Cantrell’s Bar-B-Que

Cantell’s Bar-B-Que is in East Nashville, on a quiet street corner, tucked away in a neighborhood. They’re also one of the few decent BBQ joints open on Sunday.

I ordered the spare rib plate with mac and cheese and turnip greens. I also had the pork shoulder sandwich. Both plates came with hot barbecue sauce.

The ribs were basically not seasoned and essentially void of smoke. They did have a nice pork flavor and were very tender.

The shoulder sandwich was a tad tougher than I care for, but still decent, even though the bun had been soaked to a mush.

I didn’t feel like the food I got was fresh. There was no smoke in the air and nothing that indicated I was in a BBQ joint (other than the menu).

I’m hopeful that Nashville has significantly better BBQ than Cantrell’s. it wasn’t bad in a pinch, but I can’t see myself returning.
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Meatonomics 101: Meat Charts

How does the retail price of beef compare to pork and chicken? Has the price of beef gone up or down, in real terms, over time? Which country consumes the most beef? Which country consumes the most pork?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about the meat industry, both domestic and international, which led me to ask the previous questions (and many, many more). The answers seemed anticlimactic without pretty pictures so, I took the data I found from all around the interwebs and made some spiffy charts.

Before I present you these charts, I want to introduce two nerdy economics terms I’ll be using: nominal price and real price. Nominal price is just the amount on the price tag. If you went to the store and bought a brisket for $2.07 per pound, the nominal price is $2.07 per pound. Easy. Real price means “inflation adjusted price”. Paying $2.07 today for a brisket would have been like paying $1.28 in 1993. Real price gives us a way to accurately compare prices throughout the decades.

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Whup’s Boomerang Bar-B-Q

About 25 miles east of I-35, smack in the middle of Waco and Temple, sits a small, unassuming barbecue joint called Whup’s Boomerand Bar-B-Q. Whup’s is situated in a very small “country” neighborhood, just off a main road. If there was no sign in the front you’d probably miss it altogether.

The pit boss and owner, Ben Washington, grew up the son of a railroad worker and has been around barbecue all of his life. When he was young, his father routinely cooked cabrito (baby goat) in a 50 gallon drum smoker. His uncle, who greatly influenced Washington’s cooking, was a chef for decades.

Ben Washington, owner and pit master at Whup's.
Ben Washington, owner and pit master at Whup’s. Photo credit: Robert Lerma

Washington worked as a sales/delivery man for Pepsi for 25 years. In 1991, he opened a BBQ joint in Marlin that ultimately failed 4 years later. However, in 1999 Washington left Pepsi after 25 years of service and opened Whup’s.

Pepsi’s consistency and dedicated to quality control was an inspiration for Washington. “When you open a Pepsi, it tastes the same every time. That’s how I want my product to be.” That kind of mentality is the sign of a dedicated, mature pit master.

Since Whup’s is off the beaten path, I decided to order basically everything off the menu. I got a sausage, hot link, pork ribs, moist and lean brisket, chicken leg and thigh, baked beans and potato salad.

Holy Trinity (plus a hot link and a chicken lag/thigh)
Holy Trinity (plus a hot link and a chicken lag/thigh)
Moist brisket from Whup's.
Moist brisket from Whup’s.

The brisket, which cooks for 12-15 hours over mesquite, oak and sometimes pecan wood, had a great smoke flavor and, aside from a bit of dryness in the lean, was very tasty. The moist piece in particular was excellent and sported an almost crisp piece of fat that melted in my mouth.

The sausage and hot link both had a nice flavor and good smoke level, but were a bit overshadowed by the brisket.

The pork rib, however, was nice and smokey and gently separated form the bone, but didn’t “fall off”. The meat was soft and the salinity was generally well balanced.

The chicken thigh was as soft as butter and absolutely delicious. The skin, though not as crisp as I dream about, was still very good and I consumed it with vigor.

Finally, the beans and potato salad were fairly average, but still complemented the meat very well. Particularly the coolness of the potato salad.

Whup’s isn’t really near much of anything, so it is definitely a destination spot for fellow barbecue travelers. However, I definitely recommend a visit. If anything, you’ll enjoy eating very solid barbecue in a country setting.

Click here for a REALLY MASSIVE panorama of Whup’s.

Austin Barbecue Society

Not long ago, Evan LeRoy (chef/pit master at Freedmen’s Bar) and I were talking about the direction of barbecue. What does the future of barbecue look like? Who will be cooking and what will they cook? Who is advancing the cause of smoked meat in Texas?

All of these questions (and many more) led us to form the Austin Barbecue Society.

On June 24th, 2013 we held the inaugural dinner of the Austin Barbecue Society. It was a resounding success and had some really awesome folks attending.

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The Tale of Franklin, Mueller & Lewis

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/96272600″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Y’all ever wonder about Aaron Franklin, John Mueller and John Lewis? Well, let me tell you the tale of three Texas Barbecue Greats…in song of course.

Mueller and Lewis photos from Robert Lerma.

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Converted to Snow’s BBQ

“So early.”

That’s all I could manage to say to Robert, my BBQ travel companion and talented photographer, at 4:45am on a Saturday morning. The last time I went to Snow’s BBQ it was early, but not nearly this early.

Robert and I were on the road by 5:25am that Saturday and made it to Snow’s at around 6:30am. Thankfully, we had tons of caffeine.

When we arrived the scene was surreal: dawn light penetrating through the thick, sweet, oak smoke billowing from the numerous pits and blanketing the whole area in a velvety haze. Red hot coals peeping out of small cracks in the fireboxes, staring back at us like the eyes of a fictitious dragon in the dark. It was as if witchcraft was being performed, except instead of “eye of newt” there was “brisket of cow”, “ribs of pig” and…sausage.

When we arrived I saw Tootsie, a pit master in her 47th year of cooking barbecue, stirring a huge pot with a long wooden spoon. Maybe this was barbecue witchcraft after all…

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Opie’s Barbecue

I don’t frequently eat BBQ that really impresses me. When it does happen, however, I get excited. I’m going to break format here and tell you right now that Opie’s has some of the best baby back ribs I’ve ever had the pleasure of putting in my mouth.

Initially I wondered if I had experienced a fluke. A freak accident of meat and smoke that turned into the perfect marriage of the two. Then I went outside to the pits where Marco, the pit boss, was removing 8 slabs of gorgeous, mouth watering baby backs. Clearly, this was not a fluke. I was experiencing the winning end of a consistent, near perfect product.

But what about the brisket? How does it compare to other joints?

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The BBQ Draft

Robert Lerma asked me if I was going to make a barbecue draft (presumably with just my favorite individual items from various joints), what would be #1 and what would be my Top 5.

That’s a nearly impossible question for me to answer, but I’m going to go with my gut.
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