Saturday, July 30, 2011

Blues BBQ

Inside Blues BBQ and a peek at their pressure smoker.

According to what I've read, Blues BBQ is the best bbq in Charleston. But read through the reviews and the comments and a bit of a controversy erupts. Evidently, Blues BBQ pressure cooks their ribs. To bbq purists this is akin to an uncircumsized Semite running through 1942 Berlin wearing a pig meat outfit.

Putting that controversy to the side, I decided to check out Blues - especially since one of the commenters assured that Blues was not pressure cooking their ribs. As for myself, I'm a firm believer in wood smoked bbq but I certainly can appreciate the virtues of boiled ribs (looking at you The Corner Stable in Cockeysville, MD) - though stating that might be grounds for the KCBS to revoke my BBQ Judge status.

Samples of their Williamsburg and Blues style pulled pork.

Located in a simple building on Jefferson Road outside of South Charleston, it's easy to drive past Blues without noticing but once inside, it's true bbq style. Inside, Blues is old and a bit worn and rundown. Formica booths and old posters share the patina of wear that's reassuring in a bbq joint. There's even a large ice cream dipping cabinet sitting in the middle of the seating area. Odd and disjointed, it's kind of what bbq joints are all about. Fancy dining this place ain't.

The lady with the black hair is friendly and takes me on a tasting tour of the two types of pulled pork they offer. There's the original Blues pulled pork that's sweeter with hints of molasses, then there's the Williamsburg style that's acidic and vinegary with some spice. There's also two choices of cole slaw - a sweeter one with mayo and a spicy, vinegar based without mayo. While I like the Williamsburg style better on its own, I decide on the Blues style to balance out the vinegary spice of the non-mayo cole slaw for the pulled pork sandwich.

The pulled pork sandwich with baked beans and spicy cole slaw.

BBQ purists desire to shame all those who disagree (or merely have different) with their viewpoints and preferences. So rabid these purists can be that I'm surprised they aren't protesting outside Blues door. Inside, the very nice lady is more than happy and proud about how they cook their bbq: it's pressure smoked and she's happy to point out the pressure smoker that's in plain sight from the front counter.

A little Internet research showed that a small box of wood chips is placed in the bottom of the pressure chamber, then the meat is hung inside the chamber before being sealed and cooked under pressure. It's kind of weird to think about but I'm open to different as long as its good. The lady is proud of her cooker but it looks small to me and I wonder how many ribs they can cook. Four at a time and it takes just over an hour to cook.

Inside the pulled pork sandwich.

I think back to my summer making commercial bbq and four at a time seems like lunacy. You'd kill yourself trying to produce enough ribs when you can only do four at a time. Of course, it only takes about an hour and in the time that it would take me to smoke ribs the traditional way, you could run 16-20 racks in the pressure smoker.

The people at Blues BBQ are so friendly that it's no wonder they've been in business for ten years and have gone through three pressure smokers. I depart with a large bag stuffed with ribs, pulled pork, cole slaw, baked beans and fries for a late afternoon meal at the hotel.

A rack of ribs with dinner rolls.

I find the pulled pork to be very tasty. Deep, dark and lusty, I note spices, hints of dark chocolate and sweet molasses that's contrasted brilliantly by the spicy cole slaw. The sesame seed bun is soft and chewy. The baked beans are more of the same. Deep, smoky and molasses sweet. I like.

My brother is a big fan of the boiled style of ribs. Tender and falling off the bone is his style of ribs and he would be a big fan of the Blues rib. Fork tender and falling off the bone, you could easily suck the meat down Extremely tender and bathed in a sweet bbq sauce, I found the ribs to be a bit lacking.

Closeup with the pressure smoked ribs.

As much as I may try, I guess deep down inside, I'm a wood smoked rib lover. My palate is searching for that deep luster of wood flavor but can't find it. Visually, I'd like to see that reddish smoke ring but instead find an even color of pork grey under the sauce. The pressure smoker may add smoke but even under pressure, with such a short exposure time, it seems that the meat doesn't have enough time to meld its flavors with the smoke.

Where I would hope to find depth and complexity, the ribs come up short. I'm hoping for complex ribs but they're a bit one dimensional. I wonder if bathing the ribs in bbq sauce then charring them on the grill would develop greater complexity and that sugary Maillard reaction that might give these ribs that extra ooomph.

Of course, Blues has been around ten years and is very popular with the locals. The staff is very friendly and welcoming and the pulled pork is certainly worth the effort.

Blues BBQ
1109 Jefferson Road
South Charleston, WV 25309-9780
(304) 744-8335

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