RECIPE: Smoked Mortadella

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015.

“How much mortadella would you like?” asks the lady in the Coles deli section as she readies the slicer. “Um… all of it?” I reply, before walking out of the supermarket, holding my 4kg trophy of processed meat above my head.

I’d only seen smoked balogna on a menu once, at Payne’s BBQ in Memphis, and the thought of it was too terrifying to order. A hot slab of pink sponge, covered in sauce? My fear got the better of me and I ordered the pulled pork instead, the deliciousness of which only overwhelmed my immediate regret for a few hours, and I returned to Australia accepting that I would never know what smoked baloney tasted like.

Late last year I ordered one of the baloney sandwiches at ACME, which is actually some thin slices of mortadella on a fresh potato roll. I’ve since come to realise I’ve been living a fools life ever since Memphis: I could just smoke my own mortadella at home. I did it on Saturday night, it was out-of-control delicious, and here is how you join me in smoked pork product valhalla.

You will need:

A kettle bbq, like a Weber, or a smoker that you made out of a garbage bin
Hickory woodchips
4kg of mortadella

For the rub:

½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup paprika
¼ cup salt
2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp mustard powder

For the sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
5 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups apple cider vinegar
¼ cup honey
¼ cup treacle
½ cup ketchup
¼ cup American mustard
3 chipotles in adobo, finely chopped

Step 1

Light about eight beads of charcoal on one side of your BBQ. You wanna cook this mortadella on indirect heat. Keep it low and slow, no more than 120°c.

Take two handfuls of woodchips and soak them in water.

Step 2

Cut that gnarly red wrapping off the mortadella.

Use a knife to score the mortadella horizontally and vertically, cutting a couple of centimetres deep into the meat. Don’t forget to score the top and bottom of the mortadella as well.

Step 3

Combine all of the rub ingredients together in a bowl, then rub it all over the mortadella.

Try your hardest to work the rub into all of the grooves that you just cut so the flavour gets right in there.

Step 4

It’s time to smoke! Put your prize piece of mortadella in the barbecue, on the opposite side that the hot coals are on. Drop some of the wet woodchips onto the coals and chuck the lid back on your BBQ.

Let the mortadella smoke for an hour, and go back to the kitchen to make some BBQ sauce. Heat the oil on medium-low in a pot and slowly cook the garlic until it softens, about five mins. Stir through all the other sauce ingredients, turn up the heat to high and bring to a boil. Leave the sauce to simmer while the mortadella cooks.

Step 5

Pour yourself a cup of the BBQ sauce (let the rest of it continue to simmer) and take it outside. Lift the lid off the BBQ and baste the mortadella with a nice coating of sauce.

Check the temp of the BBQ and add more coal if necessary. Throw another handful of woodchips onto the coals. Let the mortadella smoke for another two hours, adding more woodchips and re-basting with sauce every half hour. Your backyard should smell incredible.

Step 6

After the mortadella has cooked for at least three hours all up, lift the lid and it should look like this.

If you’re ready to eat, take it straight to the table, or wrap it in foil and keep it warm until you’re ready for morta-domination.

Step 7

Cut the mortadella into thick slices. Fight everyone over the crunchy end bits which have absorbed the most smoke. You put that effort in and cooked this thing, you deserve the best part.

Serve the mortadella on soft white rolls with pickles, coleslaw and the BBQ sauce. Throw caution to the goddamn wind and stack that mortadella HIGH. This is the very definition of a ‘sometimes food’ and you should definitely take advantage of that.

Leftover mortadella is inevitable and best served for breakfast the next day. Just heat a pan up, cut some slices and fry each side, knowing that bacon will never be good enough again.


To reward your stomach with exotic deliciousness

How much

4kg of mortadella will set you back about $40 and will feed approximately everyone you know




Originally posted on You Only Live Once.


The sweet tender lyrics of Petey Pablo echoed in my head as we flew into Raleigh Airport, North Carolina (sadly we flew in on a plane, not with our shirts spinning round our head like a helicopter). This was to be the last stop on our BBQ pilgrimage, which had so far taken my wife and I to Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia – with a brief BBQ-free stay in Louisiana somewhere in the middle. Our belts had buckled and our pores were in a permanent state of meat sweats, but here we were in North Carolina, ready to Raise Up once again.

Staying with some family friends in Raleigh (avid readers will be happy to know that we were staying with the same family that I stayed with during my 1997 trip to Memphis! How bout that!), we had some satisfying BBQ at the enormous, family-friendly restaurant The Pit, but had hired a car so we could drive out into the sticks the next day, in order to sample some truly legendary North Carolina style BBQ.

North Carolina is vastly different to BBQ served elsewhere in America. Pork is the focus here – and not just shoulders and ribs. In North Carolina they slowly smoke whole hogs, remove all the bones and then chop all the tender meat up, before drowning the meat in a thin and spicy vinegar sauce. Spoiler alert: this was my favourite style of BBQ that we had all trip.



“Can we have some bread” I asked the waitress at Wilber’s BBQ in Goldsboro, two hours out of Raleigh. “No bread, sorry” she said as she plonked a basket full of deep fried golden curls on our table, “we do hush puppies instead” – and so began our lunch at the best BBQ spot we visited in America. A chequered tablecloth, an endless cup of Dr Pepper and a papered basket, stacked high with perfectly fried hush puppies.

In the middle of the table were packets of butter, intended to be spread on the hush puppies. Buttering deep fried cornmeal? Wilber’s was not fucking around.

We ordered a combination plate, which came with a vinegary mashed potato salad, a finely chopped, vinegary slaw and a huge serve of finely chopped, vinegary pork, fresh from out of the smokehouse. If the hush puppies weren’t so crunchy, you wouldn’t need to chew any of this meal. The pork was tenderer than a Drake album, with the Wilber’s signature sauce supplying the perfect amount of vinegar tang and cayenne pepper spice. It was great on it’s own, even better when eaten in between mouthfuls of potato and slaw. We polished the plate off in no time and knew that we had to order a pork sandwich as well, so as not to anger the BBQ Gods.

A minute passes and a humble little sandwich arrives on our table. A hot, sugary roll filled with pork and slaw. Even on this 100 degree day, the warmth from the roll is cozy. The pork and slaw, exactly the same as the pork and slaw served on the combination plate, tastes even better in the roll. This is a perfect little sandwich, and each loud, spicy vinegar burp on the 2 hour drive back home reminds us of our incredible meal, and of what a terrible person I am.


Before we left Wilber’s I took a walk around the back of the restaurant, through the many piles of kindling, and introduced myself to the staff manning the smokehouse. I pulled out the unicorn card – “Hi I’m an Australian who loves BBQ can I please go in that big smokey room?” and was greeted with high fives and a short guided tour of the huge smokehouse. There were some 50 pigs being smoked at the one time! I took a few pictures and actually considered getting this one printed up as a set of postcards:

What a beautiful view.

The next day we were laughed at by our host for wanting to drive even further for our next meal. “You wanna take a four hour round trip just for lunch?” he exclaimed as we snuck out the back door and embarked on a four hour round trip just for lunch. It amused me that in 2 days of being in North Carolina we had visited two towns that he hadn’t even considered visiting in the two years he’d lived there. Such was our passion for BBQ!

We passionately drove for 106 miles until we got to Ayden, home of The Skylight Inn. A sign welcomes our arrival that announces “If it’s not cooked with WOOD – It’s not BBQ”, one of the few facts that BBQ spots all over America would probably agree on.


For many reviewers who aren’t from Texas, The Skylight Inn is thought to be BBQ capital of America – the owners even built a replica of Capitol Hill on top of their roof to announce this.

Inside The Skylight Inn is a stark contrast to the colourful, family friendly vibe of Wilber’s. White walls, a small amount of paraphernalia from the restaurant’s long history and complete silence, save for the constant chopping of the chef in the kitchen, making his way through whole smoked pigs with two huge cleavers. The old man behind the counter stares at us with cold eyes that say “don’t even try and say a thing to me or my staff besides your order!” Not even my Australian accent can get me a smile. These guys have probably never heard of a unicorn.


We order a barbecue tray, the most unique way of serving BBQ we’ve ever seen. A small tower of trays stacked on top of each other. Down the bottom is pork, which is not quite as tender and tasty at Wilber’s was but it has pieces of crunchy skin mixed through the meat which is an amazing vibe. On top of the pork is a big piece of corn cake, an incredible take on corn bread made with lard, based on a family recipe from 1830! At the top of the tower is a tray full of pale, vinegary slaw, with a plastic fork wedged inside. A few bottles of BBQ sauce adorn the table.

Break off a piece of the corn cake, top it with pork and slaw, add some sauce, eat. Speak too loudly about how good the food is, get glared at by the long line of people who have come to order an unbelievable amount of pork takeaway. We had heard legends of this place, we heard almost nothing while we were inside. We tasted some damn good BBQ though, further testament to my decision that North Carolina style BBQ is the BBQ for me.


Before we hop back in to our car and complete our four hour round trip just for lunch, we pop into a thrift store across the road. “Oh did you eat at Skylight for lunch?” asks the large, mysterious shop owner – “I don’t think it’s very good”. We counter his argument for about 10 seconds before he admits that he just doesn’t like BBQ, and we suddenly realise what your average Yelp reviewer looks like.

The next day we flew to New York and a week after that we were home in Sydney. During our time away I somehow only managed to put on just one extra kilo. We had to buy another suitcase just to house all of the various sauces and trinkets we picked up at every BBQ spot and diner we ate at.

I apologise to Kansas for not including you in our trip. I hear your BBQ is amazing too, and I realise that throughout these 7 posts I’ve only managed to visit an extremely small percentage of America’s great BBQ spots. I hope I’ve provided anyone with an interest in BBQ who’s visiting any of the cities I went to with a good starting point. This is a trip that I would recommend to anyone and would happily do again and again. The barbecue scene of the South is insanely engrossing, full of so many amazing different takes and hilarious opinions. It’s a cuisine that will never be able to be mass marketed due to the many different styles from each region and thankfully you won’t see a McSmokie’s or a BBQ Hut anytime soon.

The difference in produce and cooking techniques means that it’s hard to replicate great BBQ in Australia. There’s a small and building scene of people doing it properly (or as close to properly as possible given our limitations) across the country and hopefully that will keep growing. My advice to anyone who wants to try great BBQ – especially chefs keen to put it on their menu – is too get yourself to Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee or Kansas and experience it first hand. You’ll fall in love with the food and the culture. Then you can come home, write about it and claim the whole thing as a tax expense.

Thanks for the write off, I really enjoyed writing all these and hopefully will do more in the future!


Part 1, read it here: When Levins did Austin, Texas
Part 2, read it here: When Levins did Lockhart, Texas
Part 3, read it here: When Levins did Spooney’s Bar-B-Que, Mississipi
Part 4, read it here: When Levins did Memphis Tennessee

Part 5read it here: When Levins went to Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Que, Alabama
Part 6, read it here: When Levins did Daddy D’z Bar B Que Joynt


Originally posted on You Only Live Once.

One of the fun things about being an Australian travelling through the South is that everyone loves Australians in the South. There’s something about our hilarious accent that makes Southerners treat us like unicorns.

I was really excited about coming to Atlanta – not from a food point of view though. I was excited because 50% of my iTunes library is made up of songs by rappers from Atlanta. Another 20% is rap from elsewhere in the South, and throughout our travels I’d tried to make a few pit stops to indulge the crunk fanboy in me. We’d had luck in Texas, trekking out to Screwed Up Record Records and Tapes, the heart of chopped and screwed rap. In New Orleans I’d got into an argument with a record store owner who refused to let me see her collection of Bounce records. Memphis, home to Three 6 Mafia, only has tacky rock and blues record stores. As we slowly made our way north, I kept a glimmer of hope for Atlanta, and after crossing the Georgia border and instantly being greeted with a half dozen radio stations playing Rich Homie Quan, my excitement kept building and it made me feel some type of way.

Rap is inescapable in Atlanta. Future sings the hook on every song blaring out of each car sitting in traffic, and out of the small speakers that sit above you in the line for famous strip club Magic City. But if you wanna find any of these new records and tapes you’re better off sticking to the internet, because beyond the odd bootleg-selling hood mart, it was impossible to find physical copies of any Atlanta artist who wasn’t in Outkast. So with a sigh of disappointment and paper bag full of Sleepy Brown 12″s, I started searching for good food in Atlanta, of which there was an insane amount – and was recommended a BBQ place called Daddy D’z BBQ Joynt.

Atlanta isn’t a city that comes up often in the talk about which city has the best BBQ. In fact I wasn’t expecting to find any, least of all the best ribs we’d eat all trip. Daddy D’z sits proudly in the middle of a median strip, surrounded by busy roads. The huge signs above the roof of the restaurant make Daddy D’z impossible to miss – this was definitely the craziest looking spot we’d visited so far, so even if the food sucked, it had already taken that prize. We took a seat and were greeted by a bearded Tom Waitsian type old dude, in an apron and a pork pie hat – this must be Daddy D. He had crazy in his eyes, and we had Aussie accents in our throats, so immediately Daddy D went into full blown “I just saw a unicorn” mode.

“You’re from Australia?!” he shouted. “Don’t you go anywhere – you just wait here!” and he raced into the kitchen, returning with two ginormous pork ribs. “Now you take a bite of those and tell me they’re not the best ribs you ever ate!” – which we did, and they were indeed the best ribs we ever ate. “I told ya!” said Daddy D, as he waved goodbye to his staff and marched out the door, presumably to go start a blues fusion band. He’d left us in the much less exciting, but probably more capable hands of his staff, and we ordered two plates of ribs straight away.

Bianca and I have arguments over what we like in a good rib. I like that tender meat to come easily off the bone, whereas Bianca prefers a good chew to the meat. If it’s too much towards either way you’re dealing with some shitty ribs. The ribs at Daddy D’z are the perfect middle ground. Super tender meat that doesn’t fall off the bone when you pick it up, with an awesome smokiness and covered in a wildly good BBQ sauce – sweet, spicy and sticky. Some good ass ribs.

A lot of BBQ spots we visited focused almost entirely on the meat, with the sides being somewhat of an afterthought. We didn’t meet anyone that would ever go to a BBQ joint just for the sides so I guess that’s fair enough. But the sides at Daddy D’z are spectacular – you get a choice of two with each plate, so between us we had collared greens, fried okra, candied yams and brocolli casserole, with a decent chunk of corn bread on top! All the sides were as good as the ribs – which I’ve already stated were the best ribs I ever ate – so Daddy D’z BBQ Joynt takes home the glory of the best ribs, the best sides and the wildest looking spot of our trip.

Plus if you say g’day you’ll get that unicorn treatment.

Daddy D’z BBQ Joynt264 Memorial Dr SE, Atlanta +1 404-222-0206 (View Map)

Next up: The best BBQ of the whole trip? One last post to go!

Stay tuned for the rest of the smokey meat eating tour of America with Levins right here.

Part 1,  read it here: When Levins did Austin, Texas
Part 2, read it here: When Levins did Lockhart, Texas
Part 3, read it here: When Levins did Spooney’s Bar-B-Que, Mississipi
Part 4, read it here: When Levins did Memphis Tennessee

Part 5, read it here: When Levins went to Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Que, Alabama



Originally posted on You Only Live Once.

It’s a five hour drive from Memphis to Atlanta. The drive is made easier knowing that you’ve stolen a week’s worth of breakfast cereal from The Comfort Inn that you were staying at, god knows you’ll need that fibre after the meat with a side of meat you’ve had for almost every meal this holiday. It also helps if you get a fancy hire car with the cable radio stations. The Comedy Central station is just hour after hour of stand up from different comedians, most of which aren’t Carlos Mencia and really help make the time fly by. You also burn a few calories, necessary after all those aforementioned meat meals. Oh and while we’re on the subject of meat meals, the best way to make a five hour drive seem shorter is to visit a BBQ spot bang in the middle of the journey.

To get to Atlanta from Memphis, you have to drive through the state of Alabama. I can’t tell you much about Alabama. We were amped about being in the same state that My Cousin Vinny was filmed in (we were considering trying to find  Sac-O-Suds but realised it was actually in Georgia) and had read about a cool donut place but the main Alabama landmark we were looking forward to was Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in the town of Decatur.

Strangely complicated spelling of the word ‘barbecue’: check. Location in the middle of the highway, surrounded by nothing: check. Fluorescent cartoon pig: check. From the outside of the restaurant, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q really seemed to have it all. After eating at  Payne’s and Spooney’s, this was like being upgraded to Disneyworld after spending a week at a fun park run out of someones front yard. Even the name conjured magnificence. Who was Bob Gibson, and just how big was he?

The greatness continued inside. Next to the counter were dozens of trophies, some taller than I was and covered in brass pigs. Decades of recognition for the best sauce, the best ribs and the best chicken surrounded us. We were taken to our table, covered in various bottles of award winning sauce – in all different colours, from dark brown, to less brown, a reddy brown and… white? I had never seen a white bbq sauce before. It was an Alabama miracle, and one that is supposedly incredible with chicken. We hadn’t come across chicken on the menu at any of the BBQ spots we’d visited either, so we ordered a chicken plate, which came with slaw, beans, potato salad and a crunchy pickle, creating a nice visual symmetry with the drumstick, almost a peace sign on my plate. Has anybody started a ‘peaceful bbq plate’ tumblr?

How did it taste? The chicken was awesome. The skin was smoky and salty, the dark meat nice and juicy. As I expected it would be, the breast was unfortunately pretty dry. Some meats just aren’t made for slow cooking. The white bbq sauce was a knockout though, ensuring I ate even the driest parts of the chicken, just to enjoy more of the creamy vinegar sauce. We bought a bottle to take home, which joined some 80 other bottles of sauce in a suitcase that I didn’t declare at customs upon returning to Sydney.

We also ordered a pulled pork sandwich, which was disappointing but far from terrible. Certainly not worthy of the gigantic trophies we saw in the entrance anyway. As we left I wondered if they’d notice a missing trophy or two – they would look really nice in Spooney’s front yard.

View Larger Map

Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q

1715 6th Ave SE, Decatur, Alabama +1 256-350-6969

Next up: Ribs in Atlanta!

Stay tuned for the rest of the smokey meat eating tour of America with Levins right here.

Part 1,  read it here: When Levins did Austin, Texas
Part 2, read it here: When Levins did Lockhart, Texas
Part 3, read it here: When Levins did Spooney’s Bar-B-Que, Mississipi
Part 4, read it here: When Levins did Memphis Tennessee



Orginally posted on You Only Live Once.

I first visited Memphis with my family in 1997. I was 12 and had spent the prior week exploring every part of Disneyworld, so I was immediately disappointed by the lack of Splash Mountains in Memphis, instead trying to get myself excited about visiting Elvis’s house and the Titanic Exhibition inside The Pyramid. It was a dire time for my young mind, and if I had a time machine, I would go back to 1997, find my old self and tell him to chill the heck out, because it was during this visit to Memphis that I would first experience something that I would fall in love with and try to recreate from that day forward – pulled pork.

I wrote about this experience in my book that came out last year, and I’m going to quote myself talking about myself eating BBQ for the first time:

“We spent a week in Memphis, Tennessee, living with family friends Caroline and Tom Starck at their home in Germantown. One night, after a long day spent mourning the King at Gracelands, Tom took Dad and I to a BBQ joint called The Germantown Commissary.

At 12 years old, BBQ to me was the sound of thin beef sausages sizzling until they were burnt black on a cheap gas grill, covered in tomato sauce and wrapped in a slice of wonder white bread, eaten quickly as you watched steaks approach somewhere between ‘well done’ and ‘really well done’ while a big piece of beef roasting away in the rusty old Weber fought fiercely for the title of ‘the most well done’.

My idea of BBQ food at that point was pretty simple and although I still enjoyed it, I wondered why we were about to seek out some burnt snags in Memphis, and wondered even more why Tom was so excited to take us there.
Of course, in Memphis, BBQ is all about huge pieces of meat, cooked for as long as possible at as low heat as possible, for as many people as possible. Whole pork shoulders join massive pieces of beef brisket and Flintstonian ribs in a smoke filled paradise, dripping with sweet and spicy sauce. Heaven on a plate, with a side of beans.

So we get to this spot and the most American lady I’d ever met greets us immediately with a loud ‘what’ll you boys have?’ Instead of ordering the most overcooked steaks Memphis has to offer, he says two words that I’ve never heard together before: ‘pulled pork’.

Ten minutes later we were in Tom’s car, which smelt considerably better than it did before we put three bags full of pulled pork sandwiches inside of it. When we got back to his house Tom spread out the contents of the bags across his dining table and we all took a seat.

Tom showed us how you put together a pulled pork sandwich – first tearing apart a soft white roll, he piled on a big wad of the pork, which was softer than the roll. On top of the pork he spooned on some BBQ sauce, then added some deep brown, sticky BBQ beans and topped the whole thing off with some crunchy green slaw. He put one together for each of us and we ate them in silence.

I was a well behaved 12 year old, but after my first bite I had never wanted to scream HOLY FUCKING SHITBALLS more in my life. I did want seconds though so I kept my mouth shut.

We visited a lot more of America after that dinner but nothing stayed with me more than that meal. Not even when our flight got cancelled and we were put up at The Hilton for a night with a fifty dollar meal voucher each! Eating that pulled pork sandwich is the first memory I have of really loving food, and Dad and I would try to recreate it at least once a year using Dad’s Weber back home.”

Riveting stuff, right? Tell that to my editor, who whittled all this down into three paragraphs and took out all the colourful language like ‘Flintstonian‘ and “holy fucking shitballs‘. At the time I was mad but now I thank her for providing me with the opportunity to type ‘tell that to my editor“.

I hadn’t been back to Memphis since 1997. In the 16 years since, I’ve slow-cooked some thousand pork shoulders and even opened a restaurant that serves pulled pork. I was anxious to head back to the place that kicked off my barbecue obsession, but after a day spent inside Elvis’s House (two visits in two decades! Long live the King!), we find ourselves lining up outside theGermantown Commissary.

Germantown Commissary is much bigger than I remember, and every seat is taken. After a short wait we take our seats and I order the exact same thing I ordered 16 years ago – a pulled pork sandwich with a side of beans.

I didn’t start these posts to write about food I didn’t like so I’ll keep it quick. Our meal wasn’t great. The pork was dry and the sandwich was bland. Maybe it was an off night for the Commissary? Maybe my expectations were too high? Maybe it was as good as the sandwich I had in 1997 and I’ve just eaten better barbecue since then? These questions ate at my brain while I sadly ate my sandwich.

I considered throwing my hands up in despair, shouting that everything I thought I knew was a lie and spending the rest of my life living in the sewer, breeding rats.

Maybe I should feel good about myself – that the pork I was cooking in Australia was better than the pork that had inspired me to cook pork in the first place! I knew one thing for certain – there are a lot of other BBQ joints in Memphis. So we left Germantown Commissary and went to Payne’s BBQ.

Payne’s BBQ is an old family run restaurant, and the exact kind of BBQ joint you should seek out as you travel through The States. It’s not glamourous at all from the outside, and on the inside even less so. An open space with a few tables and chairs to sit at, a counter to order from and a tiny kitchen serving the best pork sandwiches in the city.

As I’ve mentioned in previous BBQ Belt posts, BBQ is different all over America. Especially when in comes to pork. The spices you cook it in, the wood you smoke it with, the cuts of meat you use. Right down to the way you serve it. Most popular is pulled pork – where you take your big chunk of perfectly cooked pork shoulder and pull it apart into soft and smoky pieces – but Payne’s BBQ specialises in chopped pork – chopping the pork into small pieces and serving it on a sandwich. This method makes for a huge difference in texture, you get soft and crunchy pieces of pork on your sandwich, which is served on a soft, warm white roll. There’s your choice of BBQ sauce, made to three levels of heat. I order hot, Bianca orders mild. Both come with a big dollop of incredibly yellow mustard slaw. It’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen.

It’s much easier to describe how something looks than how something tastes. Looking at the photo you get a pretty good idea of how fantastic this sandwich tasted. Just know that it tasted ten times better than that, and that this is the meal I think about returning to more than anything else I ate all trip. Maybe I’ll come back 16 years from now and it’ll be disappointing, and I’ll finally make that move to the sewer.

 Next stop: Chicken in Alabama and Ribs in Atlanta!

Stay tuned for the rest of the smokey meat eating tour of America with Levins right here.

If you missed Part 1, see it here: When Levins did Austin, Texas
If you missed Part 2, see it here: When Levins did Lockhart, Texas
If you missed Part 3, see it here: When Levins did Spooney’s Bar-B-Que, Mississipi 



Originally posted on You Only Live Once.

We did a lot of driving on our honeymoon. In the middle two weeks of our trip we drove a few miles shy of 3000 in our various hire cars. There’s a lot of land in between all the major Southern cities. A lot of corn fields and Subway restrooms. You have the choice of eating at truck-stop Popeye’s (not the worst decision tbh), or seeking out the smaller BBQ spots and eating there. Luckily for me, “my wife” ( – Borat, 2006), sought out the most exciting middle-of-nowhere BBQ joints she could find.

One of these joints was Spooney’s Bar B Que in Greenwood, Mississippi. Bianca found it mentioned on a BBQ website. It doesn’t have Yelp page or anything, all we found was a video interview with Spooney describing his love of cooking, and talking about his past running a restaurant, which he gave up in favour of a BBQ grill setup out the front of his house. It sounded so awesome and simple. We had to go.

So on our last night in New Orleans, the day before we were set to drive to Memphis, Bianca called the number listed for Spooney’s Bar B Que online. After a few rings, it answered, and Bianca was speaking to none other than Spooney himself.

“Hi, are you open for BBQ tomorrow?”
“Are you out the front of my house?”
“No, but I’m hoping to come there tomorrow. Are you open?”
“Hold on, hold on, I’m driving, give me a moment.”

“Now what do you wanna eat?”
“Whatever you’re cooking!”
“Where are you from?”
“Australia! But I’m driving from New Orleans.”
“You’re from Australia? Well you can have whatever you want!”

The conversation continued and I watched Bianca smile more and more as Spooney asked her questions about Australia. He told her about a girl he used to know about called Bianca. He assured her that there would be ribs waiting for us when we got to his place and we went to bed, excited for the long drive to Greenwood.

300 miles later we pulled into Spooney’s small home town (Greenwood has a declining population of 15,000 since 2011) and drove to Pelican Street. Spooney’s house has a shed out the front with a hand painted Spooney’s Bar Be Que sign hanging from the roof and a large old BBQ bellowing smoke next to it. Across the road is another house covered in hand written signs advertising beer prices. Three men sit on plastic chairs on Spooney’s front lawn and welcome us to their street. We introduce ourselves and say that we’re here to see Spooney.

Spooney emerges from his house with cooking utensils and a tea towel. He immediately apologises to us, there was a storm that morning and he wasn’t able to light his BBQ as early as he wanted to. Are we in a hurry? No, that three hour drive to Memphis can wait. We pull up a seat and start talking to Spooney’s other guests on his front lawn, while Spooney tends to the ribs on the BBQ.

We sit on plastic chairs, drinking lemonade and having conversations with people from the neighbourhood on Spooney’s lawn, everyone going out of their way to make us feel welcome. Spooney finds an old outdoor fan in his shed and two of his friends take it apart and rewire it, aiming the loud but cool air straight at Bianca and I. Everybody who drives past pulls their car over and comes to talk to us. Mostly older men, war veterans who are keen to tell us about the history of Pelican St, Greenwood and their love for Spooney and his cooking. We learn that the house across the street with the hand written beer signs is the local nightclub and that the lady who lives there also cooks the side dishes for Spooney’s barbecues at the local markets. Everyone is fascinated as to how a young couple from Australia found their way to Spooney’s Bar Be Que.

During our conversations the smell of smoky meat increases and after two hours Spooney lifts the lid of his BBQ and reveals just two racks of ribs! This whole time he’d only been cooking for Bianca and I! Spooney takes the ribs into his kitchen and returns with two styrofoam boxes for us. Inside are the ribs, covered in Spooney’s own BBQ sauce; and a big dollop of potato salad, made fresh by the lady across the road.

The ribs aren’t as tender as Spooney would like them to be due to the short cooking time but they still taste incredible, with a huge smoky flavour and an awesome tang from Spooney’s BBQ sauce. The mustardy potato salad is delicious and the cold glasses of lemonade just keep coming. At the end of the meal, Spooney finally sits down with us, keen to know what we thought of his cooking, and keener to tell us stories of how he started out cooking and why he prefers serving BBQ out the front of his house for his friends. We promise to write about his spot and send him the photos we took. He writes us a bill and we tip 100%. It’s the first time we’ve ever had someone open up and cook a meal just for us!

Visiting Spooney’s Bar Be Que was a very unique and special experience. I’ve no doubt that there are other small scale BBQ joints all across the South, but if you ever find yourself driving through Mississippi, be sure to give Spooney a call.

Next up: The best pulled pork sandwich of my life in Memphis.

Spooney’s Bar B Que
404 Pelican St, Greenwood, Mississippi. 662-709-1465.

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Stay tuned for the rest of the smokey meat eating tour of America with Levins right here.

If you missed Part 1, see it here: When Levins did Austin, Texas
If you missed Part 2, see it here: When Levins did Lockhart, Texas



Originally posted on You Only Live Once.

Lockhart is a small town some 40 minutes south of Austin, Texas. While its population barely scrapes above 10,000, it actually contains three of the most famous BBQ joints in Texas, and was even proclaimed The Barbecue Capital of Texas by the Texas Legislature. So that’s why my wife, sister and I found ourselves haulin’ ass down Highway 183 on a Tuesday evening.

We had first heard of Lockhart while watching a short lived TV series we became addicted to –Food Wars, a show which, for each episode, would travel to a different part of America and pitted two rival restaurants who served the same cuisine against each other, resulting in a blind taste test to decide who served better food. In the Lockhart episode, they pit the two most famous of Lockhart’s BBQ joints, Kreuz Market and Smitty’s Market, against each other to decide who served the better Texas BBQ. This rivalry was far more intense than the other episodes of Food Wars because it involved the falling out of a brother and sister, who used to run Kreuz Market together. They parted ways in 1999, with the brother keeping the name and moving Kreuz Market to a new, bigger location; while the sister renamed the 100 year old Kreuz site to Smitty’s Market and the siblings have been in a smokey barbecue war ever since.

Kruez Market619 N Colorado St Lockhart, TX +1 512-398-2361
Kreuz Market came home with the glory in that Food Wars episode, with their brisket and sausage declared more delicious by the local judges. It’s the first BBQ joint you go past on your way into Lockhart. It’s huge – the carpark could fit well over 100 cars. Inside is like a BBQ museum, as you walk past hundred year old kitchen artifacts from Kreuz’ history on your way to the counter. The BBQ pit – where all the meat is smoked on low heat for hours and hours – is on display for all to see. You order your meat, they pull a huge smouldering piece of animal from the pit, slice some off for you, weigh it and plonk it onto some brown paper. You take your tray of meat to the next room, add some slices of bread, saltine crackers and a pickle and take your seat in the dining hall. As we entered there was a sign saying “Vegetarians Enter Here”, which leads directly into the dining hall, excluding the less carnivorous minded from the bloodthirsty horror of the pit.

The stars of Kreuz’s meaty lineup are their pork ribs. The brisket is pretty good, and the sausage is fantastic, fatty and peppery, but those ribs are smoked to perfection, looking as good as they taste with a nice red ring around the meat and the amazing balance of chew versus fall off the bone tenderness. Good stuff. Here’s as good a place as any to profess my love for saltine crackers as well, which should be served on the side of every meal, even if your meal is just a packet of saltines. Kreuz Market gets two thumbs up!

Smitty’s208 S Commerce St, Lockhart, TX +1 (512) 398-9344 
Because of their rivalry, for many years it was always about Kreuz and Smitty’s in Lockhart. However in recent years, Smitty’s Market has received bad reviews from BBQ judges all over Texas – with the 113 year old restaurant not even making the cut in Texas Monthly’s Top 50! So when we realised that Smitty’s Market closes early and we wouldn’t be able to eat there, we weren’t too upset – it was enough just to head over to the site and have a gander at the outside of Smitty’s Market though, marvelling at their smokestack and impressive display of wood – ready to fuel the week’s barbecue.

Blacks215 N Main St, Lockhart, TX +1 512-398-2712
Around the corner from Smitty’s is the underdog, Black’s BBQ, a comparatively small and unassuming bar and bbq joint. This place is famous for their beef brisket, which is all that we order – one pound for each of us – with a pickle and a cornbread muffin on the side. Black’s is the only place we’ve been to so far in Texas that seems to take pride in their sauce, offering a wide selection of home made BBQ sauces, some sweet, others spicy.

Their brisket is glorious. The fatty side is fall apart tender and the lean side isn’t dry at all. What’s wild about Black’s is the way they cook – cooking their meat for 8 hours, then foiling it up, refrigerating it overnight and cooking it for a further 8 hours before serving it the next day. This method is unique, and the staff are probably grateful for the less intense hours!

We leave Lockhart happy and full of meat. It could be argued that if you only have a few days in Austin there’s more than enough incredible barbecue joints to check out before wandering off to any neighbouring towns, but the rich history of BBQ in Lockhart is definitely worth a visit.

Next up: Mississippi!

Stay tuned for the rest of the smokey meat eating tour of America with Levins right here.

If you missed it, see part 1 when Levins did Austin, Texas


Originally posted at You Only Live Once.

Earlier this year my wife Bianca and I embarked on the Honeymoon of our dreams, driving through the Southern states of America, eating as much food as we could. We found out that Bianca was pregnant just before we left Australia, so luckily Bianca was eating for two – while I ate for at least five.

Throughout our trip we ate a tonne of Tex Mex, Cajun, soul food, all things grilled, fried and most importantly: smoked. For it was our desire for Barbecue that took us to Texas, then to Mississippi, Memphis, and North Carolina, to sample their finest slow smoked meats. Australia views itself as a BBQ nation, simply because we know how to burn a dozen Coles sausages and wrap them in saucy bread. But Barbecue in the States is so much more advanced, with every state we visited holding tightly to what their interpretation of BBQ is, never backing down from the belief that their way is the absolute best, with the assured cockiness usually reserved for only the richest of rappers.

I’ll be writing about our smoky adventures for the next few weeks, starting in Texas and making my way north. This is not so much a guide to best BBQ that America has to offer – I’d have to spend years eating my way through the South to claim any authority on the subject, and what a horrible experience that would be. Consider this a sampler plate – a beginners introduction to some incredible places to eat in the South. Please tie a bib around your neck and we’ll begin.

Austin, Texas

We fly into Austin from Phoenix – where it had been a dry and murderous 46 degrees celcius. Austin is good 8 degrees cooler. Maybe we should’ve packed thermal underwear. Staring at us from a stand at the airport is something that would become somewhat of a bible during our time in Texas – the latest issue of Texas Monthly, which boasts ‘The 50 Best BBQ Joints In The World‘ on the front cover. Inside is a hilarious editorial which claims that Texas style BBQ is the only BBQ worth a damn in America, therefore the 50 best BBQ joints in Texas are the best BBQ joints in THE WORLD. The balls on this magazine! Following the editorial is a tight list of Texas’s finest ‘cue, put together by a secret society of greasy reviewers – and at the top of this list is Franklin Barbecue.

Franklin BBQ900 E 11th St, Austin, TX +1 512-653-1187

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It’s 8:30 in the morning and we are dropping my sister Emily off to get a spot in what is soon to be a ginormous line out the front of Franklin Barbecue in Austin. She runs out of the car, secures a place about ten people from the front of the line, and we drive off to get tacos for breakfast. When we return with a bag of Veracruz All Natural at 9am, there’s about 50 people behind Emily and two hours to go before Franklin opens it’s doors. The sun scorches everyone in line and we consider paying five bucks from the evil vendors renting out chairs.

The line is about 250 people deep by the time Franklin opens at 11am. The people at the end of the line may not even get any food as Franklin closes as soon as the meat runs out! Thankfully we’re the 4th group served, and since we left our restraint in Sydney, we order too much of evey single item on the menu, and a t-shirt. The friendly staff pile the glorious meat onto brown paper and tuck the tiny serves of slaw, beans and potato salad on the side, cowering beneath the huge serves of beef brisket, ribs, pulled pork, sausage and turkey. We get a few bottles of my favourite new drink as well – Topo Chico Mineral Water, and a cold mug of the beer brewed specially for Franklin.

The meat here is cooked to perfection. The staff start cooking at 2am each morning and every hour of smoke is evident in the beautiful smoke lines in the meat – especially the ribs. The beef brisket, the piece of meat that all Texans use to judge good ‘cue is out of this world tender, fatty and juicy. All the meat at Franklin is all kinds of adjectives that people use when they write about food on the internet. Some of the adjectives are in capitals, some of them are even bold and underlined, it’s that good.

One of the defining factors of Texas BBQ is that the meat is the star. Only the meat though. Texans rarely take pride in their sauce like other states do, and they only ingredients in the rub the apply to the meat is salt and pepper. In this hilariously condescending article from Texas Monthly, ‘Why Beef Brisket Is The Apex Of Smoked Meat, the writer bemoans any other meat besides beef, saying that “anybody with half a brain a cook pork” that’s “hacked to pieces and slathered with sauce”, slaw and a bun. Here’s the thing though – I love pork, I love sauce and slaw, and more than anything, I love vinegar with my BBQ. So while this meat is without a doubt perfectly cooked, and as good as Texas BBQ gets, I realise that Texas BBQ isn’t my kind of BBQ. Thankfully this is just the beginning of our BBQ pilgrimage, and there are so many more kinds of BBQ to be eaten.

These adventures will continue each week on You Only Live Once!