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BBQ ROADTRIP!!! : Texas Smoke Barbecue - Jefferson, New Jersey

Texas Smoke Barbecue_10 See all the Food Porn HERE

Francis Bacon, the 17th century English philosopher, is a martyr in the ancient and holy faith of BARBECUE. Most famously, he died by contracting pneumonia while studying the effects of freezing on the preservation of meat. We have all benefited from his sacrifices since then. One of his well-known quotes comes from an apocryphal tale concerning the Islamic prophet Mohammad, saying “If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, Mohammed will go to the mountain”. The moral of the story being that if things aren’t going as you would like, you might need to take another route.

Well good thing for me that sometimes instead of taking my usual BBQ road trips, which at its peak has taken me over a thousand miles from home, sometimes a BBQ joint comes to me instead. During a recent street fair in front of my office in heart of Manhattan’s financial district, I bumped into Texas Smoke BBQ, a joint located in Jefferson, NJ. Jefferson is not quite Cordele Georgia, so the drive is only 50 miles versus over a thousand, but it’s still a trek.

Texas Smoke BBQ was started by Scott and Maria Reid after a trip to Texas gave them the BBQ bug. The formed a competition team and eventually started doing catering and street fairs. They specialize in Texas style barbecue. Which region is not clear from the site but if I were to guess I would place them solidly in the Eastern Texas style. What’s nice about their menu is that it includes tex-mex foods like the Chimichanga. Having lived in West Texas for a number of years, I can tell you that a chimichanga (basically a fried burrito smothered in cheese and sauce) is just as Texan a dish as BBQ brisket. I would even argue that state-wide the enchilada has more pull than BBQ brisket.

On this particular day, the Reids were smoking brisket for chopped beef sandwiches. To this end I broke my own rule about getting brisket from an unknown source. What sold me was the fact that he had his big black metal offset smoker parked right there next to Wall Street smoking BBQ. This might actually be an special treat as there was some hint that the food at the restaurant might actually be smoked with a gasser instead of a wood burning smoker like he had that day.

In the pantheon of BBQ dishes the only dish I tend to avoid more than BBQ chicken would be the chopped beef sandwich. Now the chopped beef sandwich could be a really good thing, provided that it’s made with the fatty trimmings of a brisket or made using chuck (which dries out less). Unfortunately most people will still do chopped beef sandwiches with brisket.

Texas Smoke actually makes its own sauces. And who couldn’t resist bull dressed up as a cowboy on the label. I was given a choice of mild or spicy, and in Texas that’s always a test of one’s manhood. Are you going to step up and take on the big boy hot sauce? Or are you heading to the back to play with barbies? I elected the spicy.

As expected the meat was dry and needed the sauce. This further supports my contention that brisket is the insensitive douchebag of the BBQ world. I did like the sauce though. It was a bit spicy, nothing too challenging and wasn’t too sweet. It complements the meat well. The beef had a good deep smoke flavor and overall it was a very very solid championship lunch. Were Texas Smoke BBQ near my office everyday I’d certainly add them to the weekly rotation. Would really love to taste their chimichanga!

The ART OF WAR - Strategies on ordering BBQ

Alright the title might be a bit facetious as I'm sure you all know how to walk up to a counter and order Combo #1. But for the most part if you read bad reviews of decent BBQ joints there's a pretty common thread which tells me that people are not employing proper BBQ ordering strategies.

#1 What NOT to order

COMBOs - Any kind of combo meal is generally a bad idea. It's great from a restaurant's point of view as the margins are higher, but it's generally less bang for your buck. The combo invariably will contain that all popular filler - chicken (more on this later) 

BRISKET - 99.999% of BBQ brisket suck. I have eaten brisket at joints owned by world champion brisket cooks and they sucked. This is not necessarily the fault of the cook. As I've stated before, brisket is the insensitive douchebag of the BBQ world. The second that a fresh new cooked brisket is sliced into, it's going down and going down fast. Now this isn't a problem if everyone was lining up ready to get their fill, but this doesn't happen in a restaurant setting. People get the brisket at 6 then perhaps 6:20, then 7 etc. You really don't have a fighting change when it comes to brisket unless you're literally the first person to order it. If the place you're eating at happens to pre-slice and rewarm their brisket you're basically screwed. There's even a well known blogger who makes it a habit of stopping by BBQ joints late in the day and ordering the brisket - surprise surprise he constantly has bad things to say ...

Now this if a place SPECIALIZES in brisket and you do see a line of people waiting for it, you will do well to follow suit. If you are ever in Austin, Texas and waiting on line at Aaron's BBQ just to order the turkey - baring dietary restrictions you are an idiot. Get the brisket.

CHICKEN - I have never met a chicken I wouldn't have preferred deep fried. I've eaten chicken that's been delicately roasted on a bed of vegetables stuffed with truffles and foie gras and I'd still rather have some pan fried chicken. Now that might be more telling of the fact that I'm an uncultured brute but I stand by my view. Chicken is a bland meat. Where as hardwood smoke transforms much meat garbage in to BBQ gold, it simply makes chicken taste like smoked blandness. People really love my smoked chicken and I still make it and serve it, but if my wife would only let me get a deep fryer, everyone would be eating fried chicken. The one standout in BBQ chicken was the one I had at Big W's Roadside BBQ. I don't know what that guy does but that chicken was just gushing with juice. If you're seeking success at a BBQ restaurant, just skip the chicken.

Side dishes - BBQ joint side dishes are pretty uninspiring. Quite frankly you really only need some slaw and hush puppies. Everything else just takes up room better served by smoked meat. Skip the sides and order more beer. Your stomach and your pitmaster will love you.

#2 What TO order and how to do it

BY THE POUND - best bang for your buck is to get things by the pound. Ignore the 2 sides, ignore the corn bread. Go straight to the good stuff. If you need some carbs just drink more beer.

PULLED PORK - When you order pulled pork tell them to make sure you get a decent amount of bark mixed in. This is the outside crust that's been exposed to the smoke. A good 60% of the meat is not exposed to the smoke and will not have much flavor compared to what the bark is offering you. Try not to get pre-sauced meat. Pulled pork that has been pulled and sauced ahead of time oxidizes and will be dry by the time it gets to you.

BURNT ENDS - If they offer it, always get a side of burnt ends. I don't care if you just stopped by for coffee. Burnt ends are the twice cooked fatty end of the brisket and they are magical. They're also hard to time because BBQ joints can only make them once someone orders a brisket. So being first in line won't help you. They also tend to run out the fastest as the fatty deckle is relatively smaller than the flat which is normally sold for brisket.

RIBS - In general it's pretty hard to screw up ribs. Whether they're pork spares or beef shortribs. If you want a half slab of ribs get spares. If you want to eat a full slab, get baby-backs. Baby-backs are leaner so plowing through a full slab is more pleasant. Even though ribs are the easiest BBQ to cook, I still tend to order them when I go out to eat BBQ.

BRISKET - Yes I know I just told you not to order the brisket. Now if you must have the brisket, ask for the fattier end. I always order the lean end but that's because I'm trying to gauge the skill level of the cook. No need for you to be a hero or an academic. It's pretty hard to screw up the fatty end.

SLAW ON THE SANDWICH - Here up North and around the country, coleslaw is a side dish. Down South, they put their slaw on top of the meat in their sandwich and for good reason. It adds a bit of freshness which really helps lighten and highlight the smoke flavor of the meat. Watching people leave their slaw uneaten next to their sandwich makes me cry. It's like flying to a foreign country where people serving cheese burgers decide to put the cheese on the side only for the majority to ignore the cheese. Slaw that pork Yankee!

Sausagefest 2013!!!!

Sausagefest 2013_1' See all the Food Porn HERE

If you've been following my series on how to throw a Sausagefest you'll already know I throw this party every year. The premise is simple. Everyone brings some sausages to share. They can be any sausage just so long as it's not the generic sweet Italian. Our turnout?

  • Over 60 lbs of Sausages from over a dozen different nationalities 
  • A Keg of Beer
  • A Bonfire.

Now if that's not a party I don't know what is. Any frat boy will tell you that a Keg and Bonfire automatically spells great party. This is a feast of excess. There was absolutely no way we were going to even remotely put a dent in all the sausages. Every year you'll always get people who don't get it. Why have an entire table of sausages? Can they bring a salad? or perhaps a delicate dessert? Absolutely NOT!! It's a Sausagefest after all.

When you see the looks of people's eyes when they see the spread, and the uncontrollable smile, you'll understand. The show is a critical component of feasting. I came from the world of fine dining, where the maxim of "you eat with your eyes first" is an intransgressible creed. To this end we used squirt bottles, ring molds, tweezers and all manners of nonsense to make the plate look pretty. Ironically we will also say that we're seeking for the food to speak for itself.

When you live in this environment, it's quite easy to delude yourself to thinking about how much value you really are adding to the food. Take any 3 Michelin star and place it on a paper plate. Only a tiny tiny fraction of the dishes currently billed at $300 a person would look appetizing. Even fewer would come with the illusion of genius.

Sausagefest like all BBQ is the extension of a philosophy. The philosophy of whole hog BBQ. When people see a whole hog, it matters little if you've grew up in the South or in the big city of New York, it's simply a sight to behold. People can't help but stop and stare. This reaction is visceral and primal. This is truly allowing food to speak for itself. You can easily place whole hog on a paper plate and it will look and taste like what it is - food of the gods.

This philosophy of feasting is what sausagefest seeks to capture. It is not beholden to the tyranny of balance nor futile search for the perfect dinner. A bit of silly, a blue jeans crowd, and an evening where food truly reigns and pretension is cast aside.

BBQ ROADTRIP!!! : Stamey's Barbecue - Greensboro, North Carolina

More FOOD PORN and snapshots of Stamey's HERE 

When I go try barbecue places it's never to pass judgement. By what undue arrogance would I need to hold to believe that my 2 cents on an establishment would matter? The Market has spoken and given its verdict on Stamey's long before I was born. Fourteen United States Presidents have held tenure in this period. The restaurant was born in the barren landscape of the Great Depression and has lived to continue to thrive in our current day economic crisis. My trips through the American South are solely for my own personal research and my goal of bringing true North Carolina BBQ to New York.

If we were to stand in front of a random BBQ joint in any state and you sniffed the air. Could you tell where you were? If this were Texas or Kansas City, the answer would be no. Burning wood basically smells like burning wood. Pecan is very nice, hickory is nice a hearty, and oak is the benchmark. But they wouldn't give you a clue to where you were. Walking into the parking lot of Stamey's you know exactly where you are. The smell in the air is wood but more than that. It's PORK. The slow rendering of the shoulders release both fat and juices which hit the wood embers underneath and puff up into smoke itself. It's a flavor that's the heart and soul of North Carolina barbecue. If you can understand this very critical element, you can understand why baking a pork shoulder in a gas powered smoker, drenching it in vinegar will never ever give you North Carolina barbecue.

Stamey's is very pretty. The building feels like you're walking into a restored barn. The space is very airy and decor beautiful. This is in sharp contrast to many other North Carolina joints which are truly "shacks". If you're looking to rough it, Stamey's isn't for you. You can see several shots I took of the interior in the link above.

I got the chopped pork barbecue plate with slaw and hush puppies as my custom. The one flavor profile that stood out to me was temperance. The ketchup based slaw was invented here and has spread throughout the Triad region. In other places that I've tried it like Little Richards and Barbecue Center, the slaw was very sweet and aggressive. Here you can still taste the Lexington style dip in the slaw but it's not as cloying. The slaw remained fresh and vegetative. The meat did need a bit more of the sauce there but the texture was dead on. Tender, moist and very savory. The hush puppies were also introduced here at Stamey's. You could see from my stool the person making the puppies. They have this crazy hand crank that just spits out batter into the hot grease. They were excellent and a standard of hush puppies I hope to achieve. Not sweet, deep corn flavor, and slightly chewy texture.

James Boo gushed to me about their sweet tea - believing theirs to be heads above everyone else's. James as a far more refined palate than I do so I couldn't tell you if it was that marginally better. You should order the sweet tea anyway, it's the South after all. Stamey's is the only barbecue joint that I know of that roasts and brews their own coffee. You see a massive roasting machine when you first walk in the door. This would not seem out of place at all in New York City at some hipster cafe, ideally with a poetry reading in the back. Being a huge coffee fan I couldn't resist and hand myself a mug. If this place was in New York, I'd eat here twice a week just to have coffee this good with great barbecue.

I was allowed into pit building which is separate from the restaurant. My original intention was to grab some photos of Pon, the Asian pitmaster of Stamey's. I will be doing an upcoming post on Asian pitmasters. While in the back snapping pictures an elderly gentleman proceeded to talk my ear off about barbecue. We talked about everything from cooking philosophy, to pit designs, to history, to hog breeds. I was in there for a good hour and half! I smelled like pork and smoke when I finally left the pits. The old pitmaster told me he was retired and just came in from time to time to try new things. When I asked him if he was an owner or manager he told me he was just a cook who used to man these pits.

Well he got me good. When we finally parted ways I asked him his name. And there he was, the barbecue patriarch himself. The entrepreneur whose sheer will and work ethic built the Stamey dynasty and brand - Charles Stamey.

I will be doing a series of posts where I reflect on our conversation.

Bob Garner's Piedmont Dip

So in pursuit of finding the limits of what can go into a Western Carolina Dip, I looked to no less of an authority than Mr. NC BBQ himself - Bob Garner. There will be a subsequent post on what I'm seeking in achieving in searching for parameters in the Lexington Dip. Here's Bob's recipe.

3 cups apple-cider vinegar 2/3 cup brown or white sugar 1/2 cup catsup 2 tablespoons Texas Pete hot sauce 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon black pepper 1 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce 1 teaspoon onion powder 2 teaspoons Kitchen Bouquet browning sauce

As you can see, nothing too out of the ordinary except this oddball "Kitchen Bouquet" browing sauce. I've never used this ingredient before. From the packaging it seems like some kind of instant gravy mix. I happen to like instant gravy - don't judge me - so I figured it just be a savory counterpoint to a sauce that's essentially spicy catsup flavored vinegar. The worchestershire was actually a nice touch.

The browning sauce does exactly what the name implies. It causes stuff to look brown which you can see on the photo below. A raw sample of it seems like it's aiming to add a vegetative quality, bland bordering on disgusting. After cooking the sauce I let it cool and tooks a sip. Now I'm no stranger to vinegar sauces, having made gallons of eastern carolina sauces before. But this one really kicked me hard. It was just in your face in a acidic sort of way. I'm letting the sauce sit in my fridge for the week and see how it looks with some meat. If it's still too strong I might dilute it with a bit of water and some mustard.