Category Archives: Food Reviews

Review: 521 BBQ & Grill — Indian Land, SC

I was out and about on a Saturday in the southern part of Charlotte, NC.  I realized that I was within striking distance of a BBQ joint that I had not tried yet.  So at the recommendation of my friend Steve Gibbs, I decided to stop in at 521 BBQ & Grill in Indian Land, SC.

521 BBQ & Grill

521 BBQ & Grill

This BBQ joint is located approximately 10-15 minutes from the Ballantyne area of Charlotte, just over the NC/SC state line.  The decor of the place is very down-home, with picnic tables nestled among standard restaurant tables.

Restaurant Interior

Restaurant Interior

The menu at 521 BBQ & Grill offers pulled pork and ribs as well as items off of the grill (pork chops, chicken, etc.).  After perusing the menu for a few minutes (and soliciting the advice of the super-cute waitress who took care of me), I decided on the BBQ tray which consists of pulled pork (which ended up looking closer to chopped than pulled), fries, and hush puppies.

BBQ Tray

BBQ Tray

The first bite of pork was just a little bit on the dry side.  After that, it was absolutely delicious!  The pork had a beautiful color, with bits and pieces of the outside bark mixed in.  It had a nice touch of smoke in the taste, thus allowing the pork to be the star.

Pork Close-up

Pork Close-up

I’ll visit the sides shortly, but I want to talk about the sauces.  There are 2 different sauces available — a thick sweet Kansas City style sauce and a vinegar based sauce.

Sauces -- KC style on the left, vinegar on the right

Sauces -- KC style on the left, vinegar on the right

The KC style sauce was very thick, very sweet, with a nice touch of smoke.  It went well with the pork.  The vinegar-based sauce, on the other hand…  it was fabulous!  The color of the sauce is a darker color than most traditional vinegar-based sauces (very similar to the homemade vinegar-based sauce that I make).  This sauce really gave the pork that extra zing.  Excellent sauce!

Now, back to the sides…  the fries were fried up perfectly.  They were very crispy and flavorful on the outside.  The hush puppies were tasty as well, although I would’ve liked to have seen just a touch more flavor in them.  Nevertheless, I ate them anyway.

A Happy BBQ Tray

A Happy BBQ Tray

So is it worth the trip from Charlotte to Indian Land to check out this joint?  Without a doubt!  I’m certainly glad I checked it out.

521 BBQ & Grill is located at 7580 Charlotte Highway, Suite 100, Indian Land, SC 29707.  Their website is http://www.521bbqandgrill.com, and they can also be found on Facebook.

521 BBQ on Urbanspoon

Ribs for 30, Or How My First Pseudo-Catering Gig Went

Today was THE day I had been anticipating for quite some time.  About a month ago, a co-worker and I volunteered to cook for the entire office (around 30 people).  The original plan was for us to just cook pork butt, but it ended up that I volunteered to cook ribs while my co-worker would take care of the pork butt.  So here’s how that went…

First step — two days ago, I bought a whole bunch of spare ribs from Restaurant Depot (9 racks) and trim them to a St. Louis cut.

Spare ribs, trimmed to a St. Louis cut

Spare ribs, trimmed to a St. Louis cut

Last night, the ribs were slathered in Famous Dave’s Rich and Sassy BBQ Sauce and lightly seasoned with Willie’s Hog Dust Original Blend BBQ Rub.  After being slathered and seasoned, the ribs went into the refrigerator for the night.

Slathered and Seasoned

Slathered and Seasoned

This morning started early as I woke up at 3:45am to fire up the smoker.  At 4:45am, the smoker was up to 250 degrees, and in went the ribs!  The ribs cooked at between 225 and 250 degrees using oak wood.

Lots of ribs, about 2 1/2 hours in

Lots of ribs, about 2 1/2 hours in

At the three hour mark, I re-seasoned the ribs and put them back in the smoker.  At four hours in, I pull the ribs, add some dark brown sugar and honey, and foil them.

Ribs prior to brown sugar and honey drizzle

Ribs prior to brown sugar and honey drizzle

After another hour, the ribs were unfoiled and glazed with sweet BBQ sauce from Butcher BBQ.  The ribs were pulled after a grand total of 6 hours in the smoker.

About to be sauced

About to be sauced

The finished product.  Bad lighting, but it had beautiful color!

The finished product. Bad lighting, but it had beautiful color!

When the ribs were finished, they were wrapped in foil and placed in a towel-lined cooler for transport.  Once on-site, the ribs were sliced and ready to serve.

Yours truly slicing the ribs

Yours truly slicing the ribs. Picture courtesy of the company president.

Ready to serve.  Crappy cell phone pic.

Ready to serve. Crappy cell phone pic.

So how did it turn out?  If I go by how much food was left, it was a success with there only being five ribs left.  Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with one woman declaring it the best ribs she’s ever eaten.  Now if that doesn’t boost my ego, nothing will!

So that was my first experience with cooking for more than 3 or 4 people.  Except for the whole “getting up at 3:45am” part, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would not hesitate to volunteer to do it again!

My First Taste of Texas Brisket from Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse

First off, Happy Independence Day to everyone!  I recently won a giveaway sponsored by Man Up: Tales of Texas BBQ.  The grand prize was a BBQ feast courtesy of Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse which consisted of a 4-6 lb brisket and lots and lots of sausage.  My wife and I decided to try out the brisket.

The brisket

The brisket

The brisket was shipped in a Styrofoam cooler.  I’m not sure if it was packed on dry ice or using some other form of cooling, mainly because my wife received the package.  The brisket is hickory smoked, seasoned, and fully cooked (only needing to heat it up).

Brisket out of the package

Brisket out of the package

Here were the steps I followed to reheat the brisket:

  1. Preheated the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Lined a 9×13 casserole dish with aluminum foil and placed the brisket fat side up in the pan.
  3. Added 1/4 cup water over the brisket.
  4. Sealed the casserole dish with another large piece of aluminum foil.
  5. Placed the casserole dish in the oven to cook for 50 minutes at 375 degrees.  The package indicates to cook for 50-60 minutes for a 4-6 lb brisket.
Brisket prior to cooking/reheating

Brisket prior to cooking/reheating

When I took the brisket out of the oven, it smelled wonderful!

Finished brisket

Finished brisket

Slices of heaven

Slices of heaven

My wife and I were both a bit concerned that the meat was going to be tough.  It was anything but tough!  The brisket was very tender and flavorful, chock full of pepper and everything good about Texas brisket!  The only snafu about the whole meal was that I sliced the first few slices with the grain instead of against the grain.  But that’s what happens when an ignorant North Carolinian gets a hold of Texas BBQ.

So in short…  best brisket I’ve ever eaten.  Hands down!  Tonight I’ll be trying out the jalapeno and cheese sausage.

The restaurant for Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse is located at 188 Highway 290, Elgin, TX 78621 (approximately 24 miles east of Austin, TX).  Their website is http://www.cuetopiatexas.com, and their products are available for online purchase here.  You can also find Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse on Facebook and Twitter.

Review: Bill Spoon’s Barbecue — Charlotte, NC

For a city the size of Charlotte, there’s not much there in the way of outstanding barbecue. There are several adequate places, and there are even a couple that are good. But in the years that I’ve lived here, the only place that I have tried that I would call excellent is Mac’s Speed Shop.  However, I kept hearing about Bill Spoon’s Barbecue, so I decided to give it a shot one day for lunch.

Bill Spoon's Barbecue

Bill Spoon's Barbecue

Bill Spoon’s Barbecue is located on South Blvd. in Charlotte, NC.  They pride themselves on serving Eastern Carolina style barbecue by cooking the whole hog.  For those of you unfamiliar with the barbecue culture in North Carolina, Eastern Carolina style barbecue consists of cooking the entire hog, finely chopping the meat from the various parts of the pig, and serving it all together. The sauce is generally a very thin vinegar-based sauce.

I walk in and get seated and immediately feel at home.  The atmosphere was a very down-home comfortable atmosphere.  The tables all had yellow checkered tablecloths, and the wood paneling made me feel a bit nostalgic.

Covert shot of dining room

Covert shot of dining room

Bill Spoon’s prides itself on serving the whole hog, so I decided to order the small barbecue plate with beans as my side.  The waitress was extremely friendly.  Less than five minutes later, out comes my plate of food!

Small barbecue plate with beans

Small barbecue plate with beans

The star of this plate is the pork.  It was chopped very fine, but the texture was not mushy at all.  I could see that some sort of sauce was applied to it, but the pork was not drowned in the sauce.  It had a very nice flavor.  I added some of the Eastern Carolina style sauce to the pork, and it added a nice bite with some kick.

Pork closeup

Pork closeup -- sorry about the fuzzy picture

I forgot to mention the hush puppies…  with every barbecue dinner, they have bottomless hush puppies!  WOOHOO!!  The hush puppies were extremely fresh — nice and crunchy on the outside, and very moist on the inside.  The only drawback was that they were just a little bit on the salty side.

Hush Puppies

Hush Puppies

The slaw was something different that I had not experienced since starting my barbecue adventures — it was a mustard-based slaw.  I would normally not eat a mustard-based slaw, but it complemented the barbecue quite well.  Thus, it did exactly what it was supposed to do.  The beans, quite frankly, were bland and mostly forgettable.  But I was hungry, and I ate them anyway.

Happy barbecue plate

Happy barbecue plate

I also read somewhere that they had excellent banana pudding, so I just had to try it out when I saw it available on today’s menu.  When it came out, it was a little smaller portion than I had expected.  However, the taste of the banana pudding was very nice.  There were layers upon layers upon layers of wafers in the pudding, giving the pudding that nice crunch in addition to the pudding taste.  The pudding component was very fresh, although I kept wondering if I tasted just a faint hint of lemon in the pudding.

Banana pudding

Banana pudding

All in all, I enjoyed eating at Bill Spoon’s.  I’m not sure it quite surpasses Mac’s Speed Shop in the excellence factor, I have no qualms whatsoever in putting it in a solid 2nd place when it comes to the best barbecue in Charlotte.

Bill Spoon's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Did Someone Say Ribs?

Let me start this off by saying…  my in-laws rock!  While I had to go in to the office to work this past Saturday, they, along with my wife, worked out in our yard and got it in decent shape.  For all the hard work that they did, I had to pay them back somehow.  And how does someone with a passion for BBQ pay back a favor?  Why, with BBQ, of course!  And luckily for me, the requested meat was ribs!

Now the big question…  baby backs or spares?  After much deliberation, spares won out.  This entailed a trip to my local Sam’s Club and purchasing a three-pack of spare ribs.  I trimmed the ribs down to a St. Louis style cut and then seasoned them three different ways.

The rib racks

The rib racks

I’ll describe the rack preparations starting at the top and rotating clockwise.  I applied lemon juice to the first rack and sprinkled liberal amounts of Willie’s Hog Dust to the rack .  By the way, Willie’s Hog Dust works great on pork butt.  The second rack (the one oriented vertically) was slathered in Uncle Kenny’s Spicy BBQ Sauce and covered liberally with Spicy #13 Rub from Bandiola Spice Company.  This rack was thus dubbed the “Hot Rack”.  The final rack was slathered in Sweet Baby Ray’s Original BBQ Sauce and rubbed with Plowboy’s Yard Bird Rub.

The racks were put in the smoker (along with the trimmings from the spare ribs… lesson here: leave no meat behind) to cook at 250 degrees Fahrenheit using Kingsford competition briquettes and oak wood.  After about four hours, the ribs were done.  And they sure looked good!

Ribs are done!

Ribs are done!

Since I used sauces in the rib preparation, I decided to pass on glazing the ribs before pulling them out of the smoker.  As you can see, there is a nice rich deep red color to the ribs.  It was perfectly done, with nice bite marks being left with each bite.  Obviously everyone else agreed, even my wife (who is adamantly opposed to eating meat with bones in it)…

The survivors...

The survivors...

Now I confess I’m a bit of a heat lover.  I think that most every food can benefit from a bit of spice and heat.  While I was pleased with how all the racks turned out, I was especially pleased with the results from my Hot Rack.  The combination of  Bandiola Spice Company’s Spicy #13 Rub and Uncle Kenny’s Spicy BBQ Sauce gave the ribs a sneaky back heat that I really enjoyed!

Hope this inspires you to get out and fire up the cooker this coming weekend and cook those ribs that you’ve been meaning to cook for so long now!

A Tasket, A Tisket, I Just Cooked My First Brisket

A couple of weeks ago, I decided that this weekend would be the weekend that I would cook my first brisket.  And as it turned out, the weather could not have been more perfect!

The brisket was an 8 1/2 lb whole packer brisket — small by normal standards, but plenty for just two of us.  Because this was my first brisket, I knew better than to get a Wagyu brisket, so mine came from the glorious meat market known as Wal-Mart.  Yeah… I know what you’re thinking…  but it’s my first, and I’m not gonna buy a $50 piece of meat for my first trial run.

I took it out of the freezer Wednesday evening and put it in the refrigerator to thaw out.  Last night was prep night for me.  I attempted to trim up the brisket without taking out too many hunks of meat (which I feel I did an adequate job).  After trimming, I patted the meat dry, seasoned it liberally with Strawberry’s Shake-On Bar-B-Que Seasoning, and put it back in the refrigerator.

This morning, I fired up the smoker (a New Braunfels Bandera vertical offset) and got the brisket in by 8:15am.  After a lot of research, I decided to go with a little higher cooker temperature, keeping the smoker between 250 and 300 degrees.  As a treat to myself, I also put some pig candy in the cooker a few minutes after noon today.  As a result, I took the opportunity to get a sneak peek at my experiment:

Brisket @ 4 hours in.

Brisket @ 4 hours in.

So far it was looking tasty.  At around 4:15 this afternoon, I took a temperature reading.  The thermometer shot up to 185 degrees, and the probe slid in like butter, so off it came!  After resting a few minutes, it was time to slice.

Brisket sliced

Brisket sliced

Single Slice

Single Slice

Multiple slices

Multiple slices

Then it was time for the taste test.  I gave two pieces to my wife — one closer to the thinner end of the brisket, and one closer to the point.  She noted that the outer bark was a bit salty (probably a product of using too much rub).  In her opinion, both slices were very tender.  The slice closer to the point was much more moist, but the other slice had more flavor.

All in all, the brisket turned out about as well as I expected it to.  While it was not a competition-winning brisket, it didn’t completely suck either. The encouraging bit of information from today was that my wife (a self-professed non-fan of brisket) said she would eat it again.

It’s progress, but back to the drawing board…

It’s a bird… NO, it’s a plane… NO! It’s a Super Fatty!

Normally I don’t do a link and run post (I try to save those up for the weekly “best of” blog entries on Sundays).  However, I recently came across a post from DivaQ (@DivaQBBQ on Twitter) for an “ultimate bacon jalapeño sausage super fatty” as a suggestion for a Super Bowl party appetizer.

Seriously… do yourself a favor and go look at this.  Now.  Be sure to have a napkin, towel, or something close-by to clean up the drool.

Review: Lexington BBQ #1 — Lexington, NC

Today I had the opportunity to meet up with some really great people today at Lexington BBQ #1 in Lexington, NC.  I will talk about that in a different blog post.

The first thing I observed about Lexington #1 is that YOU CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE!  Google Maps Navigation failed me on the address that I found on Yelp, instead trying to put me at a different restaurant.  I wondered if it was some kind of conspiracy.  However, the next address I found for it was correct.  I arrive to an extremely full parking lot and a mad dash in an attempt to find an open spot.  Clearly people love this place.

Lexington BBQ #1 Signage

Lexington BBQ #1 Signage

Once we all get seated, our waitress comes around to take our orders.  While there were burgers and other items on the menu, we came there for one reason: pork!  At Lexington BBQ #1, they serve BBQ three different ways: chopped, coarsely chopped, and sliced.  I ordered the large coarsely chopped BBQ tray with hush puppies and asked for extra “brown” (which is the outer bark from the pork shoulder).  Shortly after ordering, out comes the food:

Lexington BBQ #1 Coarsely Chopped BBQ

Lexington BBQ #1 Coarsely Chopped BBQ

Coarsely Chopped BBQ -- Close-Up

Coarsely Chopped BBQ -- Close-Up

Coarsely Chopped BBQ -- Close-Up 2

Coarsely Chopped BBQ -- Close-Up 2

The pork was presented in a tray that was about the size of a 3×5 note card, and about 3/4 – 1 inch deep.  I was immediately pleased at the amount of “brown” that was in my tray, because this gave promise to lots of flavor.  As I took bite after bite, I was not disappointed.  The pork was very flavorful and moist — not dry in the least bit whatsoever.  The only thing that was somewhat disappointing was that the pieces of brown were a little tough to chew.  The flavor it brought out, however, more than made up for it.

One of my former co-workers recommended to me one time that if I ever went to a BBQ restaurant in Lexington, ask for an extra cup of dip.  In Lexington, dip is a thin mopping sauce that contains very small amounts of ketchup and sugar to go along with the vinegar and other spices.  I’m very glad that I did.  Adding a small amount of the dip to my BBQ really enhanced the flavors of the pork.

Lexington BBQ #1 Hush Puppies

Lexington BBQ #1 Hush Puppies

The hush puppies were delicious!  They were very crunchy, flavorful, and (best of all) not greasy.  I could have made myself completely full just on the hush puppies alone (which I nearly did).

Lexington BBQ #1 Slaw

Lexington BBQ #1 Slaw

Normally I am not a fan of red slaw.  I usually find it a bit too tangy.  However, this slaw complemented the rest of the meal well.  It was very crunchy with just enough tang to act as a perfect side to the slaw.

Lexington BBQ #1 Peach Cobbler

Lexington BBQ #1 Peach Cobbler

I even left enough room for peach cobbler.  The peach cobbler was good, but nothing really outstanding.  It just didn’t have that “wow” factor, in my opinion.  Plus, I’m still trying to figure out where in the world they were able to find a rectangular ice cream scoop.

All in all, the food at Lexington BBQ #1 was worth the drive up from Charlotte.  The fact that I got to partake of the BBQ with a great group of people made it even better!

I Have Tasted Heaven, and It Tastes Like Pig Candy

About a month or so back, I came across a blog post by DivaQ regarding pig candy.  You can find her post here.  As I finally arrived home and began to prepare dinner (burgers on the grill… tasty tasty!), the lure of bacon bacon bacon lingered in the back of my mind.  I said to myself, “Self, I should do some smoked pig candy tonight.”

Now for those of you who are wondering what in the world pig candy is, pig candy is candied bacon.  To go with tonight’s burgers, I fried up some bacon to function as a condiment.  In addition, I set aside a few slices of bacon to do an experimental batch of pig bacon on the grill.    Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures of the final product, so you will just have to use your imagination.

The bacon I used was thick-sliced bacon.  This is a must.  For this test run, I took four half-slices of bacon and seasoned them liberally with Plowboys Yardbird Rub.  After the rub, I liberally applied brown sugar on top of the BBQ rub.  The bacon slices then went onto a grill sheet on the grill over slightly indirect heat using Kingsford Competition Briquettes and a few small apple wood chunks (the burgers were cooking over direct heat).  After about 30 minutes, I pulled the bacon slices off and let them rest.  I probably could have let them rest longer, but why would I want to do something like that?  :P

I took my first bite, and it was like an orgasm of flavors just went off in my mouth!  I’m officially hooked.  There are three main elements that make this great:

  1. It’s sweet.
  2. It’s salty.
  3. It’s BACON!!!

The sweetness from the brown sugar, the saltiness from the bacon and the rub, and the smoke all combine together to form a wonderful chorus of flavors in your mouth.  I varied from the recipe that DivaQ posted in a couple of ways:

  • My bacon was on the grill for about 30 minutes as opposed to 2 hours.  This was due to the bacon being a little closer to the heat source as well as my lack of patience.
  • I let my pig candy rest for about 5 minutes or so.  It probably could have stood to rest a little bit longer to completely firm up.

All in all, I’ve found a winner!  The next time that I whip up a batch of pig candy, I will definitely devote more time to letting the bacon smoke and letting the bacon rest to firm up.  Plus, there will be pictures!

Until next time…