Like jazz and baseball, barbecue is a uniquely American innovation. Unlike jazz, which relies on impulse and expert musical execution, or baseball--which requires strategy and athleticism--barbecue encapsulates the American joy of consumption. Massive smoke pits slow-cook giant slabs of meat that patrons savagely tear from the bone, barbecue sauce running down their arms. And while it's not necessarily a Northwest tradition, barbecue culture is flowering right here in Boise. Here's a taste of three examples. Hold onto your Wetnaps.
Goodwood Barbecue Company
Goodwood Barbecue Company makes barbecue for the people. A Best of Boise winner, the South Boise haunt boasts unpretentious flavor and an expansive menu including baby back ribs, St. Louis-style spare ribs and Texas-style brisket, as well as a slew of American favorites like burgers and sandwiches.
Its approach has brought Goodwood good fortune. Since opening its first location near Edwards 22 in 1999, the Boise-based barbecue chain has opened four more locations: one in Meridian and three in Utah. But beneath its popularity, Goodwood has real barbecue chops. Every location has two closed-pit smokers running 24-7 and rubs are made in-house. The beef comes from 21-day corn-fed Midwest cattle.
My barbecue sidekick and I began our meal with a small order of onion rings ($6.99). Despite the "small" label and only numbering six per order, these gargantuan rings, coated thick with batter and fried, were practically a meal unto themselves.
For our main course, we shared the 3 Meat Platter ($14.49), comprised of sliced brisket, turkey and pulled pork. The brisket, lightly daubed with a mild barbecue sauce, also sported a mild, smoky flavor and a just-right texture. The pulled pork was fluffy (almost airy) but packed smoky punch.
Goodwood hit the Boise barbecue market at a time when the City of Trees was ripe for authentic Texas barbecue, according to owner Steve Cooper.
"Up until 1999, most of what was here that called themselves barbecue, they were putting roast beef on a plate and putting sauce on it. They were baking ribs," he said.
By tapping into his Texas roots, Cooper and other Goodwood founders helped establish a market for Southern-style smoked meats, paving the way for Boise's growing barbecue scene.
"We went back to our roots of working with hardwoods. We were letting the pitmaster do his work. As Boise has grown, there are a lot of great places that have cropped up," Cooper said.
7849 W. Spectrum St., Boise, 208-658-7173; 1140 N. Eagle Road, Meridian, 208-884-1021, goodwoodbbq.com
At MickeyRay's BBQ, two company logos are always in sight: MickeyRay's and Maker's Mark Bourbon. It's not corporatism as much as an extension of the owner's preferences: Maker's Mark is his favorite bourbon, and his favorite barbecue sauce is his own. MR's holds the largest Maker's Mark account in the Northwest, and the joint does practically everything with it.
"The first thing we do is use that bourbon. It goes into some of our sauce, some of our recipes. It goes into all of our customers who wish to partake," said owner Mickey Shields.
Though MR's has two locations--one in Eagle, another in Boise--its aspirations are huge. Five of its barbecue sauces are available for purchase at Albertsons, a sixth is in development--"More to come," Shields said about a flavor or possible release date--and it's all made in-house by a small team that labors over huge metal pots.
In a back room at MickeyRays, accessible through a garage door is a huge, jet-black smoker that churns out 300 pounds of smoked meat during the day--nearly twice that amount on weekends. That translates to massive portions.
In barbecue, meat quality matters. All of MR's beef is Certified Angus and the pork contains no steroids.
"I'm extremely particular about the meat that goes into our food," Shields said.
My plus-one ordered the chopped pork sandwich ($7) with a generous infusion of MR's bourbon barbecue sauce.
I chose a sandwich stuffed with beef burnt ends--traditionally the chopped-off tips of barbecued meat that were once discarded for being charred or overcooked, but have since come into vogue. These were glistening and juicy on the palate.
Served with creamy mashed potatoes, it was a lunch best followed by a cup of coffee if you plan on getting anything done with the rest of your day.
980 N. Milwaukee, Boise, 208-343-7427; 395 W. State St., Eagle, 208-939-7427, mickeyraysbbq.com
MFT BBQ & Vegan Food
The faux-wood paneling and late-'70s-era carpeting make MFT BBQ & Vegan Food, located in the Rodeway Inn at 1115 N. Curtis Road, look like another greasy spoon. But take a look at barbecue master Brad Taylor's knuckles, tattooed with "BBQ 4 LIFE," and you can tell this place takes meat seriously.
"Our lives are based on this barbecue," Taylor said.
My plus-one and I gorged on the MFT Meat Sampler ($20): a cornucopia of pulled pork; baby back ribs almost unnaturally piled with thick, fatty meat; and cuts of tri-tip, all rubbed, smoked and laid in a shallow bed of barbecue sauce. The pulled pork radiated a smoky fragrance that lingered on the palate and had a rich, multi-dimensional flavor with or without sauce.
"It's like a pillow of meat in your mouth," my dining companion said after dipping a forkful of the stuff in chocolate raspberry barbecue sauce.
House-made rub had been liberally applied to the tri-tip, which managed to be tender without being overly moist. The taste of the rub had barely more muscle than the flaky-textured beef.
For side dishes, we figured we couldn't go wrong with potato salad and coleslaw ($2 each). MFT's spicy vegan potato salad was light and refreshing, with chunks of black olives, chives and red potatoes. The coleslaw was likewise innovative, with sesame seeds, apple and spices.
Taylor and his wife, Bre Thayer, teamed up with MFT ("My Family Tradition") sauces to open the restaurant less than a year ago, but Taylor has been involved in competitive barbecuing since 2008. A relic of the couple's food truck, a huge iron weed burner-turned-meat smoker, was parked out back next to a load of pecan wood. Taylor doesn't subscribe to a regional style of barbecue, and has just one rule: Let the meat speak for itself.
"If you can't eat it without sauce, I did it wrong," he said.
1115 N. Curtis Road, Boise, 208-906-4960, mftque.com