Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dons' Smokers

This past spring the Pit crawlers visited a local farmer who designs and builds smokers. Our purpose was, to cook, eat, rate and review his product. This would be our first such evaluation. In fact our first review of anything other than food alone. Don supplied the smokers and we brought the food, charcoal and wood. Our fuel mixture consisted of Cowboy Oak Hardwood Lump Charcoal and wild cherry wood. The coals were only used in the beginning of the smoking process and from that point on we solely used wild cherry wood. There were no real scientific reasons for this other than it’s what we had at our disposal. We didn’t want to get real serious or food snobby about this gig. We just wanted to have fun and when we were done write down what we thought. The foods we chose to cook were six slabs of babybacks, four pounds of homemade sausage and two Boston pork butts. Oh ya. I forgot we also smoked about ten pounds of chicken wings for lunch that day. We got their early in the morning and ate that night. In between was the real adventure. All four Pit crawlers were present myself (Cary), Dennis, Brett and Robert. At the time two of our crew (Brett and Robert) were both fairly new to the world of cue and very new as members of the Pit crawlers. However no one member ran the show and everyone got their hand in the pits.   

The type of cookers those hand got dirty in were classic offset firebox smokers. The reason this style is a classic and so popular is because it works. The offset firebox smoker is easy to use but it’s not a set it and forget it type machine. There will be work involved. Like all units of this type it could also double as a charcoal grill and his are made with thicker steel than many. In fact if you give him a design of your own there’s a good chance he will make whatever custom idea you come up with.

The first thing we did was get our cookers going. While they were building up a nice layer of coals and getting up to heat we rinsed or two Boston butts off with cold water and patted them dry. We then used a mustard paste and dry rub created from the box of spices we brought with us. When we applied the rub we didn’t go light and we also injected the meat with an apple juice based injection. We covered the pork shoulder and set it aside to check or cookers. The temperature we wanted to keep was 250 degrees, which is about 20 degrees hotter than most usually smoke at. However we were under time restraints and were hoping this would help. We took our pork and placed it on the larger cooker figuring at the higher temp it would cook at 1 to 1 ¼ hours per pound.

While the pork shoulder was getting going we prepped the ribs. We removed the membrane from the ribs and put the mustard paste on three slabs the other three were left alone. On the ribs we used the Smokin Guns BBQ rub that we purchased when the pit crawl traveled there. We then set these aside for about an hour. While the baby backs were soaking up flavor from the rub we checked on our cookers. The large cooker was getting too hot at times and we did have to adjust the air flow to correct the temp. The smaller smoker with nothing in it however was sitting pretty. Because of the time crunch we didn’t give the larger cooker much time to get a really solid bed of coals down before the pork shoulder was put in place. This could account for the temp flashing hot at first, but once the meat was cooking for a couple of hours it leveled off and ran steady. After all loose ends were tied up we placed three slabs of ribs on the large smoker and three slabs on the smaller smoker. This brings us to the sausage. For this we stared with four pounds of ground pork, an onion, some garlic, three or four peppers (all from Dons’ farm) and a few seasonings from the box of goodies we brought. This all got mixed together and rolled into four one pound logs. These logs were then rolled in LC'S BBQ rub purchased when we went there. We sprayed foil with nonstick oil and rolled the logs of sausage in the foil and set them aside.

Buy this time we were moping both the pork shoulder and ribs regularly with a mop we created from apple juice, oil and spices. Once everything was tended to we placed the sausage on the smaller of the two cookers and began to pick up our mess. After a bit of clean up with regular mopping here and there we can fast forward to the end result.

The ribs were over done for sure, however that had to do with the cooks leaving them on for an hour to long and nothing to do with the equipment. We got caught up in just hanging out and lost track of time. The sausage was among some of the best any of us has had. The chicken wings were great as well although Don won’t tell us what was in the sauce. And the pork shoulder was moist and tender with the right amount of sweet smoky flavor and an awesome bark.

As for as how the smokers handled, well I would say as good as any and better than many. However we did have a bit of trouble keeping temp on the larger cooker for the first two hours as I indicated above. Also keep in mind these aren’t small cookers so you’ll be using logs of wood, not chunks or chips. But they're priced right and they do the job well. The only thing I would like to see added to these cookers would maybe be wheels on one side with a handle on the other so you could more easily move them around. Other than that I would say if you are out looking for a smoker these cookers should be something you at least stop and take a look at.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011


If you a picky about the atmosphere of your BBQ places, you might want to wear blinders when you go to LC’s BBQ , but you should go.  Maybe you will want to buy your food to go like a slew of people did while the Pit Crawlers were there, but either way you should go.  It is some of the best barbeque our group has eaten since we started our tours and reviews. 

You could say that consensus was easier to achieve on LC’s because our original group of five aficionados’ had dwindled to three by the time of our visit.  We lost one to a career move to Boston, and one to graduate school in Pennsylvania.  We were about to lose a third to the Navy, so we decided to visit LC’s before we were only two.  Hence we launched Pit Crawl No. 3 with an itinerary of only one establishment.

We really wanted to work in LC’s because we had heard many good things about it, and we were not disappointed. 

LC’s is not fancy.  It is a smallish place, with the smoker and its delicious looking contents right inside the dining room where you get to glimpse the cornucopia of meats when they open the door to fetch out your choices.  Tables are functional if a bit wobbly, the table service is paper and plastic.  Floors are actually a bit slick under foot from the cooking that goes on in the same room where you order and eat.   The main wall is lined with the owner’s trophy fish, mounted and hung.  (If you’re a fisherman, you will be impressed with this lot, and one behemoth catfish in particular that was lying atop the drink cooler.)  Everything is pretty much squeezed into a space that doesn’t look like it was ever meant to be a restaurant.

The most important thing that is squeezed into this mix is some really good food.  We ordered a variety of items, which we then split among ourselves.  Our choices were:

·         Ribs

·         Burn ends

·         Sausage

·         Brisket

·         Pulled pork

The last review I wrote for the Pit Crawlers was not very favorable to that establishment, so it is a pleasure to be able to rave about the delicious fare at LC’s. 

We all had our personal favorites, of course, but we were able to pretty well agree that the pulled pork, the burnt ends, and the sausage were all excellent.  These were the best of the best.  I was particularly impressed with the burnt ends.  Two of our group thought they were perhaps a little fatty, but I thought they were flavorful and perfect, and I’m a guy for whom burnt ends are not normally on the list of preferred barbecue items. 

Another item we all liked, but which particularly impressed me was the sausage.  It was served without a casing and it was smoky and flavorful.  When I go back to LC’s, I plan to order a pound of this delicious stuff just for me.  We liked it well enough that since our LC’s visit we have tried to perfect a similar sausage of our own.

I named the pulled pork as top of our “best of the best” list because we were all very impressed with it.  Excellent tenderness, moisture, and smoky flavor are the descriptors that come promptly to mind.   

We only tried two sides.  One was the fries, and the other was the fried green beans.  Both were OK, but neither one was remarkable.  I like the stir-fried green beans you get at some Asian restaurants, so I was hopeful that the green beans at LC’s would be similar.  With all the excellent meats available at LC’s, I would not bother with sides again unless I wanted to try the baked beans.  We did not because after ordering the main items, we had so much food already!

Although LC’s had some delicious, tangy sauces to complement their meats, everything was tasty enough on its own to be eaten without that extra touch.  We ended up using the French fries mostly as a means to taste and compare these sauces.  However, if barbeque is not barbeque to you without the sauce, LC’s will not disappoint you.

Did I mention we had a lot of food?  We had a lot of food, so there was some to take away with us.  When we got back to our home base I gave some of the ribs to a young lady who said she had never had any barbeque she liked.  The best testimony I can give about LC’s is that when she bit into that tasty rib, her face lit up.  We think yours will light up too, if you give LC’s a try.

Dennis Constance on behalf of The Pit Crawlers

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Gates BBQ

I understand the cultural and historical value of Gates, Kansas City’s original family restaurant started in 1946. Gates Bar-B-Q has grown from a single store front at 19th & Vine (The same neighborhood that saw the rise of the famous Henry Perry restaurant) to six up-to-date restaurants throughout the Kansas City Metropolitan Area. Gates was founded by George and Arzelia Gates, their three children (Winnifred, Gwendolyn and Ollie), and the cook, Arthur Pinkard. Pinkard had been a cook for Henry Perry.

One of the major reasons for the success of Gates Bar-B-Q has been the barbecue sauce, manufactured and used by the barbecue restaurants since 1946. Demand for the sauce continued to grow and a decision was made in 1975 to introduce Gates Bar-B-Q sauce to the retail grocery stores. With over 60 years of experience, history and Legends it’s kind of an intimidating place to wright about. But then I reminded myself that this is a review and as scary as it might be to say…………… I have experienced better. I'm not going to lie.  I waffled on my rating between 2 and 3 stars (and ended up with 3 stars).

So what happened! Why not five stars? Well I guess I’ll start with the burnt end. I’m not sure if it was due to the fact that they chop them or not, but they had way too much fat and gristle. Nothing wrong with chopping brisket in fact I love chopped brisket. I just think the burnt ends should have been trimmed a bit more before being chopped. I should however mention that Brett liked the burnt ends. For sides we had baked beans or bb’s as they call them and fries. By now you’ve herd us call fries nothing but sauce testers and this test was great. This I will say, Gates has the sauce! Not just any sauce but the sauce and many sauces to boot. All of which are good. Some of which are awesome! Brett liked the original, Both Dennis and I liked the extra hot and Robert liked em all. As for the beans I personal think there some of the best as well. So far were two out of three so again why only three stars? Ok let’s talk ribs and chicken. Both were a bit dry. Not horrible but still a bit dry and with all that history and stuff I just think they should be just right. I should mention I did however love the rub that was on the chicken. A bit salty but really well balanced. The sliced brisket might have been a bit dry as well but as thin as they slice it couldn’t have been too dry. Also the brisket had a ton of flavor to it. A no sauce needed meat, however with that gates extra hot sitting there who could resist.  So there you have it, burnt ends not my favorite, sauce and beans great, ribs and chicken dry, brisket a bit dry but still great and full of flavor and that’s why 3 stars. Let me end on this note, we’ve had good service and not so good service on this adventure but they folks and family at Gates defiantly treated us as good if not better as anyone has. So long for now.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Smokin Guns

The new guys with Dennis.
Smokin Guns BBQ
Six years ago my best friend asked me to lunch. He’d heard of a newish BBQ Joint north of the river in KC. The owners had been competing in the BBQ circuit for six or seven years and decided to open their own place. They even took the Grand Champion title at the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue contest. This meant a lot to me as I‘m a pork man and consider this computation the world series of pork. The decor consisted of simple wood walls, dinner tables with checkered tablecloths and dozens of awards from regional BBQ events. It smelled of the sweet nectar of smoke and at the time had a rack of Bullsheets for customers to read. I’d been in love with BBQ for many years by then however browsing through this magazine pulled me in even deeper. No more than a few weeks later I was a member of KCBS and sitting in a class to become a KCBS judge. Oh ya by the way all those endless awards and accolades were right on the money. I went back as often as I could from that point on. That is until I moved! Now I know Lawrence isn’t that far away from North KC and not much of an excuse but it’s all I got. Bad excuse or not it’s been over three years since I’d been..... Well fast forward to now. The Pit Crawlers have two new members and we were on our way to the first stop “Smokin’ Guns”. So here’s the thing ,this is the first time in the history  of Pit Crawler’s that I was nervous. The one thing any of our readers should know is we can’t account for consistency. What I mean by that is we go, we eat BBQ, we review. If a place we review is good nine out of ten times and we go on a day they just aren’t shinning. Well the review might not be flattering and vice versa. But this place was good..... at least every time I went, and that’s how I sold it to the guys in the Pit Crawl. So here we go! First things first the d├ęcor hasn’t changed or at least for the most part (I didn’t see a rack of Bullsheets). Same wood, same tables and tablecloths, same sweet smell and as for the dozen of awards all over well……. it’s grown. We ordered a whole slab of ribs, sausage, pulled pork, brisket, burnt ends, 1/2 chicken, baked beans, slaw and fries. Rather than everyman for themself we’ve decided to try something new, order a whole lotta stuff and share. That way each pit crawl member has input on every item in every review. The beans were good as were the fries but it was the slaw that took first place in the sides wars. In fact for the first time since we started this adventure we found a slaw that’s a real game changer. To many slaws taste like mayo and more than that to many taste the same, this one did not. No Mayo! Other things about this slaw I love are how much flavor it had and it’s texture. I like to top my pork sandwiches with coleslaw and feel it should spice up the meal not dull it down. This slaw spices it up! The texture was awesome as well, super crisp as if the added the dressing and tossed it together minutes before serving it. Well let’s get to the meat. Pulled pork was some of my favorite and the other guys agreed as well. Sweet and tender with just enough bark. The chicken was to die for! Sweet and juicy, fall off the bone tender (I only wish Jack could have been there). The Brisket was tender with a nice smoke ring around it. It had beautiful color to it as was smoked just right; however we felt it didn’t have enough flavor to it. Once sauced it was top ten before sauced we wanted more. The sausage was as petty as any presentation wise. You could see all the spices you were tasting as you ate it, and I liked eating it. Top five in my eyes! The only comment on the sausage that might be critical was when it was said to be more like Italian sausage than smoked sausage. To that all I can say is I don’t care what spices a place uses I just care what the end result is and this end result was fantastic. Some people like their burnt ends sauced however the burnt ends at Smokin’ guns had so much flavor they only require juices in your mouth. Of course we tried them with and with both of their sauces. Speaking of the sauces, they had two a regular and a spicy. Both were great, however we thought for the most part the regular edged out the spice for top spot. We’ll the ribs are all that’s left. In my eyes these were not just top 10 or even top 5 but number 1. I’m not saying they can’t be beat (any given Sunday and all that jazz). I’m just saying that consistency thing I spoke of earlier we’ll they got it. So long for now and remember what Bishop Tutu said “It’s not a sin to get sauce on your chin”. And thanks for reading!
Ribs and Burnt ends.

Nectar of the BBQ Gods!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Wyandot Bar B Q

Wyandot Barbeque was really an unmemorable trip with one awesome exception. The place is what I consider the “classic” barbeque joint in the 21st century, though it’s been around for decades. You know you’re in the right place when you pull into the parking lot because the air smells delicious. The place is small and “L” shaped with a few seats along the counter and a handful of tables. Wyandot though was a little bigger in size than Smoking Babes. As the chicken guy of the Pit Crawlers I had the half chicken with coleslaw and beans. My chicken thigh was mostly dark meat with the breast mostly white. The breast was dry, which wasn’t bad because anyone who has tried to smoke chicken knows that it’s difficult to keep the bird most. I solve that problem by injecting the meat directly every few hours, more if I’m drinking. I was disappointed that the thigh’s dark meat was dry because dark meat retains moister better than white. Perhaps the reason that my meat was dry all around was because it had clearly been under a heat lamp for a while. I know this because the sauce they put on the top had congealed by the time it arrived in front of me. Cary and Dennis said that the pork was well done but the brisket was a little on the dry side. The slaw was only fair, more bitter/sour than anything else . I thought the beans were well done and tasteful. Like I said it would be easy to forget my experience at Wyandott had it not been for one thing, the sauce. I’m not a super-taster, neither am I a professional chef but that sauce was some of the best barbeque sauce I’ve ever had. It was more tangy and sweet than hot. I put it on everything on my plate such that my sides were essentially swimming by the time I had finished my chicken. Also you could get a Mason jar of this near-magical sauce for two-something a bottle when my friends and I would have gladly given them ten dollars a jar. . Every one of the Pit Crawlers agreed that the sauce was worth the trip. I liked the sauce so much that I took my Dad back to Wyandot when he came to visit a few weeks later. He thought it was really good as well. In summary, you should go to Wyandot Barbeque if only to sample and take home some of their of that sauce for a steal. It is sure to impress people you have over for dinner. As always may your pits inspire awe and tell them the Pit Crawlers sent you.


Monday, August 22, 2011

R and J's

Were Back! ……… Ok so it’s been a while. We had finals, graduations, recruiters, big moves and summer vacations.  Zach graduated and moved away, Travis is saving the world in the Navy; Jack is off to get his doctorate in Pennsylvania and I took a few weeks for an awesome summer vacation. We did however get to three BBQ joints (R and J’s BBQ, Wyandot BBQ and LC’s BBQ) this summer for round two of the Pit Crawl. This review is about R and J’s BBQ, and soon to follow will be Travis’ review on Wyandot BBQ as well as Dennis’ review on LC’s BBQ. Then comes the Bit by Bit BBQ Pit crawl III!

            Jack, Travis and Zach are lifelong Pit Crawlers and beyond that lifelong friends. Anytime they find a new BBQ spot through their life travels and feel the need to share, a review will be posted. That being said this adventure is long from over for Dennis and me as well. We’ve added two new members to the crawl (Robert and Brett); have set our sights on four new BBQ joints and plan on reviewing sauces as well as our own BBQ adventures.  So let’s get to it!

            I eat a lot of BBQ. Had it in Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Memphis, Kansas City, etc.  But the  sausage at R and J’s was some of the best I’ve ever had. As we hunkered down at the bar to order we were greeted quickly and with a smile. Nothing fancy about this place, you could tell it was family run. A true mom and pop operation, everyone who walked through the door seemed to be a regular. Now we certainly weren’t  family or regulars and I for one felt at home. Plus they got a sandwich called “The Jayhawker” and for Lawrence Kansas boys that’s pretty cool.   

            Both Dennis and I had the sausage and rib combo plate and we shared a jayhawker. Travis and Zach had a sampler plate. We also had coleslaw, beans, and fries. The ham was ham, not bad in any way but just ham. The ribs were as good as many we’ve had, but we’ve had better. The brisket was sweet, tender, and cooked just right. As you might know by now we pretty much use fries for taste testing sauce and their sauce was good, however I prefer a bit more heat and they only have the one. The Beans were also good but in very small portions and the coleslaw was basic slaw. So now let’s get to it. SAUSAGE! If for no other reason this makes R and J’s a must go. As I said at the start this just might be the best I’ve ever had, perfect texture with a perfect sweet heat flavor. This sausage was so good I’m not sure how to describe it. All I can say is this. Step one Go! Step two Order the sausage. Step three Eat.

            Let me end on this. R and J’s is located just a few miles east of the Legends shopping center, Cabellas and a few big name chain BBQ joints. Now I’ve got nothing against big name BBQ restaurants in fact were going to review one in round three. But next time you take your family shopping out that way and decide to grab a bit to eat. Rather than wait thirty minutes for a table under a large neon sign that reads BBQ, head down the road and grab a table at R and J’s.

R and J’s BBQ

8401 Parallel Parkway

Kansas City Kansas 66112


Wednesday, March 9, 2011


                Thus ends the initial leg (with us blogging about it) of the KC bit by bit Pitcrawl and the unanimous result is that we continue to love Kansas City BBQ.  Zarda-Q started out our trip blowing us out of the water, Johnnies and Smoke’n Babes held form while only the Shack really disappointed.  We chose to wrap up our first section of the Pitcrawl with Oklahoma Joes because all of us but one had already been there before and knew that it was a strong choice to finish.  To officially put an end to the first leg we returned to Zarda Q and spent a gift certificate that was given to us.  Once again the food was delicious and we all had a good time. 
Going to restaurants isn’t the only thing that we did as a group during the time of our first leg of the Pitcrawl.  We also had a chicken cookout with 5 completely different recipes (for entire birds) as well as a Super Bowl get together that included brisket, pulled pork, chicken thighs, burnt ends and a football game without a team to root for.  Our Superbowl party was something that everyone else should be particularly jealous of.  Let me just put it this way; I had enough left over food given to me from our Superbowl party that I was able to feed all of my office mates.  The only guy newer than me was informed he needed to step his game up if he wanted to succeed with our company.
                While I do suggest that others make a similar group with their friends, I have to warn you that unless there is excessive exercise included in your daily routine you will gain weight.  In order to make sure that we got a fair sampling of each restaurant’s menu we generally spent $15-20 per person per meal so that we tried an array of menu items.  Hopefully through reading these blogs you can see that we are trying to be fair and unbiased with our reviews regardless as to what the general regional consensus is to the quality of each restaurant.
                Moving forward we have 5 new restaurants picked for our next leg of the Pitcrawl.  They were originally Wyandotte BBQ, R and J’s BBQ, LC's, BB's Lawnside BBQ and Smokin Guns.  Because BB’s Lawnside, Smokin Guns and LCs are all a bit further away from where we live and will probably have to be day trips for us, we have switched BB’s Lawnside to Biemer’s here in town (Lawrence) to try and speed up the time it takes us to make it through this leg of the trip. 
                Anyways, we hope y’all have enjoyed reading our reviews as we try and become the most extensive review site for Kansas City BBQ.  If you have suggestions as to where we should go or great recipes for sauces that we should try we would love to hear from you.  I would like to thank both Zarda-Q and Smoke’n Babes for posting links to our site from their facebook pages (after we had written the reviews—there was no coercion in the review writing process.)  Also, I feel that it is important to thank the reddit Kansas City Community for checking out our website, my friend posted us up there and the response was great and we all appreciate the comments.  So far, according to the IP addresses we have had visitors from the United States, Canada, Estonia, Russia, Iran, Japan, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and Ukraine.  Hopefully, we will continue to grow as a reference site as we continue to go to more and more restaurants. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Oklahoma Joe's

Us Pit Crawlers went to Oklahoma Joe’s for our last stop on this round of our never ending BBQ crawl. I had never been there before this meal, but had been told by friends, newspapers, Zagat, and Anthony Bourdain, that Oklahoma Joe’s is one of the best BBQ restaurants in the world. This could have been extended to include the universe since our visit. Of this I’m not sure.
 Normally I agree with most things that Mr. Bourdain has done on his show, I mean, he has eaten the still-beating heart of a cobra, which is a big deal. But I feel like the hype ruined it for me.
 Based on these reviews I expected the meat and sauce to be so good that my heart would stop after one bite. And that would be convenient because Oklahoma Joe’s is one of the 13 places to eat before you die.
 However, this is what I have decided: The experience of going to Oklahoma Joe’s is a 10. The food at Oklahoma Joes is a 9, but it is billed as a 12. And these are the questions, and problems I face while writing this review. Do I think the food is great at Oklahoma Joes? Yes. Do I think that all I ate was as good as other KC BBQ stops? No. 
I ordered the Z-Man Sandwich, BBQ Beans, French Fries, and the Smoked Chicken Gumbo. It was an impressive amount of food. What was really incredible is that it was ready as soon as I made it to the cashier. About three minutes after placing my order with the first worker on the BBQ assembly line.

The Z-Man Sandwich is a breathtaking wonder and a credit to the sandwich form. The pairing of provolone and brisket may sound strange and cacophonic, but they go together perfectly with the onion rings. This was the best brisket sandwich I have ever had. The meat was cooked perfectly. The onion rings were lightly battered and crispy, waiting for me to drop some of that award winning sauce on top of them. The provolone was melted and a perfect complement to this monster. The price was equally as satisfying. Buying this sandwich at 6 bones is a steal.
The BBQ beans were definitely BBQ beans, but didn’t stand apart from other restaurants. I am however partial to the beans served by the BBQ wizards at Zarda Bar-B-Q, and think that nothing compares to those beans.
The French Fries were crispy, delicious, and perfect for what I use them for at a BBQ restaurant which is using them as sauce testers.
Now the Smoked Chicken Gumbo was a game changer. This side is unique and well made. It had a slow building spicy kick that left me sweating slightly. The chicken was present and accounted for and I think that this side in conjunction with the Z-Man Sandwich made my visit. I think that, in the fashion of Zarda’s beans, Oklahoma Joes should package and sell their gumbo at grocery stores.
Other Pit Crawlers had these things to say. The Sausage is basically a bratwurst, and we wouldn’t recommend ordering it. If it was served at a ball game or during a backyard drink off, then it would be great. It’s just not what one would expect from one of the 13 places to eat before you die. The Pulled Pork and Ribs however are some of the best you can get your saucy hands on.  
In summation, Oklahoma Joe’s is a great place to eat. If you go you have to get the Z-Man Sandwich, Pulled Pork or Ribs, and the Smoked Chicken Gumbo. The atmosphere is great, the food is great. If you do as Public Enemy says and "Don't Believe the Hype,” then you will have a meaty and rewarding eating experience.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Smoke N Babes

                A few months ago when we started this BBQ Pit Crawl I think all of us had one major thought in mind. What a great excuse to get out and eat at our favorite BBQ spots. But it quickly became more than that. A chance for five guys to make each other laugh, de-stress from the daily  grind, help people find where to go for good CUE, and most of all adventure. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”.

                   So while taking a detour from Baldwin City, Kansas and passing through Gardner Kansas, out of the corner of my eye there it was -Smoke N Babes BBQ. Never heard of it? Neither had I till then, but that’s when I decided that all of my choices on this tour were going to be places I’ve never been and with a bit of luck places I’ve never even heard of. So this Adventure begins at 213 E. Main Street Gardner, Kansas 66030. The place is small, so don’t blink as you drive by, and when you go in be prepared to bump knees with the rest of the patrons. It’s about the size of your average bedroom with something like four or five tables strategically placed. The walls are mostly painted like a chalk board for customers to draw on while their food is being prepared. Their hours are short during the early week 11:00am to 2:00pm, However they're open till 8:00pm Thursday through Saturday. So if  its dinner you want go later in the week.

                    Jack our chicken man had the chicken dinner with fries and corn nuggets, Zach had the burnt ends dinner with beans and cole slaw, Travis had the half slab baby back dinner with fries and fried green beans, Dennis had the carolina style pulled pork sandwich with corn nuggets, I had the burnt end sandwich with fries and beans, and Dennis and myself shared a half slab of baby back ribs and a combo sandwich that had spicy sausage and brisket.

                   So lets start with the meats! The chicken was smoked perfect with nice texture and  a good flavor. It pulled from the bone with ease and was tasty and moist. The ribs were also smoked well with great texture, pulling from the bone nicely. We had the baby backs because they were sold out of their spare ribs which I was told was their specialty. The ribs were sauced but only after they were pulled from the smoker, so if you're on the dry side of the WET VS DRY RIB WAR you might ask to not have them sauced. The pulled pork on the carolina style sandwich was good, but we thought the slaw didn’t have much flavor. The burnt ends were among some of the best I’ve ever had. Cooked with the perfect amount of smoke and as tender as any I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat. The sausage was a huge hit as well. We had the spicy sausage on our sandwich. For those of you who don’t like the heat they also have a regular sausage. It was tender and sweet with the right amount of heat and no toughness. Last but not least comes the brisket. Wow I loved this brisket. It was chopped not sliced-- which is a bit more common in the south. Personally I like it both ways, however in this case it was the perfect texture for the flavors used to cook this meat. Sweet and spicy with hints of smokey hard woods.
                   Now Lets talk sides and sauces. Two sauces sat on the tables regular and hot. Between the two we all felt the spicy sauce was far better. Nothing wrong with the regular just not nearly as memorable. The fries were good, but just fries. I’m a seasoned fry guy myself. The cole slaw as we said earlier didn’t have much flavor, and the corn nuggets were a bit under cooked. I should note Dennis thought they were cooked fine and even though I thought they were a bit under done I also thought they were sweet and tastier than many I’ve had. The fried green beans had a perfect batter on them to complement the bean and the baked beans were some of our favorites as well.

                   All in all we greatly enjoyed our visit along this path and I hope we left a trail for others to follow.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Salt Lick, Round Rock Texas

The Salt Lick

3350 E Palm Valley Blvd
Round Rock, TX 78665

photo by Jack Wier

The Salt Lick is everything a destination barbecue joint should be.  There are a few locations, one in the owner’s home town of Driftwood, Texas, another in Round Rock, Texas and a two others at  the Austin and Oklahoma City airports.  I went to the Round Rock location. When you park in the huge parking lot your mouth starts to water because the scent of smoking meat is everywhere.  Walking in the door you see a huge open pit barbecue with several cooks working around it.  The apparatus can probably cook a dozen beef briskets at once, which is good because they are in great demand. The Salt Lick is not an establishment that that worries about decor. The only decorations on the walls were a framed Texas Flag and an awesome picture of Nolan Ryan holding a guy in a headlock while punching him.   The Salt Lick is known for its beef brisket. When my family sat down at our table, we asked the waitress for her recommendations.  She said that the ribs and brisket were fantastic.  She also mentioned that the Point was her favorite cut of meat and went on to tell us a bit about the smoking process that the brisket goes through at the Salt Lick. This woman knew her barbeque.  My Dad ordered the brisket and said it was the best he’d ever had.  This statement is important because before we went to the restaurant my Dad had all but given up on smoking brisket; saying that he just couldn’t seem to smoke it in a way that keep the meat from drying out.  I should also say that my father is no novice when it comes to barbecue.  He is a devotee of the Smoke Ring, knows about the Bullsheet and I got him a Ro-Man Porkpuller for Christmas. My Mother ordered the pulled pork sandwich and she said that it was very good as well.  The pulled pork at the Salt Lick is Caroliona Style; bun, pork, coleslaw, sauce and bun. I had the half a chicken and got a half with all white meat.  All of the chicken I had was moist and flavorful.  Accompanying each meal was a side of coleslaw and potato salad.  The coleslaw was bland but it, like everything all on your plate, I really enjoyed it with lots of sauce on it.  The potato salad was actually a brick of yellow mashed potatoes served at room temperature which I really enjoyed.  Traditional Texas barbecue has no sauce just a rub.  It is only in the last few decades that barbecue restaurants there have started including sauce on their meat. At the Salt Lick all of the meat was served dry though each table had a good-sized bowl of both sauces. Though it’s a relatively recent phenomenon; the Salt Lick has a tasty pair of barbecue sauces, Regular and Hot.  The sauces are mustard based which is something I had not tasted before.  Both sauces were also heavily flavored with sugar and onions. Depending on your personal point of view the sole drawback to these sauces was that the hotter one was not very hot.  In my opinion “Hot” barbecue sauces should be approached cautiously, used sparingly, and blow your head off while bringing out the flavor of the meat.  I used both sauces liberally on my entire meal and it wasn’t until my plate was almost empty that I was sweating and my nose was running. Whatever you choose to eat, The Salt Lick deserves all of its acclaim as a great barbecue restaurant.  Any barbecue aficionado should go there in you’re in the neighborhood.  

As always, may your pits inspire awe. - Jack