Adventures in BBQ

a road trip in search of barbecue enlightenment

Thank you NPR!

A huge thank you to NPR for hosting us on All Things Considered. We had an absolute blast revisiting the road trip through our conversations with Audie Cornish.

Here’s a link to the associated article and the audio stream for those of you who missed it:

http://www.npr.org/2012/01/18/145364620/4-258-miles-of-meat-chef-dad-on-a-quest-for-bbq

And although this trip has come to an end, the culinary adventures(Part II Anyone?) and food writing will NOT stop here. Follow me on twitter for further gastronomic adventures in New York City and beyond:

https://twitter.com/#!/mollybaz

Now let’s get this thing published! Who’s with me??

Bringin’ home the bacon.

We’re 2 hours and 23 minutes from home sweet home. First stop, East 6th street, where I’ll be dropped off. Then, on to 44 Wildey Road, where Doug will finally put this vehicle to rest. I feel at once exhausted, fulfilled, and excited to be back. I was just recalling our first day of true adventure, in Smithfield, Virginia, where I spotted my first cotton field, and learned about curing and cooking that salty country ham that we’ve since come to love along side our biscuits. That day seems like months ago. Our minds have been so over-saturated with new information and visuals in the past three weeks that time seems to have warped. It feels as though a long time has passed, yet the days themselves seemed to fly by. We’ve compiled a list of stats to give you an overall sense of what kind of expenditure and consumption has occurred during the trip. Most startling for me was the 73 hours spent in the car, while in motion. I’m so ready to get out of this car and spend some time using public transportation again. Of those 73 hours, a frightening majority were spent on nondescript commercially cluttered highways, each one a clone of the last. I was actually shocked to discover that the majority of this country has become so commercialized that were you to blind fold me and drop me at the outskirts of any one of the amazing places we visited, I would honestly be unable to tell you in which state I had landed. The “strip” changed only as drastically as replacing a few Taco Bells with Waffles Houses, and Dunkin’ Donuts with Krispy Kremes from the time we left New York. We were hard pressed to find anything even remotely healthy last night as we cruised down the interstate. Chain after chain of cheap, Americanized fried food clutters this country. It is truly frightening to consider how hard one must work to eat anything unique or healthy while traveling the many super highways of America.

Thankfully, our trip permitted us to see beyond that obstacle course and find the places that are rooted in tradition and history, and whose owners take an immense amount of pride in running them. It was beautiful to bear witness to that sense of ownership in places that are undeniably “low brow” and learn that being deeply passionate and committed to your craft is the key to a fulfilling career, regardless of the sophistication of the cuisine. So we’re leaving you with a few necessary lists and stats to wrap up the road trip. Thank you all for coming for the ride. And Steve Jobs—You are the MAN. We couldn’t have done it without you. Now bring on the vegetables!

Things We’ll Miss: -the Southern Hospitality attitude: nowhere have I encountered such friendly, open and generous people. We’ve gotten more free food, desserts, barbecue sauces and snacks for the road than we deserved.  The abundance of biscuits: I told you and I’ll say it again, no one makes biscuits this well up north - the excuse that we’re on an educational food-centric road trip to permit us to eat whatever and whenever we want, no further explanation necessary - the no bullshit 180 degree turn from the world I have subscribed to in the past and will re-enter in a few days—from a culinary perspective of course.  I went from fine dining to low brow road food.  A valuable juxtaposition.  The thrill of discovery and never knowing what we’ll fall into next. There’s a certain adrenaline rush you get when the unknown pops up before you. - church. Full Gospel Baptist church.

Things We Look Forward To: -the New York Times: so many ludicrous news stories have emerged over the past three weeks we’re dying for a reliable source. -Asian food: I can’t wait to get after some Asian flavor profiles again to reawaken my palate. -The option to eat healthily if for some unlikely reason we felt the urge. No, but seriously, I’ve never been more deprived of vegetables and their nutrients. Al dente, or for that matter raw vegetables, sound awesome right now. -coffee: the rest of this country just doesn’t need strong coffee like we do. Weak sauce everywhere we went. Except for Austin. -a varied diet. -getting back in the kitchen: I haven’t handled food from the other side in weeks. I need to cook again.

BEST OF BBQ 2011: According to Mol & Doug: Brisket: Louie Mueller, TX—Sausage: Smitty’s, TX—Pork Ribs: Smitty’s, TX—Chopped Pork: Lexington Barbecue & Allen and Sons, NC—Sauce, Tomato Based: The Green Mesquite, TX—Fried Chicken: Gus’ World Famous Fried Chicken, TN—Pork Skin Sandwich: Lexington Barbecue, NC—Biscuits: Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen, NC—Sausage Gravy: Loveless Cafe, TN—Bourbon and Sweet Tea: Felix’s Fish Camp, AL—Chess Pie: Gus’ World Famous Fried Chicken, TN— Banana Pudding: Maurice’s Piggie Park, SC—Potato Chips: Central BBQ, TN—Donut: Gordough’s, TX—Hash: Maurice’s Piggie Park, SC—Salad: Hooter’s, TX

THE STATS: BBQ joints: 31. Biscuits consumed: 21. States traveled: 16. Miles traveled: 4258. Hours Driving: 73. Gas Fill-Ups 19. Lost items: 3. Automotive Breakdowns: 0. Emotional Breakdowns: 1. Arguments: 0. iPad data consumption: 3 GB. Pics: 1656. Words: 14,258.  Funsies: Unlimited.

The final route.

The final route.

The final countdown.

​Got to Louisville, Kentucky Monday evening and pulled up to the most spectacular abode. Pfeifer family, we thank you for so generously putting us up in your beautiful home. The farmhouse overlooks a gorgeous stretch of wooden fences and farmland, just outside of Louisville. We’ve become accustomed to all sorts of accomodations along the way; you just can’t be picky when you’re on the road for 3 weeks and can’t even plan so much as 6 hours in advance. And we’ve seen some sketchy digs. This warm and welcoming home, built by the bare hands of the Pfeifers themselves, was exactly what we needed. As we went to bed Monday night my Dad called to me from his bedroom at the other end of the house, “I’m lonely.”   It felt wrong to have separate accommodations after days upon days of 24/7 QT. We managed. But it takes the right kind of person and the right relationship to spend every waking hour by someone’s side. I can’t think of a better person. ​Like I said, we have accepted that this final leg of the journey will be less enlightening from a barbecue perspective but nonetheless continually educational. We knew arriving in Kentucky there were a few things that couldn’t be overlooked. Bourbon. Clearly. We’ll get to that in a second.

It turns out Louisville has a surprisingly progressive and up and coming restaurant scene. For a city that still identifies with the rest of the South in many ways, we found a different sort of Louisville “worldview” than the one we’ve become acquainted with elsewhere. The town seems rich in history and all the while progressively forward thinking. Take The Blind Pig for example, a restaurant located in the historic Butchertown neighborhood of Louisville that has capitalized on its location to express a pork-centric menu that errs on the trendy up and coming gastropub fad. The restaurant features all house-smoked bacon, both the typical smoked belly and an a-typical smoked loin version that is less fatty, house-made sausages and rilletttes.

And while The Blind Pig pays homage to the King of the animal kingdom in a small, localized way, they are located just across the street from the “Swift” hog processing plant in what use to be the stockyard section of Louisville. A massively commercialized, industrial operation that is 180 degrees from The Blind Pig in personality. After lunch we did a drive by hog hunt and tried by every means we could to get ourselves inside the facility. We stopped a lady of about 45 years old on a smoke break outside the security checkpoint who was friendly but frank in her refusal to divulge much information to us. I got hit with the “I can’t tell you that, sweetie” at least four times over the course of our conversation. I think she thought it was cute that I wanted to get inside and see some pigs. She clearly wasn’t grasping my M.O. This is the last place I’d choose for some leisurely pig oggling. We were able to glean a few things from her. Security is so high at this processing plant (slaughter city) that even the factory workers are required to leave their cell phones outside the facility for fear of information and photo leakage. There’s got to be some dirty stuff going on behind those closed doors. This particular Swift plant processes 10,200 hogs per 8 hr day. Every single day. I just did the math, that’s 71,400 pigs a week. Shocking compared to the small scale calf slaughtering operation we witnessed last week. We did manage to catch a parking lot full of 16 wheeler double decker livestock carriers that were so crammed with pigs not a single one could move. As we got out of the car to look through the slats of the truck, we heard endless cries and squeals. Not the most reassuring of sounds after having spent three weeks devouring this creature. It was a sobering moment in which we realized that the pork we’ve been so guiltlessly enjoying day in and day out could very well have originated at such a place. Nonetheless, just as the calf slaughtering and the pig farms were important aspects of this trip in terms of gaining an all encompassing understanding of what exactly goes in to creating that perfect barbecue sandwich, this reality is one we needed to face as well.

Boudin and house cured bacon sandwich. The Blind Pig. Louisville, Kentucky.

Boudin and house cured bacon sandwich. The Blind Pig. Louisville, Kentucky.

Pork Rillettes.

Pork Rillettes.

The drive by.

The drive by.

The Blind Pig. Louisville, KY.

The Blind Pig. Louisville, KY.

She turned her head in fear as soon as she saw the camera.

She turned her head in fear as soon as she saw the camera.

​We made a pit stop at one barbecue joint in Louisville and were underwhelmed but we did get to taste an item that is native to Kentucky: Burgoo. A thick stew made of all sorts of barbecue meat, vegetables, and corn. A Kentucky version of that delicious hash we tasted in South Carolina, and a brilliant way to use leftover barbecue. One thing we have noticed is that nothing goes to waste at these places. If it’s not being smoked for sandwiches, it’s being stuffed into sausages or deep fried into cracklins. Or in this case turned into stew.

The next day we had one last venture to tackle, and that was a bourbon tasting and visit to a distillery. We’ve become diehard fans of a new cocktail we discovered while in Alabama, the Bourbon and Sweet Tea. And if it weren’t for that godawful iced tea that comes out of a soda gun in the North, it would be my new go-to. Unfortunately, true freshly brewed sweet tea is hard to come by up there. Anyhow, we drove out through vast expanses of rolling bluegrass horse country to visit The Woodford Reserve Distillery. A small batch distillery relative to most of its competitors, but not by our estimations. I’ve never been much of an expert on fermentation and distilling so was fascinated to learn about the intricate and laborious multi stage process required to produce a fine Bourbon. All of the equipment used at the distillery was extraordinarily beautiful as far as functional objects go, not to mention the gorgeous setting and old limestone buildings that dot the premises. Hundreds of hand crafted oak barrels lined the aging house which smelled strongly of whiskey and wood. The room seemed timeless as stacks of labeled and dated barrels sat silently aging, and would continue to do so for as many as 9 years. ​We finished our visit with a shot of bourbon in the tasting room and then hit the road.

From here we’ll carry on to our final stopover in Pittsburgh. The barbecue pilgrimage has officially come to a close. For now, anyway.  We hope to pick this trip up where we left off and make it back to the many places we missed someday. Until then it’s time I figure out where exactly this trip has taken me in terms of my career. Butchering? Charcuterie? Barbecue Donut Truck? I’ll keep you posted once I figure that out. I do know that there will continue to be pork involved; the past three weeks have wholeheartedly confirmed my porcine infatuation. ​Check back tomorrow for a final wrap-up and our best of lists.