Barbecue is a touchy subject. I enjoy eating barbecue if it is good barbecue, but if it is bad barbecue, I feel insulted, as in, personally slighted. Rationally, I'm aware that the people smoking the meat and mixing the slaw didn't wake up that morning intent on ruining my day. I know that. Still, it feels like that. Mediocre barbecue is a slap in the face.
So, trying a new barbecue place is risky. It is going to go one of two ways. I'm going walk out very happy, or very insulted and frankly pissed off. It is barbecue, so there is no fence-sitting. It is great or it is garbage.
So, if I've heard good word of mouth about a barbecue place, and I work up the nerve to try it for lunch, I have rules.
- Get the biggest combo/sampler plate offered. Usually it is 3 or 4 meats and 2-3 sides with bread and sometimes pickles.
- Ask the counter girl which meats are must-haves. If she says they are all good, we have a problem. A barbecue place has one thing, maybe two, but certainly one thing that they do really well, and the counter girl has to know what it is. She must have an answer. Telling me all of it is good is automatically putting that BBQ joint behind the 8-ball.
- Two sides: Beans and Slaw. Three sides: Add potato salad.
- Sides: They must be made in-house. No Sysco food service slaw or potato salad. What you like here is up to you, but these must be made in-house, and I can't emphasize it enough. I like a slaw that it shredded and has a hint of sweetness, but nothing super-sweet or cloying. The beans need a significant meat content. I'm a total freak about potato salad. If I ran a BBQ joint, I would focus laser-like on it. I'd do a mustardy concoction with black pepper and celery and onion that would knock your socks right off. People would eat at my joint just to get the potato salad. But I've noticed that more and more joints overlook it and just serve the Sysco stuff. Dark times.
- Pulled Pork must be slightly smoky, tender, and moist. If it is dry: Game over. What did I do to deserve this?
- Ribs: Fall off the bone meets just the slightest cunt-hair of resistance to the bite. It's a magical heaven zone that few have visited. Most places err on the side of too tender, and if you're going to err, that's what you want.
- Brisket: Such a risky proposition outside of Texas. I'm actually scared to order it in Georgia. I'm not joking. It terrifies me. I've had brisket at Pecan Lodge in Dallas and I'm certain I'll never have any that's better than that. I peaked early.
- Chicken: Tender and moist. Alabama white sauce? YES!
- Sauces: At least three. I actually think three is the correct number. A hot. A sweet. A tangy. I'm very open to being surprised here, but give me three to sample.