I help you? — brings you back quickly. This is not a spot to dawdle. You’re here to order food and get down to eating!

We order up a three-meat platter (brisket, pork and ham) plus some ribs and toss in a side of beans.

We’re late for dinner — yeah, this isn’t dinner believe it or not — so we take it all to go and we’ll sample it all at mom’s. I have high hopes of this impressing Adrian.

Finishing off Day 4; Osceola and KC

Headed north now to central Missouri to make a stop at Sugarfoot BBQ in Osceola. This place is a bit unique as its part of a gas station (petrol station for the Brits). We’ve arrived about 15:30 so it definitely a slow time. Only a handful of people having a late lunch.

It might be a gas station, but its clean and bright. It’s far enough away from the pumps there is no lingering smell of gasoline. None of the grease and dirt you might think of when you think gas station either.

We stopped here to check out the sides on offer as much as the meats. The horseradish coleslaw is definitely one to try. Finely chopped cabbage in a light sauce with a hint of sweetness. The horseradish adds an interesting note with a slight kick. Definitely one of the best slaws we have had. They also offer hand-cut fries which are chunky bits of skin-on baked potato that are deep fried until crunchy and then coated in a rub with a touch of sugar and heat. And their Texas toast is prepared on the griddle giving a really nice flavour.

But what you don’t want to miss from this spot are their pies. They have a wide range of them and they are amazing. We got the blackberry pie (the whole pie!) and it was definitely one of the best I’ve had in quite some time. It took me back to the days of the roadside diner.

Dean gave us a look in back and talked to us about what they do at Sugarfoot. They use a gas-fired smoker from Southern Pride that can hold about 500 lbs of meat. The gas ignites the wood and keeps the temperature steady. They use nothing but green hickory to smoke their meats giving that typical sweet yet bitter smoke taste.

They have quite an extensive menu at Sugarfoot. They offer pork spare ribs, baby back ribs, pulled pork, turkey, ham, sausage, beef brisket and burnt ends. All are available by the pound, as a meal or as a sandwich (except the ribs, of course).

They have a selection of sides that includes home cut fries, ‘Sugarfoot’ tators, smoked beans, horseradish coleslaw, potato salad, side salad and baked potato. They have a range of items for the non-barbecue lover as well. They also offer some of the lowest prices of anywhere we have been yet.

We opted for a two meat platter with beef brisket and pulled pork and sides of potato salad and ‘Sugarfoot’ tators. We just did not have the energy to tackle ribs and ham as well!

The brisket is served up sliced wafer thin. Its got a very light smoke with a good beef flavour. The pork is shredded a bit too finely, but its got an instant hit of smoke with a nice chew and a slight sweetness to the rub. Their sauce has a strong molasses base and a hint of blackberry.

And I have to say, as other reviewers have noted, make sure you get the sides as they are definitely worth it. Their tators were a great change of pace and the horseradish coleslaw is something I’m going to have to try making myself.

Overall, this was a great stop – and a chance to fill up the gas tank as well. Fueled up (us and the car), we are headed into Kansas City now to check out some of the best from my hometown.

Overall, this was a great stop – and a chance to fill up the gas tank as well. Fueled up (us and the car), we are headed into Kansas City now to check out some of the best from my hometown.

Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue


Our last stop of the day is in Kansas City – well, the KC metro area anyway.
We were headed to the highly acclaimed Harp BBQ in Raytown, but when we arrived we found they were open only on Saturday.

But no matter, this next spot is one we intended to hit on this trip anyway. We are headed to Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue. This is the barbecue I grew up with. My earliest memories of barbecue are of the Jumbo sandwich with brisket and ham and a side of beans — still on the menu 45 years later and still great.

The original Smokestack location, courtesy of Martin City Telegraph, 10 Oct 2019

This restaurant has come a long way from its origin on 71 Highway back in 1957. The original location opened by Russ Fiorella closed in 2006. His son, Jack, opened up the Martin City location in 1974. They now have locations in Martin City, Overland Park, Country Club Plaza and Freight House in KC and Lee’s Summit. It is the Lee’s Summit location we are headed to tonight.

Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue is not what you expect in a barbecue place – this is a what you expect from a proper restaurant. This is a place you’d be happy to take a date or even your in-laws for a great night out. They have all the trimmings of a top restaurant – great décor, good service, extensive menu and more. And despite all of that, they’ve got quite a pedigree in BBQ as well.

This is Adrian’s first taste of proper Kansas City barbecue so I hope it delivers!

After looking over the massive menu, we decide to keep it simple and stick to what we have been sampling the whole trip rather than go off piste with some of the more exotic BBQ options. We go for a two-meat platter (beef and pork), some pork ribs and some burnt ends. And of course some coleslaw and beans.

For me, nobody makes better BBQ beans. They are smoky, meaty, a bit sweet – just the best. Their coleslaw is pretty darn good too. And they have one of the best sauces in KC too.

The restaurant stumbles a bit and manages to bring our starter with the meal. They make up for it though when before we complain the cook comes over to apologise and tell us dessert is on him tonight to make up for it. The beans deliver as expected.

When the food comes out finally it does look good.

We are hungry at this point so we do dig in. There is not a lot left when we’re done. It’s not the absolute best we have eaten so far, but this is good BBQ and this is not a place you would be ashamed to take someone special who likes BBQ – but that’s everyone, right?.

The brisket was the best offering with the burnt ends coming up second. The ribs look great and for a restaurant they were very good — the meat was very tender and fell off the bone, but in the competition world that would be considered overdone so they were scored down a bit for that. And I’ve got to say again — the beans are awesome!

It’s been a long day so we are headed to mom’s and with a bit of luck, quickly to bed! (Yeah, that’s not likely!)

BBQ Discovery – Day 4

Today we leave Arkansas and travel through the Ozarks and central Missouri to Kansas City. Our first stop is in Springfield, Missouri for City Butcher and Barbecue. This place has a number of awards for their brisket. They serve up Texas-style BBQ and have done since 2014 – a newcomer in BBQ terms.

We’re taking the scenic route through the Ozarks from Bentonville, Arkansas. The straight, flat roads are gone as we go through the Ozark mountains. It’s all hills and curves now. The views have been amazing with a light fog hanging in the hills.

Arriving into Springfield, it looks like any town in the Midwest with strip malls and car dealers everywhere you look. And it is to one of those strip malls we are headed for City Butcher and Barbecue.

City Butcher and Barbecue


It is not much to look at from the outside. The signs on every store in the strip are so similar as to be hard to distinguish from each other. We find the right one and head inside. It morphs into a typical Texan joint when you walk in. You’ve got the meat being sliced and chopped at the counter as you come in with the dining area behind. No plates provided, just butcher paper (though here it is the waxed kind). Pickle slices, raw onions and jalapenos are waiting for you on the back counter along with plastic cutlery. And there is Blues playing in the background. Its a nice setting despite its strip mall exterior.

They have a quite an extensive menu one of the most diverse yet. Plenty of the typical meat by the pound, but for the first time we are seeing burnt ends (a KC specialty) and pork belly. There is a range of sandwiches on offer as well as sausage and even chilli

We decide on a mix of brisket, burnt ends, turkey, pulled pork, pork ribs and pork belly along with some beans and potato salad. We’ll start with the sides…

The bean are ok, but there really isn’t any flavour beyond the chunks of meat in them – and I think there might be more meat than beans here. The potato salad is made from chunks of skin-on potatoes with strong onions and a mustard based sauce. It’s nice but not wow. They offer three sauces — spicy, house and mustard — none of them overly impressive.

But barbecue is first and foremost about the meat. And this is some of the best we have had so far. The brisket has a nice bark with good seasoning. The burnt ends are soft and loose. The turkey is moist and has a visible smoke ring — this is by far the best turkey we’ve tasted on this trip. The ribs are nice but the flavour is limited to the rub, the pork does not have much flavour. The pulled pork is in nice chunks with a good texture. But we’re really surprised to find our favourite is the pork belly. I’ve never seen smoked pork belly before, but it is absolutely superb.

Post trip note: This pork belly is the best of trip!

Once again the staff are extremely friendly. After we finish devouring far too much meat, Blain is kind enough to take us into the back to have a peek into the production.

They use three Cookshack smokers (300, 500, 750 models) which are all commercial rotisserie smokers fueled by wood pellets. City Butcher uses a mix of oak and hickory – a departure from their Texas roots where only oak is used. That touch of hickory adds some sweetness to the smoke.

In Texas tradition, they use only salt and pepper on their meats after minimal trimming. They cook the brisket and pork butts for about 12 hours and then wrap and put to rest for about five hours.

We’ve done our tasting and bought our t-shirts so its back on the road again. Next stop, Osceola, Missouri.

We’re headed north now to central Missouri to make a stop at Sugarfoot BBQ in Osceola. This place is a bit unique as its part of a gas station (petrol station for the Brits). It’s not a lot to look at, but it holds some hidden gems.

Next up – Whole Hog Cafe


From HB’s we head to north-central Littlerock just off the banks of the Arkansas River. This place was started by an award winning team back in 2002 with a small food trailer in a parking lot. Not long after came the restaurant and now they have locations in Arkansas, Missouri, New Jersey and New Mexico.

First impression isn’t much. This is a tired looking place in an out of the way strip mall that does not ooze great food. But these guys have won a massive number of awards and are ranked in the top 50 in the USA so we’ll see if the food speaks louder than the view.

They don’t put a lot into the décor. The inside is quite bland with lots of basic booths and little ambience. Outside of the many trophies — and there are a LOT of them — there is not much to the place. But we are here for the food not the ambiance.

Before I even get close to the counter I’m greeted and asked what I’d like to order. I’ve not even read over the menu yet so I have to ask for more time, feeling a little bit like I should have known already what I wanted. That feeling becomes stronger as two other people come in and rattle off their order without even looking up at the menu. They clearly have a following.

I decide on a 3-meat platter with brisket, pulled pork, pulled chicken and add on some ribs. This place has six sauces to choose from so I get three of those to try out. It’s the first time where sauce seems to be considered a key part of the offering. We’ve just finished lunch at HB’s so we get this to go and the sampling will have to wait until later!

We head to the motel (a step down from last night’s but its clean and only £30 a night. It’s time to try out the food from Whole Hog Café.

The pulled chicken was nicely shredded and tender without being mushy, but its chicken – there just isn’t a lot of flavour there. The pulled pork was nice enough though a little chewy. We found both the beef brisket and the ribs to be on the chewy side. Quite average, not what we were expecting.

We’re beginning to reach of limit of barbecue so we decide to find a place to get a drink and some dinner that does not include BBQ sauce and end up at TGI Friday’s. Not exactly a great option, but its walking distance from the motel. We both end up ordering salads as we couldn’t bear the idea of more rich meat.

A Chinese salad with grilled chicken proves the perfect choice. Its back to the motel to work on the blog for a bit and then to bed — another early morning on the road tomorrow as we head into Missouri and on to Kansas City.

BBQ Discovery – Day 3

Today we’re driving from Dallas, Texas to Littlerock, Arkansas. It’s about a five hour drive. Our first stop closes by 14:00 so we are on the road by 07:30 after finding some strong coffee at Circle K where we pick up a 100 oz travel mug — everything truly is bigger in Texas!

There is not a lot to see between Dallas and Littlerock. A highway that goes on straight forever and flat scrub land. There are a surprising number of car dealerships (selling pretty much nothing but pickup trucks) and scrap yards full of broken down vehicles.

We make good time and get into Littlerock about 12:00. We’re using Google Maps to guide us of course, but we are getting increasingly concerned as we drive through a somewhat rundown residential neighborhood looking for our first stop, HB’s Bar-B-Q.

HB’s Bar-B-Q


Suddenly, there it is on our left between two house looking quite out of place and yet like it has been there forever. And it has been there awhile – since 1961 — and thus the reason is seems so out of place. It was grandfathered in when they changed zoning laws to only residential allowing it to continue to operate.

We park across the street so we can take in the full view of the place. As Adrian gets out of the car he looks down and sees several gun cartridges on the ground — slightly disconcerting but this is Arkansas.

This spot has been around since 1961. The owner, Bruce Slaughter passed away after a six-year battle with cancer just over a year ago. Ginny, the manager, has been there 28 years now and is determined to keep it going. This place is a local institution that gathers in people from every walk of life for its great BBQ.

I got a chance to chat with Ginny who in typical southern style was more than ready to talk. She walked me around the back (that took two minutes — it’s a small place). We talked about our BBQ efforts and the difference between competition and commercial cooking.

Ginny knew almost every person who came in asking about the wives and kids, making time to talk to everyone. One older gentlemen came in and after less than two minutes Ginny was apologising for the wait. He just bellowed out, “you know what I want.” Another two minutes and his meal was on the table–no other conversation required. There are not enough places like this left in the world.

Friendly as it was, this is not a sit and linger kind of place. You order quick and the food is delivered even quicker. You put your fork down and your plate is clear and your bill is brought over. Nothing rude in the practice at all as everything happens with a smile, but they can seat only about 20 people and they are full up even on a slow day.

They use a typical wood-fired indirect heat pit burning exclusively hickory — a first in our journey. Using the hot ‘n fast method, their cook time is around seven hours. They make their signature vinegar-based sauce every morning. Ginny gave me a bottle to take home (she just grabbed an empty pint jar and filled it up) telling me, “it’s great on everything – eggs, potatoes, even meat.”

Before we go we have another of their signature items – fried pie. Yep, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Take some pie dough and put some pie filling in the middle, fold it over and firmly crimp the edges and drop it in a deep fryer. Sprinkle a bit of cinnamon and sugar on top. It’s REALLY good!

Next stop is Whole Hog Café.  These guys have won the American Royal competition too many times to count along with many other major competitions.  We’re looking forward to seeing how they do it.

Next stop – Dallas

From Lockhart we are headed to Dallas, Texas to meet up with Joel, an old friend and former work colleague and to sample some BBQ and Dallas nightlife. It’s just over a three hour drive from Lockhart.

We’re headed to northeast Dallas to Lakewood Smokehouse. Joel recommended this spot; it didn’t figure in any of the many “top BBQ” lists so we are anxious to see how it will compare.

Lakewood Smokehouse


Lakewood Smokehouse is the most commercial of the spots we’ve been so far. This place is run by restaurant professionals, not BBQ enthusiasts. You’ve got a greeter on the door, proper restaurant menus and a far more neutral restaurant décor. But none of that means they can’t cook BBQ.

We grab one of the local tipples (Dallas Blonde – that’s a beer, not a girl) and work our way through the menu. It has all the traditional items you’d expect but also plenty of options for non-BBQ lovers (whoever they might be – I’m sad for them) including tacos, burgers and pizza.

We settle on the 3-meat plate (brisket, pulled pork and sausage) and toss in ribs added and a platter of burnt ends for good measure. It’s the first time we’ve seen burnt ends since we got to Texas. Their sausage is from Kreutz Market so we’re expecting that to be good.

Food is out to us straightaway. We pull out our tasting card and start taking notes to the bemusement of our friend and the restaurant staff.

The back of house manager, Clayton, stops by to see how the food is and we get to chatting. He takes us back to see the smokers. These guys use a mix of hickory, oak and mesquite. They are the first ones we have come across to use anything but post oak. It certainly explains the slightly sweeter taste to their meats.

They are using fairly standard commercial smoker with a vertical configuration having the firebox on the bottom. It’s all wood-fired with a thick bed of coals providing the heat and burning logs for the smoke. They have two smokers but only use the second one for the busiest periods.

They use a basic Texas-style rub of salt, pepper and cayenne but unlike some others they don’t have a long marinating time putting on the rub and straight into the smoker. They cook at about 200 degrees; a bit cooler than is typical for the low and slow method.

Clayton, like everyone we’ve met in Texas so far, was friendly and unpretentious. He wanted to hear about us as much as we wanted to hear from him. This might have been the most commercial joint so far, but they still care about their food and their customers. We were pleasantly surprised.

Next up is some local nightlife. We’ve not had the chance to sample the nightlife anywhere we have gone so far so we are looking forward to this. Our mate, Joel, takes us just around the corner from Lakewood Smokehouse to the Balcony Club. It’s an amazing little live jazz club that reminds me of a club in Paris that Joel and I spent time in.

A small stage with a three piece ensemble playing some great jazz standards combined with a friendly bartender made for a great place to chat and catch up. What a great night!

It’s a short stop in Dallas though and we are on the road early to get to Littlerock, Arkansas by lunchtime so its off to bed in our luxury (not – but at £35 you don’t expect much) motel on the motorway.