Barbecue Digest: How to spot a great barbecue joint
September 26th, 2012
10:00 AM ET
Share this on:

Editor's note: All summer long, the Southern Foodways Alliance will be delving deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of barbecue across the United States. Dig in.

All barbecue fans have their favorite off-the-beaten-path barbecue restaurants, and there are plenty of legendary joints with a sufficient reputation for pilgrims to drive hundreds of miles to seek them out. But what about when you’re zipping down a lonely highway far from home and top a hill and spot an unfamiliar “BBQ” sign? Is it worth stopping and risking a precious meal, when you only have between three to five per day to spend? What if just ten miles down the road there’s an even more worthy contender? These sorts of decisions can drive a barbecue nut to acid stomach and night terrors.

Over the years, connoisseurs have formulated a variety of techniques to help their decision-making. In "Southern Belly", John T. Edge advances the cobweb test: “When in doubt...bend down and take a look at the woodpile. Are there cobwebs collecting between the split logs?” If there are, move on: it’s a gas-burner.

In "Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue", John and Dale Reed devote four entire pages to this vital topic. They note that almost all authorities have endorsed a mixture of pickup trucks and pricey imports in the parking lot as a reliable sign of quality, but they add a clincher: “If the sheriff’s car is there, hit your brakes immediately.”

Porky LeSwine of The BBQ Jew came up with his own handy list of “ten commandments” for separating the meat from the gristle. The best of these tell you what to avoid: any place that is open on Sunday, serves beer, stays open past 9:00 pm, or advertises on billboards.

My favorite, though, is one I read years ago in a magazine (and, unfortunately, I’ve long since forgotten who wrote it). It’s ingenious less for its effectiveness than for the sheer empiricism of its method. You assign a numeric score to a barbecue joint based upon the number of human-like things the pig on the sign is doing. A realistic pig just standing there: 0 points. A pig standing up and wearing a hat: 2 points. A standing pig in a hat and overalls strumming a banjo, winking, and turning a barbecue spit (or feasting on his brethren) - well, just pull right on over. You have found a winner.

Got a tried and true method for tracking down great barbecue? Sharing is caring. Please let your BBQ-loving brethren know in the comments below.

Today's installment comes courtesy of Robert Moss, a food writer and restaurant critic for the Charleston City Paper and author of "Barbecue: the History of an American Institution". Follow him on Twitter at @mossr.

Delve into more barbecue goodness from the Southern Foodways Alliance blog

Previously - The self-cannibalizing pigs of Texas BBQ and How far would you go for a meal?

soundoff (184 Responses)
  1. Marla Cantadore

    I'm still learning from you, while I'm improving myself. I absolutely liked reading all that is posted on your blog.Keep the information coming. I enjoyed it!

    December 29, 2013 at 1:17 am |
  2. Candace Oney

    An attention-grabbing dialogue is price comment. I believe that it's best to write extra on this subject, it may not be a taboo topic however typically persons are not sufficient to talk on such topics. To the next. Cheers

    December 15, 2013 at 4:28 am |
  3. Charlie Cvetkovic

    A powerful share, I simply given this onto a colleague who was doing slightly evaluation on this. And he actually purchased me breakfast as a result of I discovered it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the deal with! However yeah Thnkx for spending the time to debate this, I really feel strongly about it and love studying extra on this topic. If doable, as you turn out to be experience, would you thoughts updating your weblog with extra particulars? It's extremely useful for me. Large thumb up for this weblog put up!

    December 15, 2013 at 3:28 am |
  4. Philmo

    While these rules may be fine in places where BBQ joints are rare or maybe it's a guide for newbies, but in the Kansas City Metro area, none of these rules have any basis in reality.

    Kansas City with more than 100 BBQ restaurants/joints, has everything from hi-brow to low-brow joints and you can find pretty much every regional style of BBQ in at least one place in this town. some open only a few hours of the day, for one or more days, some open 7 days a week, closing at midnight.

    We got Texas style, Carolina style, Ozark style, Kentucky style, invented styles that only exist in one place and of course, K.C. style. The only thing we don't have in K.C. is a 24 hour joint. And I've always wonder why, with some many BBQ joints, I can't get BBQ at 3am.

    Kansas City is not only the BBQ Capitol of the world, but the Crossroads of BBQ. All styles of BBQ lead to K.C. No matter where you're from, no matter what style you like, there's at least one joint that will suit your tastes, which cannot say of any other regions/BBQ meccas.

    October 29, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  5. Willie Tullis

    i reall love the smell of fresh air, it is really very refreshing to the lungs and the nose as well..'.;

    Our very own web-site http://www.healthfitnessbook.comdl

    June 21, 2013 at 12:04 am |
1 2 3
| Part of