Thursday, February 26, 2009

Blowin' Smoke 007 - BBQ & Carcinogens

"Does all of that black stuff cause cancer?". That's the question that was posed to me by a friend when I couldn't shut up about the merits of a robust crust on a slice of brisket. I've always known that BBQ was not the healthiest of meal options, but does a well smoked brisket cause cancer? This required some research.

Every year around Memorial Day, reporters jump on the annual backyard barbecue buzz-kill bandwagon of telling the general public that their charred hot dogs will send them to an early grave. This is because meats cooked at a high heat create heterocyclic amines or HCA's when the creatine in the meat is subjected to the fire. This creates the HCA-rich burnt crust on the meat, and this is further exacerbated by flare-ups from fat dripping into the fire. The National Institutes of Health put out their eleventh edition of the "Report on Carcinogens" where they identify elements known to cause cancer, and HCA's are on their ominous list. Cecil Adams has a good explanation of the report here.

So are we Texas BBQ aficionados at a higher risk of cancer because of our passion? I'm no doctor, but I can tell you that the first line of defense is cooking temperature. The definition of "low and slow" cooking is using low temperatures created with indirect heat, with an ideal smoking temp is 225-250. The "Report on Carcinogens" notes that the main method of reducing HCA formation is to keep the cooking temperature below 392 degrees. Between the low cooking temp and the indirect heat, the risks of HCA formation is greatly limited. Even better news is that drinking beer actually inhibits the body's ability to accumulate HCA's even if you're chowing down on burnt bits. So turn down the heat, crack open a beer, and keep enjoying those well formed crusts on your favorite smoked meat.

- BBQ Snob

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Marshall's Bar-B-Q

FARMERS BRANCH: Marshall's Bar-B-Q
12895 Josey Ln # 219
Farmers Branch, TX 75234
Open Daily 11-8

"Kickin' Round Since 1965" reads the back of every employees' t-shirt, so this place has been around for a while as evidenced by the slightly but authentically tattered state of the exterior awning and the interior decorations. Also old-timey was the carrot salad straight out of the 50's with shredded carrots, canned pineapple chunks, and raisins whipped together with some sweetened mayo. This accompanied my green beans and a three meat platter of ribs, sliced brisket and a hot link. The brisket was decent with little crust and a hint of smokiness in the moist tender slices. A sweet glaze covered the ribs that were nearly falling off of the bone. The texture was not mushy, but had just the right amount of moistness from the well rendered fat. The hot link was spicy as advertised with little smokiness. It actually was more akin to bologna than sausage. While not any of the meats were overwhelmingly good, the meal overall was satisfying, and I would come back for more.

Rating ***

Marshall's Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hobbi's Bar-B-Q

IRVING: Hobbi’s Bar-B-Q 5459
N Macarthur Blvd
Irving, TX 75038
Open M-F 10:30-6

I've waited longer in lines for roller coasters. Its not that there was a swarm of people, I counted only 10 people ahead of me when I walked in, but the severe inefficiencies with the service kept me from my food for a full 15 minutes. Orders are placed with the man serving the meat, but he was forced to leave the line and retreat to the kitchen to man the toaster, and toasted bread was included in nearly every order. When I finally received my plate of ribs, brisket, cabbage, sweet potatoes and spicy sauce, I was starving. I plowed into the sugary potatoes and the tender cabbage which were both excellent. The brisket slices were picture perfect with good crust, a substantial smoke line, and a well rendered line of fat. The intense smokiness and salty rub created a robust flavor in these moist and tender slices. The ribs were not so picture perfect. Instead of slicing the large spare ribs between the bones, they were macerated into greasy, fatty chunks of pork that required minor surgery to separate meat from fat. Little smoke was evident, and the overall flavor suggested that the meat had been stored for a while after smoking. With a line that moves this slow, don't waste your time getting anything but the brisket.

Rating **
Hobbi's Barbeque on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dickey's BBQ Pit

DALLAS: Dickey’s BBQ Pit
4610 N. Central Expressway
Dallas, TX 75206
Open Sun-Thur 11-8, F-Sat 11-9

I usually stay away from the big chains, especially the national ones, but I was told by a reputable source that Dickey's ribs were worth the trip. The original Dickey's location is only a few blocks from my house, so I decided to give it a try. This chain has come a long way from 1941 when it opened its first location at Highway 75 and Henderson in Dallas. This once quaint establishment has gone corporate. Even their own marketing video uses the term "fast-casual restaurant" rather than BBQ joint. Dickey's expansion plans will soon turn them into the McDonald's of BBQ (they currently have 179 locations nationwide) and their quality is on par with the golden arches. The sliced beef was pallid without any smoke flavor. I sucked on a slice of beef like a lollipop searching for some flavor that even whispered BBQ, but all I got was the flavor of beef. The ribs weren't much better. The meat was dry and had separated due to hours of storage. The meat had the flavor of cornbread and ham bones, but positively no smoke. I was beginning to think they ran out of wood, or maybe a panel of experts told them that fast-casual customers don't like the smell of smoke.

Rating *
Dickey's Barbecue Pit on Urbanspoon

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Pappas Bar-B-Q

DALLAS: Pappas Bar-B-Q
2231 W. Northwest Hwy
Dallas, TX 75220


Open Sun-Thur 11-10, F-Sat 11-11

This purveyor's name is probably familiar to most of you out there from Pappadeaux, Pappasito's and Pappas Bros. Steakhouse. This Houston based family of chains churns out some decent quality grub at most every location, so I wanted to see how well they could handle smoked meat, so I traveled to Northwest Highway and I-35 in Dallas where you can find every version of the Pappas family.

The design of the whole joint is aiming towards rustic, but it felt more like cavernous on a Tuesday afternoon at lunch time with only about 1/2 of the tables full. I stepped up to the counter and ordered the "House Special" which is a plate full of brisket, sausage, ham, a large spare rib and two sides. The standard BBQ accompaniments of beans, slaw and potato salad are available, but I couldn't pass up the fresh pea salad with bits of cheddar cheese and the spicy rice, which tasted like a better, meatier version of Tony Cachere's boxed jambalaya. After a few pickles and cherry pepper, I was getting full before I even started on the meat.

Not to worry...I always have room for smoked meat. Salt was the dominant flavor in the ham. This pork must have taken only a quick dip in the smoker. The sausage was better with a multitude of spices. I detected black pepper, red pepper, garlic and what I think may have been oregano. The meat had a fine grind and decent snap. I asked an employee where it was made, and they said the special recipe links came from the home office. The spare rib had been basted with a sweeter version of the dipping sauce, and was not as meaty as expected. The meat was a bit dry and the crust had wilted under the liquid baste. The meat was red, but had little smokiness. The overall flavor was passable, but it needed the sauce. Sliced brisket was the real winner. The beef came from the point as evidenced by the fat interlaced throughout the meat. Luckily, this brisket had been adequately smoked so the fat was well rendered. A hearty crust and a deep red smokeline helped contribute to the deep smoky flavor. The salty rub had permeated the meat eliminating the need for any sauce. Ribs might not be their specialty, but the Pappas family knows how to smoke a brisket.

Rating ***
Pappas Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Big Al's Smokehouse BBQ

DALLAS: Big Al’s Smokehouse BBQ
3125 Inwood Road
Dallas, TX 75235
Open M-Sat 11-8

Update: This joint has MOVED.

02/2009: Big Al's to me is all about Rib Basket Tuesday. They give you a heap of ribs, two sides and Texas toast for under $8, not to mention the free ice cream. The ribs here are some of the best in Dallas. They have a sweetness in the rub that causes the crust to nearly carmelize. The meat is always tender with a deep red color and intense smokiness. A slight tooth tug separates meat from bone, and the well rendered fat keeps these ribs moist. I finally convinced myself to go on a day other than Tuesday, and I ordered the sliced beef and sausage. The sausage was from Rudolph's in Dallas, and was tasty as always. The beef was just average. It was moist and tender, but the fat on the edges could have been more well rendered. The crust was well formed with a slight smokeline, but bites lacking crust had little smoke flavor. This might not be the best sliced beef in Dallas, but the beautiful and flavorful ribs will keep me coming back Tuesday after Tuesday.

Rating ***
Big Al's Smokehouse BBQ on Urbanspoon

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Richard's Rockwall BBQ & Grill

ROCKWALL: Richard's Rockwall BBQ & Grill
1407 S. Goliad St.
Rockwall, TX 75087
Open M-F 11-8, Sat 11-3

Update: This joint has CLOSED. It has moved to the other side of 30 at 4757 Highway 276 right next to Eagle Hardware.

A large "For Sale" sign out front made me worry that this joint was closed, but there was a herd of diners inside. The owner said they were looking for new digs, but was sure that it would be a while before the landlord would sell the building. His opinion was probably guided by the obnoxious road construction along Goliad which made access to this homey joint a chore.

I'm always skeptical when "& Grill" is added at the end of a BBQ joint's name. It usually means that they're trying to please the masses, and in doing so they forget to tend the smoker adequately. At Richard's, the only "& Grill" menu items were a cheeseburger and grilled chicken. I ordered a three meat plate with brisket, ribs, sausage, okra and potato salad. The ribs were coated with a sweet sauce just before serving which allowed the well formed crust to still shine through. The meat had a great red color with an intense smokiness. The texture required a little tooth, which is good, and the overall flavor was excellent. The brisket came with a sauce on the side which was spicer than the sweet sauce used to baste the ribs. The slices were lean and moist, with a decent crust and adequate smokiness. Bites without the crust were less smoky, but this was decent brisket. The sausage was from Rudolph's in Dallas, whihc supplies excellent suasage to may joints in the Metroplex. It was great as always. The sides were also good, if not excellent. Once the building sells, I'll make sure to find out where they move to get another bite of those ribs.

Rating ***
Richards Rockwall BBQ & Grill on Urbanspoon

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Bar-B-Q Crib

DALLAS: Bar-B-Q Crib
4315 S Buckner Blvd
Dallas, TX 75227
Open M-Thur 10-10, F-Sat 10-12am, Sun 12-9

Smoke bellowed from the smoker out behind this tiny joint in the shadow of a Buckner Boulevard overpass. Most of the other customers had come straight from church, so I was a bit under dressed, and with only two tables in the place, I opted for takeout. As my order was being put together, I admired the photos and t-shirts hung on the wall. Most of the paraphernalia was related to black leaders or the Bible, so I enjoyed the sense of humor displayed with the D.E.A. t-shirt...that's short for Drink Every Afternoon.

My order arrived along with a smile and a sincere request to "Please come back". My car was filled with a smoky smell when I opened the brown bag. A rib sandwich was piled high with several thick meaty chopped spare ribs. They had a great smoky flavor that was complemented by the sweet spicy sauce. These ribs could have been more tender, but the fat was well rendered, and the flavor was enjoyable. The brisket suffered the fate of most slabs of meat that are not left on the smoker long enough. The meat was fatty with little crust and no smoke line. There was little smoke flavor, and not much flavor at all beyond roast beef. I was told by a fellow customer that the hot links and stuffed potatoes were to die for. I guess I'll try them along with the ribs on a return visit, as I plan to steer clear of the brisket.

Bar Bq Crib on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

BBQ 801 - Choosing Your Wood

Meat preparation
was our last subject, so this time we'll move on to the preparation of your fire. Important choices to make in the smoking process include which wood variety to smoke with and what type of charcoal. When choosing your smoking wood, you first need to exclude any soft woods like pine or poplar. They contain saps and resins which turn into creosote when burned. Who wants their brisket to taste like a railroad tie? That still leaves an incredible amount of hardwoods to choose from. Most of the fruitwoods like apple, pear, or pecan wood will have been subjected to repeated pesticide baths during its life, and those pesticides will release themselves into the meat, so steer clear unless you know the source. For the other hardwoods that remain, the important components are their level of moisture and the flavors they impart The arguments that usually ensue about which wood usually comes down to flavor. Alton Brown argues in his "Q" episode, that it takes about 6 hours of smoking before the particular varietal overtones are noticeable in the meat.

Another good resource for
wood flavor explanations is Smokalicious, and check SteelTown BBQ for an in depth explanation of wood smoke. I can't tell you which wood to choose. The best I can suggest is to experiment, but when you do, make sure the wood has a good level of moisture (soak dry wood in water with a dab of liquid soap for at least an hour before cooking) because dry wood will burn very hot with little smoke, and that's far from the point in low-and-slow smoking. Also, remove the bark because it may contain mold spores, bugs or other pests that you don't want in your fire. On to the second ingredient of your fire...the charcoal.

Charcoal is available in briquettes and lump form. Check out Serious Eats for a good comparison of the two. The creation of lump charcoal is easy to explain. You take wood, burn it in a oxygen deprived environment to drive out moisture and other impurities, and you're left with wood char. Briquettes have a few more ingredients. According to Kingsford, their ingredients are:

wood char: for heat
mineral char: also for heat
mineral carbon: also for heat
limestone: for the light-ash color
starch: to bind the other ingredients
borax: press release
sodium nitrate: to speed the ignition
sawdust: to speed the ignition

From this list, you can see why purists are so adamant about the use of lump charcoal. It simply seems like a pure product in comparison. It also burns hotter, lights easier, and leaves less ash behind than briquettes, but who needs those arguments when you got purity on your side? Either way you go, just know that those who use briquettes look like amatuers, so be sure to have some quick and reasonable comebacks ready for anyone who questions you if you choose briquettes.

-BBQ Snob

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mike's Real Pit Bar-B-Q

GRAND PRAIRIE: Mike’s Real Pit Bar-B-Q
700 S. Belt Line Road

Grand Prairie, TX 75051


Open M-W 11-2, Thur-F 11-8, Sat 11-4

Mike's sits across from the projects of Grand Prairie that I didn't know existed until this visit. The place is very popular with the military crowd as evidenced by the four tables full of uniformed patrons and photos of them on the walls. They must come for the ribs, because they were good. The fat was well rendered, and the texture required just a little tug to release the meat from the bone. The bark was well formed resulting in a good smoky flavor throughout the meat. The dry brisket didn't fare as well. The lean gray slices were nearly devoid of flavor, and they were a bit tough to boot. Stick with the ribs here and pair them with their specialty hand cut fries.

Rating **
Real Pit Barbeque on Urbanspoon

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Blowin' Smoke 006 - MeatWater

I still can't tell if this is real product. I have my doubts, but I'd buy a case if I found it at my local Kroger.

The product is called MeatWater, and the flavor possibilities will astound you!

- BBQ Snob

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Crown's Bar-B-Que

GRAND PRAIRIE: Crown's Bar-B-Que
1902 W E Roberts Dr.

Grand Prairie, TX 75051


Open Sun-Thur 11-3, F-Sat 11-5

Crown's os a small joint that serves mostly to go orders. A severely yellowed article about the joint hung from the wall along with random business cards. The three ladies who run Crown's seemed almost annoyed that I was there ordering. Things got off to a bad start when I ordered ribs, and quickly learned that they don't serve ribs. Instead, I ordered a sliced beef sandwich and a pig-in-a-blanket which consisted of a sauced hot link wrapped in Texas toast. It was the perfect balance of bread, sauce and wonderfully juicy sausage. The link had great spice and a great casing. The brisket was not nearly as pleasing with a scant crust, no smoke line and little smokiness. The beef was moist with well rendered fat, but the resulting texture was chewy, and the meat was missing the robust flavor that I crave.

Rating **
Crown's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

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D-Two Bar B Q

2503 W. Pioneer Parkway

Arlington, TX 76013


Open M-Sat 11-9

Before Cokers moved to its new digs across the street, it occupied the building that now houses D-Two. I don't know if the owner has any connections with Cokers, but the food could not be more similar. In fact, I'm going to paste the same meaty description from Cokers here with only a slight modification.

"The brisket had a decent crust and a light smoke line. The meat was dryish with average tenderness. The slices lacked smoke and had little flavor overall. Adding a bit of the [unfortunately bad sauce didn't help a bit]. The ribs were better with a good bark, well rendered fat and a good moist texture. The rub was heavy on the salt, and the meat held some good smoke flavor." Basically, if you're hungry for 'cue at the corner of Bowen and Pioneer Parkway, pull into whichever place is on the right, and you'll get equally average meat.

Rating **
D Two Bar Bq on Urbanspoon

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2612 W. Pioneer Parkway

Arlington, TX 76013


Open M-Sat 11-9

The bold claim on the menu was enough to make me roll my eyes..."Best Ribs In Texas". I can verify the lack of truth in that claim, but if they changed it too "BBQ joint with the most Coca-Cola memorabilia" I could get on board with that. The place is positively packed with everything Coke from clocks to bottles and abundant signage, so I ordered a Coke while I waited for my to go order.

The brisket had a decent crust and a light smoke line. The meat was dryish with average tenderness. The slices lacked smoke and had little flavor overall. Adding a bit of the uniquely flavored sauce really helped. The ribs were better with a good bark, well rendered fat and a good moist texture. The rub was heavy on the salt, and the meat held some good smoke flavor. These St. Louis style ribs were good, but not quite the state's best.

Rating **
Cokers Barbecue on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Brother Man's

DALLAS: Brother Man's BBQ
4614 Scyene Rd

Dallas, TX 75210

Open Daily 10-7:45

Update: This joint is CLOSED. The building was demolished and the owner's were forced to relocate to Loop 12 just west of I-45.

2009: Along the new Dart line sits a lonely BBQ joint that was completely empty at lunch time. I parked in the gravel lot that was designated "Restaurant Parking Only" with sloppy paint on the side of the small building. Inside was a dining room with just a few small tables and chairs, but it seemed like a mainly take-out joint. I placed my order at the back of the store through the iron grille, and passed my money through the small hole. I order a rib sandwich and a sliced brisket sandwich with sauce on the side, but was informed that a side of sauce would cost me extra, so I just asked for light sauce on the sandwiches, and the cook obliged.

As I waited for my order, I breathed in the sweet smokiness and perused the photos on the wall. Many of them were of Barack Obama, MLK, and other famous black leaders, but they had to share the wall with Janet Jackson's famous bare breast from that infamous Super Bowl. The FCC would not approve of this adornment. I received my order after a few minutes and took it to the car for a quick bite. The ribs were overdone, light on smoke flavor and even lighter on meat. These ribs had been carved so close to the bone that the only meat remaining was between the bones. Too bad, because the brisket was really tasty with a deep smoky flavor that the sauce complemented well. The slices were moist and tender, but the fat was not very well rendered. I'm thinking a chopped beef sandwich might be just the ticket for my next date with Janet.

Rating **
Brother Mans Bar Bq on Urbanspoon

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Two Podners

DALLAS: Two Podners
1441 Robert B. Cullum Blvd.
Dallas, TX 75210
Open M-Sat 11-9:45, Sun 11-8

The sign outside reads "Bar-B-Que & Seafood", but soulfood is really the king here with a BBQ being a mere afterthought. At 12:05 on a Wednesday afternoon, I ordered ribs and sliced brisket, but the ribs weren't ready, so I opted for sausage. The plate came with cornbread and three hefty sides, of which I chose greens, cabbage and yams. They were all excellent. Most other diners were eating a selection from the soul food options which I'll try next time since the BBQ was so disappointing. The sausage was a fatty grocery store grade with a mushy texture. The beef looked and tasted like fatty shoe leather. Some slices were entire slabs of unrendered fat, and those slices with meat were equivalent to boiled chuck roast. Not even the cloyingly sweet sauce could save it. Do yourself a favor, and skip the BBQ here, but definitely come for the other offerings.

Rating *
Two Podners Bar-B-Q & Seafood on Urbanspoon

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Blowin' Smoke 005 - Bacon Explosion

The Bacon Explosion is a roll of meaty happiness created by the folks over at BBQ Addicts that was recently made famous by the NY Times. I couldn't think of a better pure protein treat for the Super Bowl, except maybe two of them. In addition to the original Bacon Explosion with bacon and ground sausage, I decided to create the Bacon Cheeseburger Explosion. Behold the woven bacon!

On to the ingredients...
I found that 1.5 lbs of bacon was plenty to create a good weave, with plenty left over for the filling.

1.5 lbs Thick Cut Jalapeno (Bacon Explosion)

1.5 lbs Thick Cut Peppered Bacon (Cheeseburger Explosion)

2 lbs Ground Sausage (Bacon Explosion)

2 lbs 85% Lean Ground Beef (Cheeseburger Explosion)

Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning & Black Pepper

The most fun part of this whole recipe is weaving the bacon. I'm sure most of you have not had the experience, so savor it. A 6x6 weave was the perfect size. Be sure to keep it tight so the filling is fully contained.

Fry the rest of the bacon to be crumbled into the filling.

Season the bacon weave well.

Spread the sausage or ground beef evenly over the bacon weave.

Now spread on the crumbled bacon and douse it in BBQ sauce. Be sure to keep one edge untainted so the roll finishes nicely without the filling spilling out.

For the cheeseburger explosion, I added grated cheese and used a mustard based sauce.

Now carefully roll the meat into a beautiful log, and you're ready for cooking

Smoke it for 2 to 2.5 hours at about 275 degrees.

Remove from heat, let it rest about 10-15 minutes, and slice.

I would have some pictures of the truly artful slices, but my ravenous compatriots tore into the dual explosions so quickly and thoroughly,that I had no time for proper documentation. I can assure you that is was delicious.

- BBQ Snob

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Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.