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This much I know: “New Car Smell” has nothing on the aroma of a pristine, clay barbecue, slow cooking its first brisket.  In fact, I think I should patent a hanging automobile air purifier shaped like a whole brisket, with the scent of smoking hickory, that drips fat on your dashboard.

Mmmm.

Anyway, I’ve had a few folks on the blog and in the mailbag have asked me if I like my new Primo barbecue. The short story: It’s great.

But here’s the full review.

The three best things about the Primo are the size, shape, and the accessories.  The three worst things are the efficiency, the damper and basin.

The good

I’m leaving out the obvious fact: Large, heavy, ceramic cooker equals awesome.  The grill is fantastic, I recommend it, and I’m just nit-picking here. If you’re still using a gassy Weber tin can from  Home Depot, it’s very much worth it to invest in a clay cooker.

I’m also leaving out that I happen to find the Primo really appealing aesthetically. You know, eye of the beholder and all.  But this beholder finds the Big Green Egg to be big, green and ugly.  So, I love the fact that the Primo looks good.

But I think even Egg owners would agree that the Primo Oval XL grill is really big. Really, nice and super darned big.  The brisket I cooked was a 16 pound monstrosity that even my butcher was surprised I wanted.  That conversation kind of went like this:

“That’s a big brisket. Are you sure?”

XL Primo Barbecue holding a XXXL brisket.

XL Primo Barbecue holding a XXXL brisket.

“Yes.”

“You’re sure you’re sure?”

“Yes!”

“Ooooooooh-kayyy then Mister! (long pause). You sure?”

Well, the Primo Oval had no problem accommodating the whole thing with even some room to spare.   I’ll have no problems feeding the waiting hordes.

But even better is the oval shape, which I was skeptical about at first.  Now that I’ve used an oval grill, the round shape of my old Kamado now makes no sense to me at all.  With the oval shape, I can easily move the charcoal to one side, and the space for indirect cooking is much larger.  Begs the question, why aren’t all circular barbecues oval shaped?  Someone check Kepler’s notes.

My favorite thing about the Primo though, has to be the available accessories.  I haven’t yet purchased everything I want, but it’s really impressive what you can add to the Primo to make cooking easier. Next on my list is definitely the basin divider.

The bad

The first thing I learned is that the Primo is definitely less efficient than my old Kamado.  What this means is, somehow, more air is getting in, and the coal is burning hotter and faster.  I’ve had to replace charcoal more often, and the whole grill is clearly burning hotter than expected.  It’s an air issue that I’ll have to just get used to.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s still way (way!) more efficient than a normal charcoal grill.  It’s just not as air tight as my old cooker.

The second disappointment is the damper. Darn it … It looked so cool!  It’s these two metal disks with holes in them that pivot independently allowing a lot of control over how much smoke can escape, and they can also pivot as a unit to make bigger changes.

But, honestly, the system pretty much sucks.  First, the top disk isn’t physically attached to the barbecue in anyway and can literally fall off when opening the lid.  Second, because of the pivoting action, every time you open the lid, both disks fall back into a nearly closed position, forcing you to re-establish their previous position.  And lastly, they’re metal, which means they get hot.  The first time I went to adjust the disks, I discovered that the hard way. So, now, I find myself tapping at the damper disks with my grill brush to adjust air flow.  Lame.

Finally, I don’t love the basin.  For as large as the Primo XL is, the ash basin is actually very shallow. That means I’m going to have to clean the thing constantly, and as my loyal followers all know, I’m lazy.  Secondly, there’s no easy access to the basin during a cook.  My old Kamado had hatch that allowed me to add charcoal.  For me to add lump on the Primo, I had to remove my brisket, remove the grill, then add the coal.  This isn’t an issue most of the time, because most of the time, one isn’t cooking something the size of a elephant’s ass.  But, still, silly design that there’s no easy way to add charcoal.

Meanwhile…

Could be worse. It could be too rainy to barbecue.

Could be worse. It could be too rainy to barbecue.

I also bought a pine table in which the Primo sits. The table was designed perfectly, and makes moving the barbecue easy.

The only unfortunate part is the wood is untreated. So, I went to the hardware store, bought the right brushes, sandpaper and varnish so I could treat the table to endure our Pacific Northwest weather.  All I need now is two dry days so I can complete the job.

Hmmm….

The people in Seattle can stop laughing now. C’mon! Pity me.

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Local Review: Bitterroot

Sadly, I’m the guy who is the last to know about things. New to me usually includes anything that’s happened within the past 10 years (I’ll eventually “Tweet” these “Blog” posts), with one exception: New barbecue restaurants.  And so, I went to Bitterroot in Ballard.

Which isn’t all that new, either.

Bitterroot is definitely a hipster’s version of a barbecue, with an atmosphere that could just as easily be an herbal ice cream and champagne cafe as it is a place for greasy pulled pork. This also explains the whiskey menu.  (At some point, I’m going to have to give whiskey another chance.)

Clearly, one needs to order extra honey butter at Bitterroot. I mean really, only one gigantic ball of the stuff?

Clearly, one needs to order extra honey butter at Bitterroot. I mean really, only one gigantic ball of the stuff?

We started out with corn bread with a golf ball sized glob of honey butter on top.  I’d describe this as a very, very good version of corn bread that I don’t particular care for.

I’d say there are really two camps for corn bread: Those who prefer the crispy, cast-iron skillet version of cornbread, with a crunchy shell, and no sweetness.  These folks, I gather, consider themselves traditionalists. Then there are those who prefer a softer, sweeter version, with a lot more moisture in it.  This, I gather, is how chumps prefer cornbread … but it’s what I prefer.

Then the waitress recommended the brisket, which surprised me because the ribs looked amazing. But I’ve learned my lesson enough times (remember Peckinpah? Dinosaur?) that if the wait staff tells you to get something, get it.

The brisket was also very, very good. Tender, great flavor, and I love that it just came in strips, unadorned. No buns, no goopy sauce, no shards of chewy meat.  Just prime, thick slices of brisket, with some beans and corn on the cob on the side.  I’m trying to remember if I’ve had better brisket in Seattle, besides my own of course… and it’s not coming to me.

(BTW: The beans were essentially floating in molasses soup. For folks with a sweet tooth, like me, this is good news. But I know that other people would find it a bit too far from traditional baked beans).

All that said, as good as the brisket was, I admit, I kept looking at the next table thinking I should have ordered the ribs.   So, clearly, I’m just going to have to go back.

One last thing. They don’t take reservations, and by 6:30 there were people waiting to get in. And this was a Thursday.  So, if you’re going to go, you might think about an early dinner.  Unless you’re just going for the herbal whiskey ice cream and a beard trimming.

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If only I knew someone who is an expert on Bigfoot. I could ask if Squatches really like pulled pork.

If only I knew someone who is an expert on Bigfoot. I could ask if Squatches really like pulled pork.

I’m not sure how long “Bigfood BBQ” has been at the Seattle Center, but it was new to me, so I had to try it.

For any out of town readers, Seattle Center is the big urban amusement park where you’ll find the Space Needle, so it’s not totally out of the question that you might end up in Bigfood’s line one day. I’d hate to think of you cursing me for not writing a review.

I passed on the other food court choices, like Skillet, MOD Pizza, and someplace touting Mediterranean kababs. Instead, I pulled up to Bigfood and ordered a nice, predictable pulled pork sandwich, and  I was just hoping it wouldn’t turn out to be Squatch meat.

I was a little concerned when the guy asked me if I wanted “red” sauce or a mustard sauce.  I didn’t really want either. Red sauce? Did he mean, like, ketchup? I asked if the red sauce was sweet, smoky or spicy, and his eyes rolled up in his head like he was suffering a shot from a Taser gun while he tried to mutter through an answer.

“Nevermind,” I said “give me the red sauce.”  (And the answer is sweet).

Anyway, I have to say, for food court tourist trap food, Bigfood wasn’t too bad. I really liked the bread they were using for a roll, and it was toasted.  The slaw on top was crisp. And the pulled pork wasn’t mushy at all, proving yet again, that anyplace that does serve mushy pulled pork really, really sucks.

The sandwich wasn’t particularly special, either. But compared to the Subway and the kabab place? I’d say Bigfood is adequate enough to be a go if you’re wanting some barbecue.

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Odds would dictate that a city as large and food-obsessed as New York City would have to have some great barbecue in it somewhere, right? (If you’re from Texas, don’t answer that question.)

Click for a closer look at the “Tres Hombres” sampler. Ribs, pork, brisket and sides (including a bowl of watermelon!)

And yet, the last time I was here, I ate some pretty mediocre barbecue. It was my own fault, New York. I don’t blame you. This time though, thanks to Ms. Blue State BBQ and her vast New York based support group, I was steered toward the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, a place that looked very promising online:  http://dinosaurbbq.com/ 

Dinosaur is a big, brick barbecue restaurant on a Harlem side street, with a family restaurant vibe on one side and a roomy saloon on the other. Definitely a warm and friendly atmosphere, in spite of their tough guy mission statement:

Their Web site reads, “the idea was hatched at the Harley Rendezvous, a massive motorcycle gathering near Albany, NY because they believed that bikers deserve a good plate of food.” 

I agree. But I didn’t see any bikers, unless you count a few kids I saw who may have ridden their bicycles there.

After agonizing about what to order, the waitress suggested ribs, ribs or more ribs. Smart! But then, suggested a sampler.  Aha! Smarter!

The results: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que serves truly excellent pork ribs. I mean, “wow, that’s ridiculously good” excellent.  Smoky, tender, meaty, fantastic flavor.  They were pretty much incredible for restaurant ribs, especially in such a big, busy establishment.

I haven’t sampled enough NYC barbecue to stack rank them against other establishments, but I think you’d be pretty hard pressed to find much better pork ribs … anywhere really.  They were awesome.

That said…

I had good pulled pork (not mushy!), but nothing I haven’t had a places like RoRo in Seattle, and definitely not better than the pulled pork Boneyard Bistro in L.A..  And I had ok, but not great beef brisket. For some reason, the brisket was served with sauce already on it and a garnish of jalepenos, and I didn’t care for either. The one bite of brisket I enjoyed was a slice I found tucked away at the bottom of the pile, and therefore didn’t have any sauce on it.  And finally, all of the side dishes were pretty bland.

If I were to go again, I would order nothing but the ribs. They could hold the side orders, too.  Just ribs with a side of ribs, please.  (Wait, isn’t that what the waitress said in the first place? I really need to listen to good advice when I hear it.)

Anyway, thanks New York.

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Behold BBQ Nachos

Why didn't I think of this?

Took yet another trip to the Boneyard Bistro, and Mrs. Blue State Barbecue couldn’t resist this item on the menu. Big, solid pieces of slow cooked pork … on chips! But of course! I must re-create this at home.

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The Ribs at St. Clouds

Earlier this week, St. Clouds was cooking for charity. Proceeds for dinner went to College Access Now. The more you ate, the bigger the donation.  So it was “Hellooooo slow cooked ribs” because hey, it wasn’t about me! It was for the kids!

St Clouds is my favorite neighborhood restaurant. It’s the sort of place you want to go every night of the week. Friendly, warm, great food, and they serve pretty mean cocktail if you manage to leave the kids at home.

After going to St. Clouds probably 100 times over the past few years, I’ve never ordered the ribs because St. Clouds, while awesome, is definitely not a barbecue place. In fact, their ribs are not barbecued at all, but slow cooked in the oven, which breaks my ever-clogging heart.

But this was for the kids! For the KIDS!

I finally ordered the ribs knowing I was doing it for a good cause.

So, here’s the verdict: St. Clouds serves remarkably good oven cooked ribs. Big, meaty, tender, and not overly sauced, I’d recommend them to anyone. They’re served with yummy greens and an out-of-the-ordinary, slightly spicy corn bread.  I was impressed with the flavor (and the portion size), and I’ll have to think about it, but I’m not sure I’ve had better ribs that were cooked in an oven.

Sure, like most oven-cooked ribs, they lacked the smokiness of ribs off the barbecue. But, I’ll definitely order St. Clouds’ ribs again.  They’re really good. Really, really good.

Thanks (again) St. Clouds.

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It’s complicated, but I had no choice but to go back to the Boneyard  Bistro. And, since I don’t say “wow” very often, I’m going to lay out a big one for you here.  WOW!

I ordered the pulled pork sandwich, and I can honestly say it was one of the best I’ve ever eaten.  In fact, the more I think about it, let’s forget the “one of” qualifier.  It was awesome. Period.  I can’t think of a restaurant-made bbq sandwich I’ve enjoyed more.

The sandwich at Boneyard Bistro is much better than the lighting for photographs.

I apologize for my terrible photograph. But the sandwich had big, robust chunks of tender pork that were juicy and flavorful. The pork was cooked perfectly, not at all mushy, and served with some slaw on top. The rub at Boneyard is exactly how I like it. Again, I barely touched the sauce that came with.

This was the dream sandwich that makes visiting all these barbecues worthwhile.

I was lucky enough to speak to Aaron, the proprietor, who obviously knows 10 times more about barbecue than I do. He confirmed my suspicions regarding why some big establishments serve mushy pork. See my Phillips review for more on that.

And he confirmed that indeed those incredible collard greens are soaking in brown sugar (and he mentioned molasses, too.)

Anyway, bottom line – Hey, L.A., go to the Boneyard Bistro for some of the best barbecue you’ll ever eat.

(p.s. the same crew of dudes with tattoos sat next to me on the bar. They seemed so nice. I wonder what gang they’re in.)

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