Right now most of you aren’t reading this wanting to know what I thought of the food at Pig-N-Out. You’re wanting to know why I haven’t posted since early spring (for those of you who want to know just how long ago that was, just click this sentence for a blast from the past). What can I say? I’ve been busy, lazy and I just didn’t have the time I needed to do quality work. But those days are over. I’m back now and I’m ready to eat & write once again. Bobby D. is back baby and he’s ready to rock! So those of you who are wiling to give me another chance, here’s your reward:
LET’S DO THIS!
I had literally driven passed Pig-N-Out, on Winchester Rd on the outskirts of Huntsville, hundreds of times . I’d been told dozens of times by different friends and coworkers that the food was legit & shockingly good. It wasn’t that I doubted them, but there was a huge elephant in the room that was keeping me from pulling the trigger and going in. That elephant was the fact that Pig-N-Out is attached to a gas station.
Here’s where most would do backflips on how shocked they were that quality food could be present in a gas station. But that ain’t me & I’m not about to go that route. This isn’t even the first restaurant/gas station post I’ve done and I’m sure it’s not even close to the last. However, the gap between good & bad gas station is so HUGE that I can’t not speak at least a little on the subject when it arises. The difference is so great that any time this combo is present, it is worth mentioning if only to not catch any of you off guard who drive out to try the food. But that is the last I’ll say on the situation.
Korean food in a Southern BBQ Restaurant?!
As I mentioned before, I’d driven by the place hundreds of times before stopping in. I’d seen the tale-tell “BBQ” word plastered on the sign & building and I was fairly confident that I tell you what was on the menu before I even put my car in park. And like so many times before, I was wrong!
Because in the midst of the classic BBQ menu was a small section labeled “Korean Menu”. Now up until this point I thought I knew what was up. In my mind there was a BBQ plate, BBQ sandwich, maybe some ribs and the always present loaded baked potato. But I wasn’t ready for the likes of a whole other genre of food to slip in under the radar and establish itself next to the macaroni & cheese! I had to have it, I had to know just how good Korean food was gonna be in a place that was bursting at the seams with the sites, sounds and smells of Southern BBQ. Now don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a separate elaborate menu with everything from kimbap to banchan, it was only a couple of items. Mostly Bulgogi, which is basically a really good version of pepper steak and there was a spicy pork dish. Each were served over rice, which I assume is steamed fairly often judging by the large rice cooker I saw being utilized in the kitchen. So along with BBQ I decided on a plate of bulgogi. I wasn’t sure how I was gonna fit all of that food in my stomach but I was more than willing to accept the challenge.
When I had pictured the Korean dish in my head I had scenes of steaming metal platters, plates of kimchi stacked all around and the sounds of a loud clanging kitchen in the background. That’s not exactly what you get here. The heaping pile of rice and beef are brought out on a styrofoam plate. This isn’t exactly a deal breaker, but it did bring me back down to earth awfully quick. And if you’d looked closely in my eyes you would have seen the disappointment of not having any chopsticks. With complaints like that you’re probably thinking that I’m some kind of yuppy that doesn’t deserve to be in a BBQ place in the first place. And you’d only be slightly correct with that assumption, but to my defense I had pretty much just stumbled upon a Korean joint that I didn’t even know was there so I forgive me if I wasn’t thinking clearly.
How’s it taste you ask?
My main concern with the taste of this surprise asian delight was freshness. I didn’t put a lot of stock in the idea that patrons of a place called “PIG-N-OUT” would do a lot impulse buying of a dish called bulgogi. So I assumed that I might have just ordered a plate of glorified left overs. Thankfully that wasn’t the case. There was evidence that it might not have been made “to order” but that’s not a huge deal since dishes like this are made in batches a lot of the time. But just going by the tenderness and flavor I’d say this dish wasn’t very old at all, probably only an hour or two if that much. And I mentioned before that I could see the large rice cooker in the kitchen and it appeared to be being used quite frequently. Well the rice on my plate proved it. It was hot, moist and perfect for a good set of chopsticks. Did I mention that I didn’t get any chopsticks? Anyway, what I’m getting at here is that it had yet to turn into the spackle/paste that rice tends to morph into over a period of time.
Now the Chinese version of bulgogi is usually referred to as pepper steak. With that you usually get some thin sliced skirt steak that’s been cooked or glazed in some manner with teryaki or other similarly flavored sauce. It’s usually full of grizzle and it’s not very tender and most of the time requires the assistance of a knife in order to eat it in an orderly fashion. Like most bulgogi, this dish isn’t like that. This was tender, not chewy and had a great conservative teriyaki like flavor that you could tell hadn’t been frozen and reheated. And I feel like I’ve eaten enough leftovers to know that a flavor like that is not always better the next day. There was a little heat to it too. However, I actually could’ve used a little more. But I eat crushed red pepper flakes & hot sauce on everything but vanilla ice cream, so what do I know?
I’ll move on to the BBQ portion, but not after I finish with this: I’d compare the quality of the Korean food at Pig-N-Out to good Chinese takeout. It’s not something you’d take someone to eat on a first date but it’s not bar or greasy spoon quality either. And after talking with the owner while I ate, I can tell they put a lot of care into preparing it.
NOW FOR THE MAIN EVENT: The BBQ at PIG-N-OUT
Everyone reading this is going to have a hard time believing this. But I’m going to have a significantly less to say about the BBQ here than the Korean food. This isn’t because I like BBQ less. Oh, no no no no no… it’s quite the opposite. BBQ wins in that battle every time. And I’m assuming that’s the case for most Alabamians and residents of The South. It’s just that I know a lot more about BBQ and I’m probably not mistaken in thinking most of my readers do as well. We know what we like, what we hate and why we like or hate it. For instance if you’re boiling a pork roast and then putting store-bought sauce on it I’m probably not gonna be nice about it and I’ll probably say something like “Hey, McDonalds called & wants their McRib back.” Plus I don’t have to go into detail about the history or how it’s made. I’ve just gotta tell you how it is at this particular location and you’ll be like, yeah, that’s my style. So here it goes:
Now other than taste and quality one of things I always try to find out at a BBQ joint is where and how often they smoke their meat. Most do their thang out back and the parking lot usually has the tell-tale smokey essence that I’d wear as a cologne if it were socially acceptable. Larger BBQ “chains” might smoke their meat at a central location and ship it out to their different branches and I guess that’s OK. THANKFULLY, Pig-N-Out smokes theirs right out back in a big smoker and they do it once a week. Also, their parking lot has that lovely smokey smell I hoped would be there, so they pass that test with flying colors. After getting that issue out-of-the-way I was ready to move on to their Q.
The menu here is rather expansive when it comes to their BBQ products which isn’t a bad thing. It means I get to go back and try more and write about their other items. But for this trip, a nice BBQ plate did the job. There was plenty meat on the plate for me to get a good grasp of just what I was working with.
The pork is pulled. Which in my opinion is the best way to serve BBQ. When it’s served sliced I usually question the validity of the BBQ shack. And when someone I’m with orders it sliced I always wonder when they flew in from New England. It’s also very moist & tender. And not that kind of moist & tender where it’s boiled after being smoked to make the meat softer. There was no gathering pools of liquid in the plate, nope, this pork was smoked and kept moist by someone who knew what they were doing. It’s also not served with sauce on it. This is getting more and more hard to find. A lot of places smother the great flavor of smoked pork with their rendition of “ketchup meets pancake syrup”. I’m not fond of this method and you shouldn’t be either.
No Sauce at all?
Yes, there’s sauce. Actually there’s a few different varieties available and they are all made right there in the store.
#1 Regular BBQ Sauce: You know, the kind that’s either tomato based or molasses based or both. The kind served at Pig-N-Out is sweet with spiciness added. There was nothing overly special about it. There wasn’t much difference between it and a lot of the other house made sauces you’ll get at any fill in the blank BBQ shop.
#2 Vinegar Based BBQ Sauce: This is probably my favorite kind of BBQ sauce. My family always makes this version when they smoke meat and I’ve even got a little recipe for my own version. Pig-N-Out’s version is simple, but does the trick. I love how the vinegar and spices compliment the pork when you pour in on. And a little dab will do you when it comes to vinegar sauce. It’s just a little thicker than water, so it’ll run all over the place if you get too wild with it.
#3 White Sauce: What can I say about white sauce other than it’s one of the most divisive elements of Southern BBQ. Not all places have it and not everyone is a fan. Some love it on everything they can squirt it on and some people can’t even stand the smell. It’s also a type of sauce that can go horribly wrong by a chef that doesn’t know what they’re doing. Good white sauce goes well on everything. But bad white sauce is little more than a watered down spicy mayonaise. I’d describe the Pig-N-Out version as ranch dressing with a kick. It was really good on the pork and I even ran a few bites of the bulgogi through and it passed the test as well.
WRAP IT UP!
That’ll about do it for my Pig-N-Out fun. I’m going to make a part II to this post for sure. It’ll probably be just about ribs, because I love me some ribs. But in conclusion, I’ll ask this: Should you go to Pig-N-Out? If you’re interested in trying new & great BBQ in the Huntsville area, your answer is YES. If you’re taking your best girl out on a date for the first time and wanna show her a fancy time on the town, you might want to consider other options. But if she can’t appreciate good BBQ and not be all judgy-judgerton about the Texaco sign, you might want to rethink your future with her anyway. I’m just saying…….
Until next time.