While I don’t want to the big guy upstairs angry at me, but travelling to a barbecue destination and hanging out is as close as I get to actually crossing through the pearly gates into heaven, which I hope to do someday way in the future.
A great thing about barbecue weekends is that you can immerse yourself in eating and discussing barbecue with people that share your passion. Often times you can’t talk barbecue with your co-workers, family members, or non-BBQ friends; or you do so with them excessively that they don’t want to talk to you about the subject anyone. So, a weekend get-away gives you your fix and an escape.
Another great thing about barbecue weekends is that you can be sometimes very pleasantly surprised by a barbecue establishment you visit. This happened to me this weekend when I travelled to judge the Blue Ridge Barbecue & Music Festival in Tryon, NC. I don’t like to mention particular barbecue restaurants in a forum like this, as I know there are hundreds and hundreds of hidden gems in America. However, I was so surprised by the two restaurants that were recommended to me that I had to share them. By the way, word of mouth of the locals in an area is usually the best way to ensure you eat at a good place.
The first restaurant I ate at after landing in Greenville/Spartanburg airport was Mutt’s BBQ in Greer, SC. It is located about 10 minutes from the airport. It was recommend to me by two people at the airport when I asked my usual question of “What is a good barbecue place to go to within 20 miles of here?”. Mutt’s had the best restaurant ribs (spares) that I’ve had in quite a while. They had an excellent medium smoke & pork flavor, were perfectly cooked, very tender, and had a beautiful pink smoke color. It was one of the highlights of my weekend adventure eating them.
The second place I was surprised at was Hubba Hubba Wood-fired Smokehouse in Flat Rock, NC. It was recommended to me by several people at the Blue Ridge KCBS barbecue contest. It’s in a quaint courtyard setting. They have an outstanding pulled pork sandwich and a number of outstanding home-made barbecue sauces. I tired the vinegar, mustard, and BBQ (red) sauces and was very please with each one. Additionally, their beans and slaw are to figuratively “die for”. The owner is a student of “The Legend” Mike Mills and learned how to do barbecue right.
The other reason I was surprised by these places is that they gave me the “wow factor” that I haven’t encountered lately; particularly when it comes to ribs. This emotional response is important and what should be expected with anything in life to be considered excellent, outstanding or great. The barbecue I’ve been eating the past few months has either been just OK or disappointing; at smaller local establishments, as well as a few big name establishments.
When I travel on barbecue weekends I usually plan them in conjunction with a KCBS or MBN barbecue contests, as I love judging as much as going to new places and sampling different barbecue restaurants. Obviously if I feel an immediate need to get away, judging a contest and flying isn’t possible. So in that case, I research a location and drive there. When planning though, I try to book my flights and hotel reservations as far out as I can to save money, ideally for future trips and to justify my current trip.
Also when I travel I mostly stay at a budget motel that has the basics: queen or king sized bed, cable TV (ie: ESPN) and is clean. This too saves few dollars. In addition to trying new barbecue haunts, I try to do one cultural thing associated with the community I’m staying in. It may include going to a museum, a park, or an event. This makes the trip more complete as a ”mini vacation”. Although there have been several trips where I spent most of my time laying in bed flipping channels in between judging and eating!
Most people travel on a barbecue weekend with their significant other or a good friend who can appreciate quality barbecue. However, I’m part of a small of a group of people I refer to as a “barbecue bachelors (or bachelorettes)”. During these trips I usually go alone because my lady love doesn’t particularly care about barbecue and doesn’t want to travel on the weekend since she travels all the time during the week. She always supports me in my endeavors, but says “barbecue is your thing”. So, I’m pretty much free to travel where ever and however far I want to try new barbecue joints - within my budget. Although it would be really nice having her travel with me, not only for the companionship, but also to make the overall nuisances of the places I visit and the people meet even more enjoyable.
As a result of my trip, I came back very relaxed and had another outstanding barbecue experience.
I saw some old judging friends and made some new ones at the barbecue contest - as always, and had my faith renewed in quality restaurant barbecue.
So when life starts to get you down, plan a barbecue weekend and find your own special nirvana for a few days!
Where there's smoke, there's probably barbecue!