Barbecue can be so vexing—like one of those vague memories you can’t decide whether it ever really happened, or you maybe just dreamt it. You’ll be driving around the ragged streets of North Philadelphia trying to find that vacant lot where some guy had a half-barrel smoker and was selling brisket and ribs wrapped in wax paper, making change out of his pocket. Was it a Saturday, or maybe a weekday? I thought it was hot outside, or maybe it was winter. Could it have been Brooklyn?
Then there’s always the idle smoker along the side of the road in Carolina. Cold, black steel welded together as tight as a battleship. Where, oh where, could the wonderful man be who’s going to fire this thing up one day and bring us the joy of hot, tender pork?
And it’s utter folly to send a friend to a place that you just happened across. A harmonica player from Kansas City talked trash about me for months, calling into question the reliability of my witness in the barbecue realm, over a barbecue mix up in Georgia. He and his band took a pork-seeking diversion while on tour to try out a place that I had recommended.
I called up the harp player after their tour. “Hey Ernie, what gives?”
“The meat was all watery and the sauce was thin and tasteless?”
“You went to Sam’s off of Route 92?”
“Yeah, Sam and Son’s on Route 52?”
“Criminy. Not Sam and SON’s. I’ve never even heard of that place.”
Apparently I haven’t learned my lesson, because, while Belmont Bar-B-Que dutifully collects Best of C-VILLE awards year after year, and the vaunted Barbecue Exchange lies a bit beyond my range, I’m about to tell you about a self-described “cue-ologist” who will be about as easy to find as the UPS driver that just left the failed delivery slip on your door while you were in the shower. Barry, from Lake Anna, introduces himself as B, as in B Blues BBQ. That’s his smoker sitting at the Joy Imperial gas station on High Street. He smoked there for a few weekends but now sells his pork mostly at the Batesville Store on weekends and in Lake Anna during the week. B is a man of many hats. A snowboard instructor by trade, he learned how to smoke meat back when he had a frame shop in Manassas and spent his off hours at his cousin’s barbecue place.
“He told me, if you’re gonna sit around here all night, I’m gonna put you to work,” said B. That’s where B learned barbecue. He serves pulled pork sandwiches, smoked with mostly hickory but sometimes apple or cherry wood.
He pulls the meat off of a shoulder and mixes in either his Memphis-style sweet red sauce, or a vinegar-based Carolina sauce. I had the Memphis mix with some hot sauce thrown in. Tremendous stuff. As good a sandwich as you’ll get around here. Later that same evening, I tried B Blues BBQ’s pork ribs, dry-rubbed. I wolfed them down like a pre-lingual savage.
Jinx, who has smoked his wondrous pork for 13 years at Pit’s Top, a couple gravestones southeast of Meade on East Market Street, is a Mississippi native, but that’s not where he learned about meat. “The only thing I learned in Mississippi was to get the hell out of there,” he said. He grew up outside of Chicago but got spiritualized about swine when he spent time with family in western Kentucky.
He studied art history in college but, “it didn’t take. I was always meant for food,” he said.
Many pit masters have day jobs and indulge their passion for meat on the side. For Jinx, you get the sense that smoking pork is something he is compelled toward out of a higher calling. And he’s a purist. A handwritten menu in his shack lists coleslaw with the caveat “not recommended” in parentheses. I asked about the slaw and Jinx shot me a glance like I was trying to pass him a joint in church.
“No, I don’t recommend it,” he said. “Slaw is not in barbecue, that’s B-B-Q,” he said, pointing to placard on the counter that explains the difference. “I don’t have any anyway.”
Jinx’s pulled pork is stupendous. World class. And he’s not afraid to leave some gooey, juicy fat in the serving. He goes so light on the sauce you’re not certain there’s actually any there. All the better, because it’s like pork pudding, served on thin white bread.
Ace Biscuit & Barbecue, opened by a former sous chef last summer on Henry Avenue, serves ’cue with a broad range of side options to build yourself a multi-course lunchtime feast. There’s evidence of experimentation inspired by culinary curiosity here, but it’s solid, fat-free meat just the same.
For the biggest selection of sauces, Buttz BBQ on Elliewood Avenue is your place. You can mix and match Texas Red with Sweet Mustard, Alabama White or the heater Haba Haba. There’s also beer (it is the Corner after all) and rumblings of dinner hours in the works.