BBQ Ambassador Meetup
On Sunday night, Eric and I finally took part in one of Jeff Orlick’s Ambassador dinner groups. I’ve been drooling over the past group dinners but things have always popped up that prevent me from going. So it was with great relief and hungry tummies that we were able to go to the March 28, 2010 BBQ Ambassador dinner which was hosted for the evening by a guy very well-versed in BBQ, James Boo of Death by BBQ over at The Eaten Path.
After nervously waiting around for a little while (the trains were all sorts of screwed up), we assembled a group of 8 people at Righteous Urban Barbeque (RUB for short). James immediately ordered a pound of pulled pork and an order of St. Louis style ribs and then got down to explaining his thoughts and feelings on BBQ. I really liked that he explained up front that he was no BBQ purist! He doesn’t even cook BBQ at home but rather just really enjoys eating it and seeking it out all over the US. We talked for awhile about what everyone thinks of when they think about BBQ and its origins in the US. It was really nice that no one had preconceived notions or any thoughts that BBQ had to be a certain way. For me, I just really enjoy BBQ, I don’t care where it comes from or who thinks it’s the best or anything like that (which is probably why I get a hankering for Dallas BBQ every now and then!).
James talked about the different regions/areas for BBQ; the Carolinas, Memphis, Kansas City and Texas and what they are known for. It was interesting to hear about the economic reasons and implications of using wood or not using wood to smoke and cook BBQ in the Carolinas. He also talked about how Texas has really tried to promote a certain type of BBQ as being exclusively Texas and the only kind produced in Texas when actually there are so many different regions and techniques in Texas but that standardizing their BBQ for the sake of tourism and export has really worked in their favor.
James also explained how he had gotten into BBQ when he was at Berkeley by going over into Oakland County and after spending some time studying abroad, he came home and all he wanted to eat was American food. I can completely understand this notion as every time I am abroad for extended periods of time (no matter how wonderful the food is wherever I am), I come home and want a nice American burger and some thick cut fries. For James, the most American thing he could think of was BBQ so he went on quite a cross-country expedition and just ate BBQ at many different places over the course of several weeks (I think that was right).
Of course, while he was talking, we were all chowing down on the pulled pork and ribs that had been brought to the table. I also got a sweet tea, which was a nice and simple rendition of southern sweet tea, nothing fancy but it went well with the food.
The ribs were absolutely delicious. They had a sweet, salty spicy rub on them. I know that some people had the idea of BBQ sauce and with these ribs, I could somewhat understand that sentiment. They really didn’t NEED sauce but I tried some of the regular and the spicy (but not really all that spicy) sauce. These were definitely not fall off the bone sort of ribs but remarkably tender and juicy gnaw the meat off and suck on the little bits of meat until you’ve gotten your fill sort of ribs. Yum!
The pulled pork was also really delicious. The flavor was subtle. Neither the ribs nor the pulled pork had that fake smokey taste that is a complete turn-off in terms of BBQ. The pork was definitely moist and a slight bit chewy (not a bad thing). It was obvious that this pork didn’t need too much sexing up to be delightful but the vinegar sauce that came with it made it even better. And with the vinegar coleslaw which was slightly more sweet than I expected it to be on top of each bite, it was like a little bit of porky heaven. I told the story about how I had first had coleslaw on top of pulled pork just a few years ago and it was this complete revelation of how much better BBQ could be than I had realized.
So we plowed through the ribs and the pulled pork and decided to order one more thing. When the word pastrami came out of James’ mouth, I must admit I was a bit skeptical. The pastrami came and everyone was anxious to try it so we dug right in and were so enchanted, pictures weren’t taken until most of the meat was eaten.
But this was, no lie, the best pastrami I have ever had. This is cry yourself to sleep and dream about it for days sort of pastrami and I have always really loved pastrami. Each bite was a little bit different in terms of the cut and flavor of the meat and the spices and saltiness were just perfect. I will quite possibly be going back just for the pastrami.
They were out of burnt ends which was a disappointment but a great reason to go back. Perhaps a feast of pastrami and burnt ends next time.
After eating what actually amounted to a lot of food, we continued our odyssey of meat at Hill Country. I had been at Hill Country before for this insanely amazing Great Tastes debate party hosted by Tasting Table so I had gotten the chance to taste some of their brisket and their macaroni and cheese before.
James ordered us some beef ribs, some brisket and some specialty Kreuz sausages. We also got two sides, some baked beans and some cold bean salad made with black-eyed-peas, peppers and onions. James continued to talk but my husband and I were at the far end of the table and couldn’t hear him at all. I suppose it was a combination of totally and fully absorbed meat love and the raucous din around us at Hill Country. I am sure that everything he had to say was interesting and insightful but I was much too absorbed in the food!
The brisket is really as good as people usually say. It’s tender, it’s well flavored and there’s a nice flavorful fatty bit around the actual meat on most pieces. Eat that little bit of crispy fat, you won’t regret it.
I normally really don’t like beef ribs. They are either too fatty or too dry or something else is completely off. I am probably a slight bit of a pork BBQ purist but not enough to keep me from trying any sort of BBQ meat I can get my hands on. These beef ribs were good, really good. They were huge as you would probably expect coming from the rib of a delicious cow. The meat was tender, there was definitely some fat on the bones but the fat didn’t detract from the meat as it often does for me with beef ribs. There was a hint of something sweet but the standout flavors were simply salt and some cracked black pepper.
It seems to me as though Texans hate BBQ sauce since most Texas style places I have been to either don’t have it or they very reluctantly give it to you when you ask for it. Hill Country has some “if you must” bbq sauce on each table. It was not good, I mean really really not good at all. It was amusing to see that they had received some sort of award or recognition for the best bbq sauce outside of Texas. But the ribs thankfully didn’t need the bbq sauce but a shot of hot sauce certainly didn’t hurt.
The Kreuz sausages were really quite good but probably not worth $6 per sausage. They were very nicely spiced and had that fresh ground feel of old-style sausages and they were nice and hot but not worth $6.
The sides were not that good in my opinion. I think that I may have to subscribe to James’ reasoning of most sides being a rip-off at BBQ places. The small sides are very small at Hill Country and definitely overpriced.
I didn’t like the baked beans, they were salty and not quite cooked. I like sweet and molasses-y New England style baked beans so I was probably predisposed to like these. My husband really liked them though and thought the bacon pieces in the beans were excellent.
The black-eyed pea dish was a bit bland in terms of spices with too much vinegar. Next time I go to Hill Country, I will maybe spring for some mac and cheese but I doubt I will go for any other sides.
We washed down all of our food with a sweet tea that was just slightly out of the ordinary. It tasted like a mix between black tea and some mint tea or some mint leaves and was not cloyingly sweet. It went really well with all the food.
Overall, it was a great meat-filled night. The company was excellent, James was very entertaining and informative and the food was overall very good.
Picture of all of us BBQ eaters complete with cigarette smoke from the hand of the random stranger kind enough to take our picture.
Read my Yelp reviews of these restaurants and others.