Midwest and Mid-South BBQ Safari II

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Like I said in my previous thread about the Texas BBQ Safari, the family and I decided to do a road trip after the 4th holiday and visit some BBQ across the midwest and mid-south. My kids have never been on a road trip, they really wanted to start visiting other states and see some landmarks, I've always wanted to visit Memphis and stay at the Peabody, and we all like BBQ (though I'm not so sure about that after eating it for 5 days straight). I'll spare the picture heavy post, but here was the route: Detroit to Kansas City (via Iowa so the kids could say they've been to Iowa) Kansas City to St. Louis St. Louis to Memphis Memphis to Louisville (with a stop in Nashville for bbq) Louisville to Detroit All told, about 2,300 miles. Kansas City: Joe's Kansas City at the iconic gas station location - For me, this was the best all-around of the trip. We had a bit of everything: brisket, burnt ends, pulled pork, sausage, beans, and fries. Spoiler alert, none of the brisket on this trip was as good as Texas brisket. They're not in the same ballpark... not even playing the same sport. Most (all?) of the point goes toward burnt ends and the flat is sliced really thin, more like roast beef than the #2 pencil-thick slices you find in Texas. That said, the burnt ends were tops for me. Ribs and pulled pork were great as well. Sausage was ho-hum, as were the beans. Fries were good. Arthur Bryant's at the original location - Wife and I both had burnt ends. She liked them better than Joe's KC. I didn't. Not that they weren't good, they certainly were, I just like Joe's better. They sure do give you a lot of them though! Probably the best value of the whole trip. Interesting sauce. KC really is a city of many different sauces. Every place has their own sauce and very few of them are the same. St. Louis: Salt + Smoke - This was a late decision that wasn't originally on this list, as my first choice (Pappy's) closes early on Sunday and we couldn't make it in time. This was the only place that served brisket Texas-style. Unfortunately, there was something off about the smoke. Everything on my plate, fatty brisket from the point and dry-rub ribs, had a skunky quality to the smoke flavor. Not a good taste. Wife had their sauced ribs (what they called trashed ribs), which aren't smoked but instead cooked more quickly at a higher temp, and they were better. Pappy's - St. Louis has a cut of pork named after the city: St. Louis spare ribs. Pappy's serves back ribs. Why? Who knows! As back ribs go, they were good, but back ribs aren't my favorite pork rib. My wife and kids both gave it the thumbs up. We also had brisket and pulled pork. Pulled pork was good, but I should have ordered burnt ends instead of the brisket. Memphis: Central BBQ - We got a bit of everything here: ribs, brisket, turkey, and pulled pork. Everything was good. Brisket was sliced thin (by now I had figured out this was just how brisket was done outside Texas), but the turkey was the star here, something I didn't really expect. We kind of took a flyer on putting turkey on the plate but I'm glad we did. Germantown Commissary - Wife and I both had pork sandwiches, hers was pulled pork, mine was chopped. Great sandwich and perfect lunch. Simple and to the point, executed well. Charlie Vergos Rendezvous - I'll say this right up front: The Rendezvous isn't a bbq restaurant. Their ribs aren't smoked, they're cooked hot and quick over charcoal. As such, they don't have a smoked rib texture. They have much more chew and don't pull of the bone as readily. My wife absolutely did not like them. She actually said it was the worst of the trip. I enjoyed them. They are not my go-to favorite and I probably won't try replicating them at home, but understanding what they are and why they're different, I like them for just that reason: They're different. Beans were awesome, my favorite of the trip, and the wife liked the slaw. Nashville: Peg Leg Porker - This totally wasn't on my radar until I read and open letter the owner and pitmaster, Carey Brindle, wrote titled "To All the Armchair BBQ Critics" after Nashville was named Travel + Leisure's #1 BBQ city in America. You can read the letter here: https://www.texasmonthly.com/bbq/to-all-the-armchair-bbq-critics/ After reading what he had to say, it sounded like a guy who makes BBQ I'd like to eat, so I made a mental note to visit someday. I didn't expect it to be so soon. You can tell PLP participates in competition BBQ. Wife and I had ribs and pulled pork and I wish I had tried the chicken. The ribs were eerily similar to Rendezvous, except with less chew, more like a typical smoked rib. The dry rub (like Rendezvous, PLP doesn't sauce their ribs) was really close. The pulled pork was competition-like, which is to say good, possibly my favorite of the trip. Beans were top notch too, not as sweet as some, but sweet enough. Then there is this:
Originally Posted by ArrestMeRedZ
In my mind, you've gone about this all wrong. I absolutely love Texas BBQ and think it's unmatched. I think you've already been to some of the best places in the country. You are going to be disappointed in comparing other regions to Texas
He's right. After eating BBQ for every meal nearly 5 days straight, I still think Central Texas bbq is my preferred bbq. It really comes down to the brisket. Yeah, burnt ends are great, but I like a bit fatty slice off the point. Thin slices from the flat just doesn't do it for me. Texas also has sausage going for it. Ribs are a toss up. I had some really good ribs in Texas and some no-so-good ribs in Texas, but I also had some really good ribs in the midwest and mid-south. Maybe that's just it. There isn't only one best area for bbq. I could live in Austin, KC, St. Louis, Memphis, or Nashville and know I have a world-class bbq restaurant to eat at. I may not get the brisket I prefer or the ribs I like best, but there is something at each that is worth standing in line for.
 
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I've really enjoyed your "Q critique trips" both the Texas and the mid south. It's great you and your family got to do the mid south together. Why not plan on doing a Southeast Q trip next summer? Though we're not too big on the brisket in these parts, the ribs, q slaw, hush puppies and pulled pork will make the trip worth while.
 
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Wow, so far I think you've nailed it. My experience with bbq from the places on this trip is based solely on regional restaurants in other locations (i.e. Memphis style bbq as opposed to bbq in Memphis), which isn't a fair comparison. That being said, I've had some great ribs, but the other meats tend to fall short when compared to the average Dallas area smokehouse. You've given me a lot to sample if I ever make to those cities. I am going to be very interested in what you find in the deep South. My sample size is small, but what I've tried falls short in both the smoke flavor and the sauces, most of which seem to be comprised of pork fat drippings mixed with vinegar. I hate to say it, but I'd rather have good old conventional Southern cooking than their bbq. Hope I don't get burned at the stake for that last comment.
 
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Another good report. How were Central BBq's ribs? From what I remember they were the best in Memphis. As I said in the other thread, you got to go to CV Rendezvous,,, just for the experience, not the food. Still jealous.
 
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MrHorspwer

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Originally Posted by KJSmith
How were Central BBq's ribs? From what I remember they were the best in Memphis.
Central BBQ was good all around. I always find ribs hard to compare to one another, unless there is something really unique about them (good or bad). Peg Leg Porker stood out as my favorite rib, with Central BBQ and Joe's KC being next. Everybody has their favorite place, but bbq is an inexact science. I've had people rave about a joint and say it was the best meal they ever had, but my experience wasn't the same as theirs. Tastes differ, cooking conditions change from day to day, and not every cut of meat is the same. That's cool though, no judgement here. Truly enjoying a meal is something everyone should strive for and if you've found that, there are very few things that can compare. I think that's where we can all agree. We have family in Nashville that we didn't get to visit (Nashville was just a lunch stop on our way to Mammoth Cave). Big Bob Gibson's is a little under 2 hours away down in Alabama. Hmmmm...
 
Your BBQ road trips have been fun reading even though I have no basis to critique BBQ and would not stand 1 hour in line for any food. The thought of eating like this days on end makes me a bit queasy, do you have to recover a bit when you get home? What did the kids think?
 

MrHorspwer

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Because you're conscious of the amount and type of food you're eating for the next few days, it's easy to pace yourself and harbor a little restraint. If you go at it like Man vs. Food, you'll be hurting. With four people, the option of sharing a platter or two between the four of us was the typical choice. Something like a half-slab, two or three 4 oz. protein servings, and a few sides go pretty well for four people. Everyone gets at least one rib, two good fork-full of each protein, and two scoops of each side. I found this last trip with the four of us to actually be far more appealing than also-heavy road food. All that said, yes, this weekend will be a recovery weekend. Light eating and a little treadmill time before I start running in earnest on Monday morning. The kids were troopers. They got sick of bbq after about the second day. Most places had a kids menu with options for them, though my daughter apparently didn't know you could get pulled pork on a bun? She ended up loving pulled pork sandwiches. They were actually the spark that got the trip moving. Neither had ever been on a road trip and they both love geography and learning about landmarks, Mount Rushmore, Statue of Liberty, etc., despite never having been to one. Beyond bbq, we visited the Gateway Arch and City Museum in St. Louis, National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis Zoo, Sun Studio, Beale Street, and the Peabody in Memphis, and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.
 

MrHorspwer

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Oh, and because BITOG, we drove my wife's 2018 Chevrolet Equinox with the 1.5L turbo. Whole trip was about 2,300 miles. Average fuel economy over the whole drive was about 34.5 MPG with a best tank of about 38 MPG. I changed the oil just before we left, Mobil 1 0W20 AFE and an AC Delco PF64 (classic, not e-core), and finished with 69% left on the OLM. It didn't use a drop of oil. I-80 through Iowa was glorious. Great road, really good lane discipline with all the trucks, and nice rest areas. Worst roads, besides Michigan, was Missouri. Worst drivers were in Tennessee. Strangest habit I saw on the road: People turning on their four-way flashers in the rain or pulling off to the side of the road. We hit a small storm coming into Memphis (only rain of the whole trip, actually). I'm still cruising at 65 MPH along with all the semi-truck traffic because it's just some rain. With a fresh coat of Rain-X, I had the wipers on the lowest intermittent setting. First, people started turning on their flashers, which, ok, I guess you want others to see you? Except when you turn on your flashers, you lose most of your brake lights and all your turn signals. This is important for the next part. People started diving toward the shoulder, just cutting across traffic, to stop. Minimal brake lights and no turn signals because the four-ways were on. If this is typical behavior when it rains, I see why southern cities completely shut down with the smallest amount of snow.
 
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