I am Tom Freeland, a lawyer in Oxford, Mississippi. The picture in the header is my law office. I'm on Twitter as NMissC

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Mississippi Barbecue est omnis divisa in partes tres

Or, What’s Wrong with Mississippi Barbecue

There’s a waist-high pile of ashes behind Payne’s Barbecue in Memphis.  If you park by the side, you’ll be looking straight at it; when I first saw it, I wondered what was going on– are they digging a ditch back there? Nope.  To produce all that barbecue, they burn a lot of stuff, and have been doing that in one location since the 1970s.  That’s a lot of ashes.

What they apparently don’t burn at Payne’s is logs– I’ve heard they burn charcoal.  I say “I’ve heard” because the folks at Payne’s don’t reveal anything about their methods.  To quote Yogi Berra, you can observe a lot by watching, but the folks at Payne’s don’t share information about what they do.  They don’t sell the sauce other than as a part of a sandwich, and just don’t talk about what goes in what.  I spent years trying before I could produce a credible version of their sandwich (literally years), and my son has sworn me to secrecy about my conclusions.

Last Saturday, I was in Payne’s, and they had a crowd.  I took some iPhone pictures, reaching across the counter to get the one above, of the proprietress chopping from a shoulder she’d just taken off the pit.  And, while I was there, she had to fuel the pit– producing the pictures below, where I think you can see a charcoal bag, and details like the shovel used to clean the pit.  That bit of blue light you can see inside the pit in the middle of the picture is sunlight coming down from the chimney.

The charcoal / firewood division– a divide that causes some to scoff at Payne’s, although I find the final proof, as always, in the results– started me thinking of the way much writing and talking about barbecue divides types into dichotomies that aren’t at all false.  Many are at the heart of longstanding barbecue traditions– the shoulder / whole hog divide in North Carolina, a version of which also separates Lexington, Tennessee and Memphis, or North Carolina’s tomato-vinegar divide.  Some involve debates about what’s real or right– charcoal versus firewood, competition versus … every non-competition type, and even between exponents of shoulder/whole hog and other traditional local variants.

But after years of reading about and eating barbecue in other places, I’ve been pondering Mississippi barbecue (or its lack) recently, and it just doesn’t fit the narratives used to tell the barbecue story elsewhere.  Sure, you can kind of force the puzzle pieces together to make the story– the earliest dated barbecue places– such as Abe’s in Clarksdale– are from the early twenties, as in Memphis (Leonard’s) or North Carolina (Bob Melton’s), just as folks started driving around highways in cars.  There are parts of the story involving ethnic restaurateurs—Abe’s again (Lebanese) and the Greek proprietor at Old Timer’s in Richland, which compare to the Greek barbecue places in Birmingham or to the Rendezvous in Memphis.

There are even some local variations that offer hints of the notion that southern barbecue involves very localized traditions; you see some methods that seemed to have been used a long time and are peculiar to the area.  At least two places I know, Old Timer’s in Richland and Goldie’s Trail in Vicksburg, have for years taken barbecue off the pit and refrigerated it, slicing it and heating it on a griddle before serving it on a sandwich.  I’ve only seen this done before at Lamb’s, a long-gone barbecue place in Memphis that dated back to the thirties.  But you know why no one else does it? It’s a horrible idea, totally messing up both the texture and taste of what might otherwise (particularly in the instance of Old Timer’s, which still uses a very traditional pit, pictured just below, and slow cooks over hickory and oak coals) be good barbecue.

There is one particular and very local African-American tradition, although it is entirely unavailable to passers by:  In Panola, Lafayette, and Tate County (and possibly surrounding areas), there’s a tradition of cooking goat for summer picnics and reunions.  You’ll encounter it at the Labor Day fife and drum party at the Turner family picnic in Gravel Springs (in a version that is not tasty, although the picnic is a great time and well worth the trip).  The best version I’ve had is by Oxford pitmaster Deke Baskin, whose goat was always better than his pork, and who would cook it for reunions, and, when he had a regular barbecue stand, special occasions.

But in any event, I can’t see the usual histories of barbecue applying to Mississippi without some forcing.  Which leaves me pondering:  What is the story of Mississippi barbecue?  And why does it just not seem to measure up compared to some of its neighbors?

Recently, I’ve been eating more local barbecue and read with interest some oral histories from Mississippi barbecue places while trying to think this through.  The eating part has been less than optimal—I’ve not yet turned up the hidden barbecue gem that I’d secretly and half-hoped was out there.

It’s clear that there have been barbecue places in Mississippi for generations—Abe’s is almost ninety years old, Old Timer’s and Goldie’s over fifty, I’ve heard about a favorite place in Columbus in the 1950s, and folks can remember small town barbecue places the way I remember K’s Barbecue in Oxford, which closed sometime around 1980.  What I see no sign of is anything like deep-rooted traditions, with localized styles developing around well-remembered pitmasters.   I have had good barbecue (a sandwich 20 years ago in Ashland comes to mind), along with the worst barbecue sandwich of my life (in Winona. It was inexpressibly bad), but, with the possible exception of Deke Baskin’s goat, never anything remotely close to transcendent.  And I don’t know why.

But between the eating, and looking around at the barbecue places and thinking about and reading about their histories, I have noticed some patterns, which are reflected in the title.  Pretty much all of the barbecue places fit one of the three parts of the title.  Looked at another way, they’re the three stages of Mississippi barbecue.  First, places often start out cooking in a welded trailer rig.  Deke Baskin in Oxford and Lep’s in Pontotoc started out that way.  With the exception of a brief period when he had a restaurant with a big brick pit, Deke pretty much stayed that way to this day (and was even known to rely on his trailer rig, which he understood, when he had the place with the real pit).  The second kind of place involves the traditional pit.  Both Old Timer’s in Richton and Leatha’s in Hattiesburg (you can see where its pits are in the picture below, to the left) involve the most old-fashioned sort:  just short of waist-high cinder block pits in a shed with a tin roof.  The brick pit is an under-recognized hallmark of real barbecue.  The stable gentle heat that can be achieved in a block pit accomplishes slow cooking like nothing else.

Unfortunately, there’s a third pattern.  Places that started out with real pits (like Goldie’s in Vicksburg) at some point decided to grow, or modernize, or possibly just acquire fire insurance, and got sold on commercial electric ovens that are designed to cook a load of pork shoulders while burning no more than a stick or two of wood, producing tender slow-cooked pork that does not have the characteristics of meat cooked over direct coals:  a caramelized bark that will mix in nicely with the interior meat and impart a strong flavor of hickory to it.  I’m not sure what is causing it, but the meat coming out of these cookers is drier and vastly less interesting in texture than the product of a well-tended pit.  And the flavor is bland.  I’ve never had barbecue from one of these places remind me of hickory smoke off a campfire the way I’ve had from really great barbecue places that burn wood.

From a lot of experience, I’ve no doubt it makes a large difference to cook pork with direct (approximately 24 inch distance) connection to live coals; rigs that make the heat source indirect, or worse, just don’t produce the same effect.  And the oven/pits aren’t even designed for cooking pork.  As near as I can tell, one of the largest manufacturers is one in Texas which is making a machine with internal rotating racks based on a design from a forties Texas barbecue place (that cooked briskets) but replacing the open fire with a heating element that burns a little wood.  My experience with a multiple chamber rig from Texas that got great results for brisket but so-so results for pork shoulders makes me dubious that designs for one work for both, and I have no doubt that swapping the coals for a heating element is a snare and a delusion.  But these ovens are much easier to use (you load them up and go home and don’t have to fuel them every hour or two), people that have them are not at such peril of pit fires (and can even buy fire insurance).  And so, to anyone who has had a big success with a trailer rig, or who has grown tired of tending a pit, they’re looking more and more attractive.   And this third part of all Mississippi barbecue thus seems to be coming on strong.

Beyond that, there is a lot of individual variation and tendencies in Mississippi barbecue.  Some places, like Old Timer’s, are as much as thirty or forty years old, and have roots that go back farther.  Some, like Lep’s in Pontotoc or Squealer’s in Meridian are recent and involve things as varied as retirement or side-projects where a skilled home cook “graduated” to cooking in a small barbecue stand.  Some are pretty new and bring competition backgrounds or newfangled ingredients like mango (Beasley’s in Meridian), or both, into the picture.  What doesn’t exist is a local or particular tradition, and Mississippi barbecue is notably poorer for lack of it.

35 comments to Mississippi Barbecue est omnis divisa in partes tres

  • Mary

    In Mississippi we have fish fries. I didn’t have a barbeque sandwich until I was in high school, I don’t think. Loeb’s or Coleman’s opened a store in Greenwood. I thought it was wonderful.

  • Buster Turtle

    I grew up with BBQ cooked slow…all night…and with my Pop’s 123 sauce. Absolutely the best!!Tender, juicy, delicious!! Spoiled me from eating BBQ in other places!

  • Judge Mental

    Lots of food for thought here. No pun intended.

    I think barbecue tradition is fractured and many-faceted everywhere you find it; not only in Mississippi. I lived in Georgia back in the early 70′s and gave up trying to find “authentic” Georgia bbq because every place that held itself out as such was different from every other. Some places had sliced beef, others pulled pork, some wet, some dry, some mustardy, some vinegary, some tomato-y.

    Point is: barbecue is not a monolithic institution wherever you find it.

    I remain interested in your exploration of my favorite form of barbecue, which is that more primitive, pit-cooked over wood or coal, using the chef’s preferred meats, seasoning and preparation techniques.

  • Andrew S

    I grew up in Lexington and Memphis, TN (glad to see you mention Scott’s in Lexington, by the way, great meat there) and moved to Oxford to go to school at Ole Miss.

    I really thought there would be more (and better) BBQ places in north Mississippi. In traveling throughout the state, however, I’ve been pretty consistently disappointed.

  • Chico Harris

    Mary, you should weep!
    No barbecue sandwich until you were in high school?
    I had my first, in either Tupelo or Bogue Eucaba, in 1961.

  • NMC

    Mary, it was probably Loebs, and then Coleman’s probably took it over. Coleman was an employee of Tops Barbecue who Loebs hired away to try to quickly open a lot of stores (they were everywhere!) and become “the” Memphis chain. There was a Loebs in Oxford, briefly. But Loebs failed and Coleman went out on his own and reopened a lot of the stores as Coleman’s. Some of them still are, and some of them are under other names. The one in Oxford is now Goolsby’s Barbershop.

    I have no idea when I had my first barbecue sandwich, I’m sure in the 60s and probably at Ks here in Oxford if not the Loebs. My first Memphis one was at Leonards about 1968; for my birthday, my dad took me to Memphis to see Hal Holbrook do Mark Twain in the North Hall auditorium and beforehand we ate at Leonards.

    For those keeping score, Leonards, Corkys, the Bar B Q Shop in Memphis all use the abominable electric cookers (their use at the Bar B Q Shop is particularly sad because it’s a descendent of Brady’s & Lil’s, which through the 70s was one of the best in Memphis at its South McClemore location). Cozy Corner, Payne’s, Three Little Pigs, and Tops (in all locations) use charcoal, some mixed in with hickory. I think there may be a thing about being urban/semiurban and not having a steady supply of hardwood for these places.

  • society's pliers

    Just because we don’t have a history of commercially produced barbeque in Mississippi doesn’t mean we don’t have a history. I don’t know about the whole state but I know East Central Mississippi has a long a history of Barbeque Clubs. Most of the clubs I knew about were linked to abandoned rural schools and met monthly. Members would alternate the responsibility of providing hogs and hickory. Each club had its sauce recipe –usually available in “hot” or “mild”. Membership was by invitation and members were limited in the number of guests they could bring.

  • Buster Turtle

    I think it’s like alot of things that vary from place to place, region to region, culture to culture. Whether it’s food, music, accents, languages, clothes…etc., it changes. Could be as simple as having to use what’s available. Whatever the cause, it makes things more interesting.

  • I’m ashamed to say baton rouge knows nothing about bbq. TJ Ribs doesn’t count. ugh.

  • NMC

    Although I’ve heard that the piney wood section adjoining Arkansas has a fair amount of bbq, Louisiana has never been thought of as a bbq state, has it, Kingfish?

  • a friend of the law

    I think part of the lack of good MS BBQ that you think is missing from MS is due to your focus upon BBQ cooked and served up by restaurants. I would guess that more folks in MS, per capita, cook outdoors at home with their own recipes than in most other states. For example, when I want a good steak, I cook it myself. I know where to buy good, quality steak, and the best way to prepare and cook it to my family’s taste and satisfaction. Ditto with respect to cooking pork tenderloins, chicken, ribs, pork chops, etc. I can cook these meats at home, save money, and enjoy it more than anything I can buy at any area restaurant.

    Then only things that I can buy at local restaurants in MS better than what I can prepare at home are fried catfish and pulled pork BBQ sandwiches (and I am working on the latter).

    I think in other states there are less folks cooking these BBQ items at home, and more folks eating out, which increases the demand for such restaurants. It is expensive to slow cook meats in a pit the way you are describing — the manpower and ingredients needed can increase food portion costs beyond many small restaurants ability to afford and their customers to pay.

    This is just my speculation. I freely admit that I could be wrong. It could be, as you suggest, that MS just sucks with respect to BBQ –at restaurants or at home. But, some of the best BBQ I’ve eaten in MS did not come from a restaurant —- and I have eaten BBQ here just as good as any I’ve had in any other state. The diversity in BBQ styles is what makes BBQ so interesting and fun to enjoy.

  • RazorRedux

    No disrespect meant at all. But so what if Mississippi isn’t known for commercial BBQ is my take on it. We don’t do much “commercial” anything so why would BBQ be any different? That being said, I haven’t ever eaten any commercial BBQ that I really wanted anyways. Eat it, yes. But really want or desire it, no.

    Home-made is what my memories of good ‘cue is all about anyways. And can’t anyone make better ‘cue than me is what my friends and family all say.

  • RazorRedux

    Sorry for the double post, but I believe AFOTL and I are onto the same thought process. And having eaten BBQ in several Northern, and all the Southern states, I’m quite sure I’m correct, from my perspective. In fact, I had to get my lighter out of the smoker tonight before cooking some quiet succulent steaks and I paused and spent a quite minute just inhaling the scent from my ole trusty smoker it smelled so good. Oh well, to each his own.

  • NMC

    In response to AFOTL and Razor:

    First, there may be a definition problem. I’m not talking about grilling steaks or chicken or the like.

    Second, I’m going to have to assume you’ve not had commercial barbecue in an excellent place. It’s startling given the labor involved (a pork shoulder has to cook over coals for 8 to 17 hours and a hog more like 18-24, depending on temperature, and it has to be tended to avoid disasters like fires) that there are places like B.E. Scott’s in Lexington TN, Payne’s in Memphis, and a number of places in other states (North Carolina in particular) that can deliver this for a few bucks a sandwich. But they do. And what they deliver is really hard if not impossible to achieve at home– I spent a lot of time trying and figured out how it works, and you have to have a set up (a brick or block pit, not a metal rig, much less the sorts of grills you can buy at hardware stores or Wallmart. Once I set up a block pit in the back yard, I could achieve pork barbecue every time, if I had 18 or so hours to invest in the project.

    I cooked shoulders for 10 or more years on a weber kettle. I then “graduated” to a two chamber smoker, and tried that for more than 10 years. The results aren’t the same as pit barbecue. Other setups (smokers, green eggs, etc) don’t get the same results, either. There’s a thing you get from cooking over a heated pit with live coals, with direct heat but far enough away to keep it slow, and with the heat from the pit itself having a major part in the cooking that produces better results than any other method. One major point of the post is that most commercial places have abandoned this method that’s virtually impossible at home, and that’s why great barbecue is so hard to find.

  • NMC

    Oh, and AFOTL, I never said BBQ in Mississippi sucks when made by “home” cooks, but, by and large, home cooks don’t do pit barbecue because they aren’t set up for it. You’ll see folks do versions that involve short cuts of various kinds, but not pit barbecue very often (a few people are set up for it. But not many).

  • the main electric/gas “smoker” company is called Southern Pride http://www.southern-pride.com/. they are the ones used by big chains like Sonny’s and Corky’s. all those places count on the good press that the term bbq gets to turn out huge numbers instead of cooking a reasonable amount and selling it during the day. i don’t go to a place unless i see its smoker from the outside. i don’t go to chains. and i don’t go to any place with a bunch of yuppies there on the weekend. and if i go into a place and they have a bunch of yard sell shit hanging on the walls like cracker barrel, i turn around and leave. i have had bbq nearly everywhere and i think the ribs that i had one day at betty davis were some of the better i have had anywhere.

  • NMC

    Eric, the link in the post is to Southern Pride.

    You can’t see the pit from outside in most places (e.g. Payne’s in Memphis– but you can stand at the counter and look inside it when they pull out a shoulder to make your sandwich. And I’ve never seen where Bettie Davis’s bbq is cooked) but you’re right to want to know how it’s cooked to know what you’ve get. BTW, I understand what you say about chains, but it’s clear that Tops in Memphis is using methods (a real pit, coals) comparable to the best places in Memphis. While I’ve not eaten there in years, in my youth I viewed them as quite reliable for want of other options (with 14 or so locations, they’re everywhere in greater Memphis).

    I’m doing a writing project and as a part of it have been eating bbq I’d normally have left alone, and can speak of what’s available around here first hand.

  • WaySouth

    NMC, You said “Second, I’m going to have to assume you’ve not had commercial barbecue in an excellent place.”

    Appears that not everyone agrees on what is an excellent place.

    Here’s a review from yelp.com:

    “Payne’s is a Memphis BBQ institution – which really should say something in and of itself. As a city, we pride ourselves in our BBQ, and in my personal opinion, fairly so.

    Payne’s is a small nondescript building on Lamar, in not the nicest part of town. The parking lot is small and worn, much like the building itself. When you walk in, you’re greeted with a fine haze of smoke, a rather barren dining room with a few tables and wooden benches, and a counter where you can place your order, and pay. Behind the counter is an old gas four-burner stove that could have come from my grandmothers kitchen. This is real home cooking – there are no commercial ranges, blast chillers, or multi-level oven/grills.

    There’s only a handful of items on the menu. Ribs (full rack, half rack, or sandwich), Pork (sliced or chopped on a sandwich), smoked sausage, or smoked bologna sandwich. There’s a few other sundries and sides, but that’s the extent of the menu.

    I had the chopped pork sandwich – hold the slaw (I can’t stand slaw). From all the other reviews, I was expecting some of the best pork I’ve ever eaten. The sandwich came to the counter – styrofoam plate, plastic fork, generic white wonder-bread bun wrapped around a pile of finely chopped pork literally oozing a translucent orange sauce.

    First impression – sauce.
    Really sweet. Tangy. Light. Very unlike your typical Memphis BBQ sauce, which tend towards tomato bases. This almost tasted like it uses corn syrup as a base. Having said that – it’s good. Really.

    First impression – Chopped pork.
    Dry. Over-cooked. Bland. Those crispy bit everyone raves about in the sandwich? it’s charcoal. The pork was cooked too hot, too fast, and the outside charred. If it wasn’t for the sauce, this would be like eating sawdust – the only moisture to it is the sauce.

    Overall? The sauce is good, but a bit too sweet for my liking, the meat is barely average. A good pork BBQ should be able to stand on its own with no sauce. This doesn’t. One of the guys at the table with me had the rib sandwich. Just looking at it i could tell it had been smoked too hot, too fast. All of the connective tissue was still intact, gluing the meat to the bone. The meat should all but fall off, leaving a clean bone. Maybe I just went on a bad day.

    The verdict? If you’re in the area looking for cheap BBQ in a real down-home environment…. give it a try. Otherwise, I’d pass.”

    I have never eaten at Payne’s and would not care to comment but to point out that the reviews of Payne’s are mixed.

    WS

  • NMC

    Way to cherry pick, WS, and typical level of honesty.

    I noted the lack of a link in your comment, and wondered whether you’d accurately presented what folks on Yelp said about Payne’s. You quoted the third review in full, and it’s the most negative one. Here is the first paragraph of all of the other 11 reviews.

    These are mixed reviews? Only if you pick the one that supports what you’re saying and ignore entirely 10 of 12. But, as you note, you have no idea what you’re talking about, having never been there. Below are the quotes; full reviews here.

    First review:

    3.75 gets you a pulled pork sandwich that makes you question the wisdom of vegetarianism. I’m a full-on “Food Inc.” radical, but if I could bring as much delicious happiness to people as the pig that gave it up to let Payne’s turn him into edible art, I’d be rotating on a spit right now.

    Third review:

    Bottom line: Wow the chopped pork sandwich is awesome!  That’s what other reviews and forums told me to get, and it did not disappoint so make sure to try it.  Why is it so good?  Because of the slightly crunchy bits with lots of flavor that I have not tasted in any other pork sandwich (chopped or otherwise). The bits must be the exterior of the butt with the rub on it, and it gets mixed in when chopped up.   So good.

    Fourth Review

    Payne’s has a great sauce, one of the better ones. But the problem is that when making BBQ sandwiches, they ignore the bread. The bread is stale.

    Fifth Review

    Best chopped pork sandwich. THE BEST.
    I really don’t have any words for it. The last time I went there, it was all sold out and I dropped down to my knees in despaire.

    Sixth Review

    When I was in Memphis for BBQ fest I tried some of the country’s best BBQ competitors. Still, the sandwich I had at Payne’s was probably the best thing I ate all weekend.  The bun is perfectly soft, the meat is delicious (go for the pulled pork, not chopped), the sauce is spicy, and the crazy neon yellow slaw on top is the perfect compliment.  

    Seventh Review

    top #1 on the first of, hopefully, many family Memphis-In-My-Mouth trips from St Louis.  This is a down home place with unique recipes.  The dining area is in two bays of an old service garage.  You go up to the window and Ms. Payne or her son takes your order and chops your pork for your sandwich.  This is not commercial, cookie-cutter, chain store BBQ and that’s a good thing.  By the way, I don’t consider 3 stars a bad rating.

    Eighth Review

    Payne’s defines Memphis Barbecue.  I have been a customer for 30 years, and the restaurant is top of mind whenever barbecue is mentioned.  The no-frills format features a simple menu of ribs, chopped and pulled pork sandwiches, smoked sausage, hot dogs, and bologna.  Top that off with sinfully delicious homemade fried pies, and it is the perfect Memphis funky eating experience.
    Never mind the no frills, converted service station atmosphere, or that usually no more that one table does not rock uncontrollably, this is the best pit pork in the world – the STANDARD by which all others are measured.

    Ninth Review

    We tried to go here on Monday but gosh darn it, they were closed.  I was so sad ;-(.  We made it here on Tuesday and let me tell you that this was the best sandwich I had all trip……hands down…..BBQ sandwich paradise!  Its in an old garage with a few tables set up.  Super simple menu.  Styrofoam plates and a spork.  Thats all you get.  Want a soda?  Straight from the can out of the fridge in the back.  What does that mean?  This place keeps it simple and does a few things very well.

    Tenth Review
    Home some of the best pulled & chopped pork sandwiches in town, with a homemade sauce that defies simple description. Located in a sketchy part of the ‘hood that may not look inviting, but the service is friendly and always kind. Try the turnover pies for desert.

    Eleventh Review

    There is not a better BBQ sandwich in the world than Payne’s BBQ pork, hot sauce, slaw. It is a magical combination unlike any other in Memphis (or elsewhere). Why this place has not become a landmark along the lines of Graceland is a mystery to me.

    Twelfth Review

    Best chopped pork sandwich I’ve ever had.  Unlike any other.  Owner was also incredibly friendly.  Even though I’m not a local, the place and the sandwich itself felt absolutely authentic.

  • WaySouth

    Please don’t be offended. Like I said I have not eaten at Payne’s.

    You are the one who was “talking down” to the folks about their lack of BBQ experience.

    I’m merely pointing out that not everyone thinks Payne’s is excellant.

    Here a CNN.com review you may have missed:

    http://barbecuequest.blogspot.com/2009/04/paynes-in-memphis.html

    When one throws their sandwich away one has to wonder. Just saying.

    WS

  • Bayrat

    The next time you are on the coast, try the pulled pork sandwich @ Shaggy’s in Pass Christian. Thomas Genin, the owner smokes the pork. He uses a wood smoker and slow cooks it.

  • Andrew

    NMS, the goat tradition is not hyper-local, at all. I remember every fourth of July growing up that the three African-American men who worked at my grandfather’s shop were given their choice of a goat for their own home BBQ. This was in Hinds County, off of 49N, just a few miles from Pochahontas.

    I mainly remember this because I went to go watch them “pick” the goats, which included them catching, stunning and killing the goat with a sledgehammer to the head, then cutting their throat and bleeding them out. Can’t erase that memory.

  • Andrew

    NMC. Duh, sorry.

  • NMC

    Thanks, Andrew! I really appreciate the info.

    That method of killing is not good for the meat… you don’t want to amp up the adrenalin in any animal about to be slaughtered,

  • Ben

    I used to think I enjoyed good barbecue: Corky’s, Rendezvous, B’s Barbecue, Handy Andy, the ‘cue Rufus Jenkins used to make, and a lot more. Alas … my standards are too low. I’ll just wander out and eat a plateful of untraumatized dirt for lunch.

  • WaySouth

    This is the way we used to start our Goat BBQ’s in the early days of the Oxford Eater’s Club. First Monday of every month. Yum, yum.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-OgvnSiWr8

    WS

  • NMC

    Ben, I ate a Handy Andy bbq at lunch just because people keep saying they like it. The meat was better than I remember, particularly for a place that doesn’t use a pit. On the other hand, the jalapeno-laden sauce is really not to my taste– I don’t think jalapenos are a good way to go in bbq sauce. But it was a pleasant sandwich.

    Corky’s, B’s– not so much.

  • Sherman

    Interesting thoughts. Re: Payne’s negative yelp review–anyone who goes to Payne’s and says “no slaw” is in the wrong restaurant!!!!!

  • Jimmy Robbins

    Where in NE Miss can you get a scraped, not skinned, whole hog? We cooked one for Christmas 2009 that came from Senatobia and I was wondering if there was a supplier/farmer in the Pontotoc/Oxford area.

  • NMC

    I get a whole hog through Pitcock’s Meats in rural Panola County, and usually call Stan’s Meats near the Panola / Lafayette line to arrange the details. Stan gets all its pork processed by Pitcock’s.

  • My first BBQ sandwich was at the Coleman’s in Hernando. I couldn’t have been more than 5 years old. I haven’t been to Hernando in years. Is the Coleman’s still there?

    In Oxford, my preferred BBQ place is the Rib Cage. I haven’t seen it mentioned yet. Why is that?

    In Jackson, I like Sonny’s on Highway 80. Been going there for many years.

  • DeltaLawMama

    NMC – The inside track on Handy Andy’s is avoiding them for the day of, and two days prior to a home football game or any such big catering event. If you buy BBQ from them in that time frame it just won’t have enough smoky flavor IMHO. And I never eat the hawt BBQ sauce under any circumstances. Slaw on, always.

  • sorry i didn’t check out the link before i posted. i have a very slow connection and i was thrown off because you said the southern pride ovens come from texas, they don’t. hell, they don’t even come from the south, they come from illinois and want to use the southern name. ha. and i was hyberbolizing about some of that stuff, i don’t always run from a bbq joint if i can’t see the pit, but i sure prefer to see it. i can tell from the taste that betty davis is bbq over coals because that gives it a type of flavor unobtainable from those gas cookers. what struck me about them is that places that cook directly over coals have a certain flavor but are usually tougher the closer to the coals and hotter and shorter they are cooked(most pit places), and places that cook lower and slower and further away from the heat have less of that flavor but more tenderness. at betty davis they attained the smoked tenderness and the bbq flavor which tells me they are cooking directly over the coals or flames but have them further away from the heat than most places and cook them for a longer period of time. i don’t remember if i saw their cooker because i only went once but that is what i could discern from the product.

    note: i make a distinction between technically smoked(indirect heat) and bbq(directly over the coals, no water) — and there are infinite gradations between the two — that most people do not even consider.

    i have spent a lifetime studying and apprenticing smoked meats. i am glad there is someone around here actively chronicling it. i am not from around here and appreciate getting the inside scoop. i wish someone had saved me the trouble of going to that place in memphis of that couple that are on the food network, that was literally the worst excuse for bbq i have ever tasted, but not knowing any better i just went on what the general public told me.

  • Ignatius

    NMC, if you don’t mind leaving the beaten path of I-55 and taking a trek into the Delta, the Blue Biscuit in Indianola has excellent BBQ. While the Biscuit has only been open just over a year, it’s in a building that used to be a church with cotton planted as part of the landscaping, and it’s right across from the B.B. King Museum which is something to behold and well worth the visit.

    Trish Berry has been known locally in Indianola as a fantastic chef and caterer for a couple of decades now. She and Harlan Malone opened the Biscuit and threw in a couple of bungalows for rent, too. Since I love (and have always loved) her BBQ and I wanted to plug the place for Trish, I asked her how she cooks her BBQ. She said that the BBQ is shoulder, stuffed (with peppers, I think), seasoned and marinated for a couple of days then smoked over oak and pecan, covered in marinade again and then cooked a little more. The Biscuit is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights and Saturday at lunch. They usually have great music on Friday and Saturday nights, too.

    Fortuna and I have never really had a watering hole, but we’ve been spending so much time there lately, it looks like we do now.

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