Satchel’s BBQ

I get asked a lot for my opinion on who is serving the best BBQ in the area.  When you get a pig tattooed on your arm you kind of open yourself up for these questions.  Usually people assume it’s going to be a well known joint like Slow’s or Blue Tractor.  I know this is a real “Hipster” thing to say but I’m not a big fan of either of those places.  If you’ve ever read my ode to whole hog style BBQ, you know that I’m a firm believer that great BBQ does not come from a place with an extensive menu and a bunch of different sauces. Instead, I believe that great BBQ comes from small places that someone decided to open because they loved everything that goes into smoking meats.  The mecca of greatness, Franklin BBQ, was opened up by a guy who became obsessed with smoking brisket in his back yard and now has a cult following that includes a four hour wait every morning.  The passion and detail that goes into smoking meat at home and then figuring out how offer that same taste on a large scale is what makes BBQ great.

Now I could talk about why I love BBQ for hours but the purpose of this post is to tell a story about what I think is best BBQ joint within fifty miles of where I live.  When you live in Westland, MI, which was voted least desirable city to open a restaurant in the Unite States the past two years, you have to travel these distances to find quality food. Luckily, Satchel’s BBQ has me covered with a short drive to Ann Arbor.

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Satchel’s BBQ was opened in 2010 by a guy named Hugh who worked in Finance, had zero restaurant experience and loved BBQ.  To steal a quote from the Ann Arbor News, he “likes to make BBQ and people like BBQ”.  It’s just that simple.  He opened up in a little 1500 sq. ft space that shares a building with a Verizon store to house his Southern style BBQ joint and named it after his dog.  There is no visible sign out front, just two large smokers that run throughout the day and into the night.  As you drive by on Washtenaw ave., you can smell the smokers from your car, which is probably better than any sign Hugh could have purchased.  The first time I went to Satchel’s was early 2011 when I was returning from some sort of debauchary in Ann Arbor.  The smell made me turn around in Whole Food’s parking lot and pay the place a visit.  I was BBQ rookie back then and I was shocked at the absence of sauce on the meat.  Up until this day, I had always craved different types of sauces poured all over my smoked meats.  This was different, the meat actually stood on its own.  It didn’t need some Sweet Baby Ray’s bullshit sauce to make it taste good.  It has been my favorite BBQ in Michigan since that day.

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There is absolutely nothing fancy about Satchel’s. The menu is written on the wall in chalk and offers the essentials in BBQ:  Chicken, pulled pork, beef brisket and pork ribs. There are no BBQ enchiladas, no pulled pork nachos and definitely no vegan friendly options.  You can get your meat in a sandwich and there are sides — collards, cole slaw, beans and mac and cheese.  If you want desert with your meal there is one option:  Bread pudding with whiskey sauce.  All plates are served with two pieces of dense cornbread, which could be a side item of its own. The beauty of the simplicity of this menu is everything is done well.  They have a small focus on a simple cooking process and have perfected it.  There is no reason to do anything else.  The meat and the wood do the talking.

So let’s talk get away from everything that makes this place great from the outside and just start talking about the food.  It’s fucking fantastic.  It’s smoked slowly over hardwood with what tastes like salt and pepper and that’s it.  The meat is allowed to speak for itself, instead of being complicated by any additional spices.  Still to this day the pork and brisket is served completely naked without any sweet ketchup sauces interfering with the marriage between the smoke and the meat.  People that aren’t used to naked BBQ are given more than five different sauces on the table but they really don’t need it. Everything holds up and can stand on its own.  The brisket is easily the best I have ever had.  It is served with a dark bark, created by the smoke, on the outside and if you are lucky they will include part of the fatty deckle — the holy grail of beef brisket.  It literally melts in your mouth.  The pulled pork isn’t pulverized, rather served in large chunks that fall apart under your fork.

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With the deliciousness of the meat, you would think that the sides becomes an afterthought and are overshadowed.  Well, you would be wrong.  The collards here are among the best I’ve had in the country.  They absorb the saltiness of the pork and end with a little bit of heat. If you don’t like greens, I challenge you to give these a try and tell me you haven’t changed your mind.  The beans are cooked in cast iron pots within the smoker and absorb all of the flavor trapped in the metal vessels.  I have a hard time, no matter how hungry I am, not ordering an extra side to go with my meal.

My personal recommendation:  Get the combo plate with pulled pork, brisket with collards and beans on the side.  Add a sweet tea in there and you’ve got the best BBQ that Michigan has to offer.

In summary, Satchel’s has been my favorite BBQ joint in Michigan since 2011.  If there’s one food item I feel confident to tell you that I know my shit about, it’s BBQ.   You will love Satchel’s, and if you don’t then I’m afraid I don’t respect your opinions on food and/or life in general.  Check this place out if you are looking for all of the things that makes BBQ great:  Passion, simplicity, meat and of course wood.

Sweet Baby Ray’s is Really Bad.

I’m going to make a statement that is going to be unpopular to the majority of people who are reading this.  Don’t worry, It’s OK if you disagree because I’m going to spend the next five minutes of your life convincing you that you’ve been absolutely destroying your meat with a disgusting sugar sauce that shouldn’t be allowed allowed to have the word “Barbecue” on the label.  So here we go.

Sweet Baby Ray’s is bad.  It’s really bad.

But why you might ask?  Most of you have probably been using Sweet Baby Ray’s your entire life.  These $2 bottles of “barbecue sauce” sit on end caps in your local grocery store every summer screaming for you to buy it.  That nice vintage looking bottle with “This Sauce is Boss!” written on the neck of every bottle.  That sweet tasting brown sauce that seems to enhance the flavor of your family’s boiled ribs, chicken cooked on the gas grill and even overcooked pork chops.  Sweet Baby Ray’s seems to make everything great!

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No.  Just no.  Sweet Baby Ray’s is not barbecue sauce.  Barbecue is beautiful.  Barbecue is flavored by wood or charcoal and gives the meat a naturally smoky flavor.  Not sauce with smoky flavoring.  Barbecue sauce can be a lot of fun and is often crucial to give piece of meat a nice caramelization on the outside — And before I go on, yes I know caramelization requires sugar.

But what if I told you that for every two tablespoons of Sweet Baby Ray’s you slather on your overcooked ribs, it’s the equivalent of eating the same amount of sugar as three Oreos?

Would you ever add 4 sugar cubes to your coffee?  I wouldn’t either.  Just a heads up, when you dump two tablespoons of Sweet Baby Ray’s on your chicken wings you’re eating just that.  Four cubes of sugar.

Did you know that every time you destroy a perfectly good piece of brisket with two tablespoons of Sweet Baby Ray’s you’re eating 34% of your daily recommended sugar intake?

Here’s where things get really creepy.  There is no actual sugar in Sweet Baby Ray’s. Through advances in sweetener technologies over the years, Ray is able to lower the cost of his sauce by using both High Fructose Corn syrup AND corn syrup which has satisfied Wal-Mart customers across the country.

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Now let me wrap this up for you and clear up a few things. I’ve never claimed to be a health conscious eater.  I rarely read nutritional labels and have frequented many all you can eat buffets.  My point in all this is that you are essentially pouring corn syrup with smoke flavoring over a beautiful piece of meat.  Think about that for a second.  A living thing lost its life and you are pouring a substance on it whose creator won’t even go the extra mile to use real sugar.  Not trying to go all hard hitting on you with that statement, but seriously.  Use a quality sauce or no sauce at all.  The purpose of barbecue sauce is to add that tang to your meat, not to completely overtake the flavor with massive amounts of sugar.

So do yourself a favor and sample a different sauce the the next time you fire up the grill at home.  You can do better than Sweet Baby Ray’s.  There are hundreds of options out there who actually use sugar to sweeten their sauce and whose purpose isn’t to be the focal point in your food.  Barbecue sauce should be the Jamal Crawford of your barbecue, a crucial role player who comes through when you need him and has been there for you throughout the years.

If you really want to get crazy, here is a recipe for something that tastes just like Sweet Baby Ray’s but is actually good.

  • 1 bottle bottle organic ketchup (Real sugar, plus you shouldn’t be using ketchup for anything else anyways)
  • 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1.5 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke (you could add more if you prefer a smokier BBQ sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Directions: Combine all ingredients.  Cook for five minutes  Enjoy not eating Sweet Baby Ray’s.

I hope this information has allowed you to move past this kindergarten barbecue sauce and graduate to treating your meat to something better.  You’re not a four year old dipping chicken nuggets in barbecue sauce.

You’re better than Sweet Baby Ray’s.

 

Hog Wild BBQ. With Raisins.

First, a simple statement.  BBQ is an amazing thing.  It’s such a simple concept – heat, wood and meat – but it has different origins in different cultures and has a different process everywhere you go. Changing the smallest details result in different flavors and textures. My preference is keeping it basic – allow the wood to flavor a quality piece of meat and leave the sauce out of it. My choice of meat? Pork.  Enough so that I have a butcher map of a pig tattooed on my arm in an ode to whole hog BBQ.

With that being said, I’m not your typical BBQ snob. I think the basic cook should always remain the same, heat and wood, but after that as long as you’re not drowning the meat in sauce I’m always up for whatever. The first concept that comes to mind is Ricewood BBQ in Ann Arbor — where they wood smoke various meats, serve them over rice topped with scallion, tomato and a spicy-sour Chamorro sauce. It’s something so basic – again: heat, wood and meat, but shows how BBQ is done in the Western Pacific. It’s a reminder that BBQ is not just an American classic. Meat heated slowly over wood is the most basic form of cooking and is done differently in every state and country around the world.

I’ll admit that’s one of the deeper things I’ve written and is an odd opening to a “review” of a BBQ truck. I just love BBQ, that’s all. So when I found out that someone had a BBQ truck directly across the street from my job — no electric, no gas,.  Just wood and heat — I showed up with money. Two days in a row. Check this place out:

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Here’s where I love maintaining this site as less of a “food blog” and more of a “here’s some great food with an interesting story behind it” site. Hog Wild BBQ was opened by Dave Price, who was an air conditioning repair man as early as 2012. After doing some back yard pig roasts his friends encouraged him to open a commercial BBQ business. He now owns two BBQ trucks, a restaurant and a catering business.

Upon my first visit, I was told that the pork had been on the smoker since about 2AM and was just being taken off for pulling. Even better, they hadn’t made the cole slaw yet so it was made while I was waiting. They packed it up in a styrofoam container and sent me on me on my way

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The pork is served naked in sandwich form topped with your spice of regular or sweet/spicy and topped with slaw. Upon opening my styrofoam container, I found something that shocked me. Raisins. This was the first time I have ever seen raisins included as part of BBQ. I wasn’t sure what to think. It adds a little bit of sweetness to the sandwich and a random chewyness to each bite. The pork falls apart, like all good BBQ should and the raisin adds a little chew.  Past that, the spicy sauce tastes like it’s hoisin based — which is typically used as a glaze or stir fry sauce in Chinese cuisine.  #interesting.

Tying this in with my long intro aka John’s ode to BBQ, this is the beauty of BBQ. Someone obviously experimented with different flavors and ingredients and tied in the age old practice of smoked meat with different flavors — even adding dried grapes to the equation. I have to say it works. Adding a dried fruit and an ingredient from a country’s cuisine that is not typically associated with USA BBQ makes this place both delicious and interesting. It’s an ingredient combination you probably won’t find many other places.

Hog Wild BBQ sets up shop at the BP right off the Grand River exit on 96 in Brighton. Check it out.

Ten Pounds of Pork

WrestleMania was this past Sunday so the only appropriate thing to do was smoke ten pounds of pork.  I pulled the trigger on a smoker a few months ago and it has become one of my better culinary purchases. I now drive past BBQ restaurants and chuckle to myself that I can make the same quality meat, if not better, at home.  The best part is if you find a good butcher and spend a little bit of time on prep, the wood and smoker do the rest of the work for you and produce better results than your average smokehouse.  If you’re looking into getting into the smoking game, I highly recommend starting with an electric box smoker.  All you do it add wood chips and monitor the temperature.

To drive home the simplicity of smoking ribs, here is an eight step instructional process, with step eight being the most important.

  1. Buy some ribs.
  2. Cut the membrane off the bottom
  3. Rub with mustard aka rub glue
  4. Rub with rub
  5. Put in smoker for two hours at 225
  6. Wrap in foil.  Two more hours at 225
  7. Brush on sauce.  One more hour at 225
  8. Eat.  Yum.

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How good were these ribs?  So good I didn’t take a picture of the finished product.  I was too busy eating.  Sorry!

Lastly, this is the first installment in a series of posts on me and my smoker.  This is my fourth smoke and I’m thinking about graduating to smoking with wood only.  Wherever I go, you will see it here.

Whole Hog BBQ – North Carolina

Most people take vacations to see new things, like the beach or historical landmarks. Some go to Disney World. Others go overseas to experience culture outside of our great, great coutry. When it came time for me to spend a week away from work, the only logical thing to do was to drive ten hours to Eastern North Carolina for some whole hog BBQ.  I’m here to say the next time you have some time off and can’t figure out a place to go – drive somewhere far away and plan a couple of places to eat that you can’t get locally.  Not only does the traveling make the food taste better, but you get to experience another region’s culture that, in this case, has taken hundreds of years to perfect.

If you’re not familiar with Carolina BBQ, or BBQ in general, there are arguments on the proper ways to cook, season and sauce the pig depending on where you’re at.  If you’re in Eastern North Carolina they cook a whole hog over wood coals, meaning an entire pig is placed on top of burning wood embers for a long, long period of time and then chopped and mixed together.  Their choice for sauce is a simple mixture of vinegar and spices.  The Western part of North Carolina uses only the shoulder, which is mainly dark meat, cooked over wood topped with a vinegar sauce combined with different amounts of tomato.

Once you get into South Carolina, you get different cuts and the addition of mustard into the sauce.  I didn’t get to South Carolina on this trip so that will have to be another day.

I’m here to say, without question, Eastern Carolina style is the winner in this region. Whole hog style gives you a mixture of different flavors, from both white and dark meat, and every bite can be different.  The vinegar adds a little tang but GOOD whole hog BBQ shouldn’t require any additional sauce. Finally, what makes whole hog BBQ really shine are crispy pig skins mixed into the BBQ.  My god.  This gives you salty, crispy little bits mixed into the pork adding yet another flavor and another texture.  I would say there are no words, but the whole point of this is putting things into words.  Moving on.

I will be doing a lot of material on smoked pork in the future, so I’ll save you time some time today from the smoked meat education and get to the point of this post.

The first place I went was Skylight Inn BBQ.  If you want some more info on them, use Google. There is more information than you could ever ask for.  This is the best BBQ I have ever had. Hands down, from a man that has a pig tattooed on his arm. If you have never had whole hog BBQ, you should immediately drive to Aiden, NC in the middle of absolute nowhere and try this.  

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I was sitting at the Skylight Inn thinking “What should I do next?” and the only thing that made any sense was to do a Bang-Bang.  Before you think that my idea was to do something innapropirate, let me educate you for a second. A proper Bang-Bang is where you go out to eat, and then you immediately go to a different place to eat.  It could be two lunches, or two dinners, and is absolutely essential when you’re eating in an area that you will not be returning to in the near future.  I got into my rented Doge Dart, which is a fine choice for a compact vehicle (I don’t care what anyone says), and headed to Dudley, NC, which is somehow even more in the middle of nowhere than Aiden, NC, but is also home to Grady’s BBQ.

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You probably can’t find much information on Google about Grady’s.  It’s old school and you can tell before you walk in that the food is going to be a combination of both authentic and legit.  Before you question why I would risk my health eating at a hole in the wall place like this that CLEARLY doesn’t focus on appearance or cleanliness, Grady’s has a posted 99.5 out of 100 health inspection score.  That’s right, North Carolina requires all restaurants to post their scores within their building to the public. Why doesn’t every state do that?

Anyways, same story here.  Whole hog BBQ and the best collared greens I ever had.

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I then retreated and spent the rest of the day recovering until my next altercation with Carolina BBQ in the form of Allen and Son BBQ in Chapel Hill which does not, in fact, cook whole hog.  They use only the shoulder but do use the Eastern Carolina sauce.  I realize this post is called “Whole Hog BBQ” and this is not “Whole Hog BBQ” but I don’t care.  Allen and Son was my first experience with Carolina style non-tomato sauce so I feel it is only right to include them.

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The lessons you should take from this post:

  1. If you’ve been eating pulled pork your whole life you owe it to yourself to go and try whole hog BBQ.  It’s life changing.
  2. When traveling in an area you do not frequent and that has good food, a Bang-Bang is essential.
  3. Go on a food vacation.