Before the wedding, a test_ 3,000 miles of barbecue – the new york times

We’d drive southwest on Interstate 81, eating barbecue until we hit Memphis. Italian sausage and kale soup recipe The idea was juvenile in its simplicity, but amid planning a wedding and being a month from turning 30, something juvenile and simple was what I craved.

I am a native New Yorker, in a family of waning Italian heritage, so my opinions on barbecue have been treated as an eccentricity. Spaghetti recipe with italian sausage Was my hot dog no good? Perhaps I’d like a burger instead? To my fiancée, Mary Beth, Virginia-born and North Carolina-raised, I was eccentric only in the wide tent I pitched for smoked meat.


To most anyone from the Piedmont Crescent in North Carolina, barbecue is not a style of cooking; it’s a specific dish: chopped pork topped with a spicy vinegar sauce. Homemade italian sausage recipes from italy Zeal for such a noble meal is only appropriate in her eyes. Mild italian sausage slow cooker recipes Ribs, however, are not barbecue. Pasta italian sausage recipe Ribs are ribs. Italian sausage pasta recipe jamie oliver Beef is a wholly different dish. Recipe italian sausage pasta And God help those yellow-lipped South Carolinians, with their heathenous mustard-based condiments.

Our first stop would be in the heart of Pennsylvania. Italian sausage pasta bake recipe Criticism was swift from the left side of the aisle. Homemade italian chicken sausage recipe “That’s too far north for good barbecue,” Mary Beth’s family told me. Italian turkey sausage recipes But that was the point of the trip: to prove that barbecue, though miraculous, is not a miracle of geography. Italian sausage and potato soup recipe My own family was critical for another reason: why spend vacation days driving all the way to Tennessee, and not just fly to a beach? Continue reading the main story

Outside of Harrisburg, past an overgrown football field, we found ShakeDown BBQ. Recipe mild italian sausage A huge four-chamber grill on wheels had been wrapping the building in apple wood smoke for hours. Mild italian sausage recipes for dinner I’m a sucker for a wood log fire, but I knew that wouldn’t guarantee good food. Italian sausage recipe fennel Behind a small counter was a towering blackboard detailing the owner’s newest sandwich creations.

Rules are anathema to road trips, but I felt it important to lay out some guidelines, if only to focus the debate. Italian sausage recipe pasta Guideline No. Italian sausage bowtie pasta recipe 1: If the restaurant offered a sampler or combo platter, we should order it. Traditional italian sausage recipe Guideline No. Italian sausage recipe oven 2: Pork products would be our focus of scrutiny. Best homemade italian sausage recipe We expected few joints east of the Mississippi would hazard an attempt at Texas-style brisket. Recipe italian sausage soup Guideline No. Mild italian sausage pasta recipe 3: Our highest priority for sides would be beans and greens, the true destiny of those overdone nubs of barbecued meat called burnt ends. Spicy italian sausage soup recipe Not every restaurant seasons its greens with burnt ends but I imagined that a week of nonstop barbecue, without vegetables, could put us at a legitimate risk for scurvy.

And there were sauces aplenty: “Regular” Tennessee sauce; a very “Spicy” variant; a vinegar-based “Carolina”; and a “Creamy Carolina” dipping sauce, seemingly inspired by white coleslaw. Italian sausage with pasta recipe More accurate than most tests, the selection of the house sauces, we would find, was the best sign of good barbecue. Pork italian sausage recipe Shakedown’s lineup scratched every itch I had, but my resident Carolinian thought that most of their sauces were approximated facsimiles.

Just over the border in Maryland, in Hagerstown, we stopped at the coyly named Hempen Hill BBQ, a sprawling sports bar crowded with folks looking to cure the munchies. Italian sausage penne pasta recipe It would be one of the only restaurants on our trip with a wait. Italian sausage pasta recipes with alfredo sauce The menu tries to do a bit of everything, from Bay-seasoned crab chips (hey, it’s Maryland) to smoked prime rib (too large to finish, though we tried). Recipe for making italian sausage Here, too, the pork sausage (a new menu item, our server told us) outclassed all other offerings: skin crisped from fire, a soft and savory interior, and arresting flavor. Easy italian sausage pasta recipe But even with three house sauces, an exemplary pork sandwich eluded us.

The following morning, we arrived in Virginia. Robert’s homemade italian sausage recipe Down the street from the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, a lovely collection of galleries and gardens, we found Bonnie Blue Southern Market & Grocery in Winchester. Easy spicy italian sausage pasta recipe The roadside cafe and bakery is in a renovated auto body garage, with plenty of indoor and outdoor tables, all painted fire engine red. Italian turkey sausage recipes dinner Route 81 hadn’t carried us far enough south for the kielbasa not to be a standout: The biscuits and gravy were a tremendous wake-up meal. Emeril italian sausage recipe But now the pulled pork was getting serious: juicy, smoky, a balancing act between salt and spices. Spicy italian turkey sausage recipe The beans practically included a second helping of pork, and the greens, tangy and tender, were the best of the trip. Recipe italian sausage Photo

Spirits high, we turned off to travel a strip of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a treasure in itself. Italian sausage pasta recipe food network The campsites that service motorcades of picnickers are equipped with public grills, and they would see a lot of use once the leaves turned. Best italian sausage recipe At over 5,000 feet, with the air so big and thin, folks would smell your dinner a mile away, and it made me wonder if hospitality is knowing you should expect company. Italian sausage recipe with pasta Was barbecue first defined only by its open, inviting aroma? If so, my family’s hot dogs and hamburgers might not be off the mark after all. Homemade mild italian sausage recipe No guest goes hungry in my mother’s house.

Driving down the mountain, we stopped at BeamMeUp BBQ, found in a little beige house on the far edge of Lexington, Va. Italian pork sausage recipe The last rack of ribs walked out the door before we could order, a disappointment but also a good sign. Italian sausage pasta recipes food network This was the first pulled pork to make Mary Beth give that signature giddy smile. Johnsonville mild italian sausage recipes The pulled meat had great texture and, even before sauces, a complex flavor. Recipe using italian sausage and pasta The brisket, gleaming like a slab of petrified wood, dissolved instantly upon first bite. Ground mild italian sausage recipe That texture doesn’t come without a robust knowledge of temperature, salt and even humidity. Beef italian sausage recipe The house’s classic “Carolina” sauce was an obvious match for the pork, but the “dark and spicy” sauce ruled the brisket.

Nearer the state border, we were surprised by the South Carolina expats at Due South Pit Cooked BBQ in Christiansburg, Va. Baked italian sausage recipe The interior was wall-to-wall pig tchotchkes and punny pig shirts for sale — even the bathroom has a framed pig painting. Italian sausage soup recipes We were aware of the unofficial rule that a barbecue restaurant must have on premises at least one anthropomorphized pig. Italian sausage zucchini pasta recipes This was something else. Italian turkey sausage recipe Photo

Mary Beth, staring down her state’s rival, wasn’t having any of this mustard stuff. Recipe ground italian sausage But both sides are guilty of dogmatism: Stephen Colbert, a proud South Carolinian, once suggested that North Carolina’s Piedmont vinegar sauce is better employed as a toilet bowl cleaner. Italian sausage bow tie pasta recipe I blanketed my brisket in smoky mustard and, yellow lips and all, offered a satisfied grin.

After days of travel, we finally entered Mary Beth’s home turf: the Piedmont Crescent. Italian sausage pasta recipes I had been surprised by how many restaurants strained themselves to serve every cut, every sauce, every regional quirk their customers might desire. Italian sausage recipes food network Lexington Barbecue in Lexington, N.C., is on a different level: The hickory-smoked pork shoulder can be sliced, chopped or coarsely chopped, and a laboratory of condiments (“smokehouse” sauce, Texas Pete, Tabasco …) is on every table. Italian sausage soup recipe olive garden The decades appear to have taught Lexington not to argue the details with barbecue fans. Sweet italian sausage soup recipe Photo

The most interesting note our conversations found was how some spots, especially in North Carolina, seemed to intentionally serve slightly dry meat, so as to help it absorb a sauce. Potato and italian sausage recipe Indeed, more than a few restaurants seemed to serve a meat just to have something for the sauce to go on. Italian sausage meat recipe The biggest disappointment was that, despite no small amount of agony over sauces and meats and wood smoke, few restaurants could be bothered to use fresh-baked buns. Italian sausage recipe ideas Not so in Nashville.

There, we visited with Mary Beth’s cousin, who pointed us toward Edley’s Bar-B-Que on 12 South. Italian sausage skillet recipe Befitting its location in the home of country music, the large renovated garage is done up with warm wood beams and benches, hanging lights and pumping music. Hot italian turkey sausage recipe Despite such a polished experience and well-rehearsed service, the prices were no higher than the roadside places we’d grown accustomed to. Italian sausage recipe homemade Photo

Scott’s pigs are smoked whole hog (think of a luau) then minced, sauced, slapped on a bun, and wrapped like any common deli sandwich. Pasta with italian sausage recipe Only that wasn’t a common deli sandwich; it gave most of North Carolina a run for its money. Spaghetti italian sausage recipe The ribs, practically a confit, lacked a spicy bark or crust, but were tremendously tender. Homemade italian sausage recipe Even at 9 in the morning, customers were picking up racks of ribs to serve for lunch. Sausage italian recipe But these were not the dry and spicy Memphis ribs I’d heard of. Italian sausage pasta recipe Had we been driving in the wrong direction?

Yet soon there we were on Central Avenue, staring down a blue statue of the University of Memphis’s Tom the tiger, which guards Central BBQ. Italian sausage hoagie recipe The line was already out the door. Italian sausage recipe food network Behind the parking lot was a large mural of farm animals playing in a jazz band and inside was wall-to-wall merchandise. Italian sausage recipe with rice Even with the music turned low, the whole joint felt loud. Italian sausage pasta recipe white sauce The scant indoor seating filled up quickly, so we ate under a tent rigged with water misters to allay the 100-degree heat. Best italian sausage pasta recipe The pork and brisket were great, but the ribs, dry and red as Australia’s Simpson Desert, were clearly the best: tug-apart tender with a rolling spiciness.

Across town is the Bar-B-Q Shop. Mild italian chicken sausage recipes A bar and grill tucked into a mostly residential block on Madison Avenue, it was quiet for lunch but would attract a crowd for dinner. Turkey italian sausage recipe The waiters knew to push their claim to fame: barbecue spaghetti, basically a sweet and meaty pasta Bolognese. Fresh italian sausage recipe Even after a week of solid barbecue, it was still a pleasure to eat, if a guilty one. Recipe to make italian sausage Like Lexington’s chopped pork, Bar-B-Q Shop’s ribs were another high-wire act of flavors and textures. Italian sausage recipe easy Sauce might have been the main draw in the Carolinas, but the Bar-B-Q Shop produces such a perfect rack of meat, sauce is rather unnecessary, almost unwelcome.

It was the end of our trip, but I wanted to keep driving west. Jennie o italian turkey sausage recipes To have a grand barbecue road trip that didn’t even enter Missouri or Texas … what would people say? It had begun to rain aggressively after we left the Bar-B-Q Shop, but I drove us out to the Memphis Riverfront. Italian sausage bean soup recipe Parked in front of the Mississippi, I began to lay out Barbecue Road Trip Part 2 and the idea that maybe we should hit a few spots in Alabama? I mean, the state border is right there.

Mary Beth just smiled at me. Rigatoni recipe with italian sausage I think she knew that after a week of barbecue, I was all talk, and once our last plate of ribs kicked in, I couldn’t manage much talking either. Homemade italian sausage recipes We were tired and we were full and all we really wanted to do was go home and get married. Recipe homemade italian sausage So we did.