I am sure you all feel the same way I do when someone mentions Mississippi Barbecue… That feeling of slight confusion, mixed with that “did I miss part of the conversation?” feeling. It just doesn’t have that Carolina/Texas/KC/Memphis vibe. Albeit for good reason. I put it on par with Louisiana-style Barbecue.
The strange thing is, the Mississippi Gulf Coast does seem to have a unique identity – and it is a sauce style. They do not appear to have an allegiance to any particular meat, just the usual pork, beef, chicken, and occasional smoked sausage. Most of the smoke they rolled was hickory, and the meats were cooked well to varying degrees at the four joints we stopped in.
Overall, no one appears to believe in doing anything to prep the meat. No dry rub, no mop, no real seasoning to speak of. Another generalization is that they cook the crap out of their ribs. While “fall off the bone good” sounds great, it is overly over cooked. Believe it or not, ribs taste better when you can pick them up and eat them on the bone. Anyway, I’ll save you the diatribe – just trust me that a couple places went too far.
Off to the sauce – Mississippi Style!
The sauce is a tomato-based barbecue sauce, and most of them had a heavy sweet aspect – Pleasant’s Barbecue in Pass Christian had a nice molasses bite. A number of them also had a heavy tomato flavor. With this profile, it is definitely distinct from any other region of ‘cue I’ve tried. Being a huge fan of bringing out and enhancing the flavors in the meat, I am a bit biased against sauces (like these) that cover up the (sadly unseasoned) meat.
Time for the rundown on some of the stops…
Stop Number One: Pleasant’s Barbecue in Pass Christian
We hit this little joint for a late lunch on a Saturday, and it marked the official start of the 2013 Mississippi Barbecue Run! Located right in downtown, the neat little barbecue shack is easy to spot. Walked right in and ordered a sampling of Brisket, Ribs, and Pulled Pork. The Brisket wasn’t half bad, as expected outside of Texas. The pulled pork was a mix of pork and the Mississippi-style sauce – which, once again, I do not find very appealing. The ribs were cooked well, a touch overdone, with a nice smokey char to them. After smoking and before serving, they are basted and put on the grill for a few minutes to caramelize the sauce. The sauce worked well with the ribs, and I would give them a thumbs up. I would definitely hit this spot again, but only for the ribs.
Stop Number Two: The Shed Barbecue in Ocean Springs
Ever had one of those experiences you have been looking forward to for years? One of those spots you plan a trip to visit? Well, that was the Shed for me. Now, mission accomplished and all, I must report my level of fulfillment is exceptionally low. On my journey of barbecue snobbery, I’ve outgrown what was once held high – all-you-can-eat riblets at Applebees (20 years ago), making ribs in the oven (also 20 years ago), Corky’s (10 years ago), and now the Shed. To be fair the barbecue was decent, but not worth the drive. We sprung for the sampler, which was A LOT of food – brisket, ribs, pulled pork, chicken, chicken wings, and probably a few more animals. We went for the mac salad, coleslaw, and mac n’ cheese. The sides were tasty, and the mac n’ cheese was in the vein of glorious Kraft variety. The brisket was nondescript, as well as the pulled pork. The ribs fell apart on the plater, so they were cooked to death. The chicken was okay, but not very smokey or flavorful. Given my desire to hit the Shed, it was solidly a disillusioning disappointment. I would roll back for a second try, if it wasn’t out of the way by more than a mile.
Stop Number Three: Mother Kluckers in Gulfport
The next day brought a wander all over the Mississippi Coast, and a theme started to develop – Gs Station Barbecue. This place was attached to a slick gas station on the beach, and it even had a pit sitting out front! They specialize in barbecue and fried chicken – what could possibly go wrong? Once again, the sampler was summoned! The ribs were over cooked Shed-style, and not very well seasoned. The regional sauce returned with a vengeance here, with a powerful molasses flavor and other sweetness to mask the flavorless meat. Sadly the fried chicken was also a devoid of seasoning. This joint is on a saltwater beach – dipping this stuff in the Gulf could only help. I would probably say this is a good joint to skip.
Stop Number Four: Seal’s Marketplace in Kiln
Tied for Best Barbecue in Mississippi with my sentimental favorite (Louise’s Barbecue, which in about five miles from this place). This is a straight-up gas station with a convenience store. No separate restaurant, ain’t got nothing fancy here. This is literally in the middle of nothing about ten minutes from Nowheresville. The barbecue was shrink wrapped and under a heat lamp – a cute package of chicken, pork loin (this can be tossed out), ribs, and smoked sausage. The chicken was amazing – the skin was crisp and bite-thru friendly. The ribs were cooked right, with a little tug needed to pull them off the bone. The sausage was the best outside of Lockhart, Texas. Sadly, scheduling prevented partaking in the brisket – which is ready everyday at six o’clock. I will return to tasty this brisket, if the other ‘cue is any indication. I am more excited about this gas station ‘cue joint than I am about the Mississippi Barbecue Institution of the Shed.
Overall it was a good weekend trip. A word of advice – start on a Friday and hit the scene hard on Saturday. Most of the joints we hit were closed on Sunday – and by most, I mean more than ten joints that we closed for a day of rest. All this means is that another Mississippi Barbecue Tour will be in the works!
My favorite ‘cue joint in Mississippi is open again – the wondrous Louise’s Barbecue outside of Picayune (closer to Kiln). They deserve, and will get, their our special writeup. Speaking of which, the Texas Barbecue Road Trip will hopefully be the next writeup to come. Stay tuned, and I promise to ramble on a bit more often…