Barbecue field trip: 12 Bones, Asheville

Hogzilla sandwich, 12 Bones, Asheville

I couldn’t go through a week long visit to the South without checking into a few barbecue stops. Top of my list: 12 Bones in Asheville.

My cousin took me and Lisa here a while ago, after they first opened, and I’d made a few visits since. Even if they didn’t famously have a picture of President Obama on the wall from one of his several stops while campaigning, it still would have been on my short list because (a) they do pulled pork really well (b) likewise, sausages (c) they understand that side dishes are not an afterthought.

They also have a sense of humor, which is why Hogzilla is on the menu. This is a hoagie roll that barely holds a bratwurst sliced in half, topped with pulled pork, pepperjack cheese, and sugar-cured bacon. I had skipped it the first few times, but was ravenous this time (we got there after 1pm). So I figured “why not” and ordered it, with collard greens and jalapeño cheese grits on the side.

It arrived at the table (outside, in the cool breeze coming up from the French Broad—another reason to visit). It looked a lot bigger than I thought it would. I began to have second thoughts. Still, it smelled good, so I decided to start with the sides.

First bite: the cheese grits are the real thing, with just enough heat. I try the collards next, which are delicious but not quite as remarkable as the ones at the Admiral last night (though admittedly that’s a horse of a different feather altogether). I look at Hogzilla again out of the corner of my eye: still there. Still big.

I pick it up; it holds together really well. This is not to be taken for granted at a barbecue joint. Half the sandwiches I’ve had in our pretty-good Massachusetts BBQ places fall apart because whoever put the sides on the plate put too much juice on, soaking the bread. The motto here could be “12 Bones: We Know How to Use a Slotted Spoon.”

I take a bite. The first bite is spectacular, with the spice flavors from the bratwurst complemented by the smokiness of the pulled pork and the sweetness of the bacon. The pepper jack is invisible, though I suspect it contributes to the sandwich’s cohesion.

Before I realize it I’ve eaten two thirds of the sandwich. Then I have to slow down. I look over at my dad, who’s ordered the same thing. He’s eaten only a third of his. “That’s a lot of meat,” he says. “Yeah,” I say.

I make myself finish it. I feel full. Hours later, I still feel full. I suspect I may never need to eat again.

I will return to 12 Bones. But next time I think I’ll just get the pulled pork.

At the Salt Lick, Driftwood, TX

At the urging of about six Facebook friends, I make the pilgrimage from downtown Austin, where I am on travel for a few days, to Driftwood, Texas, tonight to visit the Salt Lick. It’s a barbecue joint that’s been around for about 43 years. As these things go, it’s commercialized and simple at the same time. Commercialized: mail order menus sit on the table; jars of the sauce line the entrance; there’s a separate function building. Simple: Four meats (brisket, sausage, pork ribs, turkey), three sides (potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans) that all come at once, free “condiments” (pickles, raw onion, white bread), pie, and soft drinks. (Driftwood is in a dry county, but they allow BYOB; I decide not to B my own B, since I have a 25 mile drive each way.)

I order a plate of brisket and sausage and an iced tea, and wait at an otherwise empty table.

The table in front of me is discussing old Texas home construction. “There would be a place in the parlor where you would have the viewings. With a stained glass window. Now it’s just a window seat, but then they assumed you would be hosting a wake. I remember two occasions where they had to open up the windows to get the casket out.” Behind me, a different technology: “So I had to convince them to take our quarter micron process and adapt it to the 3.3v work.”

Of course, Texas is, in terms of high tech, a hardware state. (What else?)

I sit thinking about old technology: cooking meat in smoke.

The food: Brisket is absolutely lean and supple. The sausage is saucy: well spiced, juicy, flavorful. The pecan pie is an inch of custard with a single layer of pecans on top–not at all my grandmother’s recipe–but the pecans are completely evocative of autumn nights with a nutcracker at the dining room table over a layer of newspaper.

As I stand to leave, I get the salty tangy burning in the eyes of the woodsmoke. It conjures other fires, and other cuts of meat with perfect pink rings from the smoke: 12 Bones in Asheville, Big Jim’s in Charlottesville, Dixie’s in Bellevue, WA, Three Pigs in McLean, and of course Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Q south of Williamsburg.

And even though I am full to bursting, it all makes me homesick for Carolina pulled pork in a bun.