New School Barbecue Golf Trail
Parade Magazine , 7/13
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Holy Smokes! The New Golden Age of Barbecue
Parade Magazine , 7/13
At seven in the morning on a recent Saturday, acolytes stand in line at
in Austin, Tex., where Aaron Franklin smokes salt-and-pepper-rubbed briskets until they are coal black and bursting with juice. By 11, when Franklin takes his first order, the crowd is 100 strong. And when Franklin hands over the first paper plate of the day, heaped with meat, beans, and slaw, a throaty cheer ripples through the crowd, the sort of outburst more associated with presidents than pitmasters.
Welcome to the glory days of American barbecue. And not just in Texas. In Tennessee, in the Carolinas, out in California, and beyond, pitmasters like Franklin carry forward a style of cookery that predates our republic.
Cooking whole animals over smoldering coals probably originated in the Caribbean, where the Spanish encountered it and called it barbacoa. The technique made its way north and adaptation came fast, as African-Americans refined Native American and Caribbean methods. Virginia emerged as an early citadel of barbecue. When George Washington “went in to Alexandria to a Barbecue and stayed all Night,” as he wrote in a 1769 diary entry, he probably partook of a whole hog, cooked over hardwood coals.
Three centuries of great barbecue followed. Regional specialties flourished (beef brisket in central Texas; mutton shoulders in western Kentucky; pork rib racks in western Tennessee), all of them based on the unhurried notion that, given time and heat, a pitmaster could coax great flavor from devalued cuts of meat.
And then came the doldrums. By the 1980s, regional food culture was on the ropes, a victim of Americans’ love of fast-food and chain restaurants. Barbecue fared no better. Restaurants pulled out their wood-burning pits and installed gas-fueled smoke boxes. Americans were sold on the naive idea that great barbecue is built on bottled sauces.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the drive-thru. We realized our traditional foods deserve as much respect as any other cuisine. We woke up to honest fried chicken. We acknowledged that a well-engineered burger is a thing of economy and beauty. More to the point, Americans adopted barbecue as our national folk food.
The worry of past decades—what happens when real barbecue dies out?—is no longer relevant. The new question is, how high can barbecue go? Across the country, restaurants—both the old guard and the new traditionalist—are serving up the delicious answer.
Aaron Franklin, who furrows his brow when cooking but flashes a quick, sweet smile to customers, leads the new-traditionalist charge. He came by his credentials honestly. In Bryan, Tex., where he grew up, his parents ran their own barbecue stand. Franklin, 35, took a slightly different path: In 2009, he and his wife, Stacy, opened their first Austin barbecue spot in a converted trailer. A skilled metalworker, Franklin cut a hole in the side of the trailer and installed a wood-burning pit. He spiked his sauce with espresso. Such developments screamed newfangled.
But he is also committed to the traditional ways. Depending on the weather and the size of the briskets, Franklin smokes the behemoths for 12 to 18 hours over aged post oak—native to Texas—which imparts a sweet flavor. The result is as old as the marriage of fire and smoke, and as delicious as barbecue gets.
The South isn’t the only place where new traditionalists have taken on barbecue. In New York City, prolific restaurateur Danny Meyer led the way with
way back in 2002. More recently, the pace has picked up.
, a postmodern Texas meat market, opened this year in Brooklyn, selling clods of beef; it’s become so popular that the restaurant uses a website,
, to alert customers when the beef sells out. Other noteworthy spots include
in Detroit—where Texas, St. Louis, and Carolina styles coexist—and
in Dallas, where briskets get a coffee rub and pulled pork sandwiches come with unorthodox blue cheese slaw. (Check out “Best of the New School” below for food critics’ favorites from across the country.)
In Oakland, Tanya Holland of B-Side BBQ has earned diehard fans even as she takes liberties with the canon, inventing dishes like smoked mashed yams; pork ribs rubbed with Caribbean jerk seasonings; and chili pocked with crunchy burned brisket ends. Holland, a mellifluous-voiced veteran of the television cooking show circuit, is not your typical pitmaster. She earned a degree in Russian language and literature from the University of Virginia and a Grand Diplôme from Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Burgundy, France. And when she talks about barbecue, she’s as likely to speak of how to make (and smoke) tofu as she is whole hog.
Though southerners appreciate new barbecue styles, the region is still the epicenter of tradition. Change here has been more about adaptation than reinvention. In Tennessee, relative newcomer Pat Martin of Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint serves open-face pork shoulder sandwiches on griddle-fried hoecakes—a dish that’s deeply indebted to the old ways. Some pitmasters have adopted modernized smokers. Others have made minor—but no less ingenious—adjustments. Pitmaster Rodney Scott of Scott’s Bar-B-Que in Hemingway, S.C., has been smoking whole hogs since he was 11 years old. When the local health department began paying closer attention to his shop, he installed heating coils beneath the deboning table, to keep his pork at regulation-approved temperature. Barbecue Crossroads , a new book by Robb Walsh, depicts a pitmaster who now wears a surgical mask to protect him from the constant swirl of smoke.
The audience for barbecue in the American South has changed, too. Daniel Vaughn, author of The Prophets of Smoked Meat , represents a new generation of connoisseurs who can step from their cars, sniff the air in the parking lot, and make a good guess at the kind of wood—hickory, post oak, or mesquite—the pitmaster is burning for his or her barbecue.
Even the meat is evolving: Now that we know that old-fashioned, fat-marbled cuts—not the lean pork engineered by modern industrial farming—make for great barbecue, progressive restaurants like Birmingham, Ala.–based
Jim ’N Nick’s Bar-B-Q
are raising their own pigs, returning the fattier pork our grandfathers cooked to today’s tables.
New attention has also benefited old-guard pitmasters. “It wasn’t until people started asking about it that we realized the value of what we do,” says Bryan Bracewell of the legendary 131-year-old Southside Market in Elgin, Tex.
In Brownsville, Tenn., 57-year-old Helen Turner of Helen’s Bar-B-Q has dedicated her life to the perfect barbecue sandwich. Her restaurant is a metal shebang, fronted by a simple sign. Around back, a screened porch swirls with heavy wood smoke. If you can manage two minutes in the room where Turner spends hours each day, you’ll notice two concrete-and-metal constructions. One is for burning wood into coals. Another, fueled by those coals and topped with a piece of roofing tin, is the pit where Turner cooks pork shoulders until they shade toward burgundy.
Turner is a joyful iconoclast. When she laughs, she cackles. When she works, she shames any man who tries to keep up with her. And when she constructs a sandwich, she crafts it with architectural integrity: stacked with pork shoulder, spritzed with hot sauce, and capped with sweet slaw.
Since writers and filmmakers began showing up in search of traditional barbecue, Turner says, business is up around 30 percent. Acclaim for the likes of Helen Turner is the kind of change that barbecue can sustain—and that we should celebrate.
Best of the New School: Restaurant Critics' Favorite Barbecue Joints
We asked top restaurant critics across the country to name their favorite barbecue joint that’s opened in the past few years. Check out the list below.
Heirloom Market BBQ
They do a beautiful job smoking pork, ribs, and brisket, and then they serve it with Korean chile barbecue sauce and sides like kimchi coleslaw. —John Kessler, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Tee it up at nearby
City Club Marietta GC
), a short par-71 course of flat parklands routed through loblolly pines. The original routing has deep roots, with 9 holes designed by Marietta Country Club members back in 1915, and a second 9 added in the '60's, before a 1991 renovation by Mike Young. Prime time fees are $58.
Opened by a former firefighter, Kloby’s is now a destination for Carolina-style smoked pulled pork—so popular they had to expand in 2011.
—Richard Gorelick, The Baltimore Sun
Back towards the city, put out that golfing fire in your gullet with a round at The Timbers at Troy ( www.timbersgolf.com , Elkridge). Rated 4 stars by Golf Digest , this wooded track features gentle elevation changes, and it's also a certified Audobon Cooperative Sanctuary.
Saw’s Soul Kitchen
Saw’s signature dish of pulled pork and collard greens served over cheese grits and topped with fried onions is fast becoming a southern classic. —Bob Carlton, The Birmingham News
For great views of Birmingham, play a round on the hilltop
Highland Park GC
), voted 'Best Course in Birmingham' by
. Formerly the Country Club of Birmingham, the course is the oldest in Alabama, restored in 1998 by Bob Barrett and Bob Cupp. Bobby Jones won the Birmingham Invitational here at the tender age of 14. It's a bit on the short side at 5,800 yards and a par of 70, but the hilly routing provides a great challenge in outstanding condition.
Sweet Cheeks Q
The menu showcases meat in all its glory, but the sides shine as well—from expertly fried okra and green tomatoes to tall, fluffy biscuits. —Devra First, The Boston Globe
Sweet Cheeks is located near Fenway Park and Boston's trendy Back Bay neighborhood, so you'll have to drive towards the outskirts for golf. Local Ross design George Wright GC gets all the local press for affordability, but head for Newton Commonwealth GC ( www.sterlinggolf.com ) instead. A great 1920 Ross design in its own right, and prime time greens fees are just $53.
Bobbee O’s BBQ
It’s a little storefront spot you’d never find on your own; they do whole-shoulder meat with hickory and a dry rub, then pulled and sauced with a vinegar mix. —Helen Schwab, The Charlotte Observer
The Tradition GC ( www.thetraditiongolfclub.com ), part of the Carolina Golf Trail ( ), is minutes away. This tree-lined 1996 John Cassell routing is just $55 in prime time.
Among Chicago’s newer arrivals, I’ll go with Lillie’s Q. Owner Charlie McKenna is a competitive barbecue chef and restaurateur, and even a nasty fire this spring couldn’t keep him down for long (he was back in business in a matter of months). And his barbecue sauce is the best I’ve ever tasted. —Phil Vettel, Chicago Tribune
Lillie's has two Chicago locations, so head for the 1856 West North Avenue store to be closer to Chicago muni Sydney R. Marovitz GC ( www.cpdgolf.com ). It's only 9 holes, with conditions typical of what you'd expect from an inner-city muni, but it's got a Great-Lake-front hole or two for just $28 greens fees.
Old Carolina Barbecue
A spark of Carolinian vinegar-style sauce makes Buckeye-state pork jump the fence in tenderness.
—Debbi Snook, Cleveland Plain Dealer
It won't feel much like Carolina at 36-hole Sweetbriar GC ( www.sweetbriargolfclub.com ) in Avon Lake, just Driver-Wedge from Lake Erie. The Legacy Course ($55) is the more challenging of the two courses, a recent design with a linksy front and a wooded back with wetlands and fun risk/reward scenarios. The original Sweetbriar Course ($39) is a shortish 1960's track through mature trees and creeks.
Opened by relatives of the family that runs the famed Kreuz Market in central Texas, this joint has excellent pork ribs, jalapeño cheddar sausage, and shoulder clod. —Leslie Brenner, The Dallas Morning News
Local boy Hunter Mahan recommends nearby Dallas National GC , a Tom Fazio design. "The best thing about it is the landscape. Most of Dallas is flat, but this course has beautiful elevation changes. It's also one of the best-conditioned courses I've played, and it has a real low-key club atmosphere."
The combo plate showcases the art of low-and-slow: sliced beef brisket, pulled pork, and smoked chicken. Plus, you can dress your meal out with three house-made barbecue sauces that cover a range of regional styles.
—William Porter, The Denver Post
Head for nearby Common Ground ( www.commongroundgc.com ), a model of modern public golf. Home of the Colorado Golf Association, the course was designed by Tom Doak's Renaissance Golf Design. A playable layout routed over wide-open plains with mountain backdrops and elevated greens. Wide fairways and no surrounding trees add up to manageable slope ratings, and prime time ride fees are only $65.
Houston (Spring TX)
There’s always a line for Will Buckman’s softly pebbled brisket with a charry crust. —Alison Cook, Houston Chronicle
What could be better paired with softly pebble brisket than a round at an Augusta National wanna-be course? Tee it up at nearby
Augusta Pines GC
). It's a ballsy thing to reference Augusta when you name a golf course. Ballsier still to evoke the design.
says, "Its front nine a liberal interpretation of the storied back nine at Augusta National. The layout's back nine borrows from Oakland Hills, Pinehurst and others, though the holes are inspirations, not clones. Site of a Champions Tour event, Augusta Pines is derivative but likable." Even the clubhouse and other buildings on site are replicas of Augusta National's famed white clubhouse.
Jon Russell’s Kansas City Barbeque
www.Jonrussellsbbq.com , Overland Park
The owners, veterans of the competition barbecue circuit, hit a high mark with their pork ribs: They are tender, yet do not fall off the bone. Lightly sauced, they have a smoky rather than sweet flavor.
—Jill Wendholt Silva, The Kansas City Star
Play at nearby Overland Park muni St. Andrew's GC ( www.golfop.com ). Renovated twice in the last five years, this tree-lined course is a great value with prime time greens fees under $50.
On a good day, the brisket seems less meat than a fever dream of meat, a damp, pleasant, smoky vapor scented with happiness. —Jonathan Gold, L.A. Times
You're comin' straight outta Compton after lunch at Bludso's, but you'll be shocked at how close you are to good golf. Stick the peg in the ground at The Links At Victoria ( www.linksatvictoria.com , Carson, $48 Wknd Ride). SoCal specialist Billy Bell designed this linksy layout back in '66, but it got a complete revamp in 2001.
Sparky’s Roadside Barbecue
Their moist and tender beef brisket, slowly cooked in a Hummer-size smoker, is turning up the heat in downtown Miami. —Jodi Mailander Farrell, The Miami Herald
Splurge on nearby Miami Beach Golf Club ( www.miamibeachgolfclub.com ). A golf club with a rich history, MBGC was originally called Bayshore GC, part of a 1923 development designed to attract the wealthy from New York, Indianapolis, and Detroit. The course received a $10 million remodeling by Arthur Hills in 2002. Greens fees are steep ($100-$200), but hey, how often are you gonna be in Miami?
This spot makes the best Texas-style barbecue west of the Rio Grande: slow-smoked, dry-rubbed brisket and ribs, white bread, sliced onions, and jalapeños on request, washed down with killer craft beers
—Michael Russell, The Oregonian
Smack the little white pill around at nearby Heron Lakes GC ( www.heronlakesgolf.com ). This 36-hole facility designed by Robert Trent Jones II has recieved numerous national accolades, with green fees hovering around the $50 mark for prime time.
Coop’s West Texas BBQ
If you’re as obsessed with fat-threaded, juicy pork and slow-smoked beef as I am, you will leave Coop’s half-crazed.
—Keli Dailey, The San Diego Union-Tribune
Play William P. Bell's Mission Trails GC ( www.missiontrailsgc.com ). This scenic 1964 muni hosted the Junior World Championship when a young Eldrick Woods won in in 1990. The vistas alone are worth the $45 prime time riding fees.
Not exactly a traditional barbecue joint, this pig-shaped food truck serves great pulled pork sandwiches with a tangy tamarind sauce.
—Providence Cicero, The Seattle Times
Play West Seattle GC , one of the nation's best muni's. Per Golf Magazine , "A dramatic layout, built on the side of a hill and winding around steep ravines and towering firs. Generous fairways, tiny greens, and fewer than a dozen bunkers. The real challenge lies in traversing the ravines, uneven lies, and demanding green complexes."
The Garden District
Fuse North Carolina–style ’cue with a German beer garden and you get a magnet in D.C.’s trendy Logan Circle. —Tom Sietsema, The Washington Post
You're in downtown D.C., so why not play a course located in a National Park? Tee it up at Rock Creek GC ( www.rockcreekgolfcourse.com , $40 prime time), just 15 minutes from the White House.