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Strove to find a way to punch people in the face by using the Internet.

11/15/2003

I've been too busy with mundane stuff to actually go out and do anything painful or embarrassing, so in this site's grand tradition of me recycling shit I wrote three years ago, I present:

ORGY OF MEAT

It could have turned ugly real fast. I was lightheaded and underfed. The night before I had drank too much and stayed up too late. As I tried to keep my car on the road the air was filling with the irresistible odor of slow-cooked meats... Slow-cooked meats drenched in a variety of tangy, spicy sauces...

The atmosphere in the car was palpably thickening, becoming a tangible entity redolent with the savory aromas of wood-smoke, charred beef and the savory goodness of homestyle barbecue sauce... I blacked out... Swerved... If Molly Hatchet's "Gator Country" hadn't come on the radio and given me a momentary jolt of strength I honestly don't know if I would have made it.

But make it I did. And Jim and Jason were there, waiting with wide eyes and empty stomachs. "Let's eat ourselves into a rib coma," Jim says.

Now before we get too far into this I'm inclined to throw out a disclaimer. Lots of hardcore barbecue (“BBQ” from here on in) heads out there aren't going to like this story, because while I want to eat all of it I frankly don't give two shits about what proponents of this or that regional style have to say.

For those who haven't run across one of these blowhards, here’s what talking to them is like: "Only BBQ from Texas is real BBQ. We take beef brisket and slow-cook it for a minimum of eight years and chop it and eat it off butcher paper while standing in piles of cow shit and we only use a sweet, tomato-based sauce on the side. Look at me, I'm from Texas and I'm so cool and I'm wearing pointy boots. Pointy, pointy boots."

Or, "The only real BBQ is of Carolina extraction: pork shoulder smoked over wood from a huckleberry tree. Sauce where I'm from is pepper and vinegar and if you eat anything else you might as well hold hands with Osama Bin Laden. Now if you'll excuse me I think a hurricane has blown my Datsun into a lake and I must retrieve it and send it to Florida for resale purposes."

My response? "If either of y'all get a hand in between me and dinner your friends are gonna be calling you stumpy." I mean, do you want to eat meat or do you want to get into a pissing contest over details? People who get hung up on this stuff should quit reading this right now and go to a Star Trek convention or something. ‘Cause you take something good and pure and natural and talk about it like you’re the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.

So we’re going to eat some local BBQ here and talk about it. Instead of the panel of BBQ enthusiasts and local cultural figures I had originally envisioned for this story you get the opinions of Jason Rockhill and Jim Wells. Jason is the vocalist for local punk band Unitas and the tour manager for Hot Water Music. He has yet to realize that chicken is a vegetable. Jim plays video games and takes naps and is a Yankee. Add me to the equation and you’re not exactly coming up with a panel of experts here, but that’s OK.

And we’re sticking to just ribs here – nothing fancy. We’re not talking about side dishes, chicken or sandwiches. And we’re not going to talk about franchises like Bono’s or Sonny’s. Those places are fine, but they’re high-profile enough that most people inclined to partake in some BBQ have already made up their minds about ‘em. And while I’m sure there are plenty of hidden, home-grown treasures dotting the local landscape (I passed one across from the Main Street Publix just a few days ago) finances and convenience limited our survey to Terrell’s Bar-B-Que, Ricardo George’s Florida Style Bar-B-Que, Homestyle Bar-B-Q and David’s Real Pit BBQ. Just deal with it.

So Jason, Jim and I sit down to eat. Luscious, glistening meats cover every inch of the table. It’s a little bit daunting – where to begin? But after a few seconds of quiet reflection carnage ensues.

I had kind of expected lively conversation and insightful commentary during our meal but mostly there was just a lot of grunting. What little discussion actually took place I might not accurately be able to recreate from my sauce-stained notes, but I ain’t afraid to make stuff up. So here goes.

“This looks like the good shit,” Jim says, hefting an almost bright orange rib from Ricardo George’s. “The sauce looks intense.”

“The ribs are nice and big. And there’s a good smoke aroma,” I add.

“The meat’s a little tough, though,” Jim says. He affects a look of disappointment that clashes with the fearsome velocity with which he strips the meat from the bone. “I kind of wish there was more meat on it, too.” The fact that he essentially inhales another rib while making these comments leads me to believe that he is trying to dissuade Jason and I from trying the Ricardo George’s so he can keep it all for himself.

I try a bite. It’s good. The sauce is unique – it’s a thick, creamy orange color and has a flavor not far removed from roasted peppers. The meat really isn’t as tender as I would like it to be, though.

“Hmmm. This David’s is nothing special,” Jason says.

“Yeah, it’s kind of bland,” Jim says.

“There’s no sauce on it,” I say. “Put some damn sauce on it.” I take a bite of a sauce-less rib. It has a rich, meaty taste. Probably the most concentrated meat flavor out of all of them.

“There’s two kinds of sauce – sweet and spicy,” Jason says. “Mmmph. This sweet sauce sucks.”

I try it. It tastes like maple syrup. “Put some of that spicy sauce on there, for God’s sake.”

“Hey, that’s not bad,” Jim says. We all agree – David’s spicy sauce, made with mustard, is the way to go.

Alex Ulloa, a dedicated vegan, arrives. He’s brought his own lunch. “I’ve got soy milk, shredded oats, two bananas, shredded wheat and raisins,” Alex says proudly. “Oh, and enzymes to help me digest.” I look in Alex’s bowl. It’s just a beige, formless mush in there. Poor, poor Alex.

“Try some of this Homestyle’s,” I tell Jason. “It’s kind of unique.”

“The meat is good. It almost tastes grilled. It’s like steak,” Jason says. “It doesn’t really taste as smoky as the others.”

“Not as smoky!?” I say. “Try this piece here…”

“Oh yeah, now I taste it. Let me try another piece of that Dave’s. I usually like sweet sauce better than mustard but this is really good,” Jason says.

“Yeah, the mustard gives it a little sack,” Jim says.

“Sack?” I say. “As in ‘ball sack?’”

“Yeah,” Jim says. Why ‘ball sack’ would be a positive thing to find in your BBQ is beyond my understanding. As are many things about Yankees.

“Try some of this Terrell’s, you guys,” I say. Terrell’s ribs are smothered in a thick, tangy tomato-based sauce. “To me, this is just a classic style BBQ.”

“Mmmmph. Ummm. Terrell’s rules,” Jim says.

“But that Homestyle’s is really different. The meat there is always really good, and that sauce tastes almost Jamaican,” I say. “What do you think that is? Tamarind?”

“My grandmom makes a Jamaican pot roast that almost has the same kind of flavor,” Jason says.

“Mmmph. I think the Homestyle’s might be my favorite,” Jim says. “Oooh. I just got a really good Terrell’s.”

Recently I saw three lost Yankees order some food at Terrell’s. “I want some fries,” one of them said. A guy in line started laughing.

“So, umm, what different kinds of ribs do you have? Ummm… Spare ribs?” Asked the lead Yankee.

“Just… Ribs,” the bewildered girl at the order window said. She looked at him like he was nuts. After receiving his order he asked for a fork. Then the Yankees started taking pictures of each other like the rib truck was some goddamn ride at Disney World. Jackasses.

All of the ribs come with a few slices of white bread. With all of the meat vaporized the bread suddenly starts looking pretty good. After all, they’ve been soaking in sauce and juices during the fifteen minutes or so it took us to decimate the twenty pounds of meat that once sat in front of us. “Jim, are you going to eat that last slice of Ricardo George’s bread?” I say.

“No. You want it?” Jim says.

“No. I want to see you eat it,” I say.

“There’s still meat to go around, son,” Jim says, picking up the last shred of David’s.

“Spoken like a naturalized Southerner,” I say.

“Spoken like a guy that rode in the back of a pickup truck for the first time last week,” Jason says.

“I tell you, after watching you guys eat all that I don’t feel so guilty about that second bowl of cereal,” Alex says. He is clearly insane.

It’s hard for me to pass any kind of final judgement on the food. Each BBQ has its own style, its own strengths and weaknesses. Maybe Jim or Jason have a clear favorite… “So how do you guys feel? Do you want to sum it all up?” I say.

“Shhh… I feel… High,” Jim says. “Oops. I just stepped on a plate full of sauce. I think that if you could put Ricardo George’s sauce on Homestyle’s meat it would be my favorite.”

“All of them were good. What days are Homestyle’s and Terrell’s open? Thursday, Friday and Saturday?” Jason says. “I think the moral of the story is you eat BBQ Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”

After considering the issue for a moment I have to agree.

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