I take my barbecue seriously.
My people are from Down East or thereabouts, so my default setting, my standard for greatness, is juicy chopped pork (with just enough crispy ends in the mix) kicked up with a modest dousing of spicy-sweet vinegar-based sauce and a bit of Texas Pete for good measure.
For a long time, it's the only kind I would eat, having been burned a few times - once in Texas, a couple more a little bit west of here - with dried-out slabs of meat smothered in what was, best I could tell, spicy ketchup.
I grudgingly had to concede that the likes of The Original Q Shack did a pretty darn good job of executing some "alternative" forms of barbecue, particularly given the clear limitations within which they were working.
But I'm kind of a snob, to be perfectly honest, and am really partial to Eastern style - and then only when it's done by someone who clearly has it in their blood and bones. (This seems like about the only time in this blog post about somebody else's barbecue sauce where I can plug Backyard BBQ Pit out on 55, my personal favorite in Durham. They do it right, right down to the sides, and they're super nice, too.)
Anywho, all this is in an attempt to establish a bit of cred on this subject when I tell you: Bull City Bar-B-Que Co. makes some mean stuff to make meat taste better.
Not that they really needed me to vouch for them. They've got the judges at the august Hillsborough Hog Days annual barbecue cook-off for that.
Durham residents and co-founders Matt Mehok, who also recently became co-owner of He's Not Here, and Jim Bolognesi break down the story on their website:
"While attending University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — and a whole lotta pig pickins — we discovered a shared passion for true wood-smoked BBQ and the deep-seated culture and friendship those gatherings reinforce.
"Throughout the next decade and a half, while starting families and hosting our own barbecues, we realized it was now our turn to continue — and pass on — this heart-felt tradition," Always sure to have lots of fun, we’ve stayed “old school” by making rubs and sauces from scratch and cookin’ 'low and slow' with hardwoods (gas-free) for anywhere from 10-20 hours.
"With overwhelming support for our 'old school' approach, we decided to see how we stacked up against the pros. Our two-man team — plus good friend ‘Rick Rick’ — packed the truck full of Hope Valley hickory wood and headed to our first cookoff, the 26th Annual Hillsborough Hog Day. Using our ol’ #14 BBQ sauce-and-rub combination and our old school techniques, the Bull City BBQ team ended up taking home the trophy. What a day for the first timers! From that day forward, Bull City BBQ had legitimate 'street credibility' in the old school circles — and we haven’t looked back."
Matt's wife, Susan, stopped by with a stainless steel sampler bucket at our Ninth Street office a few weeks back, so I felt obligated to give it a try. As my preamble hopefully indicates, I wouldn't be writing about them if I didn't think it was the real deal.
My wife and I are busy, working full-time and raising two young kids. So we went very low-labor with our first try. We gave a pork butt a healthy heaping of the Rib Rub, then just set it in a crockpot on low before we went to work.
The aroma that hit us when we arrived home that afternoon strongly suggested that we were in for a treat. The rub-aided meat already was so flavorful that it might have held up on its own, but adding the excellent vinegar-based, award-winning sauce made it transcendent. That stuff is the truth. And it's dang spicy - Susan had warned us - so we went with the sweet grilling sauce for our 3-year-old son's barbecue sandwich. He'll be handed his vinegar-based birthright one day, but this was a good foray. He polished off a whole sandwich in a matter of minutes.
With our preschooler's seal of approval, we decided to give the grilling sauce a try on grilled chicken breasts a few nights later.
We first used their poultry rub on the chicken, and, again, the aroma was foreshadowing to a great meal. (Though we did raise an eyebrow at the 1560 mg of sodium in one tablespoon of the poultry rub, 65 percent of what you're supposed to have in a full day. A little of that stuff goes a long way. The rib and wings rubs are one-third or less of that, FWIW.)
The second ingredient in the poultry rub is lemon pepper, and that flavor really came through. I basted the chicken with the grilling sauce while cooking and added a bit more at table. The rub and sauce were a perfect marriage, the latter more tangy than sweet, a far cry from similar tomato-y sauces you'll find in the grocery store.
I like the grassroots nature of this business, and I like their products. Give it a try, or maybe hook up dad with a gift bucket on Father's Day. And let us know what you think!