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Has Blue Ribbon BBQ gone downhill?

Blue Ribbon BBQ had been an extremely reliable "go to" place for us -- great BBQ, food always good, and portions generous. A Godsend on weeknights when we were too busy too cook. Unfortunately, for the last year or so, it seems to be on a downhill slide. Has anyone else noticed? The folks behind the counter don't seem to be as friendly or as consistent as in the past. On Weds night, my husband (a big guy) ordered a pork rib and beef brisket duo, and got just two ribs (he usually gets 3-4), and the brisket was a skimpy portion too (and a bit dry). I know his portion was skimpy because mine seemed huge in comparison. The coleslaw had no flavor, like it was missing key ingredients (salt? vinegar?). It's a shame I recently bought 3 groupons (forgetting about the downhill slide we've been noticing). In the recent past, I've noticed the meats being less tasty, or carelessly served up (lots of fat and nonedible stuff...)

Having achieved some level of success have the owners become a little too hands off? I hope they start paying more attention before we all lose what was once a very good thing.

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Blue Ribbon BBQ
910 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02476

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  1. I posted about a similar experience not too long ago.

    Overall feeling was that the passion (so necessary for top notch cue) was gone.

    1. Are you guys going to Newton or Arlington? I ask because although I used to go mostly to the Arlington location I've had BBQ (specifically beef brisket) from the Newton location twice in the last few weeks and it was top-notch with excellent sides, including the new honey jalapeƱo carrots. The new mint limeade was not so much of a hit though.

      2 Replies
        1. BBQ is not consistent by nature due to different temps/humidity/size and quality of meat/where its placed in the smoker/how fresh it is/etc. Even one plate can differ greatly from the next when you order the same thing - the expeditor should be paying enough attention to try to mitigate that though, but things slip through - especially when you're putting out as much bbq as BR does.

          Brisket has always been up and down at BR ever since I started going about 5+ years ago. Ribs too - but I saw a big decline when they stopped smoking meat at Arlington - and coming back a little in the last year or so. Pulled pork has a little better consistency, seems to always be a similar range of quality, but when its really smoky, its soooo good - just wish it was that smoky all the time. Coleslaw has always lacked a vinegary component imo - easily fixed by adding a bit of vinegar sauce. I haven't noticed a change in friendliness, but the only friendly thing I look for in a bbq joint is an introduction of smoked meat to my stomach.

          I had them cater my 40th birthday party and decided against brisket due to its extreme variability and went with pulled pork, ribs, and chicken. The ribs were gray, no smoke ring, and a little overcooked, but the chicken was very nice and the pulled pork was some of the best I ever had which to me made up for the subpar ribs - to me that exemplified my experiences at BR - some things are variable, but overall a good experience.

          3 Replies
          1. re: LStaff

            In spite of the GREAT difficulty of smoking consistent cue day after day, and year after year, the truly great BBQ places manager to deliver. It takes a very strong commitment to quality, and lots of hard work.

            Until the last year or so I had always had excellent pork ribs at Blue Ribbon.

            I don't deny the difficulty of making large quantities of good barbecue, I'm just a bit disappointed when my favorite place slips a notch or two.

            1. re: StriperGuy

              Where are the truly great BBQ places in Boston then. ;)

              I noticed the slip of a notch or two (at the Arlington location at least) when they moved all the smoking to the commissary- since then, I think they have been holding fairly steady.

              1. re: LStaff

                The only one that formerly met that high bar in my book was Blue Ribbon. Certainly not Redbones.

          2. I went last Friday for lunch in Newton - tremendous brisket sandwich, arguably the best I've had since the old Kenton "Jake" Jacobs Jake's Boss BBQ days. It was moist, meaty, perfect smoke ring color. I gave it my version of the five star rating - no sauce. It was that good. Sides were decent collards and black eyed peas.

            My DC had a pulled pork plate, and declared the meat to be in keeping with Carolina quality. 'Nuff sed.

            Could have been a bad day at the smoker. As a backyard 'que man (BGE is my cooker), I know how difficult it is to get things just right. In terms of portions, you may be correct. That said, in this economy, the choice for an operator often is less on the plater instead of more on the cash register.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Bob MacAdoo

              I have to say, we have been diehard Blue Ribbon BBQ'ers for a while; I've had them cater 3-4 big parties for crying out loud! I can forgive some occasional inconsistency or the vagaries of BBQ. I still maintain they are going downhill; there has been a noticeable decline in quality of food and service. I don't think we are so persnickety. I think the owners are resting on their laurels, and they are risking their future business, and that's depressing.

              1. re: suepea

                Here's another possibility -- they sold 16,000 Groupons a few weeks ago and have been swamped every since. I can't help but wonder if they're having trouble meeting demand. I went in a couple of weeks ago and they were sold out of BBQ chicken but let me substitute anything I wanted to compensate for the inconvenience. There was a new counter guy that night and he couldn't have been nicer or more helpful. Last night, Reuben, who's been there for about 10 years, was managing.

                1. re: Velda Mae

                  Yeah, I'm one of those people holding a few groupons. But we've been noticing the decline for at least 6 months or so; it just seems to be gradually sinking in that the quality of the product and the service are not as good. Not basing this on just the last visit ,it's just that that that's my most recent memory for supplying detail.

                  1. re: Velda Mae

                    Nope, the issues they are having pre-date the Groupon.

              2. I have been twice in the past 3 weeks and I can tell you I will never be back. The 1st time I was there at approx. 4:30 and got a 1/2 rack rib plate with 2 sides. The sides seemed very old and the ribs were dried out and lacked any taste. I went back about 2 weeks later around 6:30 pm and got a combination of bbq white meat chicken and ribs with 2 sides. This time the sides were a bit better, fresher mashed potatoes and decent cole slaw but the chicken was dried out with no smoke flavor and the ribs were too "fall of the bone" tender, no discernible dry rub or smoke flavor, no discernible smoke ring...the ribs actually tasted boiled not slow-cooked and smoked. Extremely disappointing!