The pursuit of BBQ happiness is a relentless job. Don’t get me wrong. Taking part in this pilgrimage as part of your job is quite possible the frickin’ coolest thing i’ve done so far in my career. But holy shit, I’ve taken eating to whole other level today. I”m in a daze, my head clouded with intoxicating wafts of Oak, Mesquite and Pecan wood smoke. The only way I could have exceeded BBQ blood sugar levels would have been intravenously; and there’s still time on this trip for that I’m sure.
Today we’re attempting to cross two state lines, heading across Arkansas AKA the ‘Natural State’ due to its diverse array of outdoor activities available, and into Texas, the Lone Star state. Standing in the way; three full barbecue meals, oh and a fried chicken breakfast.
Dodge Gas station, Memphis
Our chance meeting with David Guest on the train from Leeds to Manchester uncovered a recommendation for the best fried chicken joint in the whole of Memphis; Dodge Gas station.
Having ordered and taken our fried breakfast bounty outside to scran, a towering african american of man came out of nowhere, arms splayed out, staggering towards us. Missing teeth, stinking of booze and chewing his face off, the stark warnings given to us that Memphis is the murder capital of the US, was sharply brought into focus.
He made his way towards Greg who was holding the GoPro on a pole and began accusing him of filming him downtown. Not getting anywhere with Greg, I was delighted when he decided to turn his attentions to me…
I thrust out my iPhone towards him (I’m using it to interview people over here for a Podcast we’re pulling together), and shouted out “You like barbecue?”. “What was that?” he replied. “You like barbecue sir?”. “I love it. They say the best BBQ come outta the United States.”
And that was it. Instantly placated. The unifying language of barbecue had brought us together, and not for the first either. You see barbecue in this country is as a pervasive ‘religion’ as Christianity. No matter who you meet, everybody has a story, a recommendation or an experience to eagerly share. Ask anyone where the best joint is, and you’ll easily get a 10-minute impassioned chat. From old to young, black to white, rich, poor, foodie, fatty, I’ve never experienced a food that emotionally moves so many people, and crosses so many cultures.
We shared our fried chicken with new friend ‘Sleepy’ James, whereafter he regaled us with stories of growing up drinking moonshine from the age of five, his time in the US army, how he played basketball in London many years ago, his sexual exploits and of course, his technique for smoking ribs and a recipe for a barbecue sauce: “You wanna know how to make the best barbecue sauce? Get you some moonshine, they call it the white lightening. I’m serious. Don’t put much in, or you gonna get fucked up. That shit ain’t no joke man.”
We all could have stayed a little while longer with Sleepy, but of course, we still had a further three meals and two states to squeeze into the today, so we bounced.
Next stop The Whole Hog, Little Rock Arkansas…