Day #1 2014 Pilgrimage: T minus -1

April 20, 2014 | BBQ Road Trip

“Good morning Sir, are you having the Hindu inflight meal?”. I fixed a strong, proud gaze hoping that my choice wouldn’t arouse suspicion. “That’s me. For sure.”.  The quizzical Delta Airline air hostess desperately tried to hide her furrowed brow as her mind tried to process why this middle class white guy wearing high tops, sitting in seat 27E bound for Cincinnati, had ticked Hindu as preference for the flight ahead. Should she call  the Air Marshall?

The thing is, I hadn’t you see. Scott, Red’s Master of Meats had surreptitiously pre-ordered my aeroplane dish. And I wasn’t the only one. As the ‘chosen’ ones in our party continued to be marked out like weird food leapers, team #RedsPilgrimage 2014 were having to admit to crimes against diets including ‘Vegetarianism’ and ‘Lacto-vegan free’. This, for a group of men about to travel 1,100 miles in a Winnebago across Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas to worship at every backyard BBQ joint going, was sacrilege. The irony clearly tickled Scott, who ordered another can of beer and congratulated himself on a piss take well done…welcome to Red’s, and the annual BBQ pilgrimage to deep south USA…..

I’m James. I joined Red’s four weeks ago as Head of Communications, and this is my inaugural welcome to the annual Red’s True Barbecue Pilgrimage (2014). For any business pioneering new international food in the UK, trips like this are a chance to reconnect with the motherland, to make sure we’re staying true to the faith of our provenance. Whether that’s meeting the legendary Pitmasters that turn out barbecue so fine you want to weep with joy/slap yo momma, nibbling pickled pigs lips just in case it could be your next side dish, or trying the weird-sounding Donut Burger because maybe, just maybe, it might work for the UK (sound familiar?).  

Above all, this is a chance for me to grab my new role by the nuts and share some of the mysteries of smokehouse BBQ along our remote and epic journey.  The rest of the party will add blog notes along the way, so be prepared for some detailed philosophical musings and some pretty shit writing skills in the same paragraph…

Now while luck is not something that we at Red’s acknowledge (it’s funny how the harder you work the luckier you get), the Lady was somehow already on our side today.

“You gotta go to Dodge gas station. It sells the best BBQ Turkey wings and fried chicken. I used to eat 18 pieces in a go. That was in my larger days” said David Guest…

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Having missed our booked 06:40 train from Leeds to Manchester Airport, we took up residence in Maccy D’s contemplating whether we could dupe the BBQ road trip and blog our way out of it direct from the golden arches. No sooner had we agreed that a Big Mac patty was going to be a hard double act to some 20hr smoked fatty Texan beef brisket, but who should walk past but muso legend, David Guest, fresh from an all nighted (yep, even 60 year old fellas can handle it!!!) in Leeds. Cutting a dash in a rock legend tee, long black jacket and sporting some next level Mr T crucifix jewellery, we hooked up as table buddies.

If your only experience of ‘Guesty’ is from I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, you NEED to accidentally bump into this dude and spend 1hr on a train journey. The man is a walking raconteur. Sharper than a steak knife, witty beyond Mr witty and seriously connected. 

Within 10 minutes of chatting he had already called Lorraine Mitchell in Memphis (it was 3am BTW), daughter of legendary Motown writer/producer Willy Mitchell, and hooked us up with BBQ shack recommendations (‘you gotta go to Dodge gas station between Tunica and Mississippi – it sells the best BBQ Turkey wings and fried chicken. I used to eat 18 pieces in a go. That was in my larger days.’) meetings and even a home cooked meal at Lorraine’s. 

The hour sped by as he regaled story after story; growing up with Michael Jackson, on stage with Whitney Houston, working with the Temptations and even some leftfield story about an 80-year-old woman with an interesting genital birth defect (we’ll leave this story to the podcast). 

As we pulled into Manchester Piccadilly and bid farewell to our new Believer, Guesty, we couldn’t help but praise the act of providence. Like the movie Sliding Doors, whereby the small act of missing the tube completely changed the course of the story, our fortuitous meeting with Guesty was going to kick start our Pilgrimage in a whole (better) new way. For the rest of the trip, if we could, we would plan to miss all our transport links, just in case serendipity improved our choices. 

So it’s onwards to our first state, Kentucky, to gorge on our beloved BBQ, in particular mutton, the bluegrass state’s famed BBQ dish of choice. Where food starts us, liquor finishes it, and with that a tour of the hallowed home of Wild Turkey bourbon is in order. Jimmy, the 80 year-old, now retired legendary master distiller has promised to open our eyes further to one of Red’s favourite sups. BBQ and bourbon, there’s worse ways to start a road trip, eh?

But before we get ahead of ourselves, chap slapping and moustache rubbing a job well done, we still have to contend with the arrival of Chief Pitmaster, Clint, a supposed ’steady, quiet night’ in downtown Cincinnati, and a three hour RV orientation meeting – WTF?  

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