Sunday, January 30, 2011

E & L Barbeque - Jackson

I remember the first time I had E & L Barbeque. I was 16, maybe 17, and my friend Ronnie and I were looking for a bbq lunch. It wasn’t until we walked in that I realized just how out of place I was. It was one of those situations you only see on a sorry sitcom; the needle literally jumped off the record. Blissful in my ignorance, I followed Ronnie’s lead and let him do the ordering. It was only after we had finished feasting on rib tips that I learned the gravity of the situation. Apparently kids from Madison aren’t supposed to go get lunch on Bailey Avenue.

Well, some people never learn. I suppose that’s why Sam and I were standing in line for E & L one chilly Friday afternoon in early January. Once again, I stuck out like a sore thumb and once again, I didn’t care. I was waiting for good BBQ, social stigmas be damned.

There’s always a long line at E & L, a real testament to its popularity. With that single file of humanity snaking around the restaurant, we had plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere and the menu. With walls covered in a mix of striking colors and a few odd pictures of smiling kids with faces slathered with BBQ sauce, I have the feeling that the interior of E & L has rarely seen a revision. More important the interior of a BBQ joint is the menu and E & L has a lengthy one. It’s your usual assortment of BBQ; ribs, rib tips, chicken, hamburgers, wings, and even the odd pig ear grace the menu at E & L.

After soaking up the atmosphere, it was finally our turn to order and since I’m averaging a decade between visits, I tried to run the gamut. Not a single menu item was safe as I rattled off an order of ribs, rib tips, hot links, pork sandwich and even that odd pig appendage, the ear.

With the staff running to fill our order, Sam and I had plenty of time to discuss the intricacies of BBQ. Amidst the discussion of walk in freezers, I couldn’t help but notice the odd smoker they have at E & L.
Instead of a pit or an electric smoker, E & L stores all their meat in an offset smoker with sliding glass doors. Whenever the pit master slid open a door, I could see the oak wood smoke pouring out of the smoker. It looked like there was a fan pulling smoke from a firebox in another room or even from outside the building.

An interesting trend at E & L is that everyone gets their food to go. Not wanting to stick out any more than I had to, we skipped eating at the Technicolor booths and shuffled out to the parking lot. With our arms full of oak imbued pork, Sam and I took our bounty back to my office.

Back at the office, I covered my desk in paper towels and newspapers and we started opening the bags.
This is just a rack of ribs and rib tips. E & L certainly doesn’t skimp on the sauce.
Maybe I should have asked for the sauce on the side.
Seriously, these ribs were swimming in that sweet, smoky sauce.
Fresh from the smoker, each rib was hot and painted a beautiful pink from the oak. These ribs may not have a pronounced smoke ring or an overbearing smoke flavor but there was a subtle smokiness to the meat that only accented the hearty pork flavor.
It took a little effort to get the meat off the bone, but nothing excessive. These ribs were well cooked and nowhere near the fall off the bone nonsense that so many BBQ joints try to achieve.

Good sausage goes hand in hand with quality BBQ and I thought the Hot Links would be an excellent choice.
It’s a tray of sausage and French fries in a pool of BBQ sauce and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Actually there was plenty else wrong with these hot links. Each sausage was large, hard as a rock and well beyond overcooked.
Doing my best to look past the incredibly mealy stuffing, there was an actual heat to Hot Links, but nothing that would overcome the miserable preparation and texture.

When I first heard about E & L, it was about the wonderful flavor of their rib tips. Even when I had the audacity to bring E & L to Brent’s years ago, the staff behind the ice cream counter knew exactly where those rib tips came from. I don’t know if the tips are E & L’s most popular item, but they seem like they are. True to form, nearly every person in line that day ordered rib tips. Of course, Sam and I had to indulge.
Served with a side of soggy French fries and drenched in BBQ sauce, these trimmings from the spare ribs are fatty and unctuous.
With a bark that only comes from long smoking, the rib tips are a beautiful mix of tender pork fat, crispy bark, and oak smoked meat. It’s no wonder that the rib tips are E & L’s best selling item.

As much as I love ribs, rib tips, and sausage, it’s hard to visit a BBQ pit and not try their pork sandwich.
Consisting of nothing more than meat, bread and sauce, this is BBQ simplicity.
While each bite was sweet with a little spiciness, there was no prominent smokiness to the taste.
Instead of mixing in the bark to the meat for smokiness and texture, this was just a sandwich of silky chopped pork and sweetness.

Maybe I like to get weird looks from other customers; maybe I like exploring odd parts of the menu, but for whatever reason I ordered a pig ear sandwich.
As if a pig ear isn’t odd enough, I ordered it plain.
Perhaps the pig ears from Big Apple Inn spoiled me, but this was a peculiar pig ear. Without any dressing, this was just tender and gelatinous. There was no real pork flavor and I wasn’t a fan of the taste. Even doused in BBQ sauce, this just wasn’t for me.

Much like the pig ear, I had no real impetus to try a side of baked beans. I suppose it’s like potato salad and white bread, baked beans seem to be a natural part of the BBQ experience.
These beans were really just a mix of sweet sauce and tender beans. However, without any meat for flavor or texture, this was a small bowl of syrup with a few beans for filler.

Despite Jackson’s proximity to Memphis and its dry rubbed claim to fame, E & L is the perfect example of a Jackson BBQ. While the ribs may have a subtle smokiness, it’s the ocean of sauce that really defines both the E & L and Jackson style of BBQ. Keeping that in mind, with the combination of a sugary sweetness, smokiness, and a slight tinge of heat on the tail, it really is the BBQ sauce that makes E & L what it is today. While I may prefer the pepper laden vinegar sauces of the Carolinas, I can make room for the sweeter side of barbeque. Just heed my advice: skip the side of baked beans, the pig ears, and the Hot Links, E & L is all about the ribs and the rib tips. Cross the tracks, brave the lines, and get your own Styrofoam box. This is one of the few times that soggy French fries and white bread are useful. So get plenty of napkins and once you’ve prepared yourself, open the box and soak up that goodness that is E & L Barbeque.
E & L Barbeque Address and Information
1111 Bailey Avenue, Jackson, MS 39203 // 601.355.5035

E & L Barbeque on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love E & L...and what brought me to your sight was actually looking for sausage like e & l, i guess everyone has there own pallet and can choose for themselves...but i love the hard, corse ground sausage and of course the tips...the sauce is to die for and i think they have the best bbq i have ever put to my lips...enjoy!