Wednesday, April 30, 2014

One-Stop Shopping at Memphis Barbeque Supply

On Tuesday I stopped in for a tour of the new Memphis Barbeque supply store at 7124 Stage Road in the same shopping center as Ty's Bar-B-Q Smokehouse following an invitation from owner Jimmy Shotwell. The store's grand opening will be Friday May 2 and there will be vendors providing cooker and sauce demonstrations all day Saturday.

Shotwell worked as a distribution manager for Lowe's hardware for a decade. Lowe's sells cookers and grilling supplies along with a small but fairly nice selection of sauces and rubs. But Shotwell was aiming to create a store that offered everything a barbecue cook would need, except for the meat itself, under one roof.

The store offers an impressive selection of lump charcoal and natural, all-hardwood briquettes. One of his suppliers is the Charcoal Store on Florida Street in South Memphis, so customers can purchase any of the quality charcoal varieties found at the Charcoal store without having to venture out to the locally infamous "part of South Memphis where the streets are named after states."

If you frequent Memphis-area barbecue restaurants like Payne's, A&R and Tops you may have noticed the stacks of Chef's Delight charcoal. The brand is specially made by the Royal Oak charcoal company for the Charcoal Store and is used by most of the restaurants in Memphis with old-fashioned charcoal pits. It is also available locally at Charlie's Meat Market on Summer and in Easy Way produce stores.

Memphis Barbeque Supply also offers a huge selection of locally-sourced hardwoods and fruit woods.

You can purchase loose wood by the pound if you are wanting to experiment with new flavor profiles.

Shotwell offers a wide variety of cookers, both upright and horizontal. Whatever your fuel preference, from charcoal to wood to hardwood pellets, he can take care of you. Along with his career at Lowe's he has competed in both the Memphis and Kansas City barbecue circuits and he knows his cookers. He is passionate about barbecue and his store reflects it.

The store offers a huge variety of sauces and rubs, many of them from well-known local names like Jim Neely, the Rendezvous, the Bar-B-Q Shop, Hog Wild Catering, and the two-time Memphis in May grand champion Sweet Swine O' Mine team.

If you prefer crawfish or catfish to barbecue, Memphis Barbeque Supply also has a large selection of fryers and low country cookers.

There is also an entire wall devoted to all the miscellaneous accessories needed for any type of outdoor cooking.

The cooking accessories offered include spatulas emblazoned with the logos of local sports teams like the Tigers, Grizzlies, Titans, Saints, and some other team that shall remain nameless.

From the cookers to the charcoal to the seasonings, everything I saw for sale at Memphis Barbeque Supply was top quality and competitively priced. Browsing around made my wallet burn to upgrade from my own cheapo Brinkmann cooker. The store offers a unique opportunity to pick any equipment or fuel you need for creating your own barbecue while supporting a locally-owned small business with an owner who genuinely cares about helping you cook the best barbecue possible within your budget.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Barbecue Joint on a Driving Range - PC BBQ

I recently spotted a bunch of barbecue cookers in front of the Vantage Point Golf Center on Macon in Cordova along with a banner announcing the arrival of the PC BBQ restaurant inside the center, which is down the street from the Morris Grocery that has been offering up massive, delicious barbecue sandwiches for decades.

Before I got a chance to stop in I got a message from owner Robert Jason Wiggs inviting me by. My first visit was about a month ago.

Wiggs competes in the Kansas City Barbeque Society circuit with his Pork Choppers team, which the restaurant was named after. After looking over the cookers in the parking lot I went inside to check out the menu. I ended up ordering a creation called the Monster Sandwich that packed pulled pork, sauce and slaw on top of a thick slice of barbecue bologna. The slaw was a really good, vinegar-based rendition that went well with the meat and sauce.

With no sides, the giant sandwich was enough food for a complete meal. If it doesn't look filling enough for you, the restaurant offers a bigger version called Eat the Pig. It has two of the thick bologna slices with three pounds of pulled pork and a serving of slaw. It sells for $29.99, but eat it in less than 30 minutes and it is free.

After being impressed by the sandwich I went for the dry rub ribs on my second visit, ordered with sauce on the side and side orders of beans and slaw. It was a perfect spring day so I took my order of food out to the outdoor tables on the patio behind the golf center to enjoy a lunch next to the driving range.

The slaw was just as good the second time around and the beans were a solid representation. The dry rub added some great flavor to the ribs, although they didn't have the smoke flavor I was expecting based on the barrel cookers outside. They had a good meaty but tender texture and the fat was well-rendered, I was just hoping for more of a smoke presence based on the outdoor competition cookers. I tend to use sauce sparingly with ribs, preferring to enjoy the natural flavors of the meat, but the sauce on the side was still good enough for me to dip several of my ribs in it before eating them.

Around the corner from PC BBQ there is an empty barbecue restaurant that seems to be a bit of a cursed location. In the nearly three nears I have been writing this blog it has been home to a Reggi's franchise and places called Pure Glaze and Southern Smoke. I'm pretty sure a big part of the problem has been owners who went in underestimating the competition they would face from the humble-looking Morris Grocery up the street.

PC BBQ has a much more visible location and offers enough unique items and setting to make me hope it can enjoy its own niche despite its proximity to the Morris Grocery. I don't golf, but I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch in the sun next to the driving range. For an avid golfer, the chance to hit a bucket of golf balls and then enjoy some barbecue on a lunch break would be even more of a treat.

PC BBQ on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pit Fire at the A&R Smokehouse

I got a bad surprise while driving down Elvis Presley Boulevard today when I noticed the smokehouse behind the south Memphis location of A&R Bar-B-Q was gone. Well, not completely gone. The steel pits and chimneys were still there, along with the foundation. But the rest of the building was missing.

I've posted about my love for the old smokehouse in previous posts, so while I was upset to see it demolished I was happy to hear from longtime pitmaster Damon Briggs who told me it is being rebuilt following a major fire.

Before the fire I'd taken a lot of photos inside the smokehouse and interviewed Briggs for my recently-completed book Memphis Barbecue: A Succulent History of Smoke, Sauce and Soul, which will be coming out June 24 from the History Press. The book uses barbecue to tell the story of the Memphis area and is packed with photos and interviews. It isn't just a rehashing of material from the blog, it is almost all new material combined with historic photos.

Briggs at his new temporary work station.

Briggs has worked for A&R for 30 years, since he was a teenage student at nearby Hamilton High School. He was out of town recently when another employee "decided to teach himself to cook" in the smokehouse, he said. The results underlined one of the major advantages of a detached smokehouse. The restaurant was unharmed. Briggs is currently cooking out of several large barrel cookers while the smokehouse is rebuilt.

I went inside the restaurant to try the ribs he was creating on the temporary set up. They were still pink to the bone with a great flavor, but they did have some unrendered fat and tough spots. A lot of people obsess over wanting fancy, high-priced gear for producing barbecue so let that be a lesson. The custom smokehouse makes noticeably better ribs than the barrel cookers in the right hands. But a talented pitmaster with three decades of experience can still wing it with a newly-improvised cooking rig and turn out pretty good ribs. On the other hand, a novice working with a well-seasoned, custom-built smokehouse can literally burn everything to the ground.