How much BBQ is too much BBQ? For some people the answer is quite minimal. I grew up in the South. I swear they wean us on BBQ sauce. LOL Some people are real picky about what you call BBQ and what you call “Grillin” and I know the difference. I have eaten at dozens of BBQ places from sit down places with cloth napkins (which make me giggle some) to BBQ joints where the roll of paper towels sits right there on the table. I have eaten at places that serve BBQ on fancy dishes and places that plop it down on sheets of butcher paper (Famous Dave’s is my favorite though because they serve BBQ in the lid of a garbage can).
When I moved to Seattle in 2004 one of the things I actually had on my Pros/Cons list was that Seattle was a LONG way from BBQ. The fact is I have had BBQ in Seattle in a number of places and never REALLY had BBQ until Bill and I stumbled upon Famous Dave’s BBQ in Tacoma. Tacoma is about 45 minutes south (with no traffic) of where I was living in Bellevue and on occasion Bill and I would hop in the car and make the trek down. It was always a happy trip. Famous Dave’s is a chain but to be fair they are a very good chain and easily the best BBQ in Washington State to my knowledge. The last couple years we were there they opened another Famous Dave’s in Tukwila, which was much closer to home, which was nice.
When Bill and I would sit and talk about things we should do when we traveled one of the things we agreed on was we should try all the different types of BBQ across the country. Texas dry beef brisket with no sauce, Carolina vinegar sauce on pork, the smokey pork ribs in Memphis, etc. There are hundreds of different types of BBQ and I am discovering I like most of it. I do, however, have in my mind a certain way things are “supposed” to be. Many people will disagree, even Bill disagrees but I like my BBQ saucy. I like it tangy. I like it juicy. I like it cooked long and slow over mesquite wood.
In the last few weeks Bill and I have traveled through Texas and into Louisiana. While in Texas we partook of some very fine beef brisket, beef sausage, and other various yummies. There are a few overwhelming themes in the Texas BBQ that I have taken away. Generally the meat is Beef. Texas is a Beef state. There are offerings of pork but they seem to be more of an afterthought or something to please those out-of-towners. Another thing seems to be the sauce. The sauce, if there is any, is smoky and tomatoey. It might be spicy but it is never sweet. The beans are generally pinto style and are more like Mexican beans than what I consider BBQ beans. Tasty but not quite right to my palate. Most Texan BBQ places are Joints. They tend to hold the silverware, one place doesn’t even have forks for their sides because they feel so strongly about no one eating their BBQ with a fork. The same place also had no BBQ sauce which I felt was respectful to the smoky flavor but seriously lacking when the meat was just a little too dry.
Texans also seem to have their sides as an afterthought. To me half of the wonder of going for BBQ are the sides. Tasty beans, creamy coleslaw, crunchy fries to dip in extra sauce these, to me, are a big part of the meal. In Texas the sides came up lacking. Little imagination was given and a serious lack of choices. The one exception was the Jalapeno-cheese bread at Goode Company in Houston.
Moving into Louisiana I was curious what type of BBQ I would find. I hadn’t really put much thought into what “type” of BBQ Louisiana had until we hit the boarder. Much to our surprise when we got close to our destination in Lafayette, LA there is a new chain that we had heard of on the Travel Channel’s BBQ Paradise episode. It is called “The Shed” and is run by a family out of Mississippi. I cannot truly qualify this place as Louisiana BBQ since the owners are from Mississippi but the BBQ was as I grew up with. Sweet tangy sauce, pork and brisket slow roasted for hours. The surprise of the meal were the “Chicken Wangs” no that isn’t a typo. They take typical chicken wings and smoke them for hours then add a splash of sauce just before they hit the table. They were fall off the bone delicious. The thing that really struck me were the sides though. The meats were all good and plenty but the sides were the show stoppers. Where Texans throw a few sides together this place languishes over them. We ordered the beans, coleslaw and Mama Mia’s Mac Salad.
The Shed BBQ
The winner was the Mac Salad. Macaroni salad can be done very very wrong. You can over cook the noodles, use the wrong type of noodles (so the sauce just runs off in the bottom of the bowl), you can over sauce them so you don’t taste anything but mayo (gack). This salad was fabulous. The choice of the shell noodles was perfect and they were cooked with just a touch of a bit. The sauce was perfect as well, perfectly flavored and not overwhelming, also not runny. Little bits of celery to add a touch of flavor and that little crunch. So good.
It really made me realize how I have a set thought of how I eat BBQ. I still enjoy other types but to my brain it’s not quite “Leslie-style BBQ”. It’s funny how we get things set in our minds that they are supposed to be a certain way. I am hoping to continue my culinary exploration of BBQ and how different it is in so many areas.
I am also learning the history of BBQ from different areas. Whether it was Native Americans smoking game and fish on their “barbacoa”, to slaves smoking up the cast off ribs of a pig in Georgia or German butchers slow smoking meat in the back room of their meat markets in Texas. These people are the reason we have good BBQ. I am part Native American and proud of that legacy, my family line has both Creek and Cherokee both of which have been confirmed as some of the first people to smoke meats. I guess it runs in my blood to enjoy it. Long live those with the patience to slow smoke meat.