Imagine your perfect cookout. What does it look like? Pork chops simmering on a shiny Char-Broil grill, the scent of your favorite
barbecue sauce lingering in the summer breeze? Maybe you see children dashing through your freshly cut yard or long tables overflowing with an array of side dishes from deviled eggs to mac ‘n’ cheese.
Now stop imagining, and let us help you make it a reality.
With the help of some of Southern Indiana’s grilling (and barbecuing) experts – restaurant owners, chefs and sauce creators – we’ve compiled everything you’ll need to know to throw a picture-perfect cookout, whether it’s in your backyard, the hills of Brown County State Park or the parking lot of Indiana University’s Memorial Stadium.
And, just in case you want someone else to do the cooking, we’ve found five BBQ joints that will make your taste buds sing with just one bite.
So polish up your grill, grab a subtly expressive, kiss-the-cook apron and meet us out back.
Here are your must-knows, -haves, do’s and don’ts for cooking outdoors.
The notion of cooking over fire has been around for nearly 500,000 years, but today’s custom of backyard grilling began only recently, during the suburbanization of the ‘50s.
Simply put, there are two basic types of grills – charcoal and gas. Many tests indicate there is little difference in flavor between the two, so choosing a grill comes down to what Weber’s Big Book of Grilling calls “a lifestyle choice.”
- Consider yourself a skilled fire builder and protector.
- Prefer the scent of food cooked over hot coals.
- “Need that hands-on primal experience.”
You need a gas grill if you:
- Prefer not to build your own fi re.
- Desire precise temperature control.
- Value an ash-free clean up.
Now that you’ve decided on a grill, you need the right equipment to accompany it. Be sure you have these basics in your collection:
- Grill brushes: Try a brush with a long handle and a sturdy head.
- Grill gloves: These protect your hands from extreme temperatures. Silicone or leather gloves are best – look for ones that cover the base of your forearm.
- Spatulas: Perfect for flipping meat and veggies trouble-free.
- Tongs: Ideal for turning sausages, hot dogs and ribs.
- Grill trays and screens: These keep small items such as sliced vegetables or fruit from falling through the grate.
- Meat thermometer: You never want to serve under- or overcooked meat. Options include dial or digital, the latter being more expensive.
Meat and greet
Carnivores take note: We’ve simplified two meat-lover’s favorites – beef and pork – to help you navigate the butcher’s block.
Dave Fischer, owner of Fischer Farms in Jasper, highlighted the biggest differences between beef and pork, and told us his picks for best taste and value.
According to Fischer, beef has an “unmatched flavor profile” because of the intense taste and presence of umami. Umami is a savory flavor naturally found in beef (you also taste umami in fish, vegetables and dairy products). Many consider umami the fifth primary taste – along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter. In contrast, pork is less about the basic flavor of the meat and more about the sauces that complement it.
“When you’re eating pork you’re often tasting more of the sauce you put on the meat, than the meat itself,” Fischer says.
Trade tip: Use beef for grilling and pork for barbecuing. Barbecue is all about the sauces, after all.
Fischer’s top beef cuts:
The most mouth-watering cut of meat. The filet is known for its tenderness without the presence of marbling – the dispersal of fat within the meat.
A well-marbled cut of meat that Fischer says “tastes like it’s been buttered on the inside.”
- NY strip
- A cut with average marbling that is flavorful, yet less tender. The amount of marbling is based on the way an animal is raised.
Best value cut = Skirt or flank steak.
Fischer’s top pork cuts:
- Pork tenderloin
- Pork chops
Before you slather sauce on top of your expertly grilled meat-of-choice, reach for one of these finger-lickin’ flavors made by one of the following sauce specialists right here in Southern Indiana.
Mild to Wild Pepper and Herb Company (Franklin) – Add heat to your barbecue with one of these sauces wildpepper.com/bbq-sauces for $6.25
Mt. Pilot Barbecue Sauce (Bloomington) Made by Chef Tad Delay – 8 kinds, but we recommend Indiana Style Sauce. Purchase a 12 oz. bottle online at localharvest.org/store/M38599 for $7 a bottle or buy a package of three to eight bottles.
Stink-Eye BBQ Sauce and Stink-Eye Wild BBQ Sauce – Order online at stink-eyebbq.com/sauces for $7.50 a bottle.
Shoup’s Country Food (Frankfort) – At shoupscountry.com you can order an 18.5- oz. bottle of sauce for $4.95.
Big Wood’s Bodacious BBQ Sauce from Big Wood’s Brewery (Nashville) – You’ll f
ind this in the newly opened gift shop above the pizzeria.
Bubba Blue’s Bar-B-Q (Columbus) – Carolina (vinegar based), Sweet and Tangy (most popular) Original Mild and Hot (“original with a kick”) – In store only, sauces cost $4.50 each
Pig Miracle (Salem) – Buy five kinds by the pint or the bottle at Pig Miracle. Prices vary.
Pig-out places to squeal about
Despite your grilling expertise – yes, you’re that good – you should put down the tongs and let someone else do the work once in a while. We couldn’t get enough of these four barbecue joints.
Big Woods Brewery
60 Molly Lane, Nashville
As soon as you walk through the oversized, polished timber doors you feel like family, and at Big Woods
Brewery that’s exactly what they want.
“As soon as you’re in, you’re in,” says owner Jeff McCabe.
You might come in to sip a home-brewed beer, but you’d be crazy to pass up the pulled-pork nachos. Food aficionado and head chef Emily Stone puts a modern spin on an old classic, topping nachos, as well as pizza, with this mouthwatering meat.
Stone – an ex-vegetarian –says they’re a best-seller. Their pulled pork, which is smoked over whiskey barrel tops, is also featured as a simple sandwich.
The Big Woods crew makes everything from the timber doors to the sweet and tangy barbecue sauce, and they’ve got a beer for any palate. You’ll find everything from wheat to pale ales, but their signature beer is the Knuckle Buster.
“It’s the go-to beer,” McCabe says. “With less hops it doesn’t distract from the food.”
While this location is strictly for visitors 21 and up, their sister restaurant, Backwoods Pizzeria, is suited for the whole family. Once you’ve eaten your fill of pulled-pork, head to the newly opened gift shop located upstairs where you can purchase shirts, hats and their BBQ sauce.
Bubba Blue’s Bar-B-Q
1641 N. National Road Columbus
Pick your meat, check. Pick your sides, check. Pick one of 50 hot sauces, che…– Wait…50!? At Bubba Blue’s Bar-B-Q, you have your pick of any hot sauce on the market, so be as daring as you’d like.
This cafeteria-style joint will have your taste buds tingling at the smell of their hickory-smoked meats. After 16 hours of tender love and care, the meats are sliced right in front of you. Once you decide on the type of meat – operating manager Joe Torline recommends the brisket – you move down the line. 812 recommendation: Try the loaded baked potato salad.
“Think of it as a barbecue Subway,” Torline says. “Everything is fresh and it’s put together right before your eyes.”
And if you don’t want to mess with making food for your next event, Bubba Blue’s has got you covered. They will cater any party, anywhere (from Indy to the Ohio River, at least), of any size. Their biggest party (so far) is 1,500.
Note: When Thanksgiving rolls around, bring your bird-of-choice to Bubba Blue’s and they’ll smoke it for you. The same goes for your holiday ham in December.
1703 Charlestown New Albany Rd, Jeffersonville
Harley’s Hardwoodz BBQ is exactly what you imagine when you picture a hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint. It’s got staple items such as pulled pork, ribs and chicken wings; home-style side dishes – one of which will make you question the greatness of boxed macaroni and cheese; and cheap prices.
But this barbecue joint also has heart. Oh, and just about the best brisket you’ve ever eaten.
Frank Harley, owner and operator of Harley’s Hardwoodz, has been barbecuing “on the side” since he was 18. Though he wanted to open a barbecue restaurant for years, it wasn’t until the coal mine he worked for shut down that he realized his dream. That was two years ago.
“If you’re into a business just to make money, you have no passion,” Harley says. “I reap the benefits by way of having people coming back in and eating my food and telling me I’m the best around.”
At Harley’s, ribs are exceptionally meaty and fall right off the bone, basic side dishes have a twist (try the green beans with potatoes), and the brisket is tender, juicy and delicious with or without sauce.
“I only use wood, I don’t use charcoal,” Harley says. “I do it all old-school.,”
But your favorite part of visiting Harley’s Hardwoodz will be chatting with Harley. He’ll tell you, humbly, that his brisket won the People’s Choice award at a recent Louisville barbecue tournament, he’ll share his insight of athletes and Ivy League schools, and he’ll gladly give you samples of his food or show you his new high-tech smoker if you ask.
Note: Keep an eye out for Harley’s Hardwoodz BBQ rub coming this fall.
1345 Jackson Street Salem
If the sign itself doesn’t entice you to try Pig Miracle, the food certainly will.
After grilling across the street at a gas station for about a year, owner John Apple opened Pig Miracle in 2006. The building was, as Apple describes it, just four walls and a floor. He put the interior together himself, from the cabinetry to the tile counter top, but what he’s most proud of are his ribs.
“If you come in here and don’t know much about barbecue, you’re supposed to order pork and ribs,” he says. “If a barbecue joint doesn’t have good pulled pork you can rest assured nothin’ else is good.”
Don’t worry, Pig Miracle has delicious food. We dare you to try the rest of the menu, especially on the first and third Friday of every month, when the restaurant features smoked prime rib.
“We’ll have ‘em lined up at the door. We usually sell out,” Apple says.
The restaurant also creates three of its own sauces: Hog Spice, a real spicy treat and Apple’s favorite; Jack sauce, a Worcestershire-based sauce with Jack Daniels, perfect for beef; and Maple Peach, by far the most popular sauce made with maple syrup from Sugarbush Farm in Salem.
In addition, Pig Miracle does catering. Just this year Apple did Garth Brooks’ Super Bowl party. The restaurant will cater events of 20 to 2,000 guests in both Indiana and the Louisville area. Be sure to call at least a couple weeks in advance for large parties (1,500+). But no matter, Pig Miracle will always find a way to get it done.
Since we haven’t been working on the business end of titanium tongs for 10 years like Will Thomas, we went to the man behind the grill (that is, if you consider a 200-gallon barrel a grill).
If you’re ever in Bloomington during Little 500 or football season, you probably know to swing by 17th and Dunn for a slab of ribs or a pulled-pork sandwich. But don’t look for a store front, because you won’t find one. Thomas, also known Will T, works just outside the Convenient Food Mart with his grill and a small carnival-like stand that holds buns, sauces and plastic ware.
Incorporating North Carolina influences, Thomas has been plating enormous portions of barbecue classics in an old-school fashion for the last decade.
“I’m a charcoal man,” Thomas says. “Lots of guys cook with smoke, but charcoal leaves the meat tasting the best.”
His loyal customers – whose orders he has memorized – keep him smiling, and after 10 years it’s safe to say he’s doing something right. We asked Thomas to divulge his secrets, and although he wouldn’t release his secret rub mix or sauce combo, he gave us this advice for cooking ribs
- Know what temperature your coals should be – too high and your meat will be tough because they cook too fast. Thomas keeps his between 300 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Use raw meat. “Sounds strange, but a lot of people will buy partially cooked meat,” he says. Buy a raw slab, clean it, dry it and then season it.
- Don’t rush it. “Ribs take time, so that’s what you have to give them,” he says.
- Resist putting on the sauce until the meat is cooked. “It’ll burn the meat,” he says. “I add my sauce and then let it sit on low, low heat for 15 minutes.”
As anyone else, Thomas is a man of habit. Here are his go-tos when it comes to barbecue:
Tools: Big tongs and a really sharp knife
Sauce: Open Pit, original or any kind of vinegar-based sauce
Meat for pulled pork: Boston butts
Coals: Kingsford charcoal