Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What A Ride!

Well, it's all over except for the FC Dallas soccer game tonight. This has been an extraordinary trip in so many ways. 8 days, 6 states, over 2,300 miles in the car, 7 hotels, and 11 BBQ joints later I think I can say that for both of us this has been an experience that we will never forget.

PD1 and I have always had a pretty good relationship, but all bets are off, I think, when you put a dad and teenage daughter in the car and hotels for an extended time. Despite the potential for disaster, we managed to have a terrific time, and learn a little bit more about each other. There is so much going through her head right now, so many things that she'll have to deal with over the next few years, that I am grateful for having this time together.

No matter what we did on this trip, it was a partnership. I got to watch "What Not To Wear" and she witnessed the subtle genius that is "Best in Show". She had to listen in on my conference calls with work, and I got to hear her gab about her friend's most recent encounter with some boy. We learned about ex-presidents, saw the OK City bombing memorial, visited 3 college campuses (remind me to blog about that sometime), played name that tune with our IPod, and watched (I listened) 3 "Monk" episodes over and over as we drove ("Bleach! The White God! Dias Blanco!)

And we ate some great BBQ.

Today, on the last stop of our journey we dined at Baker's Ribs in Dallas. Scott recommended this joint in the comments, and again he steered us right. Baker's has about four locations in Dallas, so I was a bit skeptical going in. A chain, I thought would not deliver. Wrong.

Baker's is a bit different than the other places we went to in that they use hickory logs to smoke their meat, while most of the other Texas joints we went to use oak or mesquite. While I thing that no other smoke does pork as well as hickory smoke, Baker's use of hickory on beef is a violation of my cardinal rule that these two simply do not go together. In my experience, something happens that causes the beef to pick up a slightly acrid taste when hickory is used and again today I found this to be the case.

Baker's brisket as a result was good, but not as good as other Texas stops along the way. Besides the acrid undertone, the meat was also a bit dry and just didn't work for me. The pork however, was quite a different story. Unbelievably moist, full of flavor, and perfectly smoked Baker's pork ribs were the best of the trip and some of the best ribs I have ever had.

One interesting aspect of Baker's ribs was the tenderness of the meat. While so many places mistakenly go for the "fall off the bone" quality of tender and end up producing mushy que, Baker's achieved almost the perfect texture. As you bite into a Baker rib, there is at first a small explosion of juice into your mouth that releases a meaty smokiness onto your tongue. As you pull the bone away from your mouth, there is a slight tug, and then the bone gives up its bounty, cleanly and without a huge piece of meat completely falling off the bone creating a slopping mess. As you chew, a distinct taste of salt, pepper, smoke and meat floods your mouth and leaves you looking for more in your next bite. I'm getting hungry just thinking about those delicious ribs.

Complimenting a Baker's meal are the hot links and potato salad. We thought the hot links were good, but Leo's in Oklahoma were far better in terms of both texture and taste. Baker's potato salad was excellent. The potatoes were chopped very fine and enveloped in a creamy dressing that tasted of dill and other spices. The peach cobbler that finished the meal was ok, but probably not worthy of the extra calories.

So our trip is nearly over and now I think we can extend the following Pursuit BBQ World Tour Awards of Excellence:

Best Brisket: Smitty's
Best Pork Ribs: Baker's
Best Pulled Pork: Leatha's
Best Hot Links: Leo's
Best Potato Salad: Bakers
Best Baked Beans: Leo's
Best Dessert: Leo's
Best Hospitality: Leatha's

And finally, the best state BBQ overall:


A final thought. Despite the awards above, I would recommend any of the places that we went except for Corky's in Memphis. It is hard to list the best because each had its on special appeal. Perhaps the place that deserves the most mention that did not "win" an award is Green Mesquite in Austin. The taste of that BBQ is like a recurring dream in mind, I can taste that meal as I sit here just as well as I did in our booth on the first night. Actually, I'm reminded of one more award that Green Mesquite can win: Best Sauce. We didn't really use much sauce on this trip, preferring to focus on the efforts of the pit men, but when we did, Green Mesquite's stood out.

One final thing that I learned on this trip: I'm a darn good smoker! Admittedly I am biased, but when I due my shoulder, although my meat is not quite as tender as some of the pulled pork on this trip, I think that the texture is better, and I know I'm getting better flavor due to my rub and copious use of hickory and cherry. My ribs are very similar to Baker's in that I get good bone release, without having the entire rib of meat fall off the minute I take a bite. So, I guess I better get smoking when I get home! Gotta work on my brisket, which is decidedly sub par.

That is all for now. Thanks to Scott for his recommendations on Texas joints and to my loyal three readers for their comments. I hope to return to blogging on a more regular basis, as this trip has taught me that I due miss it.

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