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Best BBQ: from CIA chef or locally grown pitmaster

Broken off from this thread:

My basic argument:
I seek out local BBQ wherever I go, and am more likely to go to an establishment which has been run for generations by the same family than one run by a non-local CIA trained chef who has successfully honed his skills in fine dining

To taste the variety of regional cuisine which an area is particularly known for; one of the best benefits of travelling is trying different food

I know that the CIA trains chefs and those worthy of the degree ought to be able to make excellent dishes in a variety of styles, based on the classic preparations for fine dining. I'm fairly certain that there are countless pitmasters who also know classic fine dining preparations, even if not formally trained at the CIA.


What do you look for when choosing a BBQ establishment? (reviews? style? credentials? painted pig sign on the side of the road? Food Network recommendation? website?


If you don't like BBQ anywhere, that's fine. This isn't a debate regarding whether it's good or bad or who has the best barbeque or the origins of the word or what is considered authentic--those topics have been discussed at length (generally every 2-3 months).


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  1. I LOVE barbeque.

    Thinking about it, can't say as if I've ever had bad barbeque, because bad would mean inedible and I haven't ever been able to not eat my barbeque.

    They have me at the smell. That smoky marriage of burning coals and charring meat. I don't care for propane! I want "real" fire.

    I will seek out reviews on local joints, but one man's perfect sauce might not be mine, so I usually will take my chances. When I see a new spot, or if I'm in a new city, I'm game to give any restaurant a try. The meat is most important to me, but the place should have excellent sides.

    I sitll miss Jack's BBQ Pit on Second Street in Belmont Shore (a division of Long Beach, CA). They had an real wood pit for slow smoking/cooking their meat and THE best french fries. And, you could sit outside and people watch and you drank down a pitcher of beer.

    1. Depends on the pitmaster, depends on the chef.

      1. I try different places for BBQ all of the time. The one constant thing that seems to be true wherever I go is that BBQ from a place that doesn't specialize in BBQ is usually disappointing. In fact, most of the good places will either have the word BarBQ or some derivative (like Jack's Rib Shack) in the name. And these type places don't usually attract CIA trained chefs.

        The chef might be able to make something that tastes pretty good, but give me a pit master any time.

        1. From my own experience, mostly gained in Nashville, I'll have to go with homegrown. Every prize-winning heavy-credentialed barbecue dude who set up shop there with fanfare and publicity and much anticipation has either come to grief or managed to thrive in spite of mediocre food, while grubby, scary old Crow's in East Nashville (assuming it's still there) draws crowds to their back-street parking lot every night.

          1. I just had some fantastic BBQ at the Carolina Smokehouse in Cashiers, NC. I by no means pretend that Im an expert- but the chopped pork with vinegar sauce, and the ribs....the ribs were AWESOME. Fell off the bone, nice spicy bbq sauce...it was awesome

            3 Replies
              1. re: Caralien

                To be perfectly honest-it sorta found us. I was obsessed with having Carolina BBQ when I was visiting (Im from New England) and the places that I had read about on line were all out of the way for a rather rushed weekend. This place was just down the street from where we were staying, and it just LOOKED good. Sorta dive-ish. Big pig on the sign outside- those things that just screamed BBQ to me...

                1. re: fmcoxe6188


                  (you may have also really lucked out--it appears that the owners have thought about selling the place since 2006, to restart in Montana:


            1. Wood smoke coming out of the smoker or chimney, a woodpile out back and lots of pickup trucks in the parking lot.

              I think "trained" chefs just dumb it down to suit the masses and certainly aren't going to stay up all night tending the pit. Not faulting them; it's not their specialty.

              1. New CHOW post:

                "No other catering company in America is owned by a classically trained, Mobil 5 Star Chef."

                "Our Clients consistently tell us that they hadn’t tasted real Barbecue until they tasted ours!"

                This is in Sebastopol, CA.

                From what I can tell, pride in BBQ is up there with national anthems--everyone can and will claim that their barbeque is not only the best, but sets a new standard for defining that which is barbeque.

                (I've posted this to be fair--so here's a vote for a classically trained chef who now makes incredible barbeque)

                1. Strikes me as a false dichotomy. Is there really a rash of trained high end chefs opening up bbq joints?

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: Naco

                    In the greater San Francisco Bay Area, yes. Not just opening new places, but adding 'cue to their menus as a way to try to get through the recession. We don't really have our own low and slow tradition out here, so the results have been highly variable and mostly not very good.

                    Here's a report on one of the newest, Wexler's, which as you'll read is a little unclear on the concept.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Checked out your link- only in California could someone go out to grab some BBQ and later say:

                      "Very nice server, but glasses of wine came out *after* apps, and mains were lukewarm."

                      I love it! 8-)

                      1. re: Clarkafella

                        That entire thread reads like something out of the distant, dystopic future.

                        1. re: Naco

                          Not sure what that means, but I'm trying to remember if I've ever been to a BBQ place that even had any wine. Or glasses either. So far, I'm coming up empty...

                          1. re: Clarkafella

                            Or creme fraiche, chive blossom, chicken liver mousse, pancetta/scotch eggs at $25-28 per main. Maybe this is what happens when you get highly trained chefs trying to run a BBQ joint.

                          2. re: Naco

                            Now you see why they're not thriving. For Clarkafella, one of my friends has told me about one of her favorite bbq joints in Texas where you'd get kicked out if you asked for a fork.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Those places are pretty common around here, and napkins are in short supply too- that's why God made shirt sleeves and paper towels...

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                having eaten at Wexler's twice and had two great meals, I disagree with you that they are not thriving--the place was packed both times. I also found the food delicious. That being said, it seems ridiculous to compare this to a BBQ "joint". Obviously the concept is something very different than that. The chef is inspired by BBQ flavors and methods, but is doing California farm to table cuisine. Of course hounds can differ as to whether that is something they are even interested in--if you are looking for a traditional joint go elsewhere. If you are want to see how that tradition inspired a "high-end" chef then I think Wexler's is a great bet. Apples and oranges.

                      2. Just depends. At our club our chef is from Georgia and Kansas and is using a FEC-100 (Fast Eddy) smoker and knows how to run it. He is professionally trained but understands bbq and smoking. Great ribs and prime-rib.

                        I have eaten once at a locally owned bbq place in Phoenix, Arizona. Lots of awards from KCBS contests and lots of ribbons. BBQ was terrible! Chopped brisket that I am not sure my dog would eat, never went back.

                        Depends on the time, attention and pride that goes into the final product. It also takes lots of practice to do good bbq. You need to develop a relationship with your smoker and understand where its hot spots are, timing of various cooks and how it is going to perform. Most cookers are different and you need to get close to each one. It is far more than simply time and temperature.

                        1. Whenever I am in a strange location,craving bar-b-que, I look for "BBQ" somewhere on the building,or truck, or sign in front of the church, and will be game to try it.

                          1. If you see a smoker on the premises, smell smoke or see smoke, then you have found a BBQ place. BUT not all are of equal taste, that's when a taste fest comes in to determine the winner.

                            1. I know great classically trained chefs and self-taught pitmasters, and to me, it is neither a positive nor a negative for a pitmaster to have classical training. BBQ is boldly flavored, not subtle. I'm not looking for nuance, I'm looking for great taste. On the other hand, classical training does not presuppose bad BBQ. I would suppose that classically trained chefs could put together totally compatible nontraditional sides which could add a totally new spin to the BBQ experience, and that could be quite a positive. But smoking meat is a matter of taste and experience.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: ganeden

                                I had forgotten this until now, but I know a classically trained chef who, with his father, has been operating a barbecue restaurant in Oregon for some time. We're friends with his uncle, who lives in Nashville and who is himself a fine cook and educated eater, and he tells me that John and his dad are turning out some excellent 'cue. I do not know the name or location, unfortunately, only that the family name is Joyner.

                              2. recent thoughts on 'cue:

                                it's possible to order an Irish bar in a box--Victorian,teens (Queen Anne/Edward), 30's. These we see all over the place (yes--you order the era and the bar gets shipped to you in parts). This is what I'm worried about. I don't doubt that a fine chef can make good bbq, but what I'm against is the idea of q in a box--instant shack or whatever might pass for "authentic" barbeque. Because it is NOT the sauce that makes it, but the cooking dogma (I believe that that is one thing CHs can possibly agree on). TGIF or some respected (or less respected) Food Network headliner on the marquee touting Que X as the next thing seriously sends chills up my spine. And I don't make real BBQ according to CH, but my husband tells me otherwise and is irked when I tell him it's not barbeque.

                                I'm probably barking up the wrong trees. I am admittedly from Chicago, which has soul food but is in the north. I live in NJ, and have lived on both coasts and both sides of both major oceans (by choice). Barbeque is barbeque. Anyone CAN make it. But make it well, and make it profitable? There are so many corners cut, as well as marketing research that ends up with New Coke as the winner. It's not about the marketing! And by all means, if you're a 5* chef, delve into bbq; it's not as profitable as some things considering the time and energy, but may be more profitable than foraging your own truffles which have a higher markup.

                                Our personal method of finding barbeque is passing a painted pig sign and turning, looking up places and praying they're still open (or open that day or time of day--many don't have phone #'s), as well as looking up reviews on places such as Hollyeats.com while on the road. It doesn't need to be fancy--preferably not. A place with food, friendly or gruff service as long as the food is good; even relief facilities are optional but preferable.

                                As others have said, some chefs are adding q, others are devoting themselves to q. I will still pass over those in lieu of smaller proprietors unlikely to have corporate sponsors, and will have the good and the mediocre (but still feel good having supported a smaller proprietor even if not satiated).

                                1. The 'cooking' part of BBQ is not complicated - you can probably master a good rub in 5 minutes, or less (salt and pepper is really sufficient). Much of the skill in producing good 'Q is the skill of keeping the fire going at the right temperature for the requisite length of time - which is not something taught in cooking schools, as far as I know. The point being, much of a school-trained chef's skills would be tangential to producing good 'Q.

                                  Another factor is that emissions regulations in many cities make it very difficult to set up a traditional pit. Much easier to go out in the country somewhere, where it's also easier to source firewood. So unless a chef with an expensive education wants to go out into the country and open up a BBQ place, meanwhile learning a whole 'nother set of skills, there's not going to be much overlap.

                                  Bottom line: I'd lean toward the shack with the pig painted on the sign. Or a cow, depending on the region....

                                  1. Ever hear the old saying, Dont argue with someone aout their opinions on BBQ, Politics, or Religion? Ha

                                    Q is a funny thing, standing outside of the world of all other food prep and presentation. Kulinary, not Culinary.

                                    Short answer, for me, is fidning that long standing cooking family where their 'love' still comes through their product. I know thats corny, but its true. Ive been fortunate to travel the country and always ask the guy taking my bags at the hotel or driving the airport bus for recs. I just tell them i want to go where you go. Somtimes that involves not the best of neighborhoods.

                                    Im in StLouis, and we have perfect examples of folks that ran super great Q shops expand i multi locations, and something seem to disappear in the product. Like, it was still 'good', but just not the same as what came out of the old smoker or original kitchen.
                                    We're a little odd here too, in that the really best bbq comes out of our backyards,

                                    Anyway, its not so bad if the joint has been featured on TV or not (best if not), just as long as its a place where the family members still work there, maybe even grandma in back helping out.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. Well, after eating splayed whole goat crucified on green sticks and set at an angle somewhat near a pit of coals on the ground for about 10 hours in the Altiplano of Bolivia many times in the 70s I have since been spoiled and have never again had real BBQ. Those Altiplano guys were neither CIA trained nor "pitmasters". And they always used every bit of every goat so prepared.