Friday, August 26, 2011

Grand Champion BBQ (Roswell, GA)

4401 Shallowford Road
Roswell, GA 30075

Grand Champion BBQ on Urbanspoon

Grand Champion BBQ is pretty new to the Georgia BBQ scene. When I say pretty new, I mean that their grand opening was just a couple weeks ago on August 11th. Even though the restaurant has just been around for a couple of weeks, it doesn't mean that these guys are any strangers to BBQ. Grand Champion is co-owned by Greg Vivier and Robert Owens. I briefly spoke with Owens today who confirmed some of the rumors I've heard that he used to work with the crew over at Sam's BBQ 1 in Marietta. If you've been following the Georgia Barbecue Hunt at all, then you'd know we speak highly of Sam Huff's operation over in East Cobb. Sam's BBQ 1 used to be Sam and Dave's which Sam Huff, Dave Poe, and Dave Roberts all had their hand in. Each of them have went on to have their own establishments that are becoming increasingly popular in the Georgia BBQ scene.

Grand Champion humbly sits in a Publix shopping center located in Western Roswell. The sign only reads "BBQ" at this point, but once you're inside there's no denying that "Grand Champion" status BBQ could be on the carving tables behind the counter. They've only been around for a short time but the wave of smoke in the restaurant smells as if it's been caked on from years of smoking meats. You order at the front, take a number, and then have your food brought out to you. The staff here was all very pleasant and helpful. Since this was my first time visiting, I went with the sampler which includes chicken, brisket, pulled pork, two back ribs, sausage, and two sides. Baked beans were my first choice and since I've heard great things about their mac 'n cheese, I indulged and paid the extra 25 cents for the premium side. This meat feast doesn't come cheap at just under $22 with no drink. I confidently placed my order and then headed to the nearest booth to wait for my food.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Old Brick Pit (Chamblee, GA)

4805 Peachtree Road
Chamblee, GA 30341

Old Brick Pit Barbeque on Urbanspoon

At first glance, Old Brick Pit is my kind of BBQ joint. It's old. It's simple. It smells of fresh burning wood. Most importantly, it houses a real, old-fashioned brick BBQ pit. Believe it or not these are hard to find in most BBQ restaurants nowadays. Once upon a time it was regarded as one of Atlanta's best BBQ spots, if not the best. It's not as busy as it once was, but the pit still remains and hopefully so does the authentic Southern BBQ.

When we pulled in for dinner this past week (They close at 7), we were the only customers there. Not a good sign. You could smell the hickory smoke still in the air. You walk in and are immediately greeted by the restaurant's proud focal point, the brick pit. I spoke briefly with the worker who informed they only use hickory wood to freshly smoke the meats daily at around 200 degrees. If this was true, then we would soon be indulging in some fantastic BBQ. I ordered three pork spare ribs, pulled pork (we're back in GA), brunswick stew, and coleslaw. Jamie was also on board for this GBH stop and ordered the pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw. Old Brick Pit has a very simple menu of pulled pork, pork spare ribs, and smoked chicken. Their sides include coleslaw, baked beans, or chips. My meal was also served with a couple pieces of white bread (which I appreciate). The prices are pretty fair with both of our meals only costing around $14.00 total.

Texas BBQ Run - Part 4 (Lockhart, TX)

Kreuz Market
619 North Colorado Street
Lockhart, TX 78644

Kreuz Market on Urbanspoon

We had finally arrived at our last stop on our first ever Texas BBQ run. Kreuz Market is located just down the street from Smitty's and Black's, and is about five times the size of either. They opened in 1999 by Edgar "Smitty" Schmidt's son, Rick. Rumor has it that when Kreuz moved locations he took everything, including the coals. I can personally verify that one thing made the move over, and that's Pitmaster, Roy Perez. Roy was generous enough to take some time out of his busy day to show us around.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Texas BBQ Run - Part 3 (Lockhart, TX)

Smitty's Market
208 South Commerce Street
Lockhart, TX 78644

Smitty's Market on Urbanspoon

Our third stop on this Texas BBQ run landed us at Smitty's Market. Founded as Kreuz Market around 1900, it now stands as Smitty's Market since 1999. Originally, the location opened as a German butcher shop that would often smoke any of their leftover meats from that week and sell it to the public on the weekends. Edgar "Smitty" Schmidt bought Kreuz Market in 1948. The story goes that once he passed away he left the Kreuz business to his son, Rick, while leaving the actual building to his daughter, Nina. What he did to make sure his children worked together ended up driving them apart. In 1999, after stories of Nina excessively raising the rent, Rick had enough. He packed up everything, including the coals, and headed down the street where he would open up his own "bigger and better" Kreuz Market. The original Kreuz is now known as Smitty's with the new Kreuz market right down the street. Both are known for their legendary Texas BBQ.

The first thing you notice when pulling up to Smitty's is the massive amount of post oak wood they keep out back. All neatly stacked, and all arranged from oldest to newest. We walked in through the back door straight into the smoke room. You have to wonder how workers manage to stay standing in the constant smoky heat all day. We were only in there for about five minutes and that was about all we could stand. We ordered brisket, pork ribs, sausage, and a pork chop for everyone to try. One of the coolest things about Smitty's is how long it's been around. It still houses some of the original butcher machinery that was used early on. You can still see some of the weighing hooks and sliding tracks in the back near the kitchen that are all most likely original. We grabbed our food and quickly headed out of their infamous "smoke hallway."  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Texas BBQ Run - Part 2 (Lockhart, TX)

Black's Barbecue
215 North Main Street
Lockhart, TX 78644

Black's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

After a great first meal at City Market, we headed into the nearby town of Lockhart. Lockhart is home to three of Texas' most famous BBQ spots: Black's, Smitty's, and Kreuz. We decided that Black's would be our next stop since we wanted to do Smitty's and Kreuz back to back given their family history. Black's BBQ is recognized as Texas' oldest family owned and operated BBQ restaurant. When you walk inside the walls are sporadically decorated with old signs, hunting trophies, and local sport team photos.  

We stepped up to order the usual: brisket, sausage, and pork ribs. While talking to one of the gentlemen at the counter, he agreed to give us a tour of the pits and kitchen. They have an interesting system here. There are two post oak fueled pits in the back that lead up to a front pit. The back pits are used for cooking while the front chamber is just used to keep the meat warm until it's ready to serve. It sure beats steaming trays that a lot of places use. No meats are cooked overnight here. They're fired up that morning and used that day or the next. I thought this was a little different. No one wants to eat yesterday's meat when you're headed to a BBQ joint. This didn't seem to strike any of the workers as odd. Another thing that I found a little different was how hot they keep their pits here. They said usually around 350 degrees and up. This allows Black's to cook their meat in a shorter amount of time, but you can also sacrifice some of the tenderness and flavor by not leaving it cooking longer. They use the foil technique on some of their meats which allows the meat to cook in its own juices, steaming it and breaking down the tissue a little more than usual. During our short tour, the pitmaster was kind enough to cut off a sample of the freshly smoked beef ribs that just came out of the pit. This was honestly one of the best beef ribs I've ever tried. It was so tender and moist that it just melted in your mouth. It made me wish we had ordered a couple. He also threw a couple of small pieces of their smoked turkey on our order at no cost. Again, the turkey was smoked perfectly. It was juicy and had just the right amount of smoke in it. After our tour we said our thank you's and then headed to the nearest table to try the rest of Black's offerings.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Texas BBQ Run - Part 1 (Luling, Texas)

City Market
633 East Davis Street
Luling, TX 78648

City Market on Urbanspoon

I get excited every time I head back to Houston. I get to spend time with family, I get to relax, and I get to eat...a lot. This past week was no different. A typical day consists of kolaches for breakfast, BBQ for lunch, and some Tex-Mex for dinner. These are three things I don't think I could ever get enough of. It was my dad's birthday this week and we decided to go on our first official Texas "Barbecue Run." For anyone that's new to this, a BBQ run consists of making a special trip to worthwhile BBQ spots and sampling each establishment's specialtes. For this run we were going to head a couple hours west to Luling and Lockhart to pay our respects to some of the original Texas BBQ spots: City Market, Black's, Smitty's, and Kreuz. Each place is Texas-famous in its own way and well worth the special trip. Our mission was simple. We'd try a little bit of BBQ at each stop, maybe talk to some of the pitmasters if they're available, and then head home before dinner. We had the determination, but did we have the stomach capacity for our smoked meat-mission? I was interested to see how the Texas style BBQ would compare to some of the places we've visited on our Georgia Barbecue Hunt. We loaded up the truck six deep and headed out in the morning.

The first stop on our mini tour would be Luling's finest, City Market. Jamie had never been to Texas before, and I couldn't think of a better to place for her to experience what Texas had to offer. We pulled into Luling and the only thing missing seemed to be the stereotypical tumble weeds rolling by. This town definitely has character. With all of the apparent locals inside, you feel like a tourist without any boots or a cowboy hat. When you walk inside City Maket, you get in line well before being able to enter the smoke room where you actually place your order. The employee working the pits was nice enough to give me a closer look at everything that was being cooked that day. Meats are cooked overnight using post oak, except for the homemade sausage which is usually only smoked for an hour for additional flavor. Since our BBQ run included four stops, we would be indulging in a "protein only" diet this day. Our meal for the first stop included brisket, pork ribs, and sausage served on old-fashioned butcher paper with bottled Big Red to wash it down.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Our Barbecue Absolutes

Photo by Pinar Ozger at Flickriver
There are tons of different BBQ styles and flavor profiles in the U.S. For sauces you have the vinegar in North Carolina, the mustard in South Carolina, the tomato and vinegar in Memphis, the tomato and pepper in Texas, and the tomato and brown sugar in Kansas City. Not to mention all the different types of woods you can use while cooking: pecan, hickory, red oak, white oak, mesquite, apple, cherry, and endless others. There are a ton of different barbecue flavor possibilities out there...and none of them are wrong. It's one of the things that makes trying BBQ exciting.
But there are a couple BBQ absolutes that should never be deviated from no matter where you're at. We believe in these.






Competitive BBQ teams will tell you that it doesn't matter where you're competing in the United States, the way you cook your BBQ shouldn't change. That goes the same for restaurants. It shouldn't matter if you're in Texas, South Carolina, Georgia, or Illinois; your meat should be cooked low and slow and be juicy, tender, and flavorful. If you're not doing those things, then you've probably got some sub-par BBQ on your hands. Sauces, rubs, and the woods used are constantly changing and one of the things that makes places unique. I would never rate a BBQ joint badly because I'm not a fan of mustard sauces or vinegar based sauces. I will however, if they serve dry, tough, bland, or old meat.
At the core of each good BBQ restaurant, they'll all have the same things in common with their meats: low, slow, juicy, tender, and flavorful.

These are the things we look for and these are things that will never change.  

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jack's Old South 1 (Braselton, GA)

6323 Grand Hickory Drive
Braselton, GA 30517

Jack's Old South BBQ on Urbanspoon

Pitmaster, Myron Mixon is no stranger to BBQ. After worldwide success in competition BBQ, he can often be seen on TLC, Food Network, Discovery Channel, and Travel Channel competing or offering up quality grilling and BBQ advice. When I found out that his very own BBQ joint was within driving distance of me, I knew we had to go as soon as possible. The Georgia Barbecue Hunt now had Jack's Old South 1 locked in its sight. We were already visiting a good friend this weekend in South Carolina and Jack's was conveniently on the way. We couldn't have asked for better circumstance. 

Jamie and I left after work on Friday afternoon looking forward to the weekend and looking forward to Jack's Old South 1. We haven't had the best luck at the last couple Georgia Barbecue Hunt stops so it was about time we enjoyed some quality BBQ. It was the start to a great weekend and we were ready for what Myron was cookin' up. When you arrive to Jack's Old South 1 you wonder if you're in the right place. It was a little newer than I expected and a lot cleaner. These aren't bad things at all by any means, but for some reason you always just assume that BBQ joints are going to be a little more run down and a little bit older. Jack's sits unassumingly at the corner of a newer shopping center with no hints of being owned by the famous Myron Mixon. In some ways it reminded me of Sam's BBQ 1 in Marietta. When we walked in there were about seven customers ahead of us. This gives you time to admire some of the trophies and giant prize checks from Myron's competitive team that are proudly displayed in this cozy BBQ joint. When it was our time to order we noticed a simple menu offering chicken, pulled pork, or ribs in different sizes and variations. I went with the half rack of pork back ribs with coleslaw and apple baked beans while Jamie ordered the pulled pork sandwich with crinkle cut fries. They also offer Brunswick stew and potato salad as other side options.

Within five minutes Jamie's food was brought out. While we waited we had time to try Jack's original BBQ sauces. They offer two different sauces here: a vinegar sauce and then a sweet and tangy tomato based sauce. Both sauces were good. The sweet sauce had some kick but was a little too sweet for my liking. The vinegar wasn't too strong and actually one of the better vinegar based sauces we've tried. It could complement the food more than overpower or conceal it. Overall they were both pretty tasty. Sauce is all about personal preference though. We waited about ten minutes for my ribs which I thought was kind of strange since BBQ is usually already prepared and just needs to be portioned out and put on a plate. I asked one of the servers about the wait and they surprisingly realized that my ticket had been lost. Within another five minutes the food was apologetically delivered.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Subway (Alpharetta, GA)

3655 Old Milton Parkway
Alpharetta, GA 30005

Subway on Urbanspoon

tub life
There's been a lot of buzz recently regarding Subway's new limited time pulled pork sandwich. Would it be surprisingly delicious...or expectedly awful? We decided to be brave and put the questions to rest on this beautiful Friday afternoon. I arrived at Subway during their lunch rush with the PGA championship right down the road. No smoke. No visible BBQ pits. I'm guessing they keep them in the back and must've already smoked today's meat. I got in line...I waited. Finally it was my turn. I had a date with destiny...and my bilingual "sandwich artist." I went big. Twelve inches of pulled pork on white bread topped with onions and pickles; pulled pork or "cold pork scooped out of a tub with an ice cream scooper"...either one really. I toasted it. I topped it with BBQ sauce. I paid for it and later, I'd probably be paying for it again. I opened up my tightly wrapped, pork-filled low expectation. This is what I found:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dreamland Barbecue (Roswell, GA)

10730 Alpharetta Highway
Roswell, GA 30076

Dreamland BBQ on Urbanspoon

Dreamland Barbecue in Roswell, Georgia has been calling my name for quite some time now. Originating in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in the late 1950's, Dreamland now has two locations outside of Alabama which are both in Georgia. I was curious to see how this "Alabama style" BBQ would compare to our recently visited Williamson Brothers in Marietta. Famous for their pork spare ribs, Dreamland continues to receive recognition in the Georgia-Alabama area. The Georgia Barbecue Hunt was now en route.

The Georgia Barbecue Hunt Team (consisting of myself and Jamie) arrived for lunch at around 11:30. This location is typically busy for lunch so we tried to beat the crowd while also hopefully scoring the freshest meat straight off the pit. When you arrive at Dreamland you're promptly greeted with the smell of fresh burning hickory (which I was informed is shipped weekly from Alabama). If you follow the smoke straight inside, you'll immediately see two pits when you walk in the door. I spoke with the gentleman manning the pits who told me that they typically keep their pits at around 500 degrees. I was shocked. Cooking at this high of heat takes you out of the BBQ style and straight into the grilling category. I looked closer into the pit and could see the pork butts and spare ribs cooking, grill marks covering the ribs. If you're cooking low and slow grill marks should be nonexistent. At first glance when opening their menu, I immediately noticed one beef! I then opted for their famous ribs and sausage with coleslaw and baked beans while Jamie decided on the pulled pork with green beans and mac 'n cheese.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Swallow at the Hollow (Roswell, GA)

1072 Green Street
Roswell, GA 30075-3638


Swallow at the Hollow on Urbanspoon

The next stop on the Georgia Barbecue Hunt was Roswell's own, Swallow at the Hollow. Well-known for their food as well as live country and bluegrass music, we decided it was time to officially add them to the hunt. I had a little help on this tour-stop from my good friend Kenan who also shares an affection for all things BBQ. In addition to the good company, it also allows me to sample items off the menu that I usually wouldn't be able to try by myself. We met on a Friday for lunch and had both been looking forward to it all week. The best way to describe the Swallow at the Hollow is a place that you'd see tucked away in a swamp somewhere possibly surrounded by gators...and water moccasins. It has character to say the least. The old canoe filled with ice and 40 oz. beers that used to double as the bar has recently been replaced due to wood rot. I was a little disappointed, but the employee informed me that it was also removed so that they can now serve draft beer. Personally, I kind of liked the old canoe. It was just another thing that sets this place apart.

When we arrived there wasn't a wait and we were promptly seated. After speaking with our server I was informed that all meats are wood-smoked and sausage is homemade. There were also organic fruits such as watermelon that are offered daily. I decided to go with the half rack of pork back ribs and homemade sausage accompanied by baked beans and coleslaw. Kenan went with the Georiga-traditional chopped pork, mac 'n' cheese, and brunswick stew. While we waited for the food we decided to sample some of the sauces. They offer three sauces here: mustard, vinegar, and what the waiter described as a "Georgia" sauce. I'm still a little unclear what classifies it as such. I'm not a huge fan of vinegar and mustard based sauces usually and this time was no exception. The vinegar and "Georgia" sauce both had hints of Asian flavors which I found a little different. They were definitely not your traditional BBQ sauces. The mustard sauce was average.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Big Shanty Smokehouse (Kennesaw, GA)

3393 Cherokee St NW
Kennesaw, GA 30144

Big Shanty Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Big Shanty Smokehouse is a little place that's actually right down the street from where I live. I've been a couple times so I decided it was about time to make an official Georgia Barbecue Hunt visit. First off, I love their location. It's in an old, converted small house off the side of the road with limited seating but great personality. They've recently added outdoor air conditioned seating as well which was nice. Big Shanty Smokehouse is a business that's family owned and operated. There hasn't been a time that I've been there that I haven't seen the whole family working behind the counter. That's something I have great respect for and love seeing. The Dillards (originally from Virginia) take their BBQ seriously. I was assured that all of their meat spends time in the hickory fed smokers out back. More often than not brisket and sausage is something that's not on most Georgia BBQ restaurants. Big Shanty features both. Their menu is fairly simple so I decided to go with "Steve's Sampler" for $15.95. This included pork spare ribs, homemade sausage, pulled pork, brisket, and two sides. I elected for the usual baked beans and coleslaw to accompany my meat feast. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Williamson Brothers BBQ (Marietta, GA)

1425 Roswell Road
Marietta, GA 30062

Williamson Brothers Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

I recently had the opportunity to visit one of suburban Atlanta's favorite BBQ joints for an offical GBH stop. I remember visiting Williamson Brothers when first moving to Georgia and sadly not being that impressed. I was interested to see if maybe it was just a bad barbecue day my first time around or if Williamson Brothers just happens to serve sub-par BBQ.

When you first arrive at Williamson Brothers, you'll notice the deliberately old, distressed, wooden exterior and interior. I happen to like/prefer this "BBQ Cracker Barrel" look, but have found more often than not that it's just used as a show to cover up below average food. When you walk in you're immediately greeted with an authentic partial-open pit inside the restaurant. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sam's BBQ 1 (Marietta, GA)

4944 Lower Roswell Road
Marietta, GA 30068-4321

Sam's BBQ 1 on Urbanspoon

When Sam and Dave's BBQ opened up back in 2005 it seemed like a match made in heaven. Sam Huff and Dave Poe, both experienced circuit barbecue competitors for over thirty years, joined forces to open up two Sam and Dave's BBQ locations in Marietta, Georgia. Thought by most to be some of Georgia's best barbecue until the duo decided to go their seperate ways in 2009. Sam took over Sam and Dave's #1 which became Sam's BBQ 1, while Dave took over the second location which is now Dave Poe's BBQ. I decided it was time for the Georgia Barbecue Hunt to pay a visit to Sam's BBQ 1 in Marietta.

Located off Lower Roswell Road in Marietta, Sam's sits humbly on the corner of an old shopping center. When you first walk in you immediately notice the awards, trophies, and newspaper articles all paying respect to owner, Sam Huff. When we first arrived there was about a ten minute wait. This wasn't anything out of the ordinary since it was about 1pm on a Satruday afternoon. Once you arrive at the cash register, you order, pay, and then wait for the food to be brought out to you. I decided to go big with the combo plate that inluded pork back ribs, pulled pork, smoked chicken, brisket, and sausage. The fact that Sam's includes brisket and sausage on their menu puts them in a different category than most of your typical Georgia barbecue joints.