Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Barbecue Schmarbecue

Inspired by Elizabeth Large's Tuesday Top Ten on barbecue restaurants, I thought I'd throw my two cents in. We might know our crabcakes, but we don't have a big tradition of bbq in Maryland. Other states, however, have unique styles, techniques, and preparations, and each of them claim to be the best. Pshaw. I don't give a rat's ass about regional pride when it comes to BBQ, I just know what I like: tender meat that falls off the bone with little effort, and a flavorful sauce, glaze, or rub that isn't too sweet and has a bit of a kick to it. If I want to braise my ribs in the oven, then broil them with lashings of sweet sauce, I'm-a gonna do it, and I'm going to call it "bbq." (I'm no purist. If you want to use a ravioli press to make pierogis, I won't cry foul. You have no problem with calling General Tso's Chicken "Chinese" food, as authentic as it isn't.) A lot of "q" is about smoke, and I think that detracts from the flavor of the meat. I like the savor of grill char, but heavily smoked meat tastes like...smoke. Once in a while, when we're up for chain bbq, we go to Famous Dave's. I like their rib tips, because I have a thing for cartilage (blame my mother), but I can only eat a few before the smoke flavor overwhelms me.

North Baltimore (including both the north part of the city and the county above it) seems an unlikely mecca for the local "bbq" lover. However, there are several rib joints out that way: Corner Stable and Andy Nelson's in Cockeysville; Big Bad Wolf's House of BBQ in Hamilton; Razorback's, in Towson; and the Charred Rib in Timonium. An outpost of Bare Bones was once on York Road as well, but I suppose it had too much competition in the area. (I preferred the food at the original Ellicott City location anyway.) Out of those I've tried in that bunch, I like Razorback's the best. (And I'll like it even better once the statewide smoking ban goes into effect. Phew, that place reeks.)

When I was a kid, the rib joint of choice was Arbaugh's, on Connecticut Avenue in DC. Arbaugh's was an institution, popular for several decades before my family found it. Because it was a haul to get there, Dad had to be having a real jones for their tender ribs, piles of onion rings, and the best cole slaw ever. But it was always worth the trip. It was a sad day in the W household when Arbaugh's closed their doors sometime in the 80s. Sadly, it's been so long, I don't even remember what it tasted like anymore, but Dad and I still reminisce fondly.

The only other ribs that I think about from time to time are the spicy dry rub variety at Brother Jimmy's BBQ. I was in Chicago with my two best friends on a baseball, blues, and barbecue tour of sorts. We stopped at Jimmy's to hear the live music, and partook of a variety of ribs while waiting. The dry rub was so spicy, my nose hairs tingled before I got the rib to my lips. But damn, it was memorably tasty. Checking out the Web site, I see that it's a NY joint, so I might have to pay one of those outposts a visit on my next trip up north.

So what's your favorite BBQ?