Sunday, August 16, 2015

The BBQ Invasion

Art may imitate life, but some food life seems to imitate TV. What do I mean by that? Well, I recall a time when no one, and I mean no one played a form of Poker called Texas Hold'em. That is until about three cable networks started televising tournaments. Now, it's everywhere and on line and everyone is suddenly Phil Hellmuth. Well, now competition BBQ is the rage on TV and everyone wants to be Myron Mixon.

This phenomenon has taken root right here in River City. By my count, we have several BBQ start ups fresh off local competition trails. We will discuss a few in a moment, but first a little more background.

BBQ can mean a lot of things, depending on what part of the country you happen to be standing in. In Kansas City, it means ribs slathered in sauce. In Memphis, it means ribs with a dry rub coating and sauce on the side. In Chicago, it might mean a local sausage called a red hot.  In the Carolinas it probably means pork, either shoulders or whole hog, pulled or chopped and served with light, acidy (mustard or vinegar based) sauces. In Texas, it means big cuts of beef like brisket or short ribs and spicy sausages. In all places, the common thread is bigger cuts that are cooked low and slow over wood fires and smoke from hickory, mesquite, pecan, or fruit woods. It's very simple cooking, but anyone who does much cooking should know that some of the simplest methods can be the hardest to master. True BBQ is much less of a formula executed on good equipment (although those help). No, it's more of an art form that you can spend your life practicing to achieve that ideal combination of meat, time, and smoke. Hey, beer is just malted barley, water, hops and yeast, right?

We've got several places here in Sioux Falls that are cranking out pretty good Q. Let's run through the list that I know of . . .
  • Famous Dave's. Yeah, it's a chain joint and I don't normally like to delve into the chains, especially when there are great local options, but to give credit where credit is due, these guys do pretty respectable BBQ for this part of Fly Over Country. Good quality, nice sides, fun atmosphere and consistent product. Don't count these guys out.
  • Big Rig BBQ. The newcomer to the game.  Big Rig is situated in a trailer in the parking lot of Home Depot. The owner, Bob Brenner, is clearly a student and a devotee of the Texas methods of BBQ. Simple stuff here served in to-go containers and portioned by weight, or sandwich specials. Do yourself a favor, just get at least a half pound of brisket, something to drink, a couple slices of bread, and stand there at one of those wire spools and eat it. I'm just going to say it: this is probably the best local Q you are going to get here. Skip the sauce. Skip the sausage. Skip the sides. Get brisket. Ask Bob for a few burnt ends. Did I mention the brisket?
  • Backyard BBQ. We've tried these guys before. It's pretty good. I still like the ribs best of all and the wings are pretty good. I like the sides. Nice place. Unfortunately, not a whole lot more to say.
  • Rib Shack BBQ. Rib Shack operates a catering and retail BBQ business. This is almost the best kept BBQ secret in town. You have to check Facebook to see when and where they are open. Generally, they sell ribs, brisket, pulled pork and sides from their truck parked at King's Liquors on the corner of North Cliff and Benson Rd. Sometimes they are open other spots around town. The ribs and brisket are excellent. Well worth the noon-time trek.
  • Rowdy Hog Smokin' BBQ. I first tried Rowdy Hog at Jazzfest several years ago. I had a brisket sandwich that failed to impress me. Instead of slices, the brisket was cooked down to goo and seemed more like an overly moist Iowa loose meat sandwich than anything. I chalked the whole thing up to less than ideal circumstances.  Rowdy Hog has since opened a retail location over near 12th and Marion. I've stopped in for a rack of "award winning" ribs, some sides, and a sampling of the six or so sauces on hand. Yeah, still not impressed. Enjoyable, but lacking in big flavor.
Get out and try these places and see what you like best. We are lucky to have these sorts of choices, so get out and support them with your dollars.

And, when traveling across the country, especially when you are in some of the great BBQ regions, be sure to seek out local greats there.

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