Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Ramblings: BBQ Elitism

BBQ Elitism

Are we elitists? Yeah, when I say ‘we’ I mean you and I. Us. The people that care enough about BBQ to go to sites like these. Have we climbed into a ‘low and slow’ ivory tower where we hold everything that isn’t competition-worthy in disdain? If we do hold these supercilious attitudes, is that necessarily wrong?

The closing of a friend's BBQ joint has me a bit depressed and prompted a bit of soul searching. Why is it that quality of food is not a prime criteria for success? I make it a point to visit every BBQ place that I can get to. To be honest, most are average at best. And yet many thrive.

I’ll admit up front that I will enter a BBQ chain with a chip on my shoulder. Instead of anticipating great food or at least going in with a neutral attitude I have a ‘convert me’ attitude. It usually doesn’t happen. I most often have to curb my tongue when I’m out with friends in a place like this. They are having a great time and are enjoying the food. I’m lamenting the lack of a smoke ring. They are enjoying the novelty of a rack of ribs while I’m searching for the tell-tale smoke flavor.

If I just ignored what I know the food could be, could I enjoy what it actually is? If I set my standards aside, would I find it as passable as a steak from Outback? Why does it annoy me so much that most people don’t realize that the majority of BBQ joints are the equivalent of Red Lobster in the seafood genre?

I think that the difference is that an Outback will be packed while Smith and Wollensky’s is also packed. Sadly, subpar BBQ is thriving while excellent places are either non-existent or are failing.

The virtues of true low and slow have been inculcated in us by competitions, experience and research. Maybe a tolerance for mediocrity has been lost.




BP said...

I think that, for better or for worse, there are more factors to whether a barbecue restaurant succeeds than just how good the barbecue is.

Obviously, location is always important. Also, how many other barbecue restaurants are in the area (here in Nashville there are LOTS)? If there is existing competition, you've got to do something to differentiate yourself. Marketing/advertising plays a role (if no one knows you're there and/or why they should eat there, they won't come).

Beyond those obvious things, I think so much of what determines success of barbecue places is how the restaurant FEELS. I think that for John and Jane Doe, how the restaurant feels is just as important as how good the food is. People want to feel a certain way when they go to eat barbecue, and a lot of things contribute to that feeling, from how the restaurant is decorated to how it smells to what music is playing. Also, while the actual barbecue is what's important to you and I, for the average diner, side dishes are just as important as the meat.

Knowing all of this, though, it still does frustrate me that restaurants that serve such inferior barbecue continue to thrive year after year. I guess all that we can do is continue to spread the gospel of GOOD barbecue and hope that occasionally someone "gets it".

Eric Devlin said...

Good points all. I think that you are absolutely right. Maybe more than any other cuisine, BBQ is a collegial food where status is secondary and camaraderie is the key ingredient.

That being the case, maybe it's not surprising that ambiance often trumps food quality.


WhiteTrashBBQ said...

One thing that has to be taken into account is the value for the buck.

One can't price oneself out of your market. If I can get a chicken down the road for half the price of your bbq chicken, guess where I'm going.

Some of the bbq places that succeed that have substandard foods offer incredibly cheap meals. One awful chain in NYC advertises complete dinners for 2 for $20.

That and they have cheap margaritas.

But I think also that America has had its palettes dumbed down. Look at the success of the fast food joints; KFC's BBQ chicken sells big. As does McDonald's McRib.

Unfortunately that is the defacto barbecue standard in most of America.

Pigtrip said...

A lot of the places with inferior barbecue that succeed are doing so because of a more balanced menu than the hard core barbecue joint. If you have a group of four couples, going to a barbecue hole in the wall with a limited choice of meats might be a hard sell, no matter how fabulously those meats are smoked. At lunchtime, those something-for-everyone joints with inferior 'cue are getting repeat customers within the same week ("not just ribs"). Meanwhile, the hardcore barbecue joint might not even get folks like you and me twice in the same week because we're off trying somebody else. It's sad.