Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Contender in Brownsville - Raisin' Cain

My last stop for work yesterday was in Brownsville, TN, so I swung by Helen's Bar-B-Q on Washington Avenue to pick up two pulled pork dinners to take home for my wife and I. About five minutes later as I was headed back to I-40 home I stopped on the side of Anderson Avenue to buy some more barbecue from a roadside trailer.

The trailer was just south of the four-way stop at Anderson and Highway 70. It is usually there Tuesday through Saturday afternoons.

The pulled pork Helen Turner creates in the old screened-in smoke room behind her little restaurant is incredible. So when I saw a little trailer with a banner identifying it as Raisin' Cain BBQ I was curious to sample pulled pork from someone ballsy enough to peddle their wares right around the corner from her.

I ordered a pulled pork sandwich with the sauce and the slaw on the side to keep everything from turning into a soggy mess on the way home. The young white guy operating the trailer offered both hot and mild sauce so I asked for hot since that is also what I got from Helen's and I wanted an even competition. That and I just like spicy barbecue sauce.

My sandwich, which ended up being loaded with pork when I got it home, was only $4.50. The pulled pork plates from Helen's that came with piles of meat, beans, slaw and potato salad were only $8 and some change each, so either place will give you ample food for your money.

As I was driving off from Raisin' Cain I noticed smoke drifting from a large smoker sitting behind it. It took me nearly an hour to get back to my home home in Midtown Memphis. With two large orders from Helen's and a big sandwich from Raisin' Cain sitting directly behind me it was a near torturous experience being taunted by the smells coming from those three paper bags.

For dinner my wife and I split the meat from the Raisin' Cain sandwich and added the Raisin' Cain spicy sauce to it to eat alongside our Helen's pulled pork for a direct comparison. As soon as I looked at the meat from Raisin' Cain I was impressed by the nice bark. It actually had more pink in it than the meat from Helen's, and while this might sound like heresy to a lot of people, it also had a slightly better overall texture. The pulled pork from Helen's is always so tender that some of the meat ends up being downright mushy.

The flavor of the actual meat was an even match even when compared side by side. The sauce was a different story. Helen's won the battle of hot barbecue sauces hands-down. Her sauce is a perfect balance of sweetness and spice. The sauce from Raisin' Cain tasted more like a plain traditional hot sauce, like a Louisiana or a Frank's Red Hot, than a barbecue sauce.

Helen's cole slaw with its strong vinegar bite also made the Raisin' Cain slaw taste bland by comparison. There was nothing wrong with the slaw from Raisin' Cain, it had a nice roughly chopped consistency and a nice touch of mayo without being overly creamy. Anyone who doesn't like vinegary slaw would prefer it to Helen's, and I realize slaw is one food item where personal preferences vary widely. I didn't try any other sides from Raisin' Cain but the beans and potato salad from Helen's were as perfect as always.

Overall, while Helen's won out for overall eating experience, if I worked or lived on the southern side of Brownsville I could easily see myself just grabbing a quick meal from Raisin' Cain rather than driving across town to Helen's in the north. Keep in mind this is Brownsville, where across town means a distance of less than five miles. That is pretty high praise for pulled pork from a little roadside trailer. If I'd run across Raisin' Cain almost anywhere else this post would have been almost entirely praise. But when you park your tailer next to a heavy-hitter like Helen's you have to accept that it is going to set the standard for you to compete with.


  1. No doubt that Raisin Cain and Helen's are different and both delicious. Next time you're in Brownsville, stop by the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center and try our Deep-Fried BBQ!

    1. I didn't realize that was there. I drive past it all the time.

  2. Just a note to say I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for the frequent post and updates.
    I intend to try Helen's soon but sadly I doubt I will ever get to try Katz Deli. I'm still jealous.
    Keep up the great blog.

  3. Being from Brownsville, We get to enjoy both Helen's and Raisin Cain BBQ. Next time you drive through, try some Raisin' Cain Ribs. They are delicious!

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