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Barbecue trail

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I'm thinking of heading south for a barbecue trek.
Looking for suggestions of key places to hit in a one-week trip. Leaving from New York, and would like to at least make it to Tennessee and North Carolina.

Unfortunately, the only time I can do it is the week between Christmas and New Year's, so the weather might be a factor - and might some places be closed?

Suggestions and advice welcome!

Cathy

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  1. I've done that, and have some advice. First, I'm assuming you're not a food professional or a totally crazed obsessive chowhound...that is, you're doing it mostly for FUN, and prefer not to punish your digestive tract "for science", education, etc.

    Problem is this: sitting up here all 'cue-deprived in NY, it's easy to imagine eating nothing but barbecue day after day. But forget it. After only a couple of days of two or three stops/day you'll get mighty sick of the stuff. It happens FAST.

    One solution is to take a loooong trip and spread out the bbq, but you only have a week. Another is to pick out a few far-flung hot spots and race between them like mad. That's fun if you like that sort of thing (I do), and you'll eat less total barbecue but keep quality high. Another is to take it easy, hit 3 or 4 serious places in an area during the week (really...only that few!) and otherwise chowhound around for non-barbecue meals most of the time (or go to museums or whatever people do when traveling when not eating, Idunno).

    We've all had the experience of being in a new place and having more enthusiasm than stomach capacity (especially New Orleans, where choices are so plentiful but food so heavy). In fact, that could be a totally separate thread (go ahead, anyone...on the appropriate message board, or on General Topics if talking generally). This is a major problem on a serious barbecue trek because, of course, it's all meat. Also the smoke and grease are kind of cumulative. You'll start feeling and looking like pulled pork unless you pace yourself.

    So let us know your thoughts on the above, and then we can all start recommending specific places.

    20 Replies
    1. re: Jim Leff

      Too much barbecue? No such thing! If you can't do justice to five or six barbecue places in a day, why, you're not much of an eater at all. As my daddy was saying the other day...

      1. re: Jim Leff

        I took a Calvin Trillin (Thursday-Sunday) trip to Kansas City with three friends when I was in my twenties -- we ate nothing that wasn't mentioned in American Fried or Alice, Let's Eat. Stroud's and RC's for fried chicken and potatoes; Jess & Jim's for steaks and potatoes; La Mars for doughnuts (it turned out that Trillin himself had never actually eaten at La Mar's himself at this point); the original Winstead's for hamburgers and limeades; and much barbecue every day (I met Arthur Bryant weeks before he died, and we went there many times, but also went to Sloan's, Gates, and several more).

        I don't think I could duplicate the volume of food I ingested (I gained a lot of weight in four days), but I never got sick of barbecue (ate it at least twice a day).

        I loved this trip. By mutual agreement, our policy was that we did nothing but eat, drive some place to eat, or recover from eating.

        But to answer the original post, I think a bigger problem isn't so much confining oneself to one cuisine as it might be trying to cover too much ground geographically. Maybe it would be fun to focus on one region, such as Memphis or south Texas, and do it well.
        I hope you go, Cathy. There are many good websites devoted to barbecue, and no shortage of expertise.

        1. re: Jim Leff

          Jim, I can see your point about overdosing on barbecue very quickly. I guess I'd probably narrow it down to a smaller number of key places, and mix some different foods in between (especially because my boyfriend is a vegetarian, and also obviously a saint for agreeing to such a trek in the first place!)

          I'd be happy if I hit four amazing spots in a week. Not sure how far flung this can get...will have to think about it.

          Cathy

          1. re: Cathy

            Cathy

            Wow, cool boyfriend!

            Ok, some tips. Lexington Barbecue is indeed THE place to go for North Carolina style barbecue. I mean, there may be a VERY obscure little place that's not widely known about, but North Carolinians are pretty passionate about the stuff and such a place wouldn't stay secret for long. Nobody there would argue much with this assessment of Lexington. The place is like a museum; the pitman is intensely proud of their very very traditional approach (ask for a tour!)

            The thing to understand is this: the big crisis in Carolina barbecue is a widespread move to gas-fired 'cue. All other things being equal, gas-fired 'cue is not as good, not as smokey or deep, as wood.

            Nonetheless a REALLY good pitman, with decades of experience with old-fashioned smoking, can find ways to make gas-fired 'cue taste delicious. A good example is Columbia SC's Little Pig (803-788-8238), which NOBODY disses in spite of the gas. It's a great, characterful place that belongs on your short list...don't miss the hole hog served up for hack-you-own on Sundays.

            But I digress. Lexington uses hickory and is spic and span and is just a total bastion. Don't miss it whatever you do. Carmen's advice is good, but be sure to get hushpuppies, too

            In SC, as you may know, they use a mustardy sauce. Maurice's Piggy Park is the biggest name, and they have a very pretty wood pile out back. Much TOO pretty, in fact...does NOT look like a working woodpile to me; more like a prop. And I didn't taste a bit of smoke in the meat. Found their stuff very mediocre (this wasy four years ago...they'd apparently started going downhill a few years before that when they started opening franchises...we went to the original, though).

            If you want to head west to Memphis, you'll have lots of great cue to choose from. Best IMO is McNeely's Interstate, a known place most writers put in the second rank (though I've since met major cue-heads who agree with my opinion). If you nudge into rural western Kentucky, you'll find barbecued mutton (VERY little of it to be found in the cities, like Louisville, though) and moonshine (which might be something that can interest your boyfriend!).

            But you may prefer to head southwest from the Carolinas and go into Alabama and Mississippi. You won't find much info on the barbecue thereabouts on the web or in guidebooks. For some reason, much of the really famous 'cue in this country (in otherwords, the places that get written up) is white-owned, and down there many of the best places tend to be black-owned. You've got to seriously chowhound to track 'em down. This is the 'cue we often get (when we get it) in Harlem and Jamaica, since so many African-Americans in our area originally came from down there, so it's a great chance to see where these guys are coming from, culinarily. One aid: "The Heart of Dixie Glove Box Guide to Bar-b-que" series, very savvy, very local guides to the cue we don't hear about up north. There are editions covering alabama, indiana/kentucky, and georgia....follow the link below to go to the Amazon.com index listing all.

            for boyfriend, stop for limeade at Bill's Barbecue just off 95 in Richmond VA (someone said it's downhill, but give a try) 804-353-2757. cue's so-so, but the limeade used to be nectar.

            If he eats seafood, stop for crabs in Baltimore or Annapolis and for great brewpub British Ales in Baltimore at Oliver's Wharf Rat (410-244-8900).

            Keep us posted on your research; we'll all pitch in and try to help.

            Link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ext...

            1. re: Jim Leff

              oh, also many folk's favorite book on barbecue...definitely worth having...is the wonderful Smokestack Lighting: Adventures in the Heart of Barbecue Country.

              Use URL below to read about it at amazon.com

              Link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISB...

              1. re: Jim Leff

                Thanks, Jim - I have that book, and it's great.

                All this barbecue talk is making me hungry....

                1. re: cathy

                  Oh Cathy, you're making me very jealous. I had planned just such a trip for November but my old lady sez she needs to buy a new Mac G3 instead, and I don't know if I could take the lonley bbq trail alone. Anyways, one spot I recommend in Memphis is Charlie Vergas Rendezvous on Second Street. Yes it's touristy and a bit on the pricy side but their "dry rub" ribs with all the good juicy 'cue stuff baked on the inside are outstanding. The fun upbeat atmosphere is also a plus with handsomely dressed waiters hustling through the place like everyday is New Year's Eve. I recommend Jane and Michael Stern's books "Road Food" and "Eat Your Way Across the USA" as excellent road maps for finding variety amidst all the succulent barbecue. Hey, you got room in your car for me?

                  1. re: Dan H.

                    Sure, Dan, hop in the back seat!!

                    The current plan is to fly to Memphis the day after Christmas, spend two days there, then drive through either Arkansas or Mississippi down to Cajun country in Louisiana, where we'll spend New Year's Eve. Then drive back to Memphis and leave on January 2nd.

                    I'll be in food heaven, but I'm not sure what my vegetarian boyfriend is going to eat. He doesn't generally eat fish, either - although the last time we were in Louisiana he ate a boiled blue crab, so you never know. I'll have to investigate some other options in these areas.

                    Before I book the flights, I am going to make a few calls to make sure places don't shut down for the holidays. Probably not, but better safe than sorry.

                    I've gotten lots of great tips for barbecue places along the way, so keep 'em coming, and I'll post a complete list when I get it together.

                    Cathy

                    1. re: Cathy

                      Cathy--I'd urge you not to fit Louisiana into the mix. Problem is this: the Barbecue Stomach Syndrome I'd warned you about can be badly exacerbated by throwing heavy cajun fried stuff into the middle. That's what I did on my bbq trip...I was a bit queasy by the time I got to New Orleans, and it made me have a less optimal time there...which makes you feel guilty cuz the food's so good...which makes you want to try to force yourself to try more stuff...which makes you turn green and want to come home and eat nothing but oatmeal for a week.

                      I realize that Dave Feldman and Al Pastor branded me wimpish for my suggestion that one could overdose on 'cue, but believe me....they're the only two human beings hardy enough to not be similarly affected. I'm a (ahem) fairly hearty eater, I assure you. So I'd save Louisiana for a time when you're fresh and hungry.

                      Why not start fresh threads for each destination you settle on? Memphis sounds fer sure at this point, so if you'll start a Memphis thread we can maybe go into a bit more detail (I have more suggestions for there)

                      ciao

                      1. re: Jim Leff

                        OK, I'll start a fresh Memphis barbecue thread.

                        But I'm not sure I'm convinced about Louisiana (which would, by the way, be Cajun country, not New Orleans). It seems to me that it will actually add more variety and make me less likely to overdose on barbecue. I didn't eat that much fried food when I went to Louisiana before, I ate a lot of boiled crawfish, etouffee, etc.

                        With just a couple days in Memphis, a couple driving through Arkansas or Mississippi and a couple in Louisiana, won't we get a good variety of food, and isn't that a good thing?

                        Other people have thoughts on this dilemma?

                        Cathy

                        1. re: Cathy

                          I have to agree with Jim on this point. Having lived in New Orleans, and taken a couple of Barbecue road trips, I think that you are better off making New Orleans it's own trip. However, it is easy to take a break in Mississippi as there are few places that will excite you the way Memphis and the Carolinas do. If you want to "save up" for some good fressing in New Orleans you can make Mississippi your "down time." I will chime in on your Memphis options as well as Alabama when I get some more time later....

                          1. re: Cathy

                            "I didn't eat that much fried food when I went to Louisiana before, I ate a lot of boiled crawfish, etouffee, etc"

                            Aw, c'mon, Cathy...."boiled" sounds so virtuous and healthy (reminds me of something I told someone last night ("I ate LOTS of vegetables...there were potatoes...and corn bread..."), but you're kidding yourself! You'll eat heavily. Can't avoid it. And if you do, you'll feel guilty. There is nothing more miserable than eating tofu in Louisiana.

                            Do start the Memphis thread...I'm looking forward to it (I bet we'll smoke...heh...some cue-heads out with a good Memphis discussion). Also perhaps a Northern LA discussion? I'd love to see it...that area's not much known-about. I won't have much to contribute--never been there--but others may have beaucoup tips

                            1. re: Jim Leff

                              Well, I didn't mean to imply that the boiled seafood is light fare. In fact, if you follow the local custom and suck the fat out of their little heads, I'm sure they're quite unhealthy!! I'm just saying it's DIFFERENT than barbecue, so there would be less of a burnout factor. No matter where I go, I'm going to eat heavily...whether that's in three southern states or one!!

                              1. re: Cathy

                                Ok....but I warned you!

                                And I'll repeat...though Feldman and Pastor seem to be real trenchermen (and I respect that!) I am by no means a chow-wuss....

                                jim

                                1. re: Jim Leff

                                  Jim wrote: "I am by no means a chow-wuss"

                                  Don't worry, I would never call you that!

                                  Anyway, later tonight I am going to start separate threads for Memphis and Southwestern Louisiana, plus maybe Arkansas and Mississippi, with some recommended spots I've heard about or been to.

                                  Cathy

                                  1. re: Cathy

                                    Is Alabama out? I'm getting out my old Barbecue trip notes for you...

                            2. re: Cathy

                              I do think it's possible to pace yourself, even in Lousiana. To me, the issue is how much mileage you want to put on. My own preference is to create a home base and not shift hotels, but that's a matter of inertia, as much as anything.

                              DF

                              1. re: Cathy

                                I heard great things about the Interstate but never made it down. In my 36 hours in Memphis I had three barbecue meals and was not sick of 'cue at all when I was done! But that's just me.

                                Wish I could remember the names of the two places that were only OK. Is the Rendezvous located down an alley under a swank hotel? That was a dry rub place, and my friends and I agreed it wasn't anything special. Ditto with B.B. King's place down the street (on the corner of Beale and that main drag down which the trolley runs). No surprise there: B.B.'s has the look of a tourist trap. We ate there only because my band was playing in the area and we didn't have time to travel, just time enough to chow.

                                Best by far of the meals we had was at Paynes. The ribs were amazing and so was the sauce, and the folks who worked there were great and friendly--definitely a plus given the funkiness of the surrounding neighborhood. Across the street from Payne's is a great fried fish place (again, I don't remember the name but it's the only one. You can't miss it) Depending on whether your boyfriend is or isn't eating fish at the time, this could be the motherlode for both of you.

                                Bon appetit!

                    2. re: Jim Leff
                      s
                      Susan Thomsen

                      Jim, I like Interstate, too. Isn't it the one with BBQ spaghetti? (I didn't try it, but was intrigued.)

                      I was wondering about something in regard to the old Mississippi Barbecue in Queens. Wasn't the guy who ran it from Jackson, Miss.? Do you know if he runs a barbecue place in Jackson now? I'd love to go there when I'm in Miss. One place I like in Jackson is the Hickory Pit, near the DeVille shopping center. A small place with good chopped pork sandwiches.

                      Susan

                      1. re: Jim Leff

                        Two things in this world I'd never defend:

                        Maurice's "sweeter-than-hell" mustard based BBQ sauce

                        and

                        Maurice's politics.

                        That said, I must say that he does indeed use those stacks of wood to smoke fresh pork, racks of ribs and chickens.

                  2. Cathy, I have enjoyed doing what you are planning to do. A must stop should be Lexington Barbecue in Lexington, North Carolina. Ask for a chopped pork sandwich with no cole slaw but with lots of "Mr Brown"--which is the crust of the barbecued pig. Oh yes, have them wrap up a couple of sandwiches to munch on while on the road! Take this advice!!!:-)

                    For a working list of places in NC to visit, go to: http://www.ipass.net/~lineback/lex.htm When you get to the site click on "Barbecue Joints"--there is a whole bunch of places which are rated by a barbecue maven/purist. I doubt that any of these places would be closed between the holidays.

                    1. Has anybody heard whether the BBQ meccas in eastern NC were affected by the recent hurricane? I would call or look for current info before I counted on visiting any of them any time soon.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: jen kalb
                        w
                        Woody Brinson

                        Most, if not all, of the top barbeque places in eastern North Carolina are "OPEN FOR BUSINESS". I would suggest you visit Scott's Bar-b-que in Goldsboro for a truly great experience. You will have your choice of chopped, sliced, or pulled barbeque pork in the true eastern North Carolina way (which is the only true barbeque).
                        Wilber's in Goldsboro is also great as is King's in Kinston. King's was flooded but is reopening. Also try the undiscovered places such as Sid's in Beulaville, only open for lunch on Saturdays since it primarily specializes in pig pickin' and catering; also Billy's Pork Outlet (open on Thurs, Fri, and Sat) at Cedar Fork, near Beulaville; Also need to try Marvin's (open Wed-Thurs), a new place near Kenansville. For the real best tasting barbeque you need to visit some of the local fundraising events at the local churches or fire departments where the local cooks really show their talents. Also the pig pickin' capital of North Carolina in Newport is a must.

                        1. re: Woody Brinson

                          Thanks for the great suggestions. My trip has been postponed due to circumstances beyond my control. But when I do go (and hopefully that will be soon!), I'll be sure to check out these places.

                          Cathy

                      2. Do not miss COZY CORNER in Memphis. I consider myself something of a barbecue veteran, with a great deal of curiosity on the subject. The barbecue itself is wonderful, but they have a barbecue bologna which is outrageous. The owners Ray and Desiree will tell you the history of their place and southern barbecue in general. They also aren't shy about pointing you toward the competition.

                        1. A true BBQ trek through the South would not be complete without a stop at Cozy Corners in Memphis. The food and atmosphere is what real BBQ joints are all about. Being a "regulars" place to eat, you will be known as a tourist immediately upon entering - and thus treated like a king, or queen. Owner Ray Robinson and his wife Desiree will make you feel as though you've been friends forever. You cannot leave without trying the fried BBQ bologna sandwich - the bologna is nearly a half an inch thick!!! The ribs are also outstanding. Another real treat is the BBQ baked bean/coleslaw sandwich - odd sounding, but delicious!!!

                          1. Are there any at least pretty good BBQ joints for me to stop at between the Richmond VA airport and Charlottesville? I am happy to get off the h'way and drive some miles if necessary.

                            1. If you leave Memphis on Highway 61 (the Blues Highway) http://www.visitmississippi.org/itine... You can spend your entire time without leaving Mississippi, there are some small bbq joints all along the highway. And BBQ and the Blues just go together. There is Clarksdale and Morgan Freemans restaurant Madidi and his bar Ground Central to spend some time at dancing the night away. And in Cleveland, KC's has probably some of the best upscale food in all Mississippi. Greenville is the home of Doe's Eat Place. Go on down to Natchez for the history.

                              Have fun and I don't know that I would do south Louisiana on that drive. Once you get started, you might be surprised. I had some incredible BBQ in Helena Arkansas, just across the river, when I was there for a blues festival.

                              1. I forgot to add that you can make a circle and head back up to Memphis by going through Tupelo and Oxford, two other bbq towns.

                                1. Cathy, You really should check out Lexington BBQ. But closer to I-95 would be Parkers in Wilson NC on 301 South. I also think Wilbers on HWY 70 E in Goldsboro NC is very good. Both of these feature classic eastern NC "Q".

                                  Have a nice trip!