My favorite barbecue book of all-time is Peace, Love and Barbecue by Mike Mills. Since I read the book, I have made it a point to stop by as many of the restaurants featured as possible. Below are reviews from various restaurants, most of which were from Mike's book. I hope you enjoy reading the reviews as much as I have fun tasting the different barbecue.



17th St. Bar & Grill
O'Fallon, Illinois

Because most of my reviews will be from restaurants from Mike's book, I thought his restaurant would be the most logical place to start.

I had an INCREDIBLE experience at Mike Mills' 17th St. Bar and Grill in O'Fallon, Illinois. O'Fallon is just across the river from St. Louis. Not only was the food great, but Mike gave me more than 2.5 hours of his time to talk competition BBQ, the restaurant business, and give me a VIP tour of the place, including the pits.

Sorry for the long post, but I am going to talk about both the food and my experience with Mike. First, the food...

The restaurant is located in the old Super Smoker's location in O'Fallon. Everyone around St. Louis knows that Super Smoker's is awesome, and a tough act to follow. Mike followed a legend, and has done so admirably.

The menu was extensive. It covered all the basics, pulled pork, chicken, ribs and brisket. He also has beef ribs, which was a nice addition that you really don't find here in the Midwest. He also had other grilled meats, such as links, turkey and more. All BBQ could come as plates or sanwiches, and he had smaller or larger portions for dinner or lunch. Additionally, the rest of the menu was even more extensive, including steak, pasta and more so that you can bring people who wanted to order something more than just BBQ.

I had a sampler of brisket, pulled pork and his famous baby back ribs. Baby backs were Mike's original claim to fame, and they did not disappoint. They required a nice tug to remove from the bone, then melted in your mouth. The brisket had a nice smoke ring, was sliced thin, piled high, and tender. To me however, the pork was the best of the three. It was, without a doubt, the best pork I ever had. Lightly smoked and shredded. It was great alone, and even better when dusted with Mikes "Magic Dust" and sauced with his Memphis Championship sauce. The pork was not blonde, which is proof that his method let's the smoke get all the way through the butt.

He had the most extensive list of sides I have ever seen. All the traditionals and then some. When I was there he even had an additional side of cucumber and tomato salad, which I had and loved. I also tried the slaw and his famous beans. Again, they were great as well. The slaw is vinegar based, which I prefer.

MIke explains that he likes aromatic wood, mostly apple but also cherry and other fruit woods. He says that for his recipes, smoke is but an ingredient and not an overwhelming taste. Smoke is something that should be tasted like salt and pepper, not overpowering. So, his bbq is much different from those who cook with only wood using hickory or mesquite. I loved it. The flavor of the meat came through with hints of smoke. Mike explains that, in his opinion, hickory and mesquite are abused. I agree.

The ambiance was nice. Polished cherry wood bar with wood tables and chairs. It is a nice enough place that it "counts" as going out to dinner when you take your wife or other non-BBQ people. The prices are fair and the portions are generous. As a matter of fact, I brought home at least half of my order. Some places give smaller portions when ordering a sampler, but not here. You do not get cheated!

Overall, it was a wonderful experience. Everyone there was so friendly it made the experience even better. The staff is fully aware of Mike's star power, and they make him as available as possible with his customers. Try planning ahead, and maybe you will be able to catch him there! However, he is mostly at his Murphysboro, Illinois location, which is where he lives.

Even if you don't see him when you visit, it is a MUST try for those who love good BBQ and appreciate good people like Mike and his daughter Amy who is also involved in the operation.

Now, let me talk to you about my experience with Mike...

Mike Mills, and his Apple City barbecue team, are the only 3 time winner of the World Grand Championship Memphis in May Competition. He recently opened one of his 17th St. Bar and Grill restaurants here in the St. Louis area. I had been e-mailing with his daughter, Amy, in order to determine when he was going to be at that location so I could meet him, pick his brain, and get him to sign my copy of Peace, Love & Barbecue. After a great deal of coordination on Amy's part, it finally worked out.

During my lunch visit, Mike noticed me sitting at a table and I had his book with me. He asked if I was the one his daughter said was going to be there. When I said yes, he just pulled up a chair and sat there with me. What a super nice guy!

Incredibly, he gave me more than 2.5 hours of his time. He gave me a VIP tour of his shop, including all aspects. I think we hung around his pits for more than 30 minutes while he explained all facets of his operation. Suffice it to say, it is a first class operation in everything they do.

Lucky for me, Mike was trying a new recipe for burnt ends that he was cooking just for himself. It is not on the menu, just something he was trying for himself only that day. During our tour, he told me how he was developing the burnt ends. At one point, he pulled them out of the smoker and he and I munched away on his latest experiment and he was telling me what he would do differently next. How cool is that? Not to mention, I thought they were awesome just the way they were.

I told him my brother and I were entering our first competition in August. That is when the conversation got very interesting. Obviously, the guy is an invaluable source of information. What I was surprised about was how open and forthcoming he was in his tips for competition. It was incredible listening to him talk about such intricate details of competition off the top of his head. His knowledge and passion for competition BBQ was immediately clear. Although he no longer competes, he judges frequently. Accordingly, he was giving me all kinds of excellent advice from the perspective of a record-setting champion as well as an experienced and sought-after judge. Of the two and a half hours we talked, at least two hours and fifteen minutes was just me sitting and listening to him.

I wish I had at least double that time more to listen to more of his tips. What an experience. Frankly, when I went into the restaurant, I had no idea how it would go. I was completely taken aback by how open and legitimately friendly he is. I couldn't have asked for a better time, or a better meal. What an awesome experience, and I have a heartfelt inscription on my book to remember the day.

Sorry for the long post, but I just wanted to share this incredible experience. Peace, Love and Barbecue friends!


Scott's Barbecue
Goldsboro, North Carolina

My first venture onto the barbecue path was a stop at Scott's Barbecue. I first learned about Scott when reading a history of barbecue in the United States. The founder, Adam Scott, a former slave, preacher, janitor, elevator operator, and barbecue pioneer started the business shortly after being freed. I was drawn to them because of their sauce. It is a vinegar-based Eastern Carolina sauce. I order it by the case! I use it as a marinate and baste, and it is awesome on pulled pork and pulled chicken. Adam Scott's son, A. Martel Scott, Sr., tinkered with the sauce slightly, but it is largely the same for over 100 years and running. The business is now run by Adam's grandchildren, Martel Scott, Jr., and his sister, Sybil Shephard-Scott. They also receive help from Martel's son Sean, who is now the fourth generation involved with the business. Of course, they barbecue whole hog flavored by their sauce. I was able to meet Martel and Sybil, who were most gracious hosts. I still keep in contact with them via email whenever I need to replenish my supply. For those who love Eastern Carolina-style vinegar barbecue sauce, this is an absolute must. I will always value this visit and I am glad that my purchases go to such wonderful people. Thank you, Martel and Sybil, for keeping up the tradition. If you are ever in the area, please stop by and tell them you were referred to their restaurant by Todd from St. Louis.


Wilber's Barbecue
Goldsboro, North Carolina

Wilber's is one of the few restaurants that is, unquestionably, viewed as a barbecue shrine. I was able to stop in at Wilber's and was fortunate enough to speak for a while with the proprietor, Wilber Shirley. Folks, Wilber is the real deal. I got a crash course in Eastern Carolina style whole hog barbecue here. Coming from the Midwest, I am used to "barbecue" as being a fairly vague term. It can refer to several types of meats, ranging from pork to beef to chicken. Frankly, some people even refer to flipping burgers as 'barbecuing.' With that as my background, I stopped by Wilber's for lunch. The menu is strictly barbecue, including whole hog, chicken and beef. They listed a "barbecue plate." My Midwest experience is generally that can mean one of any type of meat, or a combo of meats, with sides. When I placed my order, I inquired what type of meat was included on the "barbecue plate." The gentleman who took my order just stared at me with a blank look for several seconds. It was as if he encountered a Martian. After a few more awkward moments passed, he finally drawled a one-word reply: "Baaaaaah - buh - Q." I quickly learned that "barbecue" in Eastern Carolina has a very specific meaning. It refers only to whole hog, picked, mixed and chopped. Having learned my lesson, I ordered the barbecue plate. It was incredible. It was served with as many hushpuppies as one could eat. Huspuppies, I also learned, is the staple of authentic barbecue side dishes in the area. During lunch I received a tutorial on authentic Eastern Carolina barbecue from Wilber himself. Wilber does it the right way, in an authentic pit over hickory coals. His answers to my questions just oozed that he does it right. For instance, when I asked how long it takes a typical pig to cook, he replied, "It depends on how long my night-man sleeps." Night men, and the various authentic methods employed by Wilber, are dying breeds these days. To taste what barbecue has tasted like in Eastern Carolina for centuries, you need to stop by Wilber's.


Blue Smoke
New York City

Wow. That sums up my experience at Blue Smoke. Any other words run the risk of diluting the experience. But this is a blog, so I am compelled to write more words. This place was destined for such success even prior to opening given the combination of great barbecue and restaurateur minds who collaberated to make Blue Smoke what it is. It starts with a solid base of barbecue know-how from Mike Mills. That is combined with head Chef Kenny Callaghan who diligently turns out great barbecue. Top that with maybe to leading NYC restaurateur, and St. Louis native, Danny Meyer who works his magic touch. The day-to-day operations are expertly and painstakingly overseen by GM Todd Mott. It is no wonder this place works so well. It is not just a barbecue place, it is fine barbecue dining on steroids. Not only is the barbecue first class, but so is everything on the menu. A local couple sitting next to me struck up a conversation as I was dining alone. They informed me that Blue Smoke had the "best burger in New York." Blue Smoke is in the middle of Manhattan, so the label the best of anything is no easy task. I sampled various sides and other offerings from the menu, including macaroni and cheese. It was the best macaroni and cheese I ever had. If they make something special out of burgers and mac and cheese, think of what this braintrust does for everything else on the menu. You simply can't go wrong. The next time you are in Manhattan struggling to determine which restaurant you should visit, it really is a no brainer, head to Blue Smoke and fuggetaboutit. There is something for everyone. And after dinner, you can extend the night by visiting the blues club downstairs. That is a perfect way to top a perfect meal.


Big Bob Gibson's Bar-B-Q
Decatur, Alabama

There is no bigger legend in barbecue than Big Bob Gibson's. Current proprietors, Don McLemore and his son-in-law Chris Lilly succeeded in actually expanding the legend. I could go on about all of the awards and accomplishments these two have attained in the world of barbecue, but there is no need. Everyone knows that. I was privileged to be able to spend a few hours with Don McLemore. Chris Lilly wasn't there at the time, but I feel as if I know him. During my conversations with Don, I was struck by the number of times he started his sentences with "Chris did this," "Chris started that," "Chris is doing this," "Chris is responsible for that..." It is clear that Don has a special place in his heart for his accomplished son-in-law whom he brought into the business. They have a huge operation with several very dedicated employees. The women who make pies every morning work as hard as anyone there and truly seem to love their job, and Don appreciates their contribution. I also got a tour of the pits. They mostly utilize the Ole Hickory pits that most big-time barbecue places favor. However, they also had old-fashioned authentic pits, reminiscent of the Eastern Carolina style that require nightmen to operate overnight. Although they are still in use some, Don explained it is hard to find people that will cook that way anymore. The fact that the art of cooking on authentic pits is dying is sad, but I don't know that it would actually get the barbecue to taste anybetter. I also got a tour of the competition pit Don and Chris use on the MIM circuit. Don was full of stories about the evolution of their competition pit, as well as the trials and travails of pulling that on a trailer several miles to various competitions. It is hard to imagine anyone nicer than Don McLemore. He is as unique as the white barbecue sauce that was started by the original Big Bob. That was a great day.


Smoky Jon's #1
Madison, Wisconsin

Smoky Jon is a serious guy who makes some serious barbecue. After having met him and experienced the intensity with which he approaches his barbecue, it is not surprising at all that he gets the excellent results that he does. The ribs were excellent. I also tried a number of his sauces. They were incredible. I did not know when I began trying them that numerous sauces won awards at the National Barbecue Association annual convention earlier that year. Now I know why. I have tried a lot of sauces on my stops along the barbecue trail, and I will have to say, Smoky Jon's are right at the top. Jon has a small but nice shop where they work almost as hard to give customers a good ambiance for dinner as they do serving good barbecue. Jon has several hard working employees who have been with him for a while. They work together to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. Jon's is conveniently located across the street from the Madison airport. Whenever you are in town, you should definitely stop by. I hope everyone in Madison understands how lucky they are to have such top notch barbecue. I especially like the inscription he wrote on my book: "To, Todd, Lower the heat and tender the meat! May your smoke be tasty and your sauce complete."


McClard's Bar-B-Q
Hot Springs, Arkansas

This is a classic family owned spot right on the edge of Hot Springs National Park. Several generations of McClard's, including several in-laws, still run the place. The inside makes you feel as if you are walking into a 1950's diner. They serve a lot of barbecue at great prices. I was lucky to meet Scott McClard and several of his family while there. He walked me through their pit, which was quite a site. They cook on a one-of-a-kind pit specially built for them. They use no gas, no charcoal, or any fuel other than hickory. All meats are smoked using nothing but hickory logs. Fortunately, I visited in the Fall on a cool day. I can only imagine what it must be like around their pit during an Arkansas August! Good quality and good quantity in a family-run restaurant add up to a great experience.


Moonlite Bar-B-Q
Owensboro, Kentucky

Got mutton? I stopped in the Moonlite while passing through Owensboro. I was lucky to meet one of the family-member owners. He explained to me that, for whatever reason, in about a 45-mile radius around Owensboro, mutton is the meat of choice. Ken Bosley,one of the family-owners, explained to me that they go through about 200 sheep a week. It was my first experience with mutton. I will have to say, I still prefer the stand-bys that I grew up with, pork, chicken and beef. However, it was good and I am sure nobody does mutton any better than they do at the Moonlite. In addition to mutton, they are also famous for their buffet. Believe me, it will not disappoint. The barbecue offerings are plentiful and varied, but that is not all. They have various vegetables, salads, and sides. Then you get to the extensive dessert table. It is impossible to leave this place hungry! The place is huge which is testament to the number of customers they get on a daily basis. To make your visit truly authentic, you will have to try the burgoo.


Demo's Barbeque and Smokehouse
Jonesboro, Arkansas

Demo Gambill no longer owns Demo's. However, that didn't stop him from giving me a few hours of his time. His former manager bought the restaurant from him and kept the name. Demo met me at his former restaurant where we had lunch and talked barbecue. He told me how he got into the business and how it was hard to not be involved any more. Ribs are the specialty there and I can see why. I think Demo's personality had a lot to do with the success of the business. We were frequently approached by several customers who just wanted to come up and say hello to Demo. He knew all of them by name. That personal touch goes a long way. As I witnessed all this, I thought I was in the middle of a television program, this one was named "Everybody Loves Demo." One such encounter I observed during my stop was particularly illustrative of just how popular the place is. One customer ordered a rack of ribs to go, and came up to talk to Demo on his way out the door. As it turned out, this customer actually lives in Memphis. He was just passing through Jonesboro and was taking Demo's ribs home with him to Memphis. With the amount of good barbecue they have in Memphis, it is certainly saying something that at least one person from Memphis believes Demo's ribs are the best.


Whole Hog Cafe
Little Rock, Arkansas

Sarge Davis is an accomplished competitior on the MIM circuit and he has the trophies to prove it. It is a good thing he has such a big restaurant, otherwise he would not have room for all of his awards. I sampled the ribs and the pork, both of which were awesome. Sarge also has a number of sauces that he created. I loved them all. For those with particular tastes, he definitely has something for everyone. The variety of the sauces was particularly noteworthy and each one was as good as the last. I got to spend some time with Sarge as well. He gave me a tour of the pits, and his employees were involved in preparing Thanksgiving turkeys for those lucky enough to call in advance and receive one of the limited supply. I didn't get to sample the turkeys, but based upon Sarge's procedure that he shared with me, I can see why the turkeys are in such high demand. Sarge is also unique in that he has served two sitting Presidents of the United States. He has served President Clinton, who has visited several of the spots I have written about, as well as President George W. Bush. Sarge also shared his experience at the annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party. The turnout for the event was beyond anyone's expectations, resulting in long and hectic days. They even ran out of food, which can be a problem for a crowd full of beer but starved for barbecue. I am not sure if Sarge will return for that event, but I know there will be a lot of unhappy New Yorkers if he doesn't.


Woody's Bar-B-Q
Waldenberg, Arkansas

My travels along the barbecue path have given me several unique experiences. This may be the uniquest. woody Wood Woodward and his wife, Cecelia, run their restaurant out of a small RV at a 4 way intersection in a very rural community. The twon has a population of 80. As Woody explained to me on my visit, the intersection is one of the busiest in Northeast Arkansas. Obviously, he draws from more than just the locals to keep his business going for more than two decades. While I was there, I noticed several truckers pulling over to order some of Woody's barbecue. He is evidently well known over the CB radio. Woody and Cecelia literally drive up in the RV pulling their pit full of smoking meat behind him. They park the RV on a gravel lot on the intersection and bring several pieces of meat into the RV from the pit. Woody replenishes the meat to the RV from the pit as it sells. And make no mistake, it sells. There was a line several people deep when I visited. Woody explained to me the line stays that constant even in the Winter months. Woody also has his own line of sauces that he manufactures himself in a warehouse a few blocks from the intersection where he sells his barbecue. His sauce company also manufactures sauces for other people, too. Woody is especially proud of his baste. It is very similar to regional legend Wicker's baste and sauce. If that isn't enough, Woody is also mayor of Waldenberg. In an industry full of 24/7 types, Woody stands out in that regard. The truckers driving through Arkansas already knew what I found out on my stop. Woody still finds time to make some great barbecue.

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