Friday, February 3, 2012

Stuck in the Non-Smoking Section

Don’s Famous Bar-B-Q
217 East US 80
Pooler, GA

It’s easy to be skeptical about Don’s Famous Bar-B-Q.

No billowing smoke. No piles of hard wood out back. No pickups in the parking lot. No customers inside.

Not even a chimney.

No chimney? How to you operate a BBQ joint with no chimney?

Most suspicious of all, the sign says “Don’s Famous Bar-B-Q, Lexington, NC Style.”

Lexington, NC style? In Pooler, Georgia?


Well, I have a feeling that the folks up in western North Carolina would be none too pleased to discover a chimneyless, smokeless BBQ shack in Georgia passing itself off as “Lexington style”.

Lexington, NC considers itself the barbeque center of the universe, boasting more BBQ joints per capita than any other place on earth.

In Lexington, barbeque is smoky pork hacked to smithereens and flavored with a vinegar sauce sweetened with just a touch of tomato.

When done right, like at Wayne Monk’s Lexington Barbeque No. 1, it’s good stuff. Slap your grandmamma good.

But down here in the Low Country, folks are more likely to look upon Lexington barbeque as some sort of Yankee conspiracy (after all, the stuff does come from NORTH Carolina).

Nope. Folks here along the I-95 corridor hanker for smoked pulled pork slathered in golden mustard sauce.

From Duke’s up around Walterboro and Ridgeland to Wall’s in Savannah down to Island BBQ in Yulee and Fred Cotten’s in Jacksonville, peppery mustard-based sauces are the required condiment on pulled pork and ribs along this southern stretch of I-95.

Suit757’s preference?

Call me the Newt Gingrich of barbeque eaters. I like to maintain an open relationship with all styles.

So if some pit master wants to serve Lexington style barbeque deep in the heart of coastal mustard country, I’m okay with it.

If it’s actually good.

From the looks of Don’s Famous BBQ, he’s not winning too many converts.

The empty place looks like a dilapidated former Dairy Freeze, complete with peeling paint and hand stenciled lettering on the roof.

But that’s not a problem. Looking from the outside like the place needs a visit from the health department is in no way a disqualifier for good barbeque.

Not actually smoking your barbeque most certainly IS.

The well scrubbed inside offers no more evidence than the outside that any barbeque is being made here.

Folks, by definition, barbeque has to be smoked. Over real wood. Otherwise, it’s not barbeque. No matter how much peppery North Carolina sauce you slather over your meat.

Of course the real test is to taste it.

The sweet and tangy vinegar sauce nicely complimented the minced pork on the sandwich. But there was no discernable smoke flavor.

The Carolina-style vinegar spiced red cole slaw was an interesting diversion from the sweet stuff more typical of these parts – and a nice textural crunchy addition on top of the soft finely hacked pork on my sandwich.

The sugary baked beans and crunchy hush puppies were fairly standard.

The Brunswick stew was interesting. Surprisingly spicy, the stew was much hotter than the self-described “Hot” barbeque sauce provided on the table. Strange.

Like the minced pork, the ribs also are covered in tasty sauce, but no tell-tale red smoke ring. And the meat is so tender, one has to suspect the ribs were boiled rather than smoked.

“Fall-off-the-bone” might be a good marketing slogan for Applebees, but barbeque connoisseurs recognize it as a dead give away for faux que.

Real slow-smoked ribs are tender, but offer up just a bit of tooth resistance. Enough so you can see your teeth marks in the meat after that first bite.

Look. I don’t want to be too accusatory.

Saying a BBQ pit master doesn’t actually smoke his meat is like calling someone a racist. It’s just about the worst epitaph you label someone with.

But I’m just sayin.

No smoke flavor. No smoke. No wood. No chimney.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Rating: Wouldn’t Wear Shirt If You Paid Me.

Don's Famous Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

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