Saturday, October 19, 2013


Non-Quest BBQ No 41 – Arby's

Madison, Alabama

During my occasional travels, I try to sample BBQ at those near and far away places outside the Quest area. I just really, really like that stuff ... 

So, once in a while one or another of the national fast food chains decides to spice up their menu with a BBQ-themed item. It should go without saying that those ventures cannot be compared to our local BBQ – they are worlds, no, strike that, they are universes apart. But as an alternative to the regular menu items, it might just work.

Next in line is Arby’s, your friendly neighborhood slicer of luncheon meats. They claim that the brisket they serve now on their new Smokehouse Brisket Sandwich has been smoked for thirteen hours. Sounds good at first, but what does that really mean? That their marketing department knows how to play the numbers game? That they have a portable smoker attached to each store now? That they read a book or two about BBQ? That they are really trying their best to bring us authentic brisket?

Well, let’s give them a few breaks. First, it goes without saying that smoking the brisket each day in every store appears to be very impractical. So they smoke it elsewhere, pack it in cellophane, truck it around, and cut it fresh at the stores. I have no reason to doubt their claim smoking it for thirteen hours. But that in itself does not say anything about its tenderness and flavor. It only tells you that their marketing department indeed read a book or two about BBQ, especially the chapters about how much time it generally takes to prepare the meat for consumption. Bravo. You get an A for reading skills, now sit down and listen to the verdict about tenderness and flavor.

Since the brisket meat is not really sliced, but rather shaved, it comes with a kind of default tenderness, for it is very tough to really chew hard on paper thin meat. As for the flavor, I have to say that there was something that resembled smoke aroma, but just for a brief moment. It was immediately overwhelmed by the extreme saltiness of the meat. As I write this, about eight hours after eating the sandwich, I still have heartburn. The sandwich comes with fried and battered onion rings, liquid Gouda cheese, mayonnaise, and Arby’s own BBQ sauce. Of the 610 calories that monster tries to stack directly on your hips, a whopping 320 are from fat. 1230 mg of Sodium more than explain the salty taste, I think. And there are more ingredients that read like an advertising brochure for a cardiologist. So, from a nutritional standpoint, you better stay away from this conglomerate of irresponsibility. But does it at least taste good, so you could order it as your last meal on death row, if you ever came into this conundrum?
Don’t bother, die hungry instead. There is no discernible influence the smoked brisket has on the taste of the sandwich. The prevailing aroma is that of cheese and BBq sauce. And salt. I need a Pepto. Now.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Triple D Bar-b-cue

Non-Quest BBQ No 40 – Triple D Bar-b-cue

Rome, Georgia

During my occasional travels, I try to sample BBQ at those near and far away places outside the Quest area. I just really, really like that stuff ... 

I love planes. And I love to watch planes flying around. Straight or in circles, in loopings or in Cuban-8s, in formation or solo, slow, fast, low, high, it doesn’t matter. And what better place to be then, than at an Air show? And if this Air show also has a BBQ competition attached, I am in heaven.

So I went to Rome, Georgia, to the annual Wings over North Georgia Air Show and their Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned Smoke’n’Thunder BBQ Classic competition.
The weather was perfect, the flying was exciting, and there were at least half a dozen big BBQ stands that sold their stuff to the Air show spectators. I picked one to have lunch from based on three criteria: it had a pink trailer, they were smoking in a small rig just beside the trailer, and the line in front of the cashier was the longest. Just must be good, don’t you think?

Well, I had the pork sandwich with a sweat tea and a bag of chips for ten bucks. The sandwich came wrapped in aluminum foil and without any fixins’. There were a couple of jars with onions and marinated peppers, but I took a pass on that. They had three different sauces standing around, from which I picked the one that had “Spicy” written on it.
Suffice to say, it was either mislabeled, or my taste buds were already numb from the smell of aviation gas that lay over the flight line. It was not spicy at all, and not really flavorful either. It is really hard to describe, because of the total absence of any aroma. But it lubricated the fairly dry pork real well, so it was tolerable. The meat actually had some smoke aroma, and it was tender and lean. It was also a sizeable portion, coming on one of those big buns, so I think, given the circumstances, I got my money’s worth.

I have no idea where the Triple D guys ranked in the BBQ competition. But based on my lunch experience, it can’t be too high. Or maybe they have a different standard in Kansas City. I rather stick to the North Alabama version of it. If only we had an Air show here once in a while.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Ken's Bar-B-Que

Non-Quest BBQ No 39 – Ken’s Bar-B-Que

Oneonta, Alabama

During my occasional travels, I try to sample BBQ at those near and far away places outside the Quest area. I just really, really like that stuff ... 

There are BBQ places in places where your first reaction is: where the heck is that??! Oneonta, Alabama is one such place, you probably never knew even existed. This town of about 6500 inhabitants is the county seat of Blount County, which is situated about 30 miles north of Birmingham. Their greatest claim to fame is that there are three beautiful covered bridges within the county borders, which are actually still in use. There is an annual Covered Bridges festival in Oneonta, their High School Football Team is named the Redskins, the US Highway 231 runs through it and the official town motto is “A small city with big ideas”. That’s it. Oneonta, Alabama. Not quite the center of this planet’s gravity.
And if you type “BBQ, Oneonta” into Google Maps, the only result is a place called “O'so Good Bar B Que”, although I can vouch for the fact that there is at least one more – Ken’s Bar-B-Que, just adjacent to the WalMart, at this location since 1970.

I stumbled upon Ken’s Bar-B-Que by accident, being on the way of one of the covered bridges. As I do usually on my trips through the countryside, I had planned my food stops ahead, and based on the information that Google Maps gave me, I had chosen to visit the other place in Oneonta after I was done with the bridge. But since I already had driven for six hours that day, and thus was hungry as a lion, and Ken’s looked quite nice from the outside, I ditched that plan and decided to eat right here, right now.

Did I mention that I was really, really hungry? The combo platter on the menu, with pulled pork and smoked sausages, with fries, slaw and beans looked like it could satisfy my appetite, so I ordered it.
When it arrived, I almost regretted my bold decision, made out of an empty stomach, which is never a wise move. Man, was that a lot of food! And to be frank, I did not finish all of it, left the pickle, half of the slaw and the slice of toast behind. Together with some sweat tea, I paid about thirteen Dollars – I had less food and of lesser quality, too, for that kind of money before.

The pork appeared to be chopped, not pulled to me, but it was very tender and juicy, very lean and had a very subtle smoke aroma to it. Unfortunately, it also had the sauce already on it, which I really don’t like. What if the sauce does not taste good and I want to use ketchup instead? Am I supposed to wash the sauce off the meat with the sweat tea, or what? Yeah, right. Fortunately, this time the sauce was not too bad - a thick red concoction, with underlying sweetness and a bit of understated spiciness. But with pork that good, I wished they would serve a simple vinegar-pepper sauce. Also, there was no extra sauce on the table, just a bottle of Ketchup and some generic hot sauce. But when I ran out of sauce, I just substituted it with the sauce from the baked beans. Those came with big chunks of meat in it, and the sauce was not too sweet, as it is the case more often than I would care for. Definitely, they take their sides seriously. That is also true for the slaw, which came in a light sour crème dressing with only some pepper and salt. It tasted very fresh and the cabbage was also very crunchy. Too bad that at the end of the meal, I did not have any capacity left to gobble it all up.
That was certainly partly the fault of the smoked sausage. Also with a very subtle smoke aroma, and mildly spicy, they undoubtedly brought more calories from fat with them then the lean pork. But they were oh so good that I just could not stop myself and switch to the unquestionably more healthy cabbage.
Well, the fries were just that – regular fries.

The dining room is decorated with mostly Tide paraphernalia, although I also saw a couple small signs from the other team bashfully hidden in a corner. They have two lamps hanging over the cash register in the form of futuristic planes – very 1950s, very strange, very quirky. I like those kinds of details. There are also tiles in the ceiling, which display words like “Bless You” in neon colors. The atmosphere is very homey and the staff is extremely nice and friendly.
For a place that is not even on the map, Ken’s Bar-B-Que in Oneonta serves a very high quality BBQ with very generous portions for a reasonable price in a very nice setting. I just might need to write to the Google folks, to alert them to their grave mistake.