Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Spotting Good Barbecue in the Country - Macon Country Store

While working in the Oakland, TN, area east of Memphis today I enjoyed a great barbecue plate from the Macon Country Store at the rural three-way intersection of Highway 193, Macon Drive and Oakland Road.

It is a little, easy to overlook building and I was unfamiliar with the business but I was already certain the food would be good when I ordered it. So consider this your short guide to spotting good rural West Tennessee barbecue.

 The sign identified it as a "country store." That term means you can usually count on some sort of barbecue or other fresh-made plate lunches.

There was a large barrel cooker in front of the store on a trailer. Also important to note, the cooker had a firebox separate from the main cooking chamber for indirect heat. That means real barbecue.

When I got out to investigate I took a look behind the store where I saw several large piles of hardwood.

Sure enough, all the food was great. The vinegar-based slaw matched well with the homemade sauce on the hardwood-smoked pork. I talked to owner Emmet Kimble, who runs the place with his wife, and he told me he avoids charcoal and cooks with pure wood. The store didn't have baked beans so I got some of the excellently-seasoned fries instead.

I also noticed a book titled How to Clean Your Smokers and Grills For Dummies on the counter, so naturally I inquired about it. It was a one page book that read, "1. Make sure your fire is out! 2. Make sure your fire is out! 3. See first two!"
Kimble explained that he cleans the cooker by using a large quantity of lighter fluid to burn out all the accumulated grease. About a year ago he tried to clean it not realizing that there were still embers in the firebox. The fluid drained down into the firebox creating a blast that knocked him 12 feet through the air. He was proud of his new eyebrows, which had finally grown back in shortly before my visit.

Another recent find for me occurred Monday during a visit to Kroger. Since the recent passing of Newman Farm patriarch Mark Newman I've had to largely rely grocery stores for the bacon I eat most mornings for breakfast since the family is no longer a common fixture of the local farmer's markets. Of the brands available in grocery stores the Wright Brand is usually the best option.

So when I saw Wright had a new "Memphis BBQ Flavored Bacon" it went straight into the shopping basket. I was happy to see that it was standard Wright bacon seasoned with a handful of Memphis standards like vinegar and paprika. When I cooked some the next morning the extra seasoning added a nice little Memphis touch to the already-wonderful smokey bacon flavor with none of the funky artificial taste common in many "barbecue flavored" packaged goods. And surveying the cast iron skillet after I finished breakfast I realized I had an additional new kitchen staple for future cooking -- Memphis barbecue flavored bacon grease.