Tag Archives: BBQ

Pulled Ham – Sandwiches for Days!

Maureen’s a creature of habit. Same thing for breakfast and lunch for months at a time. So you can imagine my surprise when she asks for something different. Of course my surprise turns to nodding approval when I find out what it is.

On One of our monster road trips, this one from New Orleans to Chicago, we took a 440-mile stretch from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee on a National Park road called the Natchez Trace. Because it’s a National park, there’s no where to eat on it.

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One day we pulled int the only nearby dot on the map — Hohenwald, TN, to grab lunch and we were resigned to breaking a road trip rule and to eat at any fast food chain by the highway. On the main 3 block-long drag, we found Big John’s Pit BBQ (no web link, no website) and discovered a plethora of pulled, smoked meats, including pork, ham and turkey. Our favourite was the ham — moist, lightly sauced and perfectly smoked. It made an amazing sandwich.

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When we discovered one of our local butcher smoked their own hams and then cut chunks off of them to sell as “nuggets”, we started smoking and pulling our own ham, whenever we felt like something different for lunches.

I start the BBQ on low and slow – about 250°F with cherry wood in the smoker drawer, and then I set to make a slather for the ham. It’s a small piece, weighing a few pounds. But it’s real. It’s not the molded ex-liquid meat of the commercial hams. It used to be a chunk of a pig leg. That’s important if you want to pull it later.

Then I rub the ham with a good pork or rib rub and put it on the smoker, replenishing the smoke wood for the first 90 minutes (after that the bark is formed and there’s no point doing any more because the smoke won’t penetrate.

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After about 5-6 hours I take the ham off and pull it with bear claws. You can use large forks, too. Once pulled I place it in a bowl and add a couple tablespoons of rustic mustard, hot sauce and BBQ sauce and mix well. Then I place in a large plastic bag to keep in the fridge. I don’t know how long it keeps as it’s always gone in a couple days.

I make one of these every month or so. It’s easy to do, even on a busy day — the ham just sits in the smoker for 4-6 hours. It takes about 10 minutes to prep and another 10 to shred the ham and sauce it.

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Road trip! Wildfire BBQ in Perth

Despite being a chilly, cloudy day, the ever changing fall colour palette of buff to amethyst and everything in between makes a drive through rural Eastern Ontario a feast for the eyes. The native sumacs are at their fiery peak. Honey locusts glow golden and look as if they could light the way at night. Fall is quick upon us and Wildfire BBQ and Smokehouse in Perth will only be open until Thanksgiving (Canadian, the real one).

Wildfire 1With Josie packed into the back of the car, we head out on our hour trek to find out if the Wildfire is the real deal Southern Q we have been searching for in the Great White North.

Perth itself is worth the drive. A charming, quaint town on the Tay River, it offers a few eateries and pretty main street shopping. BBQ is just a bonus.

Wildfire 16We pull up to a tidy red trailer, attached to another out building.  The patio dining area is fenced with rustic cedar rails and features picnic tables and an oversize Adirondack chair you could photograph a family of five in.

Wildfire 4Parking is in the rear, as is the smoker and piles of split hickory and cherry wood.

Wildfire 7We head around front where a biking couple is just finishing up. Other than that, we are the only other diners. We order up brisket and ribs which come with four sides. They allow Josie to eat on the patio, so I know this is a classy joint.

Wildfire 5Food comes out in in plastic baskets and red and white checkered paper. Classic. Wildfire offers both metal and plastic cutlery which is appreciated. We tuck in.

A nuisance of wasps arrives but for some reason leaves after about three minutes. Wish I knew that secret.

The brisket is ‘wet”. We were not offered a choice of wet or dry (fat or lean) as you often are in Southern USA joints, but I would have ordered the wet anyways because it is the tastiest. Wildfire brisket does not disappoint. It is as delicious as it looks. Rich, deep, rosy smoke ring and beautiful dark bark. It is lightly sauced and a squirt of their own bbq sauce on the side makes for a more than decent brisket. Wildfire 10This is probably the best I have had since Kreuz Market in Texas, which I pine for weekly. Josie also enjoyed the brisket. Happy puppy mouth.

Wildfire 15Two sides come with the each meat order. My mac and cheese is underwhelming. Large, overcooked elbows of pasta swimming in a mild cheesy sauce. The maple cream corn is interesting. While tasty, it is very loose.

Rob’s ribs are fantastic as well. Wildfire is two for two on the meat. The pork ribs are meaty and smoky sweet. Again, the meat succulent with a beautiful, pink smoke ring, is perfectly smoked and sauced.

Wildfire 14Wildfire’s BBQ beans are also a standout. Navy and kidney beans are slow cooked medium sweet and smoky, Rob’s second side is coleslaw which is a decent homemade cabbage slaw but nothing out of the ordinary.Wildfire 12Wildfire certainty has done the South proud and done honour to the pig. A few things are missing but they are minor. Some pickle and white bread would be nice. The over cooked, ubiquitous corn on the cob of the South is happily absent.  Wildfire offers homemade sweet tea but does not offer unsweetened or half sweet so I passed.

Wildfire 6I look forward to trying some of Wildfire’s other menu items on a future road trip in true BBQ weather.

 

 

Wilmington to Norfolk

9 am and it’s sweltering. Windows in shops and cafes are dripping with condensation. We sit down on diner stools at a great little place for breakfast, Dixie Grill, and my first thought is I will never, could never live in the south. Usually every great town or city we visit has me looking at houses, and Wilmington is historic and downright adorable. You can buy a most amazing Victorian for less than $300,000. I thought I liked heat, and I certainly prefer it to the alternative of an arctic Ottawa winter, but there has to be a happy medium…Vancouver. I digress.

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Dixie Grill is charming and small-town comfy. Staff is young and friendly. Coffee and OJ is ordered and we both choose the corned beef hash which comes with a choice of toast and 2 eggs how you like ’em. The brisket is made in house and fried up with nice roasty potatoes, peppers, onions and covered with provolone cheese made all melty good by the hot fried eggs. Portion is good but not “I need a nap now” size. Very satisfying breaky before hitting the road to Norfolk, a four and a half hour drive including a slight detour for lunch.

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On our drive we are accompanied by The Smartest Man in the World, Greg Proops. We have a number of his “Proopcasts” on board and the miles fly by. Most of the drive is on a country two-laner, a pleasant drive by tidy little bungalows, trailers, churches, horses, tobacco fields, churches, shacks of people living in extreme poverty, cotton crops, churches, country stores, auto shops, churches and a vineyard.

Precisely at noon and about 30 seconds before the rush, we pull into Ayden, North Carolina for a BBQ lunch at Skylight Inn which is not an inn curiously.

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North Carolina BBQ is about all about the pork. Skylight serves chopped whole hog with a little hot sauce and vinegar added while the meat is chopped.

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You get a nice mix of dark and light meat and pieces of crispy skin. Pretty much to die for. Not much to look at.

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Comes piled high in a little paper tray. You can add more vinegar, hot sauce or a vinegary black pepper sauce at the table. For $6.50 you get a medium tray, a big slab of really excellent cornbread made in a cast iron pan basted with pork fat and a serving of green, mushy coleslaw a la KFC, my favourite kind (another dirty little secret).

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Skylight is friendly, despite all the bossy signage. Orders after 6:45 must be TAKEN OUT. Chicken THURSDAY and FRIDAY only. NO CELL PHONES AT THE COUNTER.

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Another satisfying meal and first BBQ joint I’ve been to where you can get a normal portion size. As we climb back into Moby, an American fellow asks us to roll down a window so he can tell us how much he loves our car. To each his own. He ain’t drivin’ this whale 1000 miles and paying for gas. Norfolk, Virginia, next stop.

We are staying down by the Naval museum, downtown Norfolk. The battleship parked nearby is formidable but oddly beautiful. Tonight we will dine at Todd Jurich, classier joint than we have been frequenting. The menu looks amazing. 7 pm reservations. We walk three blocks to the restaurant on the shady side of the street as the heat almost laughably, has not abated. Todd’s is a nicely appointed place with business men finishing up and couples arriving although on this Tuesday, the restaurant is not overly busy. We are seated at a nice table and order sparkling water and a really excellent dirty (downright sludgy) gin martini for the man. I’m saving room for the most excellent bottle of Napa Caymus Special Selection Cabernet.

We need more time to peruse the menu which has way to many appealing selections. Finally we choose the bread, which Todd’s charges $5 for, which I don’t mind if it is really good. I do not understand who started the free bread or free anything craze. One way or another, you are paying for it, so let me pay and make it a quality item. For apps we both really want a salad after so much heavy southern food. Rob opts for the very excellent Caesar and I choose the beet salad, which should be called a spinach salad with beet garnish and the now tired fried goat cheese. Todd’s beet salad was chunks and slivers of some very delicious red and golden beets playing hide and seek in a mountain of lightly dressed baby spinach. The goat cheese was bland and absent that very desired tang.

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Back to the bread: A dish of sweet butter with sea salt arrived with a basket of very nice baguette, a slice of fruit and nut bread, very cakey with grapes and almonds, delicious, and a popover which I found tasted of stale grease.

Our mains arrive, on room temp plates and my food is lukewarm. As we lingered over our salads, I suspect food in slow kitchen came out way too fast and sat a bit. Management problem in the kitchen. Rob’s Rib eye and reduction was excellent as were his duck fat fries which arrived a few minutes later as I suspect they were not dropped until our apps were cleared.

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My Carne Asada was a very nice medium rare steak with a mild garlic flavour but certainly did not taste of the spice, lime and chili a good asada promises. The mash was typical but not hot enough, the fire onion was a nicely charred quarter of a sweet onion.

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We decide we cannot leave the south with out a piece of pecan pie so we opt to split their dessert with cappuccinos. The pie is typical of any mass produced tartlet in any city. Not particularly memorable. I expect my pecan pie to be loose and gooey…a layer of pecans over a great butter tart on a well made flakey, buttery crust. This was not it. We’re going on record here — pie is pie and a tart is a tart. If a menu says pie, serve a slice of pie.

All in all, dinner at Todd Jurich was fine but not memorable, except for a most excellent cab sauv and good company.

Gullah & More Backyard Eatin’

Gullah culture survived on Hilton Head from the end of the Civil War period to the 1960’s when it started to deteriorate. A bridge from the main land to this barrier island brought the outside in. Developers followed and Gullah peoples, who once owned 1/3 of the Island given to them by Union troops, now own less than 1000 acres.

Originating in West Africa, Gullah people were enslaved and brought to South Carolina by the British, where they were ideally suited to work the island’s rice, indigo, sugar cane and sea cotton crops as they had some immunity to the diseases that ravaged the area as well as knowledge about herbs and medicines to treat yellow fever and malaria. There are no grand plantation homes on Hilton Head as British plantation owners preferred to live in a less plagued environment.

Union troops descended during the Civil War. 1700 of them are buried on Hilton Head. Escaped slaves were considered property and spoils of war. Contrabands. They were paid to work, and children were educated, but they were not exactly freedmen until the emancipation proclamation issued by President Lincoln, January 1, 1863.

Hilton Head offers a tour of Gullah lands and culture. It was very disheartening to see how little of this rich culture survives. In our lifetime it has all but disappeared. Gullahs survived as a hunting, farming and fishing community for 100  years before modern development overtook them. Still, today, some of their language and food culture persists.

Our tour guide and driver Irvin is Gullah. We chose this particular tour because of him. Irvin, one of 13 kids and a Viet Nam veteran, is living history. He remembers when you could look from the coastal waters clear across to the Atlantic. When he is gone pretty much so will anyone who remembers the old ways. His family for the most part has held on to their Gullah lands. They own a good chunk of Spanish Wells. As he drove past golf cottages, manicured medians, retirement villas, he painted a vivid picture of his boyhood and what used to be there. There is nothing left to see but a few delightful homes his relatives own, their gardens and their kitschy yards filled with doodads and portraits of Jesus and the like. Offensive enough to newcomers that they were asked to please fence them in.

After we get back to the bus depot, the Basket Man, Micheal Smalls, is sitting in the shade weaving sweetgrass baskets.  “Sweetgrass is a fine bladed, sweet vanilla fragranced perennial grass that grows behind coastal sand dunes in moist soils.” says Wikipedia. Coils of dried sweetgrass are sewn together with palmetto threads. Beautifully crafted, the baskets are a much sought after Low Country art form. Basket Man says it takes him about three days to complete one piece. I had noticed the baskets in the gift shop before the tour left. I had to have one. It was a treat to get off of the bus and find the artist there.

After saying goodbye to Irvin, we head once again to the Low Country Backyard for a lateish lunch. We so enjoyed our dinner last evening we decided to hit it up again as their sammy menu was so appealing. So many items look great on this creative menu, available all day. We opt to order and split a Nancy’s Tomato Sandwich and a Shrimp Burger. We have a choice of two sides and go with Mom’s Macaroni Salad and Collards. Ice tea, half and half (half sweet, half unsweet for the win) for me and Diet Coke for the man. Moonshine is legal in South Carolina and the Low Country  Backyard has a good selection but we opt out as we would like to get to DC at some point.

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The tomato sandwich comes lightly toasted on excellent white bread. Made with perfect, ripe, juicy South Carolina tomatoes, mayo and iceberg lettuce, this is the perfect hot day lunch. The macaroni salad is unremarkable except for pieces of green olive which are quite nice.

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Collard greens are often overcooked or too greasy with pork fat. Backyard’s collards are the BEST EVER collards. Perfectly cooked, not over stewed, lightly sweet and sour. The Shrimp Burger will absolutely make you forget that beef burgers were ever a thing. A patty of chopped, seasoned shrimp served up in a soft, eggy bun topped with more of those South Carolina tomatoes, mayo, lettuce and butter pickle, this is a world class sammy.

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The pickles are homemade and remarkable in that they are the perfect balance of salty and sweet. They come on the side but Rob slipped them onto the burger.

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Lunch is a nice size, leaving room to share the home made Banana Pudding we regretfully skipped last evening. Sweet, creamy pudding with chunks of just ripe banana on a shortbread cookie base and a dollop of lightly sweet whipped cream. Perfect. Now a swim and some afternoon sun.

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I wanna go back for dinner, but they will think I’m a stalker.

As it turns out it is a lovely evening to sit pool/oceanside and The Porch restaurant in the hotel, independently operated, has decent food. We order a pitcher of peach sangria made with peachshine and cava and fruit purees. Icy cold and perfect for watching the sun set. We order a few apps to chill with before deciding on dinner.

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The house made pickle is creative and spicy with chilies. The pickle has a varied veg mix, including cauliflower, chiogga beet, asparagus, grape, carrots and a pepper.

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The hot out of the oven, served in a well seasoned cast iron pan, corn bread was perfectly sweet and the spicy pimiento cheese was a nice foil.

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Since we ate leisurely watching the sun and sea, we were not overly hungry so we ordered the half rack of ribs. Slowed cooked for 8 hours, they were very decent BBQ. Came with a spicy and a sweet bbq sauce as well as a honey mustard. The bourbon beans had neither bourbon nor were they home made, Libby’s I suspect but none-the-less tasty, as I prefer a sweeter bean. Coleslaw was decent and the soft, hot rolls were excellent.

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Tomorrow we start our trek north to Charleston.

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Atlanta Day 2

We sleep in a bit today. No furry alarm clock. Breakfasting this morning at Ria’s Bluebird, across the street from Atlanta’s famed Oakland Cemetery, where we will be spending a good part of the early day before the heat becomes to oppressive. I think Southerners must pride themselves on their heat tolerance like a Canadian prides themselves on wearing flip flops at least until the first snow. I like the heat but I am melting.

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Bluebird is a short drive from the W. No reservations. The small parking lot is full and there is a significant lineup out front. The wait is 45 minutes we are told, but it’s more like 25. They move people through well but don’t rush you. Soon we are ushered in and brought fresh squeezed lemonade on ice. Icy cold, lemony sweet-tart. Perfect.

Bluebird&DaddyDzB 004We have had a minute to peruse the short menu in the hipster meets summer cottage surroundings. I note here that they have several veggie options and they are creative and not second thoughts. Tattooed service is friendly and efficient.  The vibe, noisy and fun. Lots of young families, couples and friends meeting up.

Bluebird&DaddyDz 001Rob and I decide on the brisket breakfast but then he is swayed by today’s special when the server returns and reads it off to him. Eggs Benny with pickled shrimp, melted lardons, fennel, onion and chile peppers on toasted French bread with a side of very good, peppery grits. Very Scandinavian. ‘Cept for the grits.

Bluebird&DaddyDz 004We also choose a short stack to share because the NY Times declares these pancakes to be the best in the world (not fact checked other than for us eatin’ them).

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Breakfast arrives and we tuck in. My brisket breakfast is melt-in-your mouth beef soaking in a dish of beefy, salty, rich sauce with two poached eggs and toasted baguette on the side. The short stack does indeed have world class aspirations. I am not a fan of sweet breakfasts for the most part, but these were delicious….especially when you dipped a forkful in maple syrup and then into the beefy sauce. It reminded me of a dish Alton Brown created on a road trip (big inspiration to us getting going). He went to the kitchen where the old cook was making rib tips for dinner service and he told her he wanted the rib tips on pancakes. She fussed a bit but finally gave him what he wanted. Then his whole crew wanted it. Then it ended up on their menu. Rob makes it from time to time. But I digress.

Bluebird&DaddyDzB 005Breakfast was wonderful and the portions were not crazy. Just satisfying. It is hard not to waste food in the south, but Bluebird has it just right. As we head off into the sweltering sun, our server offers us icy lemonade to go. Free refills he says. They go down good.

We hop into the white behemoth hereafter to be referred to as Moby, and head over to Oakland, Atlanta’s historic cemetery founded in 1850 and our entertainment for the day — cruising leisurely through an old graveyard. It is a great place to take pictures, beautiful, serene and tells the story of a place. Some people like city halls and other attractions. We like cemeteries. The architecture, the history, the ghosts. It says so much about an older city. This cemetery is unique because it’s also an open city park that has art shows, concerts, culinary events and other fundraisers. It’s a gathering place in the city, which is a beautiful thing for a cemetery to be.

It is the final resting place of notables such as Bobby Jones and Margaret Mitchell. Oakland is also home to many ancient oaks and magnolia trees, art and sculpture. When the cemetery was first established, it was designed in the “new” rural garden tradition that was a forerunner of the public park. It still operates today as a park. People in the early 19th century picnicked and communed there. Sunday was a day where families gathered to tend their dead. More acreage was added to accommodate fallen confederate soldiers as the civil war raged through Atlanta. At this time, Jews were buried apart from Christians and African Americans apart from them. The last sites were sold in 1884, but we saw a grave as recent as 2012 in a family plot. The cemetery fell into serious disrepair some time in the 20th century as people moved away and lost touch with their ancestors. In the seventies it was declared a historic landmark and government and public funding has restored a large part of it to it’s former glory. The cemetery has a 10 stage refurbishing plan, dependent on funding. As we walked through today, we could not help but notice that the African American section is in serious decline.

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Oakland 005The sun is now pretty much directly over head and molten. Still we persevere and decide beers are in order and maybe a little BBQ. This is silly because there is no such thing as a little BBQ. In any event, we spied a place on the way over this morning, Daddy D’z.

Bluebird&DaddyDz 006Daddy’s is hard to miss. It is total homemade shack. Gaily painted with African American culture and a hammered together smoker out back it screams “Good BBQ Inside!”

Bluebird&DaddyDz 010We order a couple of beers and some small plates. 4 ribs and two sides. I ask for just one side of mac and cheese as it is seriously almost too hot to eat.

Bluebird&DaddyDzB 008I get six ribs and a double order of mac and cheese plus a huge chunk of really good cornbread…sigh I really hate to waste food especially when an animal died to provide it, but I just can’t eat these quantities. Rob orders the small plate as well, with really good collards and yams as sides. It comes piled high and he can’t finish it either.

Bluebird&DaddyDz 012Ooh yeah. The ribs. Excellent, beauty pink smoke ring, perfect bark. Comes with either spicy or sweet sauce. We chose sweet. It was everything you could want in a sweet sauce, thick and tangy.

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Bluebird&DaddyDzB 009Back to the hotel to escape the heat and regroup and maybe a siesta. For our final evening in Atlanta, we choose a Triple D joint, Varsity, the world’s largest drive-in. Food is cheap and homemade. Rob whispered earlier that I could eat in the car! This is one of my dirty secrets. I hate going into fast food places to eat. I love to eat it in my car. Rob hates to eat in the car.

Varsity 001Varsity is not too busy this Sunday evening as we pull into a parking spot. Immediately a young carhop, #47 comes by shouting “What’ll ya have?”

Varsity 004Rob’s having the chili slaw dog and I’m having the hamburger. We both try the homemade, hand dipped onion rings, a fried peach pie and a small frosted orange.

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Food arrives window side quickly. I only order onion rings if they are fresh not frozen. These don’t disappoint. Classic. My burger is a simple house made patty with mustard, ketchup and dill pickles. Nothing fancy. Exactly what I was looking for. The burgers are on the small side, but at $1.89, if you are still hungry you could order a second and be able to finish it.

Varsity 008Rob’s chili slaw dog was terrific. Good dog, good chili and creamy slaw, yet not messy and easy to eat. The frosted orange was amazing. A dreamsicle in a cup. Icy cold. The fried peach pie was not terribly memorable. The peaches we good quality in a sugary syrup, but the crust was quite thin and didn’t hold together very well for eating by hand.

Varsity 009I long for the old days of McDonald’s fried fruit pies. (Editors note: Ignore that last sentence — she’s a loon.)  #47 pops by to pick up trash. Tomorrow we head for Savannah.

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