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If your Independence Day weekend was anything like mine, you ate a lot of smoke: smoked brisket, smoked ribs, smoked sausages, smoked corn. By the time our Fourth of July feast was ready on Sunday afternoon, I smelled like a crank shaft in an overheated Ford on a lonely stretch of Interstate 15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
I took two showers in less than 24 hours, the water moratorium be damned.
All that time standing next to a barrel smoker got me thinking about barbecue in D.C. Unlike some urban markets, D.C. still struggles to produce high-quality ‘cue. Urban Bar-B-Que continues to produce my favorite brisket in the area, a slice of low-and-slow Texas-style goodness right in Rockville, while Mr. P’s continues to smoke my favorite ribs. The rest of our smoked-meats market is a crap shoot at best, turning out sub-par barbecue far more often than anything worth recommending.
As we head into the teeth of summer, though, I wanted to point you in the direction of some reliable barbecue outlets as well as point out a newcomer perhaps worth a visit.
Aside from Urban and Mr. P’s, I think you’ll find plenty to satisfy your smoking needs at, of all places, the WFM Smokehouse inside the Fair Lakes Whole Foods. Aside from the holy trinity of beef, ribs, and sausage, the grocery store also offers whole chickens and these delectable smoked wings, almost as good as the ones Ann Cashion turns out at Johnny’s Half Shell.
Then there’s Branded ’72, which is an outgrowth of O’Brien’s Pit Barbecue in Rockville; the son-in-law of founder Ken O’Brien Sr. has given the old smokehouse a new name and a renewed sense of purpose. I can’t vouch for the ribs here, but I think the brisket shows considerable promise. I have hopes that, under new management, Branded ’72 will only get better with time.
The newbie is a place called Blue Ribbon BBQ and, interestingly enough, it’s also located in Rockville. (So when did this town become the metro area’s ‘cue capital?) Blue Ribbon is the product of three college friends who bought the old smokehouse and injected it with new blood. The owners boast a 600-pound capacity Southern Pride unit in which they toss seasoned hickory logs to smoke their Texas-style brisket, Memphis-style dry ribs, and Carolina-style pork. But the most unusual item at Blue Ribbon has to be the hot dog.
That’s right, I said hot dog.
Blue Ribbon takes an all-beef, natural casing link and smokes it for a few minutes, just long enough to perfume it with hickory. The dog is then deep-fried, placed in a toasted bun, and smothered in chopped smoked brisket. It’s like a chili dog, only better because it’s covered in smoky meat.
“We invented it,” says co-owner Nick Rossi. “We tried as many things as we could to see what was delicious. And this came out the best.”
Blue Ribbon, like most barbecue outlets in the area, is no pure breed but more of a mutt, combining the influences from a number of different regional forebears. But we do have a pure breed coming our way, or at least as close to one as we get around these parts. It’s called Hill Country, a D.C. offshoot of the NYC original. Its influence is, as the name implies, pure central Texas. It’s supposed to open this month at 410 Seventh St. NW.
What about you, Y&H Nation? Where are you eating barbecue this summer?