Thursday, December 29, 2011

Off the Bone Barbeque

DALLAS: Off The Bone Barbeque
1734 South Lamar Street
Dallas, Texas 75215

Open Tues-W 11-6, Thur 11-9, F-Sat 11-2am

Update: I've been critical of this joint in the past, mainly because they didn't adhere to my idea of great barbecue. You won't find butcher paper at Off the Bone and you'll certainly find sauce on everything, and plenty of it. Then again, this is really the norm in Dallas, so why not go judge it on its own merits? After two years, I wanted to give it a return visit (especially after this) and I'm glad I did.

A comobo plate of chopped beef and ribs is the option I chose for a recent lunch. I've lamented in the past that they won't offer a sliced brisket, and the menu on this day was no different. I would soon learn that sliced brisket had just been added as an option, but more on that later. Ribs here are more tender than most, but not mushy. The bones will always be clean when you're finished eating. Like every other meat, they come covered in the house made vinegar heavy tomato based sauce. A bit of sweetness helps to tame the acidity, and this really is a good sauce. It goes just as well with the pile of chopped beef that has a great smokiness due to all the charred bits that are added in. Smokier than the ribs, and I was wishing I could try this stuff sliced.

That's when I was ambushed. Owner Dwight Harvey and his son Steve approached my seat at the bar. "How'd you like your lunch Mr. Vaughn?" I'd been spotted, and it quickly went through my head that my previous reviews of this joint had not been kind. Not to worry as these two could smother you in hospitality, and they had a genuine interest in my thoughts. Quickly reflecting on the meal, it was a good one. Pleasing sides of beans and potato salad are made in house, the meat was well smoked and the sauce they insist on covering everything in was very good. I liked the meal, and I would happily return. That's when I learned an even better reason to return. They had just started offering sliced brisket.

After the meal I got a tour of the small operation. An all pecan-fired J&R Little Red Smokehouse sits in the small kitchen where we dodged prep cooks chopping potatoes for tomorrow's salad. Mr. Harvey could not have been a better host.

Just after the holidays I finally had a free lunch hour to go back for some of that sliced beef. A 1/2 pound snack was quickly consumed by a friend and I, and it was good. Very good. It's on the high end of what you can get anywhere in Dallas. It thankfully came with sauce on the side, and the black crust beckoned. The meat was perfectly tender with a great smoky flavor. A thin line of delectable fat had been left on to render, and it coupled with the crusty end piece made for a intense bite of brisket. Why they haven't been serving this stuff all along is a mystery, but it will be my go-to order on any return visits.

Rating ***

October 2009: You may have read the Dallas Observer's "Best of Dallas" edition which named Off the Bone Barbeque as the top BBQ joint in Big D. I've been less than impressed on a few visits in the past, but I headed to check things out after the story broke. I thought maybe they'd started serving actual sliced brisket, or maybe their meats now had some smokiness. Ordering up a combo plate of ribs and brisket (only chopped is available), I found neither fault had been remedied on this latest trip.

Their liberal use of sauce in the past clued me in that they're probably getting most of their flavor from it. It's a salty and smoky concoction that works well with the meat, but the meat's usually swimming in a lake of the sauce. I ordered the meats with sauce on the side to get at the essence of the protein. The use of some added moisture was evident on the first bite of the chopped beef. The mixture of meat to fat and crust was good, but this is a hard dish to screw up. Ribs were disappointing. The meat fell from the bone, evidence of overcooking. With the amount of time these had to spend over heat, I'd expect them to be as smokey as and ash tray, but even bites of just the outer crust yielded none of the pecan smoke flavor whatsoever. If these babies are smoked then they must be wrapped tight the entire time. Even my smoke averse wife couldn't detect any.

Sides were good with a blue cheese flecked cole slaw that tasted fresh and homemade. Chunks of brisket were in the smoky sweet baked beans adding some good texture and flavor. As I've said before, this is definitely a spot for good tasting food, it's just not great BBQ.

May 2009: Yesterday's Dallas Morning News Guide included a new review of this joint. With the high rating it received, I decided to give it another shot. The menu has not changed, with the only meats offered being ribs, sausage and chopped brisket. Sliced brisket is only offered if you have an event catered by the company. Chopped beef is presauced, and stored in warming bins to be served. I opted instead to try the ribs and sausage which arrived sauced.

It seems the proprietors here choose to rely on the flavor of their sauce rather than the flavor of smoke. In fact, a smoker wasn't anywhere to be found. The rib meat was tender, truly falling off the bone as if baked into submission. The flavor was decent, but overly salty from the to generous helping of sauce heaped on top. The sausage was better than average, with a medium grind a good snap to the casing. The flavor of the meat was hard to distinguish behind all of that sauce, but it was pretty good stuff. What really shines here are the well prepared sides. The potato salad was rich with mustard and egg, and the sweet baked beans were flecked with pork and onions. I wish they'd just offer a choice of sauce so I wouldn't have to wonder about what they're trying to hide below the copious amounts of it.

2008: This place is hard to categorize. I hesitate even reviewing it because it falls outside of what this website considers to be true Barbeque. The brisket only comes chopped, the ribs are parboiled, and everything comes sauced. All that being said, the food is good. The ribs have great flavor and are truly fall-off-the-bone tender, while the brisket is smoky with a nice crust. The owner said they don't serve sliced brisket because it would just fall apart, so I'm guessing it might be steamed as well as smoked. All that being said, I can't justify giving it an official rating on this site.
Off the Bone on Urbanspoon

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Monday, December 26, 2011

BBQ Snob at Cane Rosso

I've had my brush with fame. Actually, I just had a great time working with the guys at Cane Rosso who did most of the work on my night as Cane Rosso pizza chef. There were two pizzas offered up. One had smoked porchetta with Mozzarella Company smoked mozzarella, mushrooms and caramelized onions. The other had Pecan Lodge's smoked pork sausage with a smoked sauce, ricotta and fried greens.

Porchetta Pizza

Pecan Lodge Smoked Sausage Pizza

If you're unfamiliar with porchetta, it is a fatty roll of highly spiced pork. In this case it was a pork tenderloin wrapped in a pork belly, which I then smoked instead of the traditional roasting method. Matt in the Cane Rosso kitchen let me document the rolling of the pork.

Seasoning the tenderloin

The rolling begins

Completing the tying

I then rubbed the pork roll with an aggressive rub of freshly cracked black pepper, kosher salt and smoked paprika. It was then hickory smoked at around 300 degrees for about four hours before I stoked the fire to get the heat up around 375-400 for the last hour and a half to really get the outside crisped up.

I also smoked some peppers and onions to mix in with the Cane Rosso's tomato sauce to give it all a smoky flavor.

Almost done

Ready for pureeing

After trying the completed porchetta, it will be tough to fire up the smoker again without having a pork belly on hand. The flavors work so well together that I now find it hard to believe that no Texas pitmasters have successfully toyed with it. It needs to make it onto some local menus.

I really appreciate Jay, Dino, Matt and the rest of the team for letting me play in the kitchen. I also appreciate all the friends and readers of this blog who came out in support. I had a blast, and I think I may just have sold more pizzas than Dean Fearing. We'll have to wait until the official results are released by Cane Rosso at the end of February, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

- BBQ Snob

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sammy's Bar-B-Q

DALLAS: Sammy's Bar-B-Q
2126 Leonard St
Dallas, TX 75201
Open M-Sat 11-3

Update: In my architectural life, it often comes up that I'm a BBQ fiend. These friendly conversations quickly devolve into "Well, have you been to...?" More often than not, Sammy's Bar-B-Q in Uptown comes up. I gave Sammy's a curt review last go 'round, so I wanted to give them another shot. I had also been given a tip that you could make a meal of their onions rings alone, so at least I'd have that. I work in the Uptown neighborhood, so having a quick option for barbecue would be a good thing. In this selfish endeavor to validate a convenient lunch spot possibility, it was easy to see why so many folks enjoy this joint. It's all about effort.

The brisket could have used more seasoning and smoke, the slices of pork were pleasing but dry, and the ribs were mushy, but none of these meats were bad. One thing they know at Sammy's is that a good sauce can cover up many of these ills, so they don't skimp on the effort with the sauce. This sweet tomato based concoction tastes of vinegar and meaty drippings. It's kept warm in glass bottles, so feel free to take one to your table and lather it all over the plate, especially the bread which is Texas toast that is buttered and toasted to order. I also didn't mind waiting around a bit for those onion strings (they need to be circular if you want to call them 'rings') because I knew they were frying them to order. While I waited, I enjoyed a freshly cracked bottle of St. Arnold's root beer poured into a chilled glass. This is one of my top three root beers, so good choice Sammy. When the steaming basket of fried onions arrived I quickly dug into the salty mess with a fork, and slathered more of that sauce on for good measure. That cheesy potato casserole that everyone raves about also didn't last long on my plate.

The bottom line here is that Sammy's cares about ALL of the food they're serving, and that's easy to distinguish from countless other barbecue meals I've had around the state that are accompanied only by products that are available straight from a tub or a can. At Sammy's they also make the effort to use a real wood smoker (a J&R Lil' Red Smokehouse) fired with nothing but hickory. How they get so little smokiness into the meats with this equipment is beyond me, but they're trying.

Rating **

2008: "The sides are great." I've heard this description of Sammy's countless times in Dallas, and that usually gets it into every top BBQ joint list in Dallas. You cannot survive on sides alone, and this is where Sammy's falters to all but the chopped beef sandwich crowd. A quick explanation of a chopped beef sandwich: Take the best edge pieces of the brisket with all the good crust, chop it up and add sauce, then place on a buttered bun. With those ingredients, my 4-year old niece could put out a decent product. The key to good que lies in making the sliced brisket and ribs shine without the sauce, and this is Sammy's downfall. The ribs had decent flavor from the salt and pepper rub, but they were devoid of smoke flavor. The fat was well rendered, but the texture was a bit mushy. This is caused by cooking them far ahead and letting slabs of ribs sit in a warmer for hours covered in plastic wrap. The brisket was trimmed of nearly all it's fat and crust, so there was only a hint of a smoke line, and no delicious crust. Instead it was too-tender brisket with nothing but roast-beef flavor. But hey, the sides were awesome.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Reed's BBQ

1811 S Buckner Blvd

Dallas, TX 75217


Open M-Sat 11-9, Sun 12-9

On a previous visit, I really thought this joint had some promise. I quickly realized on this return trip that I wasn't in for a good meal. The ribs bones slid apart as the dripping meat was fished out of a warming tray. Along with the fat and crust, all of the brisket's flavor was swiped away with the edge of a long thin knife. At least the green beans and collard greens looked good.

The ribs tasted as if they had been stored in that pan for some time. The meat was mushy, devoid of any positive flavors and altogether smoke free. In short, they were awful. Brisket also lacked smoke, but wasn't on the same level of bad as the ribs. The meat was dry yet tough, and the only flavor came from a dip in the sauce. Let's just say my lunch mainly consisted of greens and beans.

Rating *

2008: This joint in South Dallas has a classic BBQ joint look complete with a windmill. The ribs here were big and meaty with perfect tenderness and nicely rendered fat. The great crust had a hint of smoke, but the remaining meat did not. Overall it could have used more flavor from a heartier rub. The brisket was pull-apart tender with a nice black crust, but no smoke ring. It had decent flavor, but again, no smoke beyond the crust. What it did have was a nice sugar cookie on the fatty end of the unexpected bonus. With a little extra smoke, this place could be a standout.

Reed's BBQ on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

BBQ Snob as Cane Rosso Pizza Chef

John Tesar and Dean Fearing have had their shot and Stephen Pyles will be coming along soon to offer his unique pizza at Deep Ellum's Cane Rosso, but next Monday will be my night to share a couple of specialty pizzas. If you're not familiar, Jay at Cane Rosso has reserved Monday nights at the restaurant as celebrity chef night. I am neither, so I understand the confusion, but I'll do my best to smoke the competition. I've been working with Jay and Dino to create two great pies, so I hope you can make it out on next Monday, 12/19 to try them.

The first pizza will feature Pecan Lodge smoked pork sausage, a smoked tomato sauce, ricotta and fried greens.

Pecan Lodge sausage

Thin slices of black pepper rubbed and smoked porchetta will top the second pizza along with smoked mozzarella from Mozzarella Company, caramelized onions and mushrooms.

I need all the help I can get to outsell the giants of Dallas cuisine, so please buy one of each.

- BBQ Snob

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Mesquite BBQ

145 E Davis St
Mesquite, TX 75149
Open M-Thur 10:30-8, F-Sat 10:30-9

Update: This joint was one of the first that I visited when I started full barbecue coverage of the DFW area. Re-reading the old review, it sounded pretty harsh so I thought I'd give it another shot. This time I chose the middle of the lunch hour where I was assured a full menu of fresh meats.

It's amazing how little smoke flavor they get on this meat using an Oyler smoker. I couldn't confirm if they're still using one since the fence around the smoking area is so tall. Given that Herbert Oyler opened the place, I'd guess they're still using one of his smokers. The ribs had been sitting in a warmer for some time. The fat had oxidized and the meat just tasted old. The brisket was bone dry and couldn't pass for decent roast beef.

The pulled pork sandwich wasn't much better. The flyer at the counter called it Texas style, but it was little more than pork sloppy joe.

The only saving grace was a great slice of the pecan pie made by Uncle Willie's in Red Oak. It was the only reason I didn't need to stop for another lunch before heading back to work.

Rating *

2008: I've eaten some bad brisket in the past, but this was about the worst. This putrid monochrome gray hunk of dry meat was clearly deprived of the love it deserved. It was so bad that I saw no reason to even try the ribs.

Mesquite BBQ on Urbanspoon

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Friday, December 9, 2011

BBQ Book Review: Modernist Cuisine

Title: Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking
Authors: Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young & Maxime Bilet
Published: 2011 by The Cooking Lab

What does a book about fancy cooking with sous vide bags and liquid nitrogen have to do with barbecue? One of the coauthors, Nathan Myhrvold, is a competition barbecuer with a serious scientific curiosity of the smoking process. He also has a love for Texas BBQ as evidenced by this recent article singing the praises of Central Texas. While much of this book is dedicated to new techniques for food preparation using the latest gadgets that cost thousands of dollars, there are sizable chunks that explain the smoking of meat.

Currently listed on Amazon for $450.07, my own copy was not attainable. Lucky for me, a kind soul in Dallas let me borrow his copy with no strings attached. I read through it voraciously.

Volume One begins with basic techniques for cooking, one of which is smoking. What's included here isn't a guided process for great smoking, but instead an in depth look at the quality of the actual smoke used for cooking and how it can affect the final flavor of the meat. Phenols are created when lignin (in the wood) is burned and creates complex and pleasing flavors. Mesquite is high in lignin giving it more of an aromatic quality than most woods. Smoking also doesn't have to be done with wood. Corn cobs are said to produce a "pronounced earthy aroma". Let me know how that goes if you give the corn cob smoking method a whirl.

For the optimal hot smoking environment, the book suggests a fire burning at roughly 590 degrees, but a cooking chamber temperature no higher than 225 degrees. This allows for good quality smoke that contains plenty of positive phenols, but without all the tar that is emitted from smoldering wood. Also, to keep from having your wood smolder, DO NOT use wet or soaked wood. The dry stuff is what creates good smoke. Making use of most of the guidelines offered will still require a great deal of knowledge and finesse to pull off successfully in a home smoker, but in true modernist form, you can find that sous vide smoked brisket recipe with a cooking time of seventy-six hours along with countless other multi-day recipes in the final volume.

Volume Three titled "Animals and Plants" includes lengthy discussions on the muscle structure of animals and how that structure affects cooking technique and partially determines the tenderness of the meat. Fine-grained muscles like tenderloin are the most naturally tender cuts. They have a tight structure with less collagen surrounding the meat fibers while a brisket is the ultimate coarse-grained meat with large visible bundles of muscle surrounded by a thick collagen mesh. Coarse-grained meat just won't be tender until the collagen mesh is broken down, so it's no wonder that brisket takes an extended cooking time to reach a pleasing level of tenderness while a quick sear is enough for a tenderloin.

Thick collagen mesh surrounding large muscle bundles

In cooking brisket the goal is to convert that collagen into gelatin. While the brisket is heating up in the smoker, the first reaction of the collagen is to shrink and contract the whole muscle. The conversion of the collagen into gelatin takes much longer than just cooking the meat, so don't rely solely on the meat reaching a certain temperature. Seasoned pitmasters will tell you they don't rely on temperature at all but just the feel of the meat. The meat must relax, almost like it finally exhales on the pit after holding its breath for hours. It sounds so sage-like, but it's just the science behind gelatinization.

Although higher temperatures will convert collagen to gelatin more quickly, it also allows the collagen to constrict the meat more rapidly and forcefully wringing the meat of valuable moisture. The more slowly you cook (or smoke) the less tightly the collagen constricts and more moisture remains in the meat. Brisket must smoke low and slow for a reason.

When you're cooking such a large piece of meat at a low temperature there is a natural stall that takes place. The meat's internal temperature steadily rises to a plateau point below the desired finished temperature. On page 212 you'll find a succinct explanation of what causes the 'stall' in the meat temperature of large pieces of smoking meat. This was also a subject recently discussed by Meathead of Amazing Ribs with almost identical conclusions. Surface moisture on the meat continues to cool the the meat through evaporation. Just like our own sweat cools our bodies, the meat's temperature is kept lower until the surface of the meat has dried enough to stop the evaporation. This provides definitive evidence that spraying or mopping the meat during cooking not only slows the cooking process by letting heat out every time the lid is opened, but it also adds unnecessary moisture to the meat's surface.

Other tidbits not mentioned above include a physical description of what occurs to the moisture in meat when it 'rests', how unsaturated fats like those found in pork ribs can oxidize after cooking causing off flavors that I usually describe as tasting old (while the technical term is 'warmed over'), and a full run down of sausage types and techniques for grinding and stuffing that create a multitude of textures. I'll dive deeper into sausage in a future post.

If any of this sounds interesting to you, I assure you it's just scratching the surface. Now you'll have to pick up your own copy of the book or find a good friend who already has one.

- BBQ Snob

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ernie's BBQ & Soul Food

DALLAS: Ernie's BBQ & Soul Food
2537 South Buckner Blvd.

Dallas, TX 75227

Open M-Tues & Thur-Sat 11-8, Sun 12-7

The weekday lunch hour was not yet over, but this joint was dead. Various soul food items were uncovered and slowly drying on an unattended steam table. Alone in the dining room, I waited for someone to come out of the kitchen. The owner emerged. No ribs today, but they had some brisket. I wasn't given visual access as the owner ducked back through the swinging doors, only to emerge a few minutes later with a foil wrapped sandwich.

I opened the hefty package in the car where I found chewy slices of warmed over and overly salty brisket. It had a flavor closer to jerky, and the sweet commercial sauce did little to elevate the flavor. I didn't try the soul food here, but it seems that's the real focus given the menu. The sandwich didn't really give me much hope for the ribs, so I doubt I'll make it back to try them.

Rating *
Ernies BBQ & Soul Food on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Salt Lick

DRIFTWOOD: The Salt Lick Bar-B-Que
18001 FM 1826

Driftwood, TX 78619
Open Daily 11-10

Update: I've often thought that the Salt Lick is a joint that serves very respectable smoked meat, and is vastly overrated at the same time. The wait for a table on this sprawling campus of barbecue can exceed and hour, but no worries as you can enjoy drinks and live music al fresco on one of the many picnic tables provided. A visit here isn't just about barbecue. It's about atmosphere, catching up with friends, and taking the Salt Lick vibe while enjoying a few cold ones or some of the wine produced by Salt Lick Cellars from the on-site vineyard. Always good marketers the folks at Salt Lick found a way to make middle-of-the-road red and white wines (made from Zinfandel and Viognier grapes respectively) become their best sellers simply by calling them "BBQ Red" and "BBQ White". I fell for it, but I fell harder for the Sangiovese which was much more pleasing and drinkable on its own. With the Sangiovese as an option (all of these options can only be purchased on site at the Salt Lick) I don't see a reason to purchase the others if only for kicks based on the name.

The real reason for this trip was for the beef ribs which are now featured on the daily menu after being available on Sundays for years. The Salt Lick uses back ribs which are usually cut down to the bone unlike meatier short ribs, so I balked a bit at $17 for a two rib plate. When I took my first bite I was amazed at how much meat were on each bone. The tender meat was laced with well rendered fat. The ribs were nicely smoked with a good layer of flavor from the direct heat blast they received on the open pits on display out front. The meat is basted with their thin, sweet sauce while cooking so it helps to form a nice crust. The meat is also coated with the sauce just before serving - a practice that I'm usually not fond of, but it's different at Salt Lick. Of all the BBQ joints that I've eaten at, this is the most successful combination of meat and sauce that I've had. It's a thin oil based sauce that seeps into the hot meat almost becoming one with it. A mere afterthought topping, it is not.

Of the sides, the sesame flavored slaw was the only notably good one. Pintos were simple and underseasoned and the potato salad was just chunks of underdone potatoes bound together by a some mashed potatoes and bit of vinegar. When the bill came I had to run out to the ATM after being reminded of their cash-only policy. After a $2.50 surcharge, I had enough cash for the the check and a shirt. It amazes me that a joint won't take credit cards...oh wait, they do the next door over in the beer and wine shop. Maybe they're just making too much from diners who have to pay that ATM surcharge.

After the meal I wanted to investigate a claim made by Scott Roberts, owner of the Salt Lick, in an interview with Texas Monthly a little over a month ago. When asked about whether or not they use gas-fired cookers to smoke, he said "We had some smokers that we put in that were gas-fired, but we don’t really do those anymore because they have a drier heat than the wood does." I find it hard to believe that the small pits on display could really cook all the meat required to feed 2000 people on a Saturday.

These pits are certainly beautiful and provide a great spectacle at the entrances. Sauce is mopped onto mounds of meat while the fat drips and sizzles on the fire below. The resulting live oak smoke creates a fragrant dining area and whets the appetite, but what's back in those huge kitchens not open for public view?

I hung back at the stacks of live oak waiting for someone to come grab a few sticks. Before long an amicable pit man came out and I asked about the pits in the kitchen. Without a hint of shame he said there were six gas-fired (presumably Southern Pride or Ole Hickory) smokers where they smoke the meat overnight. The meat is then refrigerated and basically reheated for about three hours on the direct heat pits on display. I'm not saying this man should be ashamed of how the meat is smoked, but it's obvious the owner was trying to hide it in that recent interview. If you've already got 2000 customers waiting in line for your food on a Saturday, why be deceiving about how the meat is smoked?

I'm not ashamed to say that I enjoyed this meal just like I have others here in the past. These ribs might not be the best thing I ever ate, but they were the best beef back ribs I've eaten anywhere. I just wish they could be honest about how their meat is prepared. Not withstanding their mailed-in performance at the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival the following day (it was some of the poorest meat there) their rating remains the same.

Rating ****

2009: The Salt Lick is renowned throughout Texas, and holds a special place in the heart of BBQ fanatics. Many recent reviews have decried the demise of this mecca of Texas BBQ claiming that it's all about atmosphere, and not enough about what's in the pits. The setting alone may be worth the drive if you come with a group of friends. The large group of picnic tables and BYOB policy make for a tailgate party atmosphere, which is the best way to survive the long waits that are sometimes over an hour. Once inside, the seating is nearly all on communal picnic tables, and the dining is also communal. While the menu holds several a la carte options, most folks opt for the family style at a steep $19/person, but if you come hungry you can make it worth your while.

When ordering family style, a large plate full of pork ribs, sliced brisket and sausage came to our table for everyone to fight over. Our first plate was covered in the Salt Lick's unique sauce which is a mustard and vinegar based sauce with a sugary sweetness. The sauce married well with the meat fresh from the pit. The brisket had little crust, and the ribs tatsed of little more than the sauce. We requested a sauce free second plate with crusty pieces of brisket. This is where the Salt Lick shines. The brisket had a crust like no other with deep flavor and abundant sugar cookies. The meat was smoky, tender and moist with great flavor even without the sauce. Even as a purist, I'll have to admit that the flavor of all their meat is elevated by the sauce. Unfortunatley, it was the ribs that almost needed the sauce. The tenderness of the ribs was excellent, but the crust was lacking depth of flavor, and the smokiness was fleeting. The overall flavor was good, and the meat moist, but it didn't stand out like the crusty brisket. The sausage was also good with a fine grind, mild balck pepper flavor and a good snap to the casing. The news got even better when the third plate arrived and was as good as the second. When the final plate came out, we were to full to indulge any further, but the waitress was happy to box it up for us. Who else does that for family style?

To the detractors out there, give it another try after you get your nose out of the air. To all of the others, bring some friends, some beer and a wad of cash (no credit cards here) and enjoy an evening in the Texas Hill Country.

The Salt Lick Bar B-Q on Urbanspoon

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

You Know Who You Are.

I walked into your place late one evening with a couple of friends. It was still an hour and a half before your designated closing time and not another soul was dining. You said all the brisket and ribs were gone, but sausage was still available as was the day's smoked cabrito special. I asked for both and you proceeded to hastily shave what little meat was left from a goat's leg bone.

If dry, shaved, smokeless and flavorless meat that was in its prime several hours ago was all you could offer, why would you serve it? Worse yet, why would you charge someone for it? I'd rather be told you had run out of meat so I could have held onto my mostly positive outlook about you. I like to think positively, but that cabrito makes it hard.

- BBQ Snob

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Bedlam Bar-B-Q

OKLAHOMA: Bedlam Bar-B-Q
610 NE 50th
Oklahoma City, OK 73105


Open M-W 10:30-8, Thur-F 10:30-9, Sat 10:30-8

Update: It's been a couple of years since my last visit to Bedlam Bar-B-Q in Oklahoma City, and plenty has changed. They've expanded the restaurant, completed a renovation and expansion of their back patio, and lowered the quality of their barbecue. I'm not sure if there has been an ownership or pitmaster change, but the meat has suffered.

Bright red, cayenne filled hot dog passed off as hot links are about what can be expected in Oklahoma, and they are no different here. It's too bad that this is acceptable since there are some decent commercial hot links available out there.

The same big spare ribs are on the menu, but they have a too-heavy rub and haven't spent enough time in the smoker. The meat was a bit chilly and chewy. Sausage was a cheaply made fatty link with little character. The worst of the bunch was the sad looking brisket. Thick slices from the point were riddled with poorly rendered and chewy fat. All crust and smokering had been cut away, and what remained had little smokiness remaining. Maybe I just hit them on a great day a couple years back, but this revisit was very disappointing.

One other note: the addition of the patio allowed me to gain access to the pit room where I found a gleaming Southern Pride rotisserie pit and a pile of chopped hickory wood. There wasn't much smoke coming out of the stack above.

Rating **

Bedlam Bar-B-Q is a relative newcomer to OKC, but they've got this smokin' thing down pat. The menu is a little wider than BBQ to allow those 'cue hating burger eaters to join you on your trek. Orders are taken at the counter just inside the door, then brought to your table while you enjoy the entertainment on their flat screens usually tuned to sports.

My brother-in-law, an OKC native and current resident, was the tour guide for this trek, and we split a three meat "Big Red Dinner". The obvious brisket and ribs were paired with pulled pork on the staff's recommendation. They were sold out of their first choice of turkey. Sides are an adventure here with thirteen options that include some unfamiliar ones like tabouli salad and green rice. We opted for tabouli salad that could have been refreshing with a bit less Italian dressing and parmesan cheese, and a mac & cheese that tasted like it was right out of the Stouffer's box.

The meat fared much better. True "pulled" pork is something of a rarity with most options being simply chopped, so seeing the strands of meat and crust on this plate was promising. The pork was very moist with great flavor, if a bit on the salty side. The mixture of fat, crust and nicely cooked pork created textural perfection. Brisket had great moisture and adequate smoke at the crust, but little inside each slice. Too much of the fat was trimmed away, but there was still some great flavor remaining. All of the meats on the plate were good, but the spare ribs really stood out. Perfectly moist and tender meat sat beneath a hearty black crust. All of the meat had great smoke flavor and well rendered fat throughout, and the meat needed just the slightest tug to release from the bone. This was one great rib.

Bedlam Bar-B-Q may not have a long history in OKC, but if they keep smoking like this, they'll be around for a long time to come.

Bedlam Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

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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.