Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It’s Not Easy Being Smoked

Fat Jack’s Smokestack Bar-B-Que
659 US Highway 301
Baldwin, FL
Visited August 31, 2010

Beer selection: None

Food: Real Southern BBQ

Barbeque. It’s so simple a caveman could do it.


Barbeque has been around that long – since about 10 minutes after that first caveman discovered fire.

His fellow caveman drinkin' buddy said, “Hey, man, that’s a pretty cool thing you got going there. How ‘bout we see what happens when I throw this woolly mammoth carcass on it?”

And that, my friends, is how barbeque was invented.

Not that I claim to have been an eye witness or anything, but it’s just common knowledge that fire and dead animal have gone together like beer and buffalo wings since the dawn of civilization.


Notice I didn’t say “easy”. Easy and simple are not the same thing. My best friend’s first high school girlfriend comes to mind.

No, smoking a pig or parts thereof low and slow over a hard wood fire for hours on end is simple enough. But there is nothing easy about it.

That’s why the blood-shot-eyed pit masters who tend to their handiwork in 100 degree heat all day long always take a lot of pride in differentiating the smoked meat that defines their lives’ work.

Oh, sure you can barbeque pork, beef or mutton. You can smoke it over mesquite, hickory, apple, peach or oak. You can slice it or chop it into different textures.

But in the end, it is still pretty much simple smoked meat.

Until you add the sauce.

That’s where the controversy heats up, so to speak.

Some like a sweet sticky sauce. Others like it bitter and vinegary. Still others like it spicy hot. And then the real purists claim that good barbeque doesn’t need any adornment at all.

It’s a raging controversy, even among us “Suits”.

That’s why I was surprised when my chopped barbeque plate at Fat Jack’s Smokestack came out with nothing on it. Pure, simple, naked barbeque.

You’re leaving this titanic choice to me, I thought, as I looked over the four big jugs of sauce placed at every table?

I’m not qualified to make this monumental decision. I didn’t sit out there in the smoker all day tending to the dead pig in the Florida August sun!

My first thought was, let’s see if it needs any sauce at all.

It was nice looking chopped pork, with a good variety of textures and elements of the pig, from the dark crisp outer parts to the red smoke-kissed parts to the white soft inner parts.

I took a few bites and enjoyed the simple flavors of pure ungilded pork. It was smoky, but a little bland. Soft, but on the dry side.

A kick of something would definitely improve it.

So I reached for the first plastic jug and squeezed a bit of bright red sauce onto the pork. Too ketchupy.

Then I grabbed the next one. A thick, dark malassesy sauce came squirting out. A few more bites and my conclusion was it was just too sweet.

Jug number three produced a spritz of yellow mustard-based sauce like the stuff legendary Confederate-partisan Maurice Bessenger made famous up in central South Carolina.

Mustard-based sauces seem to be the top choice of barbeque joints in North Florida. And this one was really good, drawing out, rather than drowning out, the smoky flavor of the pork.

I then reached for the fourth and final sauce jug and suddenly realized I had a problem.

Only three sauces in and I was almost out of barbeque!

Can you see now why I find this exercise aggravating?

It’s like ordering up a flight of microbrews and being told it’s last call before you even decide which one you like best!

As luck would have it, the fourth and final try was the charm. It was a darker yellow sauce. Darker because of all the pepper added to the mustard based sauce. Sweet and spicy together in one mustard sauce. Perfection.

Too bad my lunch was now over.

Well, almost over.

I still had my buttered Texas toast, baked beans and fried corn.

Fried corn?

Yeah, fried corn. We’ve been through this before. Write it down. ANYTHING GOOD TASTES EVEN BETTER FRIED.

Including corn on the cob.

Usually the novelty of fried corn is all about the texture. The kernels are crispy on the outside but still soft and sweet on the inside.

But Fat Jack’s is the king of fried corn in my book because he brings your cob out soaking in a ramekin of warm garlic butter.

Write this one down too: Anything good tastes even better covered in warm garlic butter, especially when it is fried.

The beans were good too, including hunks of sliced pork.

But as good as the sides were, I stumbled into the smoke-filled gravel parking lot filled with barbeque regret. Kind of like taking your blackjack winnings and immediately throwing them away on the slots.

I squandered too much of my precious barbeque on a needless sauce experiment.

Oh sure, if lived here in this little railroad town I could chalk it up to experience and say now I know what to do the next 47 times I stop by Fat Jack’s Smokestack for lunch.

But the life of Suit757 isn’t that simple.

I get one shot and one shot only. I may never step foot in Baldwin, Florida again.

Just another reason it is not easy – or simple – being a suit in strange places.

Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.
Fat Jack's SmokeStack BBQ on Urbanspoon

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