How to…Choose a Good Barbecue RestaurantPosted: August 1, 2011
In the South, nothing starts an argument like which restaurant, state, or region has the best barbecue. This post is NOT about that. Lord people, this blog might be controversial enough without starting a war like that. No, Southern Blogger’s first guide to Dixie will be HOW to pick out a good barbecue joint.
Now of course, places that are world famous such as the Rendezvous in Memphis or Lexington BBQ in North Carolina advertise themselves. They are world famous because they have such great food. But what about if you are driving through the South, perhaps in an unfamiliar location, and you get a hankering for some good Q? What are some signs to look for that the random place you pulled into is probably gonna have some fine food? Well, here’s my guide to choosing a good place to get your pig on…
STEP ONE : THE BUILDING
(click on the pictures to enlarge them)
First of all, this building is hideous (I can say that because I drew it). It looks like a shack, has ugly colors, and a kitschy sign. These are definitely markers of a good place for BBQ. Madison Ave. was NOT consulted when that sign was made. I like how good restaurants will emphasize that this is “Ed’s” or “Billie’s” or “Jim’s” such and such BBQ. BBQ has it’s roots in the Protestant Second Great Awakening (not really). So like another of the South’s religions, when there is a fight over doctrine (in this case cooking style or sauce), the congregations split.
Another thing to look at is the parking lot. We are here pretty early so it’s not too packed (actually I hate drawing cars). But you want to look for the proper pickup truck to car ratio (at least 2-1). I also feel good when I see big rigs and sheriff’s cars…esp. sheriff’s cars. Needless to say Suburu Outback’s, VW wagons, and fuel efficient cars do not bode well for a BBQ joint.
Let’s step inside and see who eats here…
STEP TWO: THE CUSTOMERS
The South is a bit of a cultural crossroads…of different types of Southerners. While there are different types of Southerners you will find them together in two places…football games, and barbecue restaurants. When you go inside a barbecue place you need to make sure you see a good cross section of Dixie. If you do not, there is a problem. You should see black folks, white folks, good ole boys, frat stars, church folks, lawyers, truckers, bikers, families, and law enforcement.
Of course occasionally you’ll find Yankees too. There are two types that wonder in off the interstate…the ones that love our culture that we (should at least) love back and try to blend in (bless their hearts)…and then there’s the folks on the right. In some states Barbecue means hamburgers and hot dogs (ha ha). I remember one time as a kid, at this place down the road from me called Nanny’s, a van with a family from New Jersey pulled in. They confusedly looked at the menu for a few minutes and then the dad yelled “What…no ham-boi-guz or hot dahgs!?!?!” and they left. Everyone in the place started laughing at them…wait that’s another thing Southerners are united about.
Check out the wall….there’s some more things to look for….
STEP THREE: THE DECOR
Good Barbecue places have cool stuff on the wall. It can’t be forced or too thought out, otherwise you’d be at an Applebees or Red Hot and…well you know who I’m talking about. While not comprehensive, there a few things here that signal a good restaurant…
1. Trophies – this place has won the East Carolina Pig Off of East Georgia (???). Trust me this is good news. I’ve always wondered if pigs are cannibals since they are often depicted cooking one another or at least advertising how tasty they are.
2. BBQ Swag – The merch section is a good sign. Nothing too fancy. Good places stick with t-shirts, trucker caps (esp. if they’ve been sitting around for 20 years), peanuts, bottles of sauce, gum, cigs, and maybe aprons.
3. Celebs – The “celebrities” here should be minor….B-level country stars, local drivers who made it big in NASCAR (but not TOO big for their roots), actors that appeared in Andy Griffith or Dukes of Hazzard, minor league baseball players, a lineman from the nearest SEC school who played three snaps in the NFL, and state level (nothing higher) politicians. In short these people WANTED to eat here, not get an endorsement.
Let’s take a look at that menu some folks were looking at….
STEP FOUR: THE MENU
The menu at a barbecue place should be pretty simple. It should contain one to three types of barbecue and they should SUGGEST which one the locals prefer (That will be their bread and butter). They should call side dishes fixin’s and make not so subtle politcal statements. Let’s see…healthy food should NOT be easy to find…and the sweet tea should give you what Wilford Brimley calls “Die-Ah-Beet-Us”.
That’s mainly it….ugly building with lots of trucks parked outside, cross section of Southern customers, local color in its decor, simple but tasty menu…oh and one more thing….THEY TAKE CARE OF LAW ENFORCEMENT!!!! Any good place knows to do this for a variety of reasons. But if the cops are eating there in large numbers….and the cops themselves are rather large…then you are definitely good to go.
Thanks for reading y’all – Southern Blogger
NEXT WEEK – We step back in time as I show you HOW TO DEFEND YOUR HONOR