BBQ Essays: 40 Truisms, Observations, Mottos and Rules of Thumb
With PigTrip winding down this year, I'm starting to think about legacy. Even the reviews that are up to date now (and I freely admit it's not even close to all of them) will become out of date at some point. So maybe it's the truisms, observations, mottos and rules of thumb listed below that have a greater chance for lasting power. Some have appeared before and some are controversial, but I believe in all of them. I hope some are worth remembering.
1. Cook it properly and serve it fresh. Authenticity is a wonderful bonus but useless without the other two. Ditto creativity.
2. Most pies are better than most cakes, but the best cakes are better than the best pies.
3. There's nothing fudgy about a fudgesicle.
4. If someone asks for a barbecue joint recommendation in a particular city or town, the best response is a question, not an answer. What barbecue joints do you like? What do you look for in barbecue? Are you planning on just ribs, just brisket, or a big variety? Do you like it smoky? Saucy? The answers to these should determine the recommendation, not personal favorites.
5. Scones are for suckers. It's called a scone because it scone be dry.
6. The best ribs and the best steaks and the best hamburgers and the best chocolate chip cookies all have their crunchy exteriors nearly overcooked but not so, and their moist interiors nearly undercooked but not so, with the complete spectrum of doneness and texture in between.
7. Food knowledge is best used as a bridge, not a wall.
8. Name your kid Dylan and he's guaranteed not to be a nerd.
9. Planning a lunch a week away with someone who takes three weeks to reply is planning a lunch that will never happen.
10. Never hit a barbecue joint the day after a national holiday.
11. Unless the "award winning barbecue" you're about to eat uses the same meat supplier, the same cooker, the same rub and the same recipe as the barbecue that won the award, it's not award winning barbecue.
12. The most redeeming quality of an Oreo filling is its role as a spacer, ensuring that small but critical delay between the two crunches of cookie.
13. Phantom Gourmet is watchable and even semi-believable as long as you focus ONLY on the narrated restaurant segments. Fully distrust and dismiss any segment with Dan or Dave on camera, any stand-up or sit-down situation where restaurants are recommended, and especially any Great 8 restaurant superlatives list. But be fair and not just a hater: the produced restaurant segments are at least as well done and informative as the competition's.
14. Sauce can't prevent an otherwise bad rib from being bad, but it can prevent an otherwise great rib from being great.
15. The best barbecue crawls have four people or fewer. If ribs are emphasized, three is best. If not, four is best.
16. Unless geographical reasons dictate otherwise, the expected-best restaurant on a barbecue crawl should be neither first nor last in the order.
17. Oyster crackers in chowder are overrated. Oyster crackers by themselves are underrated.
18. Be wary of barbecue restaurants named "best of" a city with only one barbecue restaurant.
19. Peppering the shit out of it and selling it by the pound doesn't make it Texas barbecue.
20. Making it out of dough, making it circular and putting a hole in it doesn't make it a bagel.
21. If the word "perfection" is on the menu, that's the first and last place you'll encounter it.
22. The biggest burgers and the most outrageous burgers are never the best burgers.
23. If you have to cram macaroni and cheese into or all over your burger, either a) it's not a good burger or b) it was, but you just ruined it.
24. All else being equal, the bigger the barbecue menu, the worse each item will be.
25. The bigger the barbecue order of any one particular meat, the better that barbecue meat will be. (At most restaurants, the ribs served on half racks are better than ribs on combos, and ribs on whole racks are better than half racks. So if you and your dining companion are both ordering the ribs and brisket combo, consider ordering and splitting a ribs plate and a brisket plate instead.)
26. "Media dinner"? Oxymoron.
27. Any Chinese restaurant with "Buffet" in its name has a buffet that sucks.
28. For regional Chinese cuisine, a restaurant with "Sichuan" in the name has an 82% chance of being better than one with "Szechuan" in the name.
29. Even though I'll never eat Crab Rangoon, I don't mind if you do. But if I catch you eating Crab Rangoon with chopsticks, you're a dead man.
30. If a half rack is $16 and a full rack is $30 at a barbecue joint you're visiting for the first time, go for the half rack. If the ribs are good, that second half rack will be well worth the extra $2. If they aren't, you'll save $14 and a lot of stomach room.
31. If three or more meats hit the table, start with the brisket first.
32. If you like all barbecue meats and not just one in particular, ask your server what's fresh at the moment. You may get a bullshit answer, but often enough, you'll get rewarded with something better than what you would have wound up with had you not asked. And if the answer does turn out to be bullshit, think of the fun you'll have recalling the meal for years to come.
33. The only thing more valuable in your trunk than a spare tire is a spare pair of underwear.
34. If you're at a fast food or counter joint with multiple lines, pick the most competent looking employee for ordering hot food; pick the least competent looking employee for ordering ice cream.
35. Guys who are 30 pounds overweight making fun of guys who are 70 pounds overweight: lame. Guys who are 40% bald making fun of guys who are 80% bald: lame. Bloggers who are 50% on the take making fun of bloggers who are 90% on the take: lame.
36. A man who calls another man less of a man because he doesn't drink isn't much of a man.
37. Never microwave barbecue leftovers. It might take a little longer, but toaster oven and foil will get the results you deserve.
38. With $250 to spend on two restaurant dinners for two, the culinary results will be FAR greater by spending $200 one night and $50 the next than $125 both times.
39. There's a big difference between "We cook fresh every day" and "We serve fresh every day." Accomplishing the former doesn't always mean accomplishing the latter.
40. Never split a check with a man named Holloway.