I'm making it my personal mission to single-handedly eat my way across the nation, one delicious animal at a time.

Fire up the pit, here I come!!!!!

Search The Blog

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue 2014 (Lynchburg, TN)

Every year on the fourth Saturday of October, teams, judges, and fans some 25,000 strong descend on the tiny town of Lynchburg, Tennessee for one of the most renowned and prestigious barbecue competitions in the world. There was no way I could resist. We headed south to the Lynchburg Hollow to bask in all of the smoke-filled glory that is known simply as "The Jack."

This year there were nineteen countries being represented, as well as teams from each of the fifty states. To qualify for The Jack, teams must have already won a competition of fifty or more competitors, or have won a state championship event of twenty-five or more competitors. The teams I was most excited about were Cool Smoke (2013 winner of The Jack), Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q (2014 winner of Memphis in May), Texas Pepper Jelly, and Bar-B-Que Commanders (2014 winner of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo). No surprise, I saw Chris Lilly hard at work inside the Big Bob Gibson tent. I was also really anxious to check out some of the international competitors like The Meat Sweats (Australia), Gone Fish'n (Bahamas), Sieben Schwaben (Germany), and Flaming Pig BBQ (Sweden). I also had a sort of random connection to team Fire Dancer BBQ from Arkansas, which was their only state representative. We searched diligently for their tent, hoping to score some competition-level samples, but sadly we weren't able to track them down.

Interestingly, although it's home to the Jack Daniel's distillery, Moore County, Tennessee is a dry county. The only admission fee for this event was a voluntary donation to the Moore County high school, although I'm sure the potential alcohol sales revenue would have been much more substantial. Being the law-abiding citizen that I am, I didn't try to circumvent the rules in any way. Wink wink, nudge nudge.

While barbecue is clearly the main draw, The Jack also offers plenty of other non-meat activities. One event that caught my interest was the Butt Bowling, where participants use a frozen Boston Butt to bowl over law pins. This seemed like a waste of good meat, but at least they were having fun. We also found dozens and dozens of booths selling a lot of really cool handmade items, both decorative and edible. There was also some really great live bluegrass music in and around the town square, so every once in a while we'd find a spot in the shade to listen and cool off.

There was certainly a massive crowd, which I'm sure was every bit of 25,000. After a brief warm-up perusing the teams and the vendors, it was time for barbecue!

House of Hickory
1107 Dickerson Pike
Nashville, TN 37207
(615) 226-6266

We decided to start things off with House of Hickory, which is a Nashville operation. It looks like they are mostly in the wholesale and food service business, with some catering on the side. Most of the other food vendors I saw seemed like catering companies as well, so no problem there. Not wanting to fill up on side dishes, I ordered a Rib Sampler (three bones) for us all to share.

These half-mangled ribs didn't really look that appealing, so I hoped they at least tasted better than they looked. There was a good crust, which was only slightly sweet. The meat was tender, but sadly so overcooked that it had already fallen off the bone before we began eating. I found no discernible smoke flavor in the meat, or any other flavors for that matter. The only thing that somewhat salvaged these ribs was the sugary glaze, but even that only made them mediocre.

Texas Rib Rangers
2402 Sherwood
Denton, TX 76209
(940) 565-1983

Based out of Denton, Texas, I had higher hopes for the Texas Rib Rangers. We've seen these guys around some of the Dallas events before, so I was a little surprised that they were way out in Lynchburg. Their banner boasted a "1st Place B-B-Q Sauce" win from the 1999 Jack Daniel's cookoff, but no awards from the past fifteen years. Hmm. I ended up ordering a 3-Bone rib sampler and some brisket. They had combos available, but I saw them scooping potato salad out of store-bought cartons. No thank you.

Their ribs were big and meaty, but lacked the black smoke-laden crust that I expected. The crust also had minimal seasoning and no smoke that I could taste either, making it fairly bland. The rib meat clung to the bone just the way it should. It was also decently tender. There was, however, way too much fat on these ribs, which is an unusual complaint for me to have. Despite my hopes, the ribs were pretty disappointing.

Even more disappointing, our brisket came chopped. Instead of doing things the right way and having sliced brisket for plates and chopped brisket for sandwiches, these guys were lazy and just pre-chopped everything. The meat was tender, but had no smoke and no other flavors beyond the tiniest pinch of salt. The few bits of bark I managed to dig out had a little seasoning at least. This was a poor excuse for brisket, and it makes me sad that this was the sole representation of Texas barbecue.

There were a few other barbecue vendors that I considered trying, but we made the mistake of filling up on fried Oreos and "refreshments." Mediocre food aside, we actually had a lot of fun here. The Jack was worth the short drive from Nashville to Lynchburg, and I'll definitely be back next year.


Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue
182 Lynchburg Hwy
Lynchburg, TN 37352

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cozy Corner Restaurant (Memphis, TN)

I was anxious to get back home from Little Rock, but I couldn't resist another barbecue stop in Memphis on the way. For some reason, Cozy Corner seemed like a better pick than some of the more well known places. This would make my seventh smoked meat meal in six days, so I might need to slow things down a little. I'm sure my future cardiologist would agree.

Despite their generic name, Cozy Corner Restaurant is definitely a barbecue joint. This place doesn't look like much from the outside, or the inside for that matter. It seems like little has changed since they opened doors in 1977. When it comes to barbecue, I learned long ago that some of the best meat often comes from small, humble operations like this one. I'm sure these guys do just fine in the finance department, but it's clear that their main goal is simply to serve folks the best barbecue possible.

I was initially considering an order of their smoked Cornish hen, which isn't something you'll find in many other barbecue joints. When I rolled up and started taking a few pictures, another customer instantly instructed me to try the ribs and the chicken wings. As he put it, "You can get pulled pork anywhere, but their ribs can't be beat." Who am I to question such enthusiastic advice? I ordered a 2-Rib 2-Wing Plate, dry rub on the ribs of course. I also picked bbq spaghetti and potato salad as my side dishes.

The potato salad was creamy and sweet, with just enough in the veggie department to add a little texture. It tasted like a mustard/mayo combination, which is the best kind in my opinion. I've never had bbq spaghetti before, but apparently it's a pretty popular side dish in Memphis. The spaghetti tasted just like you'd expect: pasta with barbecue sauce. It was also a touch spicy, suggesting chili powder.

Cozy Corner's ribs were thick and meaty with a nice dark crust. The heavy dusting of coarse black pepper was actually reminiscent of central Texas-style ribs, and that's quite a compliment coming from a native Texan. I found great smoke, mixed with the unmistakable flavor of charcoal. The meat was also cooked perfectly. It clung to the bone, but came away cleanly with each bite. Wow, outstanding.

Their huge smoked wings were awesome, too. Not to tempt fate, I got my wings mild rather than hot. The peppery skin was crisp and absolutely packed with flavor. It had soaked up the smoke quite nicely. The tender meat below was also very juicy. I could have eaten a dozen of these, but then I'd likely fall asleep at the wheel.

My grandpa used to say that you could always tell a Bohemian girl because she'd have poppyseed in her teeth. Along those same lines, you can always tell a good barbecue joint because you'll leave with your teeth coated in black pepper. Cozy Corner may not have as much notoriety as places like Rendezvous, Interstate, or Corky's, but this little spot should be on the top of everyone's to-do list.


Cozy Corner Restaurant
745 N Parkway
Memphis, TN 38105
(901) 527-9158

Cozy Corner Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Cozy Corner

Friday, October 17, 2014

Central BBQ (Memphis, TN)

I seem to be traveling a lot lately. Today I found myself headed for Little Rock to retrieve some Halloween yard cutouts that my father-in-law had made for us. Since we were planning on a sophisticated and refined "Endless Shrimp" dinner at Red Lobster, I was specifically told to come hungry. I can usually put away 70-80 shrimp on an empty stomach, but when you're driving through Memphis it's almost impossible not to stop for barbecue. I decided on a quick lunch at Central BBQ, partially because they make their own pork rinds!

Central BBQ has consistently been ranked one of the top barbecue restaurants in Memphis for the past decade. They also seem to be a favorite of Southern Living and Garden & Gun (yes, I subscribe to both). Central has opened up a couple of satellite operations around town, but I wanted to check out the original. Sadly, when I arrived I was informed that they were closed while the floor was being remodeled. I had already psyched myself up to try Central, so I headed for their downtown location.

There was a line out the door at 11:15. Sigh. I had a little wiggle room in my schedule, so it wasn't a huge problem. No surprise, the two-year-old downtown operation is noticeably newer and has a bluesy/touristy atmosphere. The order counter is just inside the double doors, so I'm sure there are normally customers waiting along the sidewalk. I don't know if this was intentional, but it definitely gives passersby the impression that Central is insanely popular. They also have a large covered patio, which was perfect on a cool day like today.

I'm normally a brisket kind of guy, but this is Memphis. I got a half-slab rib plate: half wet, half dry. Their plates come with two sides, and I picked potato salad and the homecooked pork rinds which brought me here in the first place.

Central's potato salad was really good. It had some nice spice to it from the paprika sprinkled on top, as well as a decent crunch of pickle in each bite. The pork rinds looked excellent, and indeed they were. They were wonderfully crisp and dusted with just the right amount of salt. I considered getting a few bags of pork rinds to take home with me, but I didn't have time to wait again in the ever-growing line to order.

The dark crust on my dry ribs was quite inviting. When I cut the rack apart, I found a pink smoke ring coupled with a prominent smoky flavor. The succulent pork was cooked perfectly. It was close to falling off the bone, but thankfully still hung on nicely. Central has four different barbecue sauces available to try, though none were needed. These ribs were great on their own.

I found the wet ribs to be delicious in their own right. The sugary glaze was still light enough that I could taste the smoke. It had also caramelized on the crust somewhat, adding a pleasant sweetness and sticky texture. Since they were part of the same rack, I was surprised that the wet ribs were a little tougher than the dry ones. Hmm, weird.

All things considered, Central BBQ was pretty awesome. Hopefully next time I can hit up the original location.


Central BBQ
147 E Butler Ave
Memphis, TN 38108
(901) 672-7760

Central BBQ on Urbanspoon

Central BBQ

Monday, October 13, 2014

Kreuz Market (Lockhart, TX)

Two barbecue joints down, one more to go. My appetite was certainly slowing down, but my grandma and I were determined to see this quest through to the end. Last up on our Lockhart journey was the fabled Kreuz Market.

No surprise, Kreuz Market has been on every one of Texas Monthly's lists of the "Top 50 BBQ Joints," published in 1997, 2003, 2008, and 2013. Although their name and logo tout a "Since 1900" claim to fame, some folks consider Kreuz to be one of the newer players in the Lockhart arena. Back in 1999, there was a split in the Schmidt family which had owned Kreuz Market for the past five decades. The original building was rebranded as Smitty's Market, and this operation moved to a new location and kept the Kreuz Market name. With that in mind, it might be appropriate to place an asterisk next to Kreuz's name on the 1997 Texas Monthly list.

This joint has a huge parking lot, but we found a spot right up front courtesy of my grandma's handicapped placard. Their dining area is equally massive. I'm sure they need all the space they can get, especially on the weekends. At Kreuz, you won't find fancy things like plates, forks, or sauce for that matter. As owner Kevin Schmidt puts it, "Good meat with just a few basic seasonings cooked with the right wood correctly is all you need." Well said.

Everything on the menu sounded fantastic, but we decided to order a quarter-pound of sliced brisket (fatty, of course), some pork spare ribs, a link of original sausage, and a quarter-pound of boneless prime rib. Mmmmm. We also got a side of sauerkraut just for kicks.

The warm kraut was nice and acidic. There was dill aplenty, as well as some caraway seed. I'm not a big sauerkraut person, but my grandma liked it so much that she took the leftovers home.

A dark black crust and thick smoke ring encircled our delicious-looking slice of brisket. I dug in and almost immediately had meat juice running down my cheeks, but I didn't care. The brisket couldn't have been more tender. It had a great smoke level and just enough of Kreuz's simple seasoning to make things interesting. They should slap anyone who even asks for sauce here.

The pork and beef sausage at Kreuz is world-renowned, and for good reason. Their coarse grind on the sausage tells you that it's homemade. Our link was straight off the pit and piping hot. The soft meat had spent plenty of time in the smoker, but the crisp casing contained it nicely. Black pepper is certainly the most prominent flavor, although there was a decent amount of smoke to go around too.

I've never had smoked prime rib before, so I was really excited to try it here. One word: fantastic! The crust was very flavorful, with only a mild smokiness. That's what I was hoping for, since prime rib is delicious on its own. Just a pinch of salt and pepper was the perfect seasoning. Unsurprisingly, the meat was extremely tender. I wish more barbecue joints would put prime rib on their menu, but I'd probably go broke if they did.

We saved the pork ribs for last. Visually there wasn't much of a smoke ring, but the ribs made up for it in the flavor department. Ours were a little fatty, which made them extra moist and extra smoky. The crust was also really tasty due to the simple rub.

Brisket and pork ribs were my grandma's favorites at Kreuz. I concur on the brisket, but I was most impressed with the prime rib. If you haven't been to Kreuz Market yet, go now.


Kreuz Market
619 N Colorado St
Lockhart, TX 78644
(512) 398-2361

Kreuz Market on Urbanspoon

Kreuz Market

Smitty's Market (Lockhart, TX)

My grandma was starting to get a little full after our first barbecue sampling in Lockhart, but she was still in high spirits as we made our way to stop number two: Smitty's Market.

Smitty's started their barbecue operations back in 1999 (well, technically around 1900), and since then they've been included in two of the four Texas Monthly "Top 50 BBQ Joints" lists in 2003 and 2008. However, it's not quite that cut and dry. Due to a 1999 split in the Schmidt family, the historic Kreuz Market essentially split as well. The original operation became Smitty's Market under the leadership of Nina Schmidt Sells, while Rick Schmidt kept the Kreuz Market name and moved to a new building. With that in mind, Smitty's was essentially part of the 1997 Texas Monthly list as well, at least as far as I'm concerned.

When you walk through their Commerce Street doors into the big, open corridor, it really feels like a turn of the century meat market. Smitty's dining area has been revamped some, but still has a sense of rustic charm. The long tables are great for making new friends, which is my grandma's specialty.

We ended up ordering a quarter-pound of sliced brisket, a quarter-pound of beef shoulder clod, a link of their original sausage, and a couple of pork ribs. At my grandma's request, we also tacked on a side of potato salad.

The potato salad was served ice cold. It had a decent flavor, but there wasn't as much of a strong pickle/pimento aftertaste as I was hoping for. But I didn't come here for vegetables, so I'll let that one slide.

I forgot to request fatty brisket, but that's ok. Our slices still had some good fat mixed in, despite being a leaner cut. They also had a commendable smoke ring, as well as a great smoky flavor courtesy of the well-rendered fat that had soaked it all up. I thoroughly enjoyed the tasty seasoning on the brisket's crust. The meat was much more tender and juicy than I had initially predicted. Well done.

Smitty's big, plump, all-beef sausage looked spectacular, and it tasted even better. The dark casings were crisp, but the meat inside was extremely tender. The smoke had also penetrated the casing nicely. The sausage was flecked with quite a bit of black pepper, which was slightly spicy and added a good flavor. Of all the places I've been in Lockhart, Smitty's definitely had the best sausage.

Beef shoulder clod is certainly a leaner cut of meat in general, but it was delicious nonetheless. The crust was full of flavor, as was the meat itself. Minimal seasoning worked well here. The big hunk of beef still had plenty of smoke, further evidenced by the bright red ring around the edges. This was my grandma's first encounter with shoulder clod, and she really enjoyed it.

The pork spare ribs did not disappoint either. Here again, the light seasoning allowed the pork to be the star of the show. I noticed just a hint of sweetness, suggesting a glaze. The meat was tender and quite juicy, coming off the bone with ease. My grandma thought the ribs were a little tough, but she has dentures, so take that with a grain of salt.

Whether they've been in operation since 1900 or 1999 is up for debate, but one thing is certain: Smitty's knows how to smoke some damn fine barbecue.


Smitty's Market
208 S Commerce St
Lockhart, TX 78644
(512) 398-9344

Smitty's Market on Urbanspoon

Smitty's Market

Black's Barbecue (Lockhart, TX)

I've wanted to go barbecue hopping in Lockhart for quite some time. With a week-long stay in Texas at my disposal, this was the perfect opportunity. I'm sure any number of friends and family would have been very eager to join in, but today my grandma was my wingman (wing-granny?). This was sure to be an adventure of epic proportions. First up on our list was the one, the only, Black's Barbecue.

Black's has been listed in Texas Monthly's "Top 50 BBQ Joints" in 1997 and 2013. I'm a bit skeptical of their absence from the 2003 and 2008 lists (not even an honorable mention), but that's a rant for another day. These guys have been churning out phenomenal barbecue since 1932, and they're all about the history here. Black's has been using the same pit since 1949 and the same cutting blocks since 1954. Wow! Interestingly, Black's is the only one of Lockhart's "Big 3" that offers plates, forks, or sauce, but I won't hold that against them.

Upon walking in, we were immediately greeted and asked if it was our first time at Black's. Since it was, the helpful server gave us a quick rundown of the ordering process. In fact, everyone we encountered here was extremely friendly. Their large dining room is certainly necessary to try and accommodate the hoards of people that descend on Lockhart each and every day. The walls are littered with deer mounts, cow horns, and photos of days gone by. Sitting in Black's made me nostalgic for the kind of historic, small Texas towns that are becoming more and more a distant memory.

The brilliance of their barbecue comes from its simplicity. Overly-complex rubs can certainly be tasty, but here the focus is on the meat, and Black's knows how to let it shine. We ordered a quarter-pound of sliced fatty brisket, a giant beef rib, a pork rib, and a link of their original sausage. We also added some potato salad, beans, and deviled eggs for good measure.

There was so much food that we needed a separate plate just for our sides. The potato salad was creamy and slightly sweet. It also had a rather potent pickle flavor, which added some nice acidity. The deviled eggs tasted just like my ones my grandma makes, and that is most certainly a compliment. The beans were cooked just right and were full of an awesome spice blend. This was a great way to warm up my palate.

As expected, the brisket had a magnificent black crust and a prominent smoke ring. My first bite was like a fairy tale. The natural beef flavors and abundant smokiness danced off of one another in a way that begged me to keep eating. Each bite was full of tender meat and perfectly-rendered fat. Despite, or rather because of the simple salt and pepper-based rub, the brisket was really tasty. I had to force my grandma to stop eating it since we had two more barbecue stops planned after Black's.

It's hard to put into words how absolutely amazing the beef ribs are. At one or two pounds each, these ribs look like they were plucked from a brontosaurus. The deep black crust and smoky hue are enough to make your mouth water. You might think that a chunk of meat this thick would dry out easily, but it literally melts in your mouth. The tender meat is also seasoned perfectly and very flavorful all the way through. It's one of the best things I've ever eaten.

Though considerably smaller than its bovine counterpart, the pork rib was also quite spectacular. Each side of the rib was lined with a bright smoke ring. The crust wasn't black like the beef rib, but it still looked delicious. It had plenty of smoke and a flavor that can't be beat. The meat was also tender and very juicy. I could have eaten these all day, but it's probably better that we only ordered one.

Black's coarse-ground, homemade sausage rings weigh in at about a third of a pound each. The crisp casings had a nice snap, but they still had enough give that my grandma could bite through without too much trouble. Their simple spice blend lets the meat do the talking, with just a slight punch of garlic to tie it all together.

The pork rib and brisket were my grandma's favorites, but we both enjoyed the entire meal. In fact, I have absolutely nothing negative to say about this place. No matter which regional barbecue style you gravitate toward, Black's is the absolute holy grail.


Black's Barbecue
215 N Main St
Lockhart, TX 78644
(512) 398-2712

Black's BBQ on Urbanspoon

Black's Barbecue