Saturday, November 7, 2015
The Smokey Mountains are quickly becoming one of my favorite spots for a nice weekend getaway. Our last excursion to Gatlinburg, Tennessee was back in January when the morning temperatures were around 17 degrees. Thankfully we were treated to much better weather this time around, and the color-changing leaves made things extra scenic. After a morning of hiking, my wife was gracious enough to let me replenish my spent energy at Hungry Bear BBQ.
There are two Hungry Bear locations in Gatlinburg, but the one farthest outside of town seems to be the original joint. I much prefer experience over convenience, so this was an easy decision to make. Plus it was right on the way to our scheduled afternoon hike trailhead. Cast iron pans and various bear-themed knickknacks adorn the walls here, adding to the already rustic charm of it. I could see a small smoker hard at work just out our window, which is really all the ambiance you need for barbecue.
The more food I can eat, the more accurate an opinion I can form about a place. With that in mind, I ordered their Combo Four: ribs, pulled pork, chicken, and brisket. This dinner plate also comes with two side dishes, for which I selected potato salad and mac and cheese.
Hungry Bear's gooey mac and cheese didn't blow me away, but it was excellent comfort food on a cold, rainy day. A little bit of black and/or chile pepper would have jazzed things up a bit. The potato salad was fairly bland and served ice cold. I was hoping for pickles or maybe some mustard in the mix, but no such luck. My wife sampled both of my side dishes and echoed the same sentiments without any prompting on my part, so I feel fairly confident in my analysis.
I dug into the chicken first, mostly because if its convenient placement near the top of my meat pile. It had a great flavor, especially in the well-seasoned skin. There was just a hint of smokiness, although that's fairly typical of barbecue chicken. My wife ended up with mostly white meat in her chicken sandwich, which she found a bit dry, but my serving was all dark meat and all tender.
The ribs sadly disintegrated with only minor prodding from my plastic utensils. As expected, the rib meat was also sort of mushy, which is far too often the unfortunate byproduct of striving for a "falling-off-the-bone" quality. I liked the flavors well enough, but the lack of any smoke left me wanting.
My chunks of brisket had the texture of a pot roast and were a little tough to chew at times. I found only minimal smoke here as well, despite the prevalent rosy smoke ring. The flavors were passable in general, but not quite up to par.
The pulled pork was definitely the best of my four meats. It was very tender and rather juicy to boot. The pork had soaked up much more smoke than the rest of my combo, and the saltiness was right on point. The few pieces of bark that I found were exceptionally good.
Toward the end of our lunch, I saw the pitmaster (if you can really call him that) taking slabs of ribs out of the smoker. They looked amazing and visibly had just the right amount of give to them. In short, they were perfect and ready to eat. To my dismay, however, he then slathered on a thick layer of sauce, wrapped them in foil, and back in the smoker they went.
This obvious faux pas explains precisely why my barbecue plate was severely lacking in terms of both texture and flavor. The meat continues to steam itself to death inside the foil, which also prevents any additional smoke from penetrating. I had initially considered rounding Hungry Bear BBQ up into three-star territory, but when their core problem stems from such a fundamental error, I simply can't abide.
Hungry Bear BBQ
2263 East Parkway
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Saturday, October 31, 2015
Even though it's only a 45-minute drive south of Nashville (and even closer to my side of town), I really don't know that much about Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I figured that the best, or at least the tastiest way to find out what the place is all about was by sampling their barbecue. One of the town's most well-known joints, Kirkenburt's Smokehouse, closed up shop back in March, although no one on the Interwebs seems to know why. Who then would show me the glories of 'Boro barbecue? Today I gave that honor to Slick Pig. With twenty years of meat-smoking experience under their belt, they were sure to be a worthy contender.
This being Halloween, the employees were having a bit of fun in their costumes. The woman who took my order was a giant banana, and her fellow cashier was a flight attendant. Well done, ladies. Slick Pig's setup is rather simple, which I hoped meant that they were focusing their energy and their cash on the barbecue instead of the ambiance. That being said, everything from the chairs and barstools to the walls and tablecloths was appropriately Middle Tennessee State University blue and white. No doubt the proximity to the Blue Raider campus does a great job of bringing in large crowds.
Slick Pig has several lunch specials to choose from, although they're actually available all day. Most are of the usual sandwich-and-chips variety, but their massive #5 Combo Platter includes six smoked wings, a half-rack of pork ribs, a quarter-pound of pulled pork, a quarter-pound of brisket, a half-pint of stew, coleslaw, and garlic toast. Of course, it also costs $25.00 and is meant to be shared by two or three people. Well, at least I'd have some leftovers to take for lunch on Monday. I politely substituted potato salad for the slaw and anxiously awaited my excessive lunch order.
The potato salad was homemade and rather tasty. You wouldn't guess by looking at it, but there was a ton of flavor to go around. It was mostly mayo-based, with just enough mustard to make things interesting.
Growing up in Central Texas, I've certainly eaten my fair share of stew. Brunswick stew, however, is something with which I'm relatively unfamiliar. While Brunswick traditionalists might opt for squirrel or possum as their meat of choice, Slick Pig thankfully uses a chicken/pork/beef combination. It is essentially a thick soup of meat, tomatoes, and corn (and some purveyors might include okra and beans as well), which I was happy to have on a cold, rainy day like today. There wasn't as much of a spicy kick as I had hoped for, and the shredded meat inevitably kept juice running down my chin the whole time. All in all, it was a decent accompaniment to my lunch, but I think I'll stick to the customary beef, carrots, and potatoes-type of stew.
Slick Pig's hickory-smoked wings are by far their biggest seller, and for good reason. The crispy skin was well seasoned and delightful, as was the tender meat. I could definitely taste the smoke, which isn't always the easiest accomplishment when poultry is involved. These are surely a favorite of the MTSU coeds.
I wouldn't really say that the pulled pork was pre-sauced, though it does come with a drizzle of runny, Carolina-style vinegar. That actually made the pork extra tender and very flavorful. The vinegar didn't mask the natural pork or the smoke either, but instead amplified things nicely. While a little more bark might have made the pork even better, it wasn't altogether necessary.
When I see the word "brisket" on a barbecue joint's menu, I obviously expect my beef to be served in slices or, at the very least, chopped. Instead, I received large cubes of beef which ironically would have been better suited for the stew I'd eaten earlier. When in Rome, I suppose. Despite my hesitation, there was a good hit of black pepper in each bite. The brisket was also tender and not the least bit dry or greasy. I couldn't pinpoint any evidence of smoke, either visually or on my palate, but it was still tasty enough.
The ribs fell apart with very little effort at all. Many folks see "falling-off-the-bone" as a positive attribute for ribs, but I do not (and never will) share their sentiment. Most of the ribs had a decent texture, though some bites were noticeably on the dry side. The sugary rib glaze was by far the dominant flavor here, and just a hint of smoke was all that I could find outside of that. A good dusting of salt, cracked black pepper, and maybe a little chili powder would have done wonders.
On Tuesdays, Slick Pig offers all day 99-cent pulled pork sandwiches. I can't wait to go back and see how many of those bad boys I can scarf down, perhaps with a side of smoked wings for good measure. As for the rest of their barbecue, I'll pass.
Slick Pig BBQ
1920 East Main St
Murfreesboro, TN 37130
Saturday, October 17, 2015
It's been quite a while since I've taken a random barbecue road trip, and today seemed like as good a day as any to break that streak. I set my sights on nearby Lebanon, Tennessee and headed east to Tom's Blue Moon Bar-B-Que.
Although I arrived at Tom's just a few minutes past 11:00am, there was surprisingly only one other table of customers inside. I realize this might be a tad early for some folks, but I assume they don't just open up at 10:30am for the fun of it. Customers or not, Tom's has a lively and inviting atmosphere. There was an older gentleman setting up a Peavey amp in the corner, so apparently they do have live music from time to time. I'm sure that helps bring in larger crowds.
I was happy to see several combo plate options on Tom's menu. The prospect of four meats was tempting, but I decided on a three-meat plate of brisket, pulled pork, and ribs (for which I gladly paid an extra dollar), with potato salad and fried green tomatoes as my sides. Given the name of this joint, it also seemed quite appropriate to add on a bottle of Blue Moon, even if it was technically still morning.
The tomatoes came out piping hot, but I didn't see anyone battering them, so I'm guessing that they started out in the freezer. Their uniformity and general lack of flavor suggested that my assumption was correct. At least they were crisp. Thankfully, the potato salad was miles better. It tasted like a mustard/mayo combination, which lent both a zesty acidity and a good sweetness.
My first few bites of the pulled pork were a little dry and a little bland. I did find some rosy pieces of bark, and they were much tastier. That aside, the pork had only a mild smokiness at best. It wasn't all bad, but could have used more seasoning and more time in the smoker.
Tom's advertises their brisket as "Texas-style," and it certainly looked it. I had watched my piece being cut, and the sight was enough to make my mouth water. This fatty cut had plenty of bark to go around. Unfortunately, there was only a slight hint of smoke, and not even the fattier portions seem to have soaked up much of it. I kept waiting to uncover a punch of flavor somewhere, but to no avail. The beef was rather tender, so I suppose that's something.
To be honest, the ribs looked pretty gnarly on my plate. I've been pleasantly surprised before, so I didn't let their appearance stop me. Sadly, both the crust and the rib meat were tough to chew. I had hoped that these ribs would have more flavor than my first two meats. No such luck. Even a little more salt would have helped tremendously. I hate to waste food, but I didn't have it in me to eat more than one rib.
I really wanted to like Tom's Blue Moon Bar-B-Que, and considering all of the glowing reviews online, I figured that I would. Instead, I left feeling rather disappointed. Tom's has a lot of potential to create some really spectacular barbecue, but they're not quite there yet. Godspeed.
Tom's Blue Moon Bar-B-Que
711 Park Ave
Lebanon, TN 37087
Saturday, September 26, 2015
It's nearly impossible for me to drive through Memphis without stopping for some tasty 'que. My wife, who had just come off of an all-night shift, was sleeping soundly in the backseat as we made our way to Little Rock for the weekend. That gave me free reign to pick any lunch spot that my heart desired. Jackpot. There are still a few of the well-known players to check off of my Memphis barbecue list, but today I set my sights on One & Only BBQ, in part because they would have some non-barbecue options for my wife should she waken from her slumber.
Ironically, One & Only is really "two and only," with dual locations in east Memphis' Audubon Park and River Oaks neighborhoods. I'm pretty sure that River Oaks is the original spot, but I opted for Audubon Park since it's just a little ways off of Sam Cooper and involved the shortest detour. Practicality doesn't always yield the most delicious results, but we had a lot of miles left to cover.
The wifey was still half asleep when I stopped for lunch, so we just ran in and snagged some quick carry out. Much like Liam Neeson in Taken, I have a very particular set of skills that I've acquired over a long career, except that while he's quite adept at murdering kidnappers, I'm just good at eating while driving. A sandwich probably would have been the appropriate to-go choice for the road, but I much prefer my barbecue in plate form.
Their combo options were limited to two- and four-meat platters, as opposed to my customary three-meater. The two-meat barbecue plate is pretty expensive at $16.99, so four meats would likely break the bank. I had briefly considered a two-meat combo that included ribs, but the $22.99 price tag quickly cured me of that notion. I settled for a 2 Meat Platter of sliced brisket and pulled pork, with deviled eggs and sweet potato fries as my side dishes.
Potato salad is one of my standard side dish choices, but today I decided to live dangerously. Fries would also be easier to eat while I drove. These weren't overly crisp, and I actually don't think that sweet potato fries should be. They were cooked well and tasted homemade, although I can't be certain of that. Deviled eggs, which somehow eluded my picture-taking process, were another strategic driving choice. The eggs were creamy and mustardy, with just the right amount of salt and paprika and whatever other deliciousness they had sprinkled on top. There was also a slight sweetness that I really enjoyed. I doubt very many people besides me have driven around the Memphis ghetto while eating deviled eggs, at least I sincerely hope they haven't.
One & Only's pulled pork gets smoked over hickory for fifteen hours straight. That much time in the smoker was sure to produce fantastic results, which it did. Most of the meat had only a moderate, yet unmistakably-hickory smokiness. My plate contained only a few pieces of bark, but they were awesome and packed at least double the smoke level I had found initially. The meat itself was tender and very juicy, as well it should have been. No sauce needed here.
Rather than just being seasoning and smoked like most barbecue, their brisket gets marinated, smoked, sliced thin, and then finished on the grill with some extra seasoning. Honestly, I was a bit weary of the advertised thin-sliced beef, which can often be a devious way to counteract a pitmaster's dry meat. To my delight, the brisket was spectacular! It tasted like thin, smoky strips of steak, especially with the added steak marinade. I also loved the rub, which brought out even more flavor. The best way that I can describe it is that it's kind of like a barbecue/steak/shawarma fusion. Their thin slices also allowed me to wrap the brisket around my fork like spaghetti noodles, which was perfect for driving. This was clearly not a Texas brisket, but it was awesome nonetheless.
My wife, who ordered a pulled chicken sandwich despite my efforts to accommodate her barbecue apathy, said that it was probably the best she's ever had. That's certainly high praise coming from her, and I share her sentiment. I managed to eat my entire plate without making a mess of my clothes, except for the piece of pulled pork that I found later in my shirt pocket. Totally worth it.
One & Only BBQ
567 Perkins Extended
Memphis, TN 38117
Saturday, September 19, 2015
A few weeks ago, I discovered a new purveyor of pulled pork near my house called Curley's Carryout. To be honest, I didn't exactly have high hopes for this carryout restaurant, but I decided to give them a shot anyway. Besides, investigating barbecue in all of its forms is why I began writing this blog in the first place.
You'll find Curley's in a small strip mall, sandwiched between a dry cleaner and some sort of urgent care thing. Despite the "Carryout" name, there are in fact four small tables inside. There weren't many customers when I came in though, but Curley (the man himself) was extremely friendly and upbeat nonetheless. He also seemed to take pride in his food and the mom-and-pop nature of his business, which I always appreciate.
The menu I had seen on Yelp was mostly focused on burgers, hotdogs, and wings, with no plain barbecue as an option. I did see a "Pulled Pork Burger" and a "Pulled Pork Dog" that sounded interesting, but they were nowhere to be found on the in-restaurant menu. In fact, there were no longer any hotdogs on the menu at all. Luckily, I did find a decent combo: a pulled pork sandwich, 8 wings, and fries. Curley wasn't making smoked wings until Tuesday, and he was also out of the smaller wingettes, so I received 4 large honey barbecue wings. Not perfect, but it would have to be good enough. I upgraded my fries to their Garlic-Parm variety, which I was sure would be worth the small upcharge.
During my thirty-minute wait for food (it seems to be just a two-person operation), I was asked for my preferences on barbecue sauce. Normally I wouldn't even bother, but since I saw no evidence of an actual smoker anywhere, I feared that I might need the sauce today. I picked mild over spicy and Carolina-style over honey barbecue. Curley was nice enough to put the sauce on the side at least.
The handcut Garlic-Parm fries were fantastic! As their name suggests, this "Super Side" comes loaded with garlic and parmesan. They were crisp, flavorful, and infinitely better than the standard frozen crinkle fries. I should have ordered more of them.
Smoked wings would have been more my style, but I still looked forward to trying their honey barbecue version. These were coated in a thick layer of sauce, which was sadly a little bland aside from its pleasant sweetness. The wings themselves were cooked well and had a crispy skin. Maybe a sauce like lemon-pepper would work better, so I'll have to remember that for next time.
I tried to keep an open mind about the "pulled pork." The bun tasted homemade (well, homemade by someone), but the pork inside definitely had more of a crock-pot quality to it. There was a decent amount of flavor from their seasonings, though no smoke whatsoever. As expected, sauce was necessary here. It ended up being a runny vinegar-based sauce rather than the Carolina Gold I had hoped for. I liked it ok, but I'm just not a sauce guy no matter how hard I try to be.
Some of the toughest reviews to write are those which require me to balance the friendliness of small business owners with subpar barbecue. I will say that the burgers I saw coming out of Curley's kitchen looked as phenomenal as my fries had been, so perhaps that's really their forte. Curley's also has a great selection of homemade milkshakes, including salted caramel and a red velvet "cake shake" made with actual chunks of cake. I'll definitely be back to try those, but I probably won't be back for more barbecue.
2275 Murfreesboro Pike
Nashville, TN 37217
Saturday, August 22, 2015
Some friends of ours came to town for the weekend, along with their beautiful eighteen-month-old daughter. The adult lady-folk were otherwise engaged, so we had a "Two Men and a Baby" thing going on for lunch. I couldn't think of a better pick than B & C (Bacon & Caviar). Although they have neither bacon nor caviar on the menu, the food is still incredible. We didn't want the hassle of, or the drive involved with, the farmer's market, so we headed for their Melrose location in search of some phenomenal 'que.
Wood-paneled walls and modern/rustic decor give B & C a rather inviting atmosphere. The dining area isn't the largest I've encountered, but I'm sure it serves its purpose just fine. They weren't very busy when we arrived at 11:00am, though that was precisely why we chose to go at opening time. They actually had highchairs, which made the little one happy, or at least it made her less mobile. Having the dining room mostly to ourselves was also perfect for those few high-pitched squeals from time to time.
Sadly, there are no multi-meat combos on the B & C menu, although I did my best to create one of my own. I ordered a 1/4 Rack St. Louis Style Ribs Plate, as well as a half-pound of Brisket and a half-pound of Pulled Pork. My plate came with two sides, for which I selected their Mac N Cheese and the Grit of the Day, which happened to be Buffalo Chicken Grits. It was clearly more food than I (or anyone else for that matter) needed, but this way I'd have some barbecue leftovers to take to work on Monday. Win-win. Knowing my intentions, I had the good sense to request my a la carte meats in to-go containers.
As advertised, the Buffalo Chicken Grits had a distinct buffalo sauce flavor. They were decently spicy and really, really tasty. The grits themselves were just slightly al dente, which I loved. Far from basic grits, these had pulled chicken mixed right in. It was very tender and added a great texture. The gooey, melty Mac N Cheese was equally spectacular. I'm not sure what combination of cheeses were used, but they worked great together. Their choice of spices also gave this comfort dish an excellent zestiness. Shells were clearly a better choice than elbow macaroni, mostly because they trapped big gobs of cheesy goodness inside.
The brisket wasn't exactly chopped, but it had gotten broken up slightly in order to fit inside the cylindrical styrofoam to-go container. My luck with brisket has been somewhat hit-or-miss since moving from Texas to Tennessee, so I was extremely pleased to find some glorious black bark on these slices. The bark was packed with seasoning and a smokiness that matched the red hue beneath. The fattier pieces were beyond compare and just melted in my mouth. I could have eaten this brisket all day long, which made it exceedingly difficult to leave any for leftovers.
Pulled pork is slowly growing on me, especially when I eat some as good as this. There was a great saltiness which made each bite a pleasure. I found plenty of smoke-kissed bits of meat scattered throughout and a decent smoky flavor. The pork was also amazingly tender and juicy, yet still had a substantive meaty texture. There was absolutely no reason to adulterate this meat by adding sauce. I was really glad that I had gotten extra for work lunches.
The big, meaty spare ribs were cooked perfectly. They cut easily enough with my plastic knife, but it still took a slight tug to remove meat from bone, as well it should have. Each bite of the ribs was very tender and very juicy. There was a nice smoke level here as well, but not so much as to mask the natural pork flavors. A hefty dusting of black pepper gave the pork a great spiciness and a great taste. The ribs had more of a glaze than a sauce coating. It was a mild semisweet tomato-based kind, which actually added to the other flavors rather than overpowering them.
Our tiny lunch companion loved her pulled chicken too. I think she ended up dropping a half-dozen plastic spoons on the floor in the process, but at least she had fun doing it. We had a great time giggling both with and at her, and having delicious food made things even better. Thanks, B & C!
B & C Melrose BBQ
2617 Franklin Pike
Nashville, TN 37204
Thursday, August 20, 2015
We got a pair of free Nashville Sounds tickets through my wife's job, which is pretty awesome in and of itself. Due to a rain-out the night before, we fortuitously found ourselves treated to a double-header against the Albuquerque Isotopes. Sweet! I wasn't expecting to find barbecue at First Tennessee Park, but when I saw Smokehouse BBQ amongst the concessions, I knew that it would inevitably be the source of my dinner.
There had been a slight front blow through recently, so the weather was a beautiful eighty-two degrees this evening. First Tennessee Park is fairly new, and it is pretty snazzy for AAA ball. The game itself was really fun and was something that has been on my Nashville bucket list for the past year. The seats were half-full at best, which was a real shame. I know it's not MLB, but it's hard to beat a night out at the ballpark no matter who's playing.
My wife is a bit of a baseball traditionalist, so she snagged a hotdog and some Cracker Jacks for dinner. I, however, couldn't resist an order of Ribs and Fries.
I didn't anticipate anything other than pre-frozen fries, and that's exactly what I received. At least they were hot and freshly cooked. Some of the fries were dusted with a little barbecue seasoned salt, which really jazzed things up.
The ribs were hickory smoked, or so they claimed at least. While ordering, I was asked if I wanted my ribs wet or dry, and naturally I opted to eat my ribs sauceless. Surprisingly, the minimal seasoning was actually rather good. It was decently spicy, with a slight sweetness every now and then as well. The meat came off with only a moderate tug, but was fairly dry and unpleasantly chewy. Although I tasted an ever-so-slight smokiness in a few bites, it faded really quickly. I assume the ribs had been sitting in a warming tray for quite some time before they ended up on my plate, and I suppose that I should have known better.
Sub-par ribs aside, we had a great time at the ballpark. The best part of the night was a conversation that the mom sitting next to us was having with her three-year-old. They had already been in their seats for several innings before I heard, "Henry, what are you chewing on? Oh my g...you've had that piece of broccoli in your mouth since we left the house! No, forty-five minutes is long enough to chew. Swallow it now!" After about five minutes, several counts to ten, and four mouth inspections, Henry finally swallowed his food. It took every ounce of restraint I had not to fall out of my seat laughing multiple times.
Despite their valiant efforts, the Sounds lost the first game 6-0, but they rallied in round two to win 3-2. Well done, boys.
First Tennessee Park
401 Jackson St
Nashville, TN 37219
Monday, August 17, 2015
This would make my third visit to Puckett's in the past six months. What can I say, it's a fantastic place to bring out-of-town guests who want the Nashville experience without being overly touristy. Plus the food is always delicious!
This time I only made our reservations two days ahead of time, and I was surprised to find so many available. The vacant dinner slots must not have lasted long though, because I overheard the hostess forecasting an hour-long wait time to the couple in line ahead of us. In order to properly entertain our guest, I had requested a table somewhat near the music stage, and Puckett's was happy to accommodate.
Tonight we were treated to the musical talents of The Mann Sisters. Both of these ladies had beautiful voices and made our time at Puckett's quite enjoyable. We especially liked their Fleetwood Mac covers. Hopefully I'll get the chance to see them perform somewhere again.
I had considered an order of the Cherry Smoked Hot Wings for an appetizer, but our visiting dinner companion apparently isn't a fan of the bone-in variety. Fair enough. We got some Fried Green Beans instead, which honestly sounded just as good.
The beans came out nice and al dente, with just enough batter to crisp them up. The batter was also nice and light, allowing the beans to still stand out. I liked the accompanying chipotle bacon ranch dip a lot. It could have perhaps been a little spicier, but the flavors were superb.
The only barbecue item on Puckett's menu that I hadn't yet sampled was the pork rib entree, and I intended on rectifying that tonight. I ordered a half-rack of their Cherry Smoked Baby Back Ribs. These dry-rubbed, "Memphis-style" baby backs come with baked beans and potato salad, which probably would have been my side dish picks even if they hadn't been mandatory.
Potato salad is my favorite barbecue side, and this one did not disappoint. The big pieces of skin-on potato were bound together by just enough mayo to do the job without overpowering the natural potato flavors. I really liked the abundant pickles and onions as well. It was served room temperature, which was a nice change of pace from the ice-cold potato salads I often find. The beans, much like our green bean appetizer, were correctly cooked to an al dente. They were pleasantly sweet, with a somewhat spicy kick on the back end.
Although hickory is probably a more common choice for smoking pork, fruit woods like cherry do a great job, too. As a result of the mild wood, the ribs were only moderately smoky. There was also a slight sweetness, which stood out all the better without an overpowering smokiness. The meat itself was cooked perfectly. It took only a light tug to separate meat from bone, and each bite was extremely tender. For true Memphis-style, they probably need a heftier dose of dry rub, but otherwise the ribs were great.
Now at three for three, Puckett's has yet to let me down.
Puckett's Grocery & Restaurant
500 Church St
Nashville, TN 37219
Saturday, July 25, 2015
I've been jonesing for a good church picnic ever since my wife and I moved from Texas to Tennessee last year. We've attended some fun festivals and events here and there, but it's just not the same. Luckily for us, St. Patrick's Church in McEwen, Tennessee holds an annual picnic which was once heralded by The Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest outdoor barbecue. How could I possibly resist?
In order to raise funds for a new church bell, St. Patrick's held their first picnic in 1854, with pigs and sheep donated by local farmers. The event was such a success that church members turned it into an annual fundraiser for the church's school. Over a century and a half later, the picnic is still churning out barbecue that numerous publications have labeled as some of the best in the state. Clearly the folks at St. Patrick's know what they're doing. One thing that keeps the crowds coming back year after year is the legendary and secretive St. Patrick's barbecue sauce, the recipe for which is known only to one church member whose family brought it over from Ireland. I couldn't wait to try it.
While I had initially considered getting a pulled pork sandwich or some barbecue nachos, I couldn't resist their $8.00 dinner plate of pulled pork, green beans, potato salad, coleslaw, dessert, and sweet tea. That was quite a deal, plus they had a fried chicken option for my wife, who isn't nearly the barbecue fanatic that I am.
I was completely taken aback by the gigantic plate of food that I received for a measly eight bucks! The potato salad was really delicious, with a great crunch from all of the pickles and onions. Its base was a mustard/mayo combination, which provided a nice mustardy flavor without being completely overpowered. Unusual color aside, the coleslaw was rather excellent. According to some after-the-fact information given to me by one of my readers, the yellow color in their slaw comes from turmeric. This is also most likely the source of the spiciness that caught my attention every now and then. Mayonnaise-based coleslaws are not my favorite side dish, so this was a welcome change of pace. Although the green beans obviously came from a can, the addition of spices and pork transformed them into something homemade.
Despite being cooked in absolutely massive quantities, the pulled pork was phenomenal. It was much smokier than the majority of pulled pork that I've encountered. The meat was also very tender and juicy. The seasoning was simple, but just right. The pieces of bark, of which I found plenty, were even tastier. This was definitely some of the best pulled pork that I've had. I'm not generally a big fan of barbecue sauce, but I really liked this one. The tomato and vinegar sauce had a good kick and a nice acidity. St. Patrick's also sells this stuff by the bottle, and it's clear why.
For my dessert, I ended up picking what I thought was carrot cake, but which turned out to be a sort of gingerbread-esque spice cake. It was moist and delicious, with a great punch of cinnamon and nutmeg. The homemade buttercream frosting was sweet and perfectly whipped. I wish I knew which of their parishioners had made this amazing cake so that I could thank them in person.
My wife wanted to grab a snack before we left, and I was in complete agreement. Although her cinnamon and brown sugar funnel cake looked fabulous, I wasn't really in the mood for anything sweet. I certainly didn't need it, but I threw caution to the wind and picked up a pulled pork sandwich for my snack/early dinner.
This sandwich was absolutely packed with pulled pork in quantities that rivaled my prior lunch plate, and it was just as tasty. No sauce was needed here either, but the pickles did add some nice sour notes. I ended up with even more bark than in round one, and I loved every bite.
The only bad part to our day was having to make the hour-and-a-half drive home on an incredibly full stomach. We will definitely be attending the 2016 picnic, and next time I'll come prepared to bring back several pounds of St. Patrick's delicious pulled pork!
161st St. Patrick's Irish Picnic
St. Patrick's Church
175 Saint Patrick St
McEwen, TN 37101