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

https://www.citybutchersgf.com/

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

https://www.wholehogcafe.com/

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

https://www.facebook.com/HBsBarBQ/

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

https://www.lakewoodsmokehouse.com/

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.

Next up – Kreuz Market

Lockhart, TX

While Kreuz Market goes back to the late 1800’s, the site we are visiting has only been around since 1999. Family issues led to the original Kreuz Market being renamed Smitty’s Market and Kreuz Market opening up in new separate location. (Check out the history on their site.)

This place is massive. There are two separate dining rooms, one with a stage for live music in addition to the smokehouse area and the large prep area. These guys are set up to deliver in quantity!

We got the chance to speak with Plant Manager, Jason about how it all works. He showed use all the pits they use which was great but then took us through the entire operation. We got a chance to see it all from incoming meat to prep and marinating to sausage making, pre-cook phases, storage and shipping.

It is quite the operation they have going — but they need it to keep up with the volume providing sausage to restaurants throughout the USA and with direct sales to consumers across the country as well.

Kreuz uses indirect heat wood-fired steel-lined brick pits for most of their cooking. Their sausage is cooked separately in a large vertical cabinet smoker with an external firebox and oscillating air system. They use simple salt, pepper and cayenne rubs on all their meats (and in their sausage). Briskets are rubbed and allowed to marinate a full 24 hours before being put in the pit. They cook much of the meat to about 60% before pulling it to set and put it back in the pit in the morning to finish it off — they don’t run a night shift here.

They cook with only Post Oak which they season on-site for a minimum of one year before they use to allow it to mellow. Their wood pile is quite a sight to see! It’s pretty much the size of a football pitch.

After our tour we settle in to sample the barbecue on offer. They have a different menu than we have seen so far. They have the expected beef brisket and pork ribs, but from there the menu makes a big change. They offer beef shoulder, boneless beef prime rib, pork chops, turkey and ham — and of course, sausage. No pulled pork to be found here.

They don’t bother with sandwich offerings. You just order the type and quantity of meat you want and they serve it up with bread and a wide range of sides. They pull the meat straight from the pit and chop it up on 100-year old round butcher blocks while you watch.

We decided on beef brisket, beef shoulder, prime rib, ham and sausage. Like most places in Texas, there are no plates, just sheets of butcher paper. It is all served up with thick slices of ButterKrust bread. Sauces are strictly optional.

So you move from the pit area into the dining area and select your sides. It’s a big decision — green bean, sauerkraut, creamed corn, mac ‘n cheese, pit beans, potato salad — the list goes on. Then its pickles – four kinds – and jalapenos. We’ve kept it simple and gone for creamed corn and potato salad.

You look around the dining room and you see a broad mix of people. From obvious salesmen in suits to families with lots of kids to young couples and individuals – all brought together by good food and a great experience. Though opening in 1999, you would think you were in 1930’s Texas. Basic tables, simple country design and friendly staff. It’s what you want from a barbecue joint. There are no fancy table cloths, pretty menus or pretentious decorations here.

We settle in to try out the food. The brisket is trimmed as its served so the meat is very lean; none of the fatty portion we got at Smitty’s. There is not much smoke ring (nor smoke taste). Due to the trimming there is also not really any bark so the seasoning is quite mild. It is nicely beefy but a bit on the dry and tough side.

The beef shoulder tastes like a nice Sunday roast. There is not really any smoke flavour at all. The prime rib doesn’t really delivery either. The sausage are the best items here. Both varieties have a nice snap and good flavour.

We have to hit the road now to get to Dallas for our next stop where we are meeting up with an old friend and work colleague.

Our thanks go out to Jason and all the staff at Kreuz Market who were amazingly friendly and made our visit a truly memorable one.!

BBQ Discovery – Day Two

Today is about Lockhart, Texas. Lockhart is the home to some of the oldest barbecue joints in Texas dating back to 1900. German heritage and a desire to use the animal from nose to tail means sausage is a bit part of the scene in Lockhart.

We’re checking out the two related institutions of Lockhart; Kreuz Market and Smitty’s Market. The history of these two places is a bit convoluted and definitely includes family drama. But results of it all are two unique and compelling locations serving up great food.

We planned to start off from Austin about 09:00 but when 05:00 rolled around we were both away staring at the ceiling thanks to jet lag. We got up early, got packed, had a leisurely coffee and headed out to Lockhart about 08:00 after working on the blog a bit. We got into Lockhart about 09:00 expecting to have to wait around for things to open. But in fact, Smitty’s was already open with customers enjoying some morning BBQ.

Smitty’s Market

http://smittysmarket.com/

The outside of the building is nothing special and barely catches your attention with small sign saying ‘Barbecue’. We’re looking around taking some pictures when an older gentlemen opens the door and beckons us inside. We walk down a dark hallway as we get a walking commentary on how it all works — this door for the meat market, that door for the sides and tables and straight back to order the meat.

We get to the end of the hallway and almost walk into an open fire burning away on the floor. In front of us are massive brick pits being fed by the open fires.

There is smoke hanging in the air clearly visible in the light streaming through the high windows. The walls and ceiling have a 100-year old layer of soot from the open fires. There is sawdust on the floor. It is quite simply an amazing sight.

Smoke hangs in the air from the open fires.

The meat isn’t cooked and moved to a separate holding cabinet exactly. The long pit is hotter at the fire end so the meat is just moved along in the pit from one end to the other as it reaches the desired cooking level. They pretty much sell out each day so they don’t have issues of needing to take the meat away from the heat.

We settled on some brisket, beef shoulder, pork ribs and sausages. Our meats come wrapped up in multiple layers of pink butcher paper as seems to be the style in Texas. They point us towards the dining area to get our side and find a table. There is a wide range of side dishes — beans, potato salad, coleslaw, avocado, mac and cheese, pickles, onions, chips, and Blue Bell Ice Cream are all available. There is also pecan pie and lemon meringue pie available – looks to be homemade too; tempting, but we have more spots to visit today so best to leave off dessert!

Seems all of these places in Texas serve the meats with thick sliced bread (known as ‘Texas toast’) and saltine crackers. And lots of dill pickle slices and onion slices. The crackers are strange but surprisingly good at cleansing the palate.

The flavour in all of the beef is very good – nice and beefy. There is much less pepper used here compared to Franklin’s. The brisket is served differently than we are used to with the point and flat left together and sliced to serve.

Courtesy of Chowhound

And oddly, they have not sliced the brisket against the grain. This is usually done to make sure the meat fibres are shorter and thus break apart rendering the meat more ‘tender’. The brisket here is pretty good, but the beef shoulder, something we never smoke in the UK is actually better in both appearance and texture.

The pork ribs don’t have much of a rub on them, unlike the competition approach. They do have a nice smoke ring. They are tasty but a bit tough. They also are untrimmed — again a departure from what we are used to.

From SeriousEats – How to trim Pork spareribs into St. Louis style cut

Sausages are a specialty in Lockhart so we are anxious to give them a try. They have a regular and a jalapeno version.

The sausage has a nice flavour and a good texture — not too coarse, not too fine. It’s very meaty and not too greasy. The casing is slightly tough and could perhaps have been cooked a bit longer to crisp it up.

The jalapeno sausage is not as enjoyable. We found this one greasy, perhaps from the cheese in it. It’s quite a loose sausage compared to the regular one.

So our next stop is a ‘sister’ (brother) to this one, Kreutz Market. It’s a short way down the road.

Black’s Barbecue

Austin, TX | https://www.blacksbbq.com/

Black’s is known for their massive beef ribs and that’s what we were looking to check out. We arrived about 19:30 by taxi. There was a queue, of course, but only about 15 people — about 10 people inside and five outside. We get down to 12 people when someone comes from behind us and hangs up a piece of butcher paper saying they were now out of chicken, pork ribs, and, of course, beef ribs!

Once inside you could see why Black’s would be popular. You have an amazing smell of smoke and a great ambiance. Brick and old barn wood walls, concrete floors, country music and American football playing on a big screen in the corner. It looks like you expect a BBQ joint to look. It was full of people chatting, laughing and having a good time.

We work our way up to the counter a bit disappointed but determined to enjoy it regardless. We decided on some brisket and pulled pork. Perhaps decided is the wrong wording — they had brisket and pulled pork left. We added on a few sides since we didn’t have any meat options so we could feel like we were making choices. We ended up with sweet potato mash, pinto beans, potato salad and mac ‘n cheese.

I was taken back to my childhood as soon as I tucked into the pinto beans. They were just like my mom makes – simply beans with some onion, garlic and I’m betting a ham hock for that smoky flavour. I loved them but felt the need for some cornbread and turnip greens. They definitely were not what you would normally think of as barbecue beans.

The mac ‘n cheese didn’t rate as high. You would really have to describe it as pasta with a nice cheese sauce. It was a bit too saucy with no crust at all.

The sweet potato mash was Adrian’s favourite. It was smooth with just the right amount of butter and a bit of melted marshmallow. I enjoyed these as well but the were a touch sweet for my taste. They were a great compliment to the rich meats though.

The potato salad was a typical southern style with a mix of chunks and mash with some red onion and a touch of roasted red pepper. Mild in flavour with none of that mayonnaise gooeyness that many commercial potato salads have. It was good but there was no wow factor.

But the sides are nothing without the meat are they? So here we go:

Meat TypeAppearanceTasteTexture
Brisket778
Pulled Pork67.58

They offered a nice selection of beers focusing on local and Texas brands and wine in an aluminum can with a monkey on the label simply called White Wine or Red Wine — no pretense here.

Tasting notes

Brisket

Nice level of smoke with a very basic bark – just a light touch of salt and pepper. The meat was a somewhat overdone but it was after 19:00 so that is not really surprising. The cut of the meat was more like we get in the UK with smaller, thinner slices. The meat had a nice beefy flavour without being too rich. The sauce complimented the meat nicely without overtaking it.

Pulled Pork

This had a nice, strong pork flavour with a goodlevel of smoke. There was a thin, simple bark (again just a light coat of salt and pepper) which added a perfect level of seasoning. There was obvious signs of smoke ring and the meat had a nice bite to it while still being tender. The main negative was in the serving of the meat — it was chopped up a bit too finely so there we very few pieces you could really sink your teeth into.

Overall a great experience; they made you feel welcome and want to go back.

BBQ Discovery – Day One

Our road trip of BBQ Discovery kicked off with Franklin’s BBQ in Austin, TX. We arrived at about 06:45 to join the queue. We were number 24 in the queue–people had begun arriving from 05:30!

Franklin BBQ, Austin, TX

We were expecting mild Texas weather but instead found it to be only 34° F (1°C)! We were not quite ready for that. We had only light coats and empty coffee cups to start. Just after 07:00 they opened up the taco truck and we were able to get some hot coffee. At 07:30 they distributed chairs to people and we could finally sit down — the prepared one’s had chairs and blankets.

Continue reading “BBQ Discovery – Day One”

Heckofadish has landed

Our long flight from London to Chicago went smoothly enough. We had a very tight connection to our flight into Austin so rushed from one side of O’Hare to the other to make the flight. Of course when we arrived at the gate we found the flight was delayed for an hour–which became two hours.

We finally got in the air about 21:40 local time expecting to arrive into Austin by 23:30. Thanks to thunderstorms we had some of the worst air turbulance I’ve ever gone through. Flight attendants were kept busy handing out air sickness bags and we were stuck in our seats the entire flight. Finally got into Austin’s Austin-Bergstrom airport at 00:50. And the car rental company closed at 01:00!

I left Adrian to collect the bags and I ran through the airport to the rental agency office arriving just after 01:00. Fortunately the one person left at the counter stayed to deal with all of the people off the flight trying to pick up a car.

We finally got to our motel about 02:30 and it was almost 03:00 by the time we were in our room and ready to get to bed.

Tomorrow our first stop is the infamous Franklin’s BBQ. We have to be there by 07:00 to start queueing to have a chance of getting food. Going to be a short night.

BBQ Discovery

Adrian and I are off to the USA for a road trip to discovery some the best barbeque that the USA has to offer. This is all in anticipation of our participation in the KCBS competition, Brew-n-Q, in May in Coalville, UK.

We’re taking a 6-day road trip through Texas, Arkansas and Missouri to sample some of the top award winning BBQ joints. We’ll be starting in Austin, TX – home to some of the best brisket around. You can pretty much throw a rock and hit a BBQ joint in Austin. From Austin we’ll head to Lockhart, TX then to Taylor and Dallas. From there we’ll head to Hot Spring and Littlerock, Arkansas and then up through Missouri via Springfield, Branson, Osceola and finally into Kansas City.

Our goal is to sample the best barbecue has to offer from some of the top BBQ spots in the heart of America. We’ll try out different styles of ‘Q and hopefully learn a bit from some of the masters. We will be keeping careful notes at each place we go using our “Tasting Note’s” pages put together by my wife, Angela.

We’ll also be scoring the food at each location in the same manner as KCBS competition. For those that have not been a part of barbecue competitions, there are some very strict rules and specific judging methods.

In competition, you are graded against three category: Appearance, Taste, Texture/Tenderness. Each category has a multiplier applied with taste being most important (57%, 2.2972), tenderness/texture next (28.6%, 1.1428) and appearance last (14.4%, 0.5600). You are scored 1 to 9 points for each category and then the multiplier is applied to get a final score.

Scoring lines out like this:

9 – Excellent6 – Average3 – Bad
8 – Very Good5 – Below Average2 – Inedible
7 – Above Average4 – Poor1 – Disqualified

So you apply the multiplier to each score and then add them up. Let’s say your brisket scores 9 for appearance, a 9 taste, and an 8 for tenderness. Use the multipliers and add this up and you get a score of 35.44/36.00. There are always six judges and the lowest score is thrown out giving a maximum of 180 points (36*5). Complicated isn’t it!

You can see the full KCBS rules here: KCBS 2019 Official Rules and Regulations

Appearance

This is all about how the meat looks. Are the slices cleanly cut? Are the ribs even? Is the pulled pork in nice chunks or shredded until its mush? And the meat should be what shines – not the sauce. In short, it needs to look appetising.

Taste

This is the most important element of the judging. This is all about the flavour of the meat and the way it is seasoned. Surprisingly, great barbecue in a restaurant does not often earn a great score. That’s because the judges are looking for the exceptional and so something a bit different. This is the biggest element of the score though so you have to get this right.

Tenderness

This is the second most important element. And again it isn’t easy. Tenderness for brisket is different than for ribs. With ribs, they are looking for the meat to have enough texture to bite through without falling off the bone — most of us are looking for ribs that do fall off the bone when we go to a restaurant. And brisket should pull apart easily, but not crumble. Pulled pork needs to have a bite, not be soft or mushy.

Getting all of these perfect on any given day is the challenge! One or two is not so tough, but all three can be far more difficult.

So we are going to see how some of the best BBQ joints in America measure up and see what we can learn from it all — while trying to still make it home fitting into the clothes we take with us; I think that is going to be the biggest challenge of all!