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Smokestack Lightning

BluesnBBQBluesnBBQ Posts: 615
edited 7:47AM in EggHead Forum
I just wanted to tell you all about another great barbecue book: Smokestack Lightning, by Lolis Eric Elie and Frank Stewart. It's not a cookbook, but it does have some recipes. It's a book about barbecue and barbecue joints. The authors (well, author and photographer) travelled through the US (I believe mainly the south and midwest) in search or great barbecue. I got it last week. I haven't read it yet, but I've skimmed through it, and I know I'm going to love it.[p]The title comes from a Howlin' Wolf song, so you know I can appreciate it!


  • BluesnBBQ,
    Its a great historical account of real BBQ. The recipes have influenced my cooking as well. Its a great book in search of the real BBQ, in different regions of primarily the south.[p]Grillin Bill

  • BluesnBBQ,
    I liked the book also. I disagreed with some of their reviews of the Memphis BBQ joints. They were dead on right about Cozy Corner. The following is from our local weekly - The Memphis Flyer. It was a contest this spring to find the best sandwich in town. Enjoy![p] And the Winner Is
    The Bar-B-Q Shop nudges out 15 competitors for the Flyer's 2000 Barbecue Sandwich Competition.
    by Carol Boker[p]The master barbecue fanatics have again set up their grills by the Mississippi River for one of Memphis in May's favorite weekends. They are fervently working their magic to bring home the trophies for the best in the world of barbecue.[p]Not to be outdone, the Flyer staff, sitting just above the river, joins in the festivities. We know it's our solemn duty to taste and judge ( and taste and judge and taste and judge ) good barbecue from the abundance of eateries around town and bring you the results. Last year, we did a whirlwind sampling of barbecue ribs from restaurants known for that specialty. This year we tackled the barbecue pork shoulder sandwich, selecting 16 of the most popular names in town.[p]Twelve judges (barbecue lovers extraordinaire) spent the last month driving from restaurant to restaurant to faithfully execute their duties. We voted each sandwich on appearance, tenderness of meat, flavor, and overall appeal. Each judge consistently ordered the sandwich according to his or her liking -- for example, slaw or no slaw, mild sauce or hot sauce, mixed meat or white meat. It was a tough job, but the Memphis community deserved an answer to, "Where can I get the best barbecue sandwich?"[p]We began with 16 eateries, paired it down to eight, then to the Final Four. At this stage we discovered the key to a winning pork sandwich -- consistency. In the past, all of us had eaten great pork shoulder sandwiches in numerous places around town, including some that were not in the original 16. However, the four finalists provided sandwiches that were consistently tender and flavorful each time we tasted them -- a hallmark of success in the Flyer's world of barbecue tasting.[p]Picking a winner from the Final Four was tough. The battle was close, but congratulations to The Bar-B-Q Shop, the top choice in the 2000 Barbecue Sandwich Competition, followed closely by Interstate Bar-B-Q (second), Corky's (third), and the Rendezvous (fourth).[p]BAR-B-Q SHOP[p]1782 Madison Avenue[p]272-1277[p]The Bar-B-Q Shop opened on Madison about 13 years ago. Owner Frank Vernon bought the business about 9 years earlier, but it was called Brady and Lil's and was located on South Parkway. The name change took place the same time the restaurant opened in its present location.[p]The Bar-B-Q Shop prepares its shoulder the old-fashioned way, over an open pit and using charcoal and hickory. They cook the meat for 24 hours and use only Boston butt. Vernon feels mixing the white plus some of the outside makes for a better sandwich.[p]"The recipes for our slaw and sauce have been around for more than 50 years," says Vernon. "I've made a few changes over the years but nothing major. Both the slaw and sauce are made right here in our kitchen from scratch, and the key to the whole sandwich is probably our tomato-based sauce called Dancing Pigs." The sauce is sold throughout Memphis.[p]Vernon feels that the Memphis in May festival has helped the city get the "barbecue capital" recognition it deserves. But he's realistic about his restaurant's place in the Memphis barbecue scene.[p]"There are so many good barbecue spots, and there's no doubt everyone has a favorite," he says. "People can argue all they want about which is the best. However, we are pleased by contests like this because, whether we come in first place or not, someone who never tried us might decide to stop by sometime."[p]Well, Frank Vernon, the Flyer judges recommend that it's the place worth checking out. Congratulations![p]INTERSTATE BAR-B-Q[p]2265 South Third[p]775-2304[p]Jim Neely, owner of Interstate, says, "The secret to cooking good barbecue shoulder is caring about what you're doing. It's not like just putting chicken in some hot grease. You've got to know proper temperatures, the right seasonings, and watch what you're doing." he adds. "It has to be cooked long enough to have the right texture, but not too long that it loses its moisture."[p]Interstate has been on South Third for 22 years. Neely's long-time customers remark how his barbecue is always the same. This reinforces the importance of consistency and how those restaurants that are most consistent seem to garner top honors around town.[p]"If you're an owner and you're not on top of your game at all times, something will slip," says Neely. "This business is not about making money. If you take care of the business and the product, then the money will come. You can't compensate quality for cost. Junk in is junk out."[p]For Interstate's pork sandwiches, Neely's wife makes fresh slaw daily (using about 300 pounds of cabbage per day). The mayo-based slaw (with a little mustard) has a spicy-sweet taste. The owner developed his own sauce over the years by "talking to old black cooks with wonderful recipes and using the best parts of all their sauces." Jim Neely's Interstate Bar-B-Q sauce can now be bought throughout Memphis.[p]Neely thinks Memphis historically has always been good at barbecue. He remembers when he was a kid and every neighborhood in town had a famous place.[p]Flyer judges consider Interstate to be among those famous places in the world of Memphis barbecue today.[p]CORKY'S[p]5259 Poplar Avenue[p]685-9744[p]Making its mark in Memphis for the past 16 years with its shoulder sandwiches and ribs, Corky's finds the key to its barbecue success is in the "handling."[p]"We cook the pork shoulder slowly, for 24 hours," says Barry Pelts, son of the restaurant's founder, Don Pelts. "We all can buy the same pork shoulder and we all can cook it the same way. But the key is in the handling or in how we hold it until it gets to the customer." Pelts insists If you don't complete that step properly then the meat loses its flavor, freshness, and moistness.[p]Corky's hand-pulls the cooked meat to remove fat, gristle, and skin. Then they serve it with a mustard-based slaw, with some mayonnaise added. They insist that the slaw needs a crisp chill to retain its flavor and not become a limp accompaniment.[p]"The sauce on a barbecue sandwich can't be too strong or overloaded," says Pelts, "because then you hide the flavor of the quality of the meat."[p]Corky's has another restaurant on North Germantown Road in Cordova, as well as individually run franchises carrying the famous name in other locations around the South. The pork sandwiches are not the restaurant's only key to success, as most folks know. In terms of dollars and cents, Corky's makes out equally well on ribs and sandwiches. But with ribs being a little more expensive, it means they actually sell more sandwiches.[p]And our judges seemed to have discovered the reason for those good sales.[p]RENDEZVOUS RESTAURANT[p]52 South Second[p]523-2746[p]When folks head to the Rendezvous, they usually plan to order the dry-style ribs, for which the Memphis landmark is famous. But they may be pleasantly surprised if they change their request to the pork shoulder sandwich.[p]"Even though we've always sold a lot of barbecue sandwiches, we had somewhat neglected our pork shoulder until about three years ago," says John Vergos, son of Rendezvous founder Charlie Vergos. "Since then we are doing all the things needed to make it right."[p]According to Vergos, that process includes cooking the meat longer and cleaning it more. "It's labor-intensive. Using rubber gloves, we pull all the bone, gristle, and fat from the meat before it's ready for the sandwich. Then we chop it along the grain."[p]Rendezvous believes that a good sandwich needs a mixture of pulled, chopped, and crunchy meat. The restaurant serves their mustard-vinegar-based slaw on the side so the customers can decide if they want it on their sandwiches. However, Vergos believes that Memphis barbecue sandwiches are special due to the addition of the slaw.[p]"There's really not much bad sauce in Memphis," says Vergos, "so a good sandwich comes down to properly cooking and cleaning the meat."[p]Besides their well-known establishment on Second Street and their shipping facility on North Main, Rendezvous now has a major presence at AutoZone Park during Redbirds games. They guarantee what customers get there is as good as they get in the restaurant.[p]"We have a reputation to maintain and wouldn't associate our name with it if it wasn't as good," says Vergos. "After 52 years in business, we're about to get all the kinks worked out," he says with a laugh. "We still tweak it every day."[p]Don't tweak it too much, Rendezvous. The judges give you a thumbs up the way it is. [p][p]

    Bickering and Pontificating on Pork
    How do you get 12 Memphians to agree on barbecue? You don't.
    udges for the 2000 barbecue contest were: Cheryl Bader, Carol Boker, Richard Banks, Chris Davis, Dennis Freeland, Steve Haley, Barrett Hathcock, Matt Kirk, Jake Lawhead, Hal Lewis, Kenneth Neill, and Bruce VanWyngarden. Some of them express their personal views in the following mini-essays. As you can tell, they do not always agree.[p]A Unifying Factor
    After sampling barbecue sandwiches at various joints all over town, I can say unequivocally that Memphis barbecue is a force for good, a true unifier, a power that transcends race, class, and creed. It's a power that goes beyond religion, beyond economics, beyond fear.[p]Memphis barbecue will take white people into neighborhoods they wouldn't think of going for any other reason. Suburbanites who wouldn't brave downtown for a basketball game at The Pyramid will follow the succulent smell of barbecue into the most questionable neighborhoods. Captains of commerce and industry unused to waiting for anything other than a mid-morning tee-time, stand patiently in line behind truck drivers and accountants. It's truly remarkable, this power. And it gives one hope that maybe something good can come from this small plot of common ground.[p]I saw it at barbecue joints all over town: blacks and whites, rich and poor, Republicans and Democrats, developers and environmentalists coming together to savor the communion of smoky ribs and chopped saucy pork, to partake of the soft white-bread wafer and the sacred sweet tea that is the weekday blood of the lamb.[p]Forgive us, father, for we have sinned, and pass me some of that hot sauce. There may be hope for us yet.[p]-- Bruce VanWyngarden[p]Consistency Is Everything
    What separates a truly great barbecue restaurant is consistency. There are a slew of shops in this area that can produce deliciously tender sandwiches, but there are just a handful that can do it every day.[p]Take the Rendezvous, for instance. When I went for the Final Four judging, I went with four other judges. They raved about their sandwiches, while mine was about one-quarter gristle. The meat that was tender was divine, as was the slaw and especially the sauce. Yet I had to score the restaurant low. A place with as stellar a reputation as the Rendezvous should never let a sandwich with that much gristle out of the kitchen. I'll still eat there -- in fact, I love the place -- but if I'm there dining as just a regular civilian (not a judge), I'll send such a sandwich back.[p]Lastly, eating so many sandwiches in such a short span of time, reaffirmed this town's general reputation for great barbecue. Many of these restaurants obviously work very hard to produce terrific "cue" and make sure their patrons are satisfied. I hope they never slack up, though, because there are a lot of cities gunning for this town's claim to having the best pork barbecue in the world. As it stands now, the wanna-bes have a long way to go.[p]-- Richard Banks[p]Cole Slaw Confidential
    Yes, there are purists out there who insist upon consuming their barbecue sandwiches "neat," as it were, without the cole-slaw "cookie" the rest of us find indispensable. Yes, and then there are also people who drink straight vodka, insist upon having their hot dogs sans condiments, and go to bed nightly at 10 p.m. None of them has any claim on normalcy, of course.[p]Cole slaw is as fundamental a part of a good barbecue sandwich as meat and sauce. But even devout cole-slaw lovers must admit it's a curious custom. I wonder if anyone knows exactly how it originated. Think about it: Did the first Memphis sandwich makers experiment with other toppings -- mayonnaise, say, or ketchup, or maybe even strawberry jam -- before hitting upon the magic of sliced and diced cabbage? Was it trial and error, or a single inspired moment on the part of a pioneer barbecue chef somewhere in a Mid-South farmyard?[p]Odd or not, cole slaw's a key part of the Great Barbecue Puzzle. The perfect cole slaw is neither too sweet nor too sour, neither too wet nor too dry but, as Goldilocks would say, just right. For my money, the best slaw ever still can be found up at Bozo's, in Mason, Tennessee, about 30 miles up old Highway 70. They don't make a bad sandwich at Bozo's either, if you're in the mood for a lazy country drive.[p]Sauces can vary widely as well, of course, and one man's meat can quickly turn to another's poison as a result. But usually the impact of slaw is greater. Great slaw can make a good sandwich great; bad slaw can ruin the whole deal in a hurry. For me, too much mustard in the slaw is the kiss of death, upsetting all the flavor balances. Now about the strawberry jam . -- Kenneth Neill[p]Meatier Matters
    The components of the Memphis barbecue sandwich are fourfold: meat, sauce, slaw, and bread. I've always felt that the meat is, by far, the most important ingredient, and that the other accouterments were there to enhance (or, unfortunately, in some cases detract or compete with) the central ingredient. While good sauce and/or slaw can mask otherwise tasteless pork shoulder, nothing can compensate for poorly or overcooked meat (which can taste mushy) or -- heaven forbid -- gristle or fat. I was ruthless in my judging if I was served bad meat.[p]I did learn, when I compared my scores to those of other judges, how diverse our tastes are. The sandwich I thought was clearly the best from my four semi-final restaurants didn't even make the finals! The Final Four do have in common consistently high-quality meats. It's a treat for Memphians to have so many choices![p]-- Hal Lewis[p]Cozy Corner Is Best
    After living in the South for many years, I've come to appreciate true barbecue -- the chopped, sliced, or pulled pork pleasures laced with tasty slaw and a sweet sauce. Growing up in the Northeast, I always thought barbecue was equivalent to the ground-beef-based Sloppy Joes my mother used to make. What a culinary treat I had been missing all those years.[p]The Flyer's 2000 Barbecue Sandwich contest opened my eyes even further to how much variation there is in this realm. Even though many of the judges may disagree, my favorite sandwich still comes from Cozy Corner. They slice the pork, rather than chop it, but it's topped with a lightly creamy slaw and a sweet sauce. In my estimation, their flavor combination is unbeatable. After a few weeks' hiatus from eating barbecue (I need a break), I'll head back to Cozy Corner when I crave a "cue" fix. -- Carol Boker[p]You Don't Slice Shoulder!
    Barbecue has every flavor element I require. It's got the sweet, the hot (it's gotta be hot), and the sour. It's got the smoky. Heck, if it's got enough of the smoky, nothing else matters. Like some kind of junkie, I've given up on the barbecue sandwich entirely. It won't take me there. I've moved on to the harder stuff. Stale buns and unnecessary slaw just get in the way of the meat and the sweet and the hot smoky-treat. Bring on the ribs. The Rendezvous will do in a pinch, and John Willingham's Sweet and Sassy sauce (made with chocolate) has always taken me at least halfway to hog heaven.[p]But nothing (and if you think otherwise, you are wrong -- you just are, so deal with it) can beat the ribs at Cozy Corner. It's the perfect pigsickle -- like licking spicy smoke off a bone. Their sandwich, however, is an abomination. First off, they slice it thin (like roast beef). It's not chopped or pulled, and that's just wrong. It's on a sesame seed hoagie (which is, or at least should be, against the law). Upon sampling this awful offering from the place I consider to be the holiest of pig-smoking holies, my heart sank. If the Corner can't make a good sandwich, then a good sandwich can't be made -- or so I thought. I went on to try Little Pigs (good), Neely's (better), the Rendezvous (yummmmm -- who knew they made sandwiches?), and Interstate (HOLY MOLY). With mountains of shredded, pulled, chopped (and yes even sliced) "cue" behind me, I can say with out a doubt: My faith in the sandwich has been restored. But put the slaw on the side, please. It just gets in the way.[p]-- Chris Davis[p]On Obscurity and Consistency
    Two observations:[p]1) Obscurity does not necessarily equal quality. "Go to the Amoco on South Third and ask for the Lube & Filter, and they'll give you the best barbecue sandwich ever!" Nonsense. I know how many people shrug off the barbecue aristocracy, feeling that over-commercialization has compromised their product. For example, I was expecting to be served a mediocre sandwich at the Rendezvous in the second round, certain that its first-round judges made a mistake. To my surprise, I was served a great sandwich in both the second and final rounds.[p]2) Consistency is key. The chief reason for the success of the restaurants in the final round is consistency. The restaurants in the Final Four had to serve 22 great sandwiches at random times to different people. Restaurants with great days and not-so-great days might survive one round. But a restaurant with a consistently good product will always advance.[p]So, before you get on your barbecue soapbox, take into account what all goes into the competition. -- Jake Lawhead[p]Payne's Rules
    Ah, the injustice of it all! Payne's out of the running after just one round. Those of you who are truly lovers of Memphis barbecue know what I'm talking about. How could it happen? These things aren't perfect. Contests can be cruel to the best, as in this case. One day out of the week this former gas station on Lamar may have had a bad afternoon and BAM, they're out. Oh well, with the best-flavored meat and incredible slaw, it remains number one in this judge's opinion. -- Steve Haley[p]Sliced Is Cool
    Three things I learned by eating an insane amount of barbecue in a short amount of time:[p]1) Cozy Corner gets cool points for slicing its meat rather than chopping it and for having the most interesting celebrity visitor photo (Danny Devito).[p]2) Rendezvous gets my vote for most savory meat. I think the secret is in the dry rub. I know it is a must stop for tourists and it is always crowded and relatively expensive, but it is great barbecue. Even after consuming massive amounts of pork, I still got excited about this sandwich.[p]3) Corky's has the prettiest sandwich (see cover). -- Barrett Hathcock [p][p]
    Some Things We Liked
    The Memphis music memorabilia at Gridley's (especially all the Memphis magazine covers!). It may be a chain, but you know where you are.[p]The Corky's wipes. Wrapped in plastic with the ubiquitous Corky's logo, they never fail to give them to you. It's surprising how many restaurants don't provide this necessary item.[p]The bar at The Bar-B-Q Shop. It's like a Memphis music historical picture game.[p]The variety of sauces at Willingham's -- the Sweet and Sassy (one of the ingredients is chocolate) is our favorite.[p]The barbecue spaghetti at The Bar-B-Q Shop.[p]The flavorful meat from Willingham's.[p]Cozy Corner's slaw and sauce combination -- an unbeatable topping for a pork shoulder sandwich.[p]The cheese and sausage appetizer at Corky's.[p]The vegetable side orders at Willingham's, especially the fried okra, which has an unusual zesty flavor.[p]The option of having a sandwich on Texas toast at The Bar-B-Q Shop.[p]Memphis Barbecue -- Chain-Style
    Three Memphis restaurants have used their barbecue success to form successful chains. Gridley's, Tops, and Corky's all claim that their convenience in proximity does not compromise their quality.[p]"Our goal is to try to maintain consistency toward our product and have the best barbecue possible made at all of our locations," says George Montague of Tops, the oldest Memphis chain, opening its first shop in 1952. Tops has 11 locations in Memphis and one in Southhaven.[p]At Tops, store managers are promoted from within the company. Montague says that allows the company to serve barbecue with consistency from one location to the next. "Managers are promoted within the company starting as shift leaders," he says, "and then work their way up."[p]Gridley's, with six locations in Memphis and one franchise in Jackson, Tennessee, takes a different step to ensure its consistency.[p]"We cook all of our barbecue centrally," says Bob Peterson, president of Gridco Inc. "It's cooked slowly over hickory flames at our commissary on Winchester and then it's delivered twice a day to each location."[p]Peterson says that it is not the only reason for their success. "It starts with quality meats, then proper cooking for taste and texture, plus a consistency in sauces and recipes."[p]Gridley's first large location was opened on Summer Avenue in the early 1970s by the late Clyde Gridley and his family. After Gridley's death in 1983, the family continued to operate the restaurant until filing for bankruptcy in 1990. In 1991, locally owned Gridco bought the rights.[p]Corky's, co-winner of the Flyer's rib competition last year, is the smallest of the local "chains" with two locations, but possibly the largest on a national scale.[p]Barry Pelts, president of Corky's, which opened its first Memphis site in 1985, says that consistency is maintained by proper training, including a 200-page manual for managers, employees, and franchises.[p]The 22 Corky's locations throughout the Southeast are all franchises sold by a separate company in Jackson, Tennessee. "We don't own the franchises outside of our two locations, but their consistency standards are ensured by the folks in Jackson," says Pelts.[p]Even though the barbecue preparation process is slow and arduous, these three "chains" are quick to tell you that when it comes to barbecue in Memphis, there is such a thing as a quality quick-fix. -- Jake Lawhead

  • BluesnBBQBluesnBBQ Posts: 615
    memphis egg,[p]Great article! Thanks for posting it. Now I want to move to Memphis! :)[p]-Steve
  • BluesnBBQ,
    Memphis would be a mecca for you. We are famous for two things - blues and BBQ.

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