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Friday, April 3, 2009

In Search of the perfect BBQ by Lynn Sampson

I grew up in Colorado loving good BBQ. In the uncultured bastions of America, BBQ is a religion. The BBQ feast is a family ritual and a cherished part of our heritage. It is a culinary obsession. The perfect BBQ sauce on smoked meat is the Holy Grail of cooking south of the Mason-Dixon Line and west of the Mississippi. I spent four years apprenticing as a chef and another six working in the fanciest restaurants imaginable, yet I never tire of eating barbeque. I can never get my fill. I’m a trained French chef, and I will pick a plate of good barbeque any day over Coq au Vin. It’s in my DNA.

I’m always on the prowl for the next great BBQ restaurant. They come along far too infrequently. I searched out one candidate recently in the mountains of Northern California’s Mother Lode. This particular restaurant lies deep in the Sierra Nevadas and shares a dining room with a pool table. Loud country music is obligatory and a noisy bar is only steps away from your dining table. It is all part of the country ambience.

All great BBQ restaurants have a cloud of aroma permanently resting over them. That’s how you tell them apart from the touristy pretenders. That aroma is a dead giveaway. A strong, moist smoky smell is the best part of dining at a true BBQ restaurant. It is more seductive than the finest French perfume and more addictive than any drug.

The next best thing about BBQ restaurants are the portions. For the price, there is no better bargain. For the same amount you would pay for a meal anywhere else, you get twice the food. BBQ restaurants don’t skimp. They can punish you with their huge portions.

By far, the most important thing about a BBQ eatery is its sauce. Each restaurant jealously guards its own recipe. There are as many varieties as there are stars in the sky. Everybody has their all-time favorite. Every restaurant has a new take on how to make the perfect BBQ sauce. Launching out into the world to sample BBQ is a voyage of discovery. No two places are the same. In the end it is impossible to tell which BBQ sauce you like best. They are all good. Each has its devotees. One restaurant will rely heavily on molasses and brown sugar, another on tomato sauce and garlic, another on Worcestershire and anise. At Big Daddy’s Smokin’ BBQ in Sugar Pine, California, they do it completely different. Tomatoes, garlic, and molasses take a back seat to their secret ingredient, one I’ve seen nowhere else – wine vinegar. Basing your BBQ sauce recipe on a flavored vinegar creates an unusually tangy concoction. The meats are expertly smoked, however, so it all works out. The tart BBQ sauce is a shock, but one to which you quickly adapt.

The side dishes at the BBQ restaurant are often even better than the entrĂ©e. A special recipe for baked beans and cole slaw is a must for any respectable BBQ eatery. Big Daddy’s is no exception. As a testament to just how good the baked beans are when my order arrived, I finished mine off before I even began attacking the ribs.

So add this place to your travel plans. It is worth a special trip.

Big Daddy’s Smokin’ BBQ, 24181 State Highway 108, Mi Wuk Village, CA 95346, (209) 586-2558.

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