It's Summer and that means that it's time for the BBQ cravings to intensify. Believe it or not, when I lived in Texas I didn't obsess over BBQ. It was just there for the taking whenever I wanted it. In fact, I didn't really eat it all that often. But, moving away from home can do strange things to the palate. And, of course, we always want what we can't have.
Just before the long July 4th weekend, I texted my husband .....
Not one to be dissuaded from doing something because of appearing weird, I planned my strategy. I decided to try Jeff's Texas BBQ again. I've been there twice already, but they've been out of ribs (my fave) every time. Jeff's is the place that Food & Wine Magazine rated the best in Washington. I checked Yelp to see if Jeff's ratings were still holding up. Check. All good. That search led me to discover another highly rated place called J&L BBQ that's a few miles south of Jeff's. I decided that the best way to compare would be to order the exact same thing at both places: a small order of pork ribs and a side of baked beans.
On the 45 minute drive to Jeff's, I thought about what I look for in a good BBQ place. It all boils down to smoke. Lots of smoke. I want the smell to hit me before I even open the door to the place. And, if I've been inside for more than 15 minutes, that smoke smell should be clinging to my clothes when I leave. I want simple decor, a dry rub, some Shiner Bock and normal, ungentrified sides.
When I pulled into Jeff's, I worried that they'd be out of ribs again. They weren't. The line was short. And, when I got to the counter, I ordered quickly. The woman taking my order must not be used to such decisiveness because she said, "the lady knows what she wants." Yes, indeed, the lady does! There's a familiar protocol at these kinds of BBQ joints. So, I don't need to analyze and ponder and take forever to decide (I'm talking to you hubby). The second place was only a 10 minute drive from Jeff's. The restaurant was empty, but the smell and decor seemed right. I put the food in the trunk of my car, but there was no smell wafting inside the car as I was making my way back home. Not a good sign.
So, here are my thoughts. Jeff's ribs are good. They're not excellent, but they're good. They're tender enough to slide off the bone, but not so tender that they don't have any bite to them. The baked beans are fine. They have some bits of brisket in them, which is nice. But, they had a few too many fat bits for my taste. What I discovered while picking out a piece of fat is that it wasn't fat at all. It was pineapple. PINEAPPLE IN THE BAKED BEANS. For some reason, this upset me greatly.
Moving on to J&L, the style and flavor profile were very similar to Jeff's. Both places use a simple salt and pepper dry rub, but J&L's was tastier. Maybe it's the wood or amount of time in the smoker. but I enjoyed J&L's more. The baked beans didn't have anything strange in them except for the use of three kinds of beans which is only slightly odd in this context, but not worthy of gentrification demerits. The ribs aren't A+, OMG, stop the presses good. But, they're respectable and I would definitely eat there again. I just wish that they were a bit smokier. I think that my Texas peeps would agree that these are some good looking ribs. I ate one before I remembered to take a photo. LOL!
J&L is officially my new favorite BBQ spot in the Seattle area. But, that doesn't mean that I won't keep looking. I do have another story to tell about a recent BBQ trip that didn't go so well. But, I'll save that one for another day.
Side note: At work today, a coworker asked me what I did over the July 4th weekend. I told him that I tried some BBQ places around town. He said, "have you tried Dixie's? They have the spicy sauce." I'm triggered, y'all! If you have no idea what I'm talking about, see paragraph four here.
I've lived in the Pacific Northwest for 16 years, yet I still feel compelled to say that I'm not *from* here. I don't know when one assimilates to the point of no longer making the distinction. But, apparently for me, it hasn't happened yet. My husband and I are both expats. He's from Germany, and I'm from Texas. And, we share a longing for foods from home. For him, it's bread. That man will drive to the ends of the Earth to get a good pretzel. But, for me, it's Southern food. And, more specifically, it's BBQ. While technically speaking, I'm not an actual expat. I certainly feel like one whenever I get a craving for some good BBQ.
Summertime is when I miss it the most. Every Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day, I search through my list of restaurants with the hope that I'll find a place that can satisfy the craving. In Texas, there was always someone in our circle of family and friends who made excellent BBQ. Just before holidays, we'd take raw slabs of ribs or brisket or whatever is our favorite to the pitmaster's home. And, when we'd receive a text message letting us know that it's ready, we'd grab our keys to go pick up the goodies and drive home with that smoky smell wafting in from the trunk of our car. If the pitmaster wasn't cooking that holiday, we'd order takeout at our go to BBQ joints to make sure that our summer holidays were complete.
There are four main regional styles of BBQ: Memphis, The Carolinas, Kansas City, and of course, Texas. I'm partial to a dry rub with the sauce on the side, as opposed to the saucy Kansas City style. I recently learned that in Chicago, they serve their BBQ on top of french fries and covered in sauce. This is completely unacceptable, y'all. I'm going to Chicago in September and I will definitely not be trying this.
Whenever I talk about how much I miss it, I inevitably receive unsolicited recommendations from well meaning Seattleites who've never sunk their teeth into a properly smoked piece of meat. A restaurant called Dixie's has come up repeatedly. And, I've had folks excitedly tell me about the ridiculously spicy sauce that Dixie's is known for. It doesn't dawn on them that if conquering a spicy sauce is the only reason to go there, then maybe the actual food is not up to snuff.
At first, I would heed the advice and go to these restaurants. But now, I don't even bother unless the person making the recommendation passes this test.
I've recently heard about a place called Jeff's Texas Style BBQ that's about 40 miles from our house. We've tried to eat there twice. Both times, we walked through the door and inhaled that glorious smell. And, both times, they were COMPLETELY SOLD OUT. You've never seen a sadder face than that of a Texas expat who has just driven for almost an hour to get a fix only to find out that the ribs are gone.
I know that I'll never stop trying to find that perfect BBQ that reminds me of home. And, I also know that when I tell my husband that we're making a road trip to try to find it, he'll understand completely.