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Slows Bar-B-Q: A Barbecue Revolution in Detroit

Slows Bar-B-Q: A Barbecue Revolution in Detroit

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Dan Myers

Slows serves one heck of a pulled pork sandwich.

Barbecue might not be the first thing you think of when you’re in Detroit, but it should be. Locations are opening soon in Grand Rapids and Pontiac.

The first thing you notice after walking into the stylish restaurant is the huge bar, which winds its way through the entire room. You might as well just grab a seat there, because you’ll want to work your way through the restaurant’s insanely extensive beer menu, which highlights lots of craft beers, including plenty of local and seasonal microbrews. Seriously, this may be the best beer menu in the city.

Baby back ribs, St. Louis spare ribs, brisket, pulled pork, smoked chicken and turkey, and smoked garlic pork sausage are the primary meats, all of which are hormone-free and raised humanely on family-owned farms. They’re smoky and delicious on their own, but we suggest you try them tucked into one of their stellar sandwiches, available with Zingerman’s toast or a poppy seed roll. The Yardbird (smoked pulled chicken mixed with mushrooms and cheese and topped with bacon), Triple Threat Pork (bacon, pulled pork, and ham), and the Longhorn (beef brisket with onion marmalade, smoked Gouda, and special sauce) will forever haunt your dreams. But don’t miss out on the sides; the macaroni and cheese in particular is outrageously delicious.

Slow's BBQ - Detroit (long)

In the interest of getting more about Detroit on here, here is the first of what are hopefully many reviews of local places.

I’ve been looking for good bar-b-que since I left Memphis nearly 10 years ago. I’ve found lots of places to eat, but few places that do it well. Most is edible, but little makes me want to go back again. I guess most people haven’t been to a real BBQ place and are happy to make Famous Dave’s successful and many other small places too. I’d heard about Slow’s online and convinced my wife it would be a good trip to make. It was about 30-35 minutes from our house, and my first time driving the route.

First Impressions: My first time in the old Tiger Stadium area, and while it looked a little run-down it definitely wasn’t what people had led me to believe. I wish that place were still open, I keep hearing about seeing a ballgame there. They offer valet parking (at $7), but we parked across 14th Street in an empty lot. Our car was still there when we left.

You walk into Slow’s through a big wooden door that doesn’t give much of an idea of what to expect. We walked into a modern looking place, light wood everywhere and a very inviting bar. We left our names and were told there would be about a 45 minute wait. I thought, no problem, they have a huge list of bourbons and beers that I want to taste.

We ordered 2 drinks, one Booker’s that was a great pour and more than I expected and a Capitan/Diet. Booker's is pretty smooth for what it is, but still has a nice bite and flavor, moreso than Baker's. Not an everyday Bourbon, but a perfect drink. Soon after we found seats at the bar and decided to order an appetizer.

BBQ Wings: 4 good sized real wings that were covered in spices and had a great smoky taste to them. They had been finished on the grill to give them a good char and that grilled flavor. It was a good sized appetizer, probably comparable to 10 wings in another bar, and it let us taste the sauces for the first time. My wife preferred the Spicy Sauce, I liked the Spicy+Sweet combination with the Wings. The mustard sauce was good, but not for the wings, same with the Apple BBQ.

After the appetizer, we decided that we might as well eat at the bar since we were comfortable. My wife as ordered a Martini, which she said was very well made. (More on Martini’s later about other places)

Another side note: Chairs with backs are great for actually sitting at the bar and eating. These barstools were great.

Texas Style Beef Brisket: I’ve always found brisket to be incredibly difficult to do. I’m always disappointed in how it comes out and usually need to cover it in sauce to make it edible. This was not the case at Slow’s. The meat was tender and smoky, and didn’t need any sauce to be good. It was even better with a bit of sauce and as leftovers the next day. The size of the portion was great, probably nearly a pound of meat on the plate. I thought the sweet sauce went really well with this and the mustard sauce also. The spicy was a bit much for the brisket.

Chicken Strut: My wife was convinced by the Wings to order the chicken, and was not disappointed. It was different from the wings, but still very good. It had a great smoky flavor and went really well with all of the sauces. The meat was flavorful and still juicy, really a perfectly done bird. It was a big half-chicken, and we still only had a little bit left to take home.

Mac-n-Cheese: Great side dish, very creamy and heavy, but with good flavor and comes in a nice baked style. Crispy top, clearly something that is at least finished to order.
Beans: overly sweet to me, although some people really like the brown sugar, I prefer less.
Waffle Fries: very crispy fries and had good flavor, not really hot, but that didn’t matter as we finished them
Cornbread: good cornbread, a nice sized slice, but nothing exceptional with it

Overall, a great experience in Detroit. If you’re looking for good bar-b-que, as I know many people are, this place is worth the trip. Still more bourbons and beers left on the list for me to taste, and with that BBQ, I know that I’ll be back for more.

A Taste of Detroit’s Future

“This is always how he’s been — he just has an aura about him that attracts people,” said Kevin Griffin, a friend from DePaul University in Chicago, where Mr. Cooley briefly attended business school.

Not all of Mr. Cooley’s projects are successful. Mercury Bar, a high-style neon-accented place that he opened with eight partners across the street from Slows in 2008, closed less than half a year later. Mr. Cooley blamed high prices and mismanagement by some of his partners. Others chalked it up to a misunderstanding of the marketplace it was simply too slick for Detroit. But Mr. Cooley did not give up on espresso: he leased another space he owns to Mercury’s head barista to build another coffee bar, the kind of risk that traditional landlords might not take.

“Lenders are very reluctant to lend anybody money for anything in downtown Detroit because it’s still viewed as a gamble,” said Dave Kwiatkowski, an owner of Detroit Bros. Custom Cycles, a motorcycle shop in suburban Ferndale. Mr. Kwiatkowski is set to open the Sugar House, a classic cocktail bar, in the building next to Slows. He and his wife plan to move into an apartment upstairs, à la Mr. Cooley. The rest of the block is also a Cooley corridor: Ryan Cooley’s real estate agency is next door to Slows, and the family and their partners own two more buildings, which they plan to turn into lofts, art spaces, a pop-up shop or business incubator and, eventually, another restaurant.

As Slows grew, the food scene in Detroit expanded around it. Gourmet Underground, started in the spring, quickly grew to over 100 members they get together regularly for events like Bloody Mary-and-bacon tastings. An artisanal butcher has cropped up, and D.I.Y. projects like the Detroit Zymology Guild, a weekly canning session held in the back of an art gallery, thrive alongside food trucks and backyard organic farmers. An Iron Chef, Michael Symon, even has a presence, at Roast, a restaurant popular with locals and tourists in a luxury hotel downtown. And, in the surest sign of success, several new barbecue restaurants have recently opened in the city.

Though he is occasionally called the Prince of Detroit, Mr. Cooley still describes things as “fancy pants,” dresses in torn T-shirts, and is quick to rail against chain stores, mass development and other symbols of late-stage gentrification. He plays in a summer soccer league and organizes an underground restaurant, ClandesDine, a secretive, invitation-only affair where meals are served in abandoned buildings.

His boosterism was evident on a recent Sunday, when Slows celebrated its fifth anniversary in Roosevelt Park, in front of the train station. More than 2,000 people showed up on a chilly, rainy day for microbrews, $5 plates of Niman Ranch pork sliders and mac and cheese. On the lawn, 128 teams competed at cornhole, a Midwestern beanbag-toss game. The whole thing was a benefit for the park, another of Mr. Cooley’s projects. He hopes to open a skate park there — a visible notch of coolness.

Dressed in a blue blazer and an ascot, he played on a cornhole team alongside his father and brother, losing in the semifinals. “You have to dedicate a lot of time to it,” he said, sitting at the bar at Slows the day after. “And also not drink.” Moments later he was deep in conversation with the suburban stranger sitting next to him, and moments after that the guy had volunteered to help build the skate park.

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These are the 10 best BBQ restaurants in Michigan

. Not only has the sheer number of places serving up great ɼue increased, the quality of the food being created has also stepped up to a new level. Michigan barbecue has arrived, and it is good.

We were amazed to receive over 200 nominations for barbecue joints from across the state this time.

garnered about 40 places, and we are pretty sure that was every single barbecue spot in Michigan.

Places on our recent list ranged from sit-down, full-service restaurants, to carry-out joints, food trucks and even a few mobile cooking spots. Some of the nominees focus solely on barbecue, while others have barbecue as part of their menu. Through our regional polls that our readers voted in, we narrowed our list to 11 poll winners. We then added 29 other spots to check out on our journey.

Over three weeks, we ate barbecue at 40 different places all over Michigan.

Barbecue is a cooking style that is laced with history, tradition and passion. Here in Michigan, it might not have quite as long a history as other regions. But this actually is kind of cool, because it has allowed our pitmasters to create our own barbecue story. In fact, we heard from many of them that we have our very own style of barbecue that is unique to America: Michigan style.

What sets our barbecue apart, we learned, is the great variety of wood we have in Michigan. The abundance of fruit woods, like apple and cherry from our plentiful orchards, have found their way into smokers across the state. These woods create a distinct flavor in the meat, and one that you won't find in other regions. While many places might have traditional offerings on their menus, like Texas brisket, or North Carolina mustard sauce, it is the interaction of our Michigan wood with the meat that makes barbecue here unique.

Chicken wings and sauces rotate in the smoker at Lockhart's BBQ in Royal Oak. Tanya Moutzalias

Barbecue is always first and foremost about the meat, and the magical transformation that happens when smoke is introduced. When you find truly great barbecue, sauce is an afterthought, and used more as a condiment on the side. Low and slow cooking, in a carefully monitored smoker, is the name of the game.

There is great debate in the barbecue world about the type of smoker that makes you "authentic." Some pitmasters believe you must use all wood, with no other help. Others use smokers that are a hybrid of wood and gas, that they believe give them a more consistent product. We even came across a few pellet smokers that have an automatic feed. Each type produces a different type of smoke, and finished product.

The quality of the meat is just as important, and the best places buy the best meat. Many have long-term relationships with their suppliers so they can get the custom cuts they love on a regular basis.

The spread at Johnny V's Smokehouse in Corunna. Kaiti Sullivan |

In addition to the many, many meats on the menu, a great barbecue joint doesn't skimp on the sides. These are just as important as any of the proteins, and we were impressed to hear that the majority of restaurants were making everything from scratch. We mean everything, from homemade sauces to pit beans, mac and cheese, collards, cornbread and even the pickles. Impressive.

We also loved finding places that were trying new things on their menus. Smoked corned beef, Jamaican jerk chicken, a BBQ sundae, pitmaster nachos, creative sandwiches, and pork belly french toast all came across our plates this search.

Cory and Tarra Davis from Daddy Pete's BBQ food truck in Grand Rapids. Cory Morse |

And while all the food that we tried truly was delicious, the most impressive thing we found was the incredible passion that people have for barbecue. The owners and chefs at these places live, breathe, eat and dream barbecue. They think nothing of staying up all night to tend to the pit, or of loading the smoker up with a thousand pounds of meat day after day. They strive to achieve that perfect smoke ring every time, to get the perfect lacquer on their chicken wings, and to make lip-smacking ribs that are tender yet still hold their shape. Running a barbecue joint is not easy. It is a labor of true love.

Our Top 10 could easily have been a Top 20, we truly were that excited about what we found all around Michigan. The quality of the food is matched with the incredible hospitality that these places offer. The owners not only want you to have a great meal, they truly want you to have the best time.

We thank each and every one of the restaurants that we visited, from the owners, to the staff, to the most important people in the kitchen, the dishwashers. Your passion is infectious, and is bringing acclaim to Michigan barbecue. Keep up the great work.

Here are our picks for Michigan's Best barbecue, including a few special awards.

Amy Sherman |

One to Watch

Amy Sherman |

One to Watch-Curious Pig

The newest barbecue joint on our search, Curious Pig, opened in March 2018. Owners Scion and Pam Petrich got into barbecue about a year ago, and drove from the U.P. down to Kentucky to pick up a smoker. Then, they taught themselves how to barbecue.

"We wanted people to come here for the whole experience and get swept away to somewhere else," Pam Petrich explained.

Professional service, a fun atmosphere, blues music and delicious barbecue combine to create a unique experience in this neck of the woods. No liquor license here, instead enjoy some lovely and refreshing mocktails, like the "Orange Blossom Stinger," with citrus, mango, carrot and a splash of ginger beer.

Amy Sherman |

One to Watch-Curious Pig

Get a platter of meat to try a little bit of everything. The rub on the chicken is fantastic, and smoked turkey is juicy from its six-hour marinade. House-made sausage has a cajun kick. The pit beans have color and texture from the use of four different kinds of beans, and are savory and smokey.

Sandwiches are creative combos that come loaded with toppings. The turkey gets bacon and both pimento cheese and basil pesto for an inspired combo.

It was a big leap for the couple to embark on the journey of restaurant ownership, but from what we tasted, we think they are going to do just great. Curious Pig is a barbecue joint to watch.

The hard working crew at the Curious Pig in Crystal Falls. Amy Sherman |

A meat platter from the Grilling Company. Cory Morse |

Best Grab and Go Barbecue

These two Grand Rapids area smokers are both top-notch joints, providing excellent barbecue in the take-out form. While Pit Stop does have a couple of picnic tables outside, The Grilling Company has none.

Don't let this deter you, however. Each place is well worth a visit.

The spread at Pit Stop Catering in Grand Rapids. Amy Sherman |

Best Grab and Go Barbecue-Pit Stop Catering

Pit Stop is no stranger to Michigan's Best searches, having been featured on the original

Owners Matt and Sue Smith started cooking for friends and family years ago, and finally decided to make it official in 2012. Their cozy little spot has become so popular over the years that they usually run out of everything by the afternoon of the two days (Thursday and Friday) that they are open.

Gumbolaya from Pit Stop Catering in Grand Rapids. Amy Sherman |

Best Grab and Go-Pit Stop Catering

In addition to their standard fare, which is anything but, they are known for all the crazy, creative specials that they run every week. The whole staff contributes ideas for specials.

"Micknuggets" are burnished little chunks of double smoked corned beef. "Wolfpack Tots" feature potatoes mixed with pulled pork, hatch chile peppers and cheese. "Gumbolaya" was on tap the day we visited. It was spicy, smokey, and loaded with everything from smoked sausage to gator nuggets. Totally delicious.

Brisket from Pit Stop Catering. Amy Sherman |

Best Grab and Go-Pit Stop Catering

The regular offerings are pretty special at Pit Stop as well.

Pulled pork is tasty on its own, but add a green chile sauce and cilantro cream sauce, wrap it up and call it the "Green Menace Wrap" and it's even better. Ribs have a great chew, and tangy flavor from a dab of sauce put on at the end. Brisket isn't cooked competition style, instead it's fall-apart tender, which is just fine with us, and with their customers. Matt Smith explained, "We cook it this way on purpose. This is how people like it here."

All the sides created by Sue Smith are lovely, from the creamy mac and cheese to the classic pit beans. She also kicks out some first-rate desserts that change every week.

The crew at Pit Stop Catering are ready to serve you Thursdays and Fridays. Amy Sherman |

Pork butts in the smoker at The Grilling Company in Belmont. Cory Morse |

Best Grab and Go Barbecue-The Grilling Company

The Grilling Company has been open for five years, and has been at its current location for three. Owner Keith Hall has a new smoker that is insulated to provide more consistency during the cold winter months. He starts the smoker each night at midnight, and burns fruit wood for a great, smokey flavor. Keith works all night in order to make sure his team of four is set up for success every day.

We tried a peppery pork butt right off the smoker and could have stood there snacking all day. Half of what they sell here is brisket, and it comes with a great smoke ring.

Homemade sausages at The Grilling Company. Cory Morse |

Best Grab and Go-The Grilling Company

We were very impressed with the house-made sausages at the Grilling Company. They make about eight different kinds, and we got to try four of them.

The beef and cheddar was practically perfect, and a complete surprise for a beef-based sausage. The spicy jalapeno cheddar was also a hit. You can purchase the sausage in bulk and uncooked if youɽ like to take them home with you

An array of sides from The Grilling Company. Cory Morse |

Best Grab and Go-The Grilling Company

During our visit to The Grilling Company we tasted everything in the back prep kitchen with the crew. It was fun to go behind the scenes as they got ready for their busy lunch rush.

Cheesy potatoes are the number-one side here. Some people will even order double potatoes with their meal. They are made with fresh potatoes and lots and lots of cheese. We could see why their so popular with just one bite. Joe McKeiver is the master potato maker, he cooks upwards of 1,500 pounds of them a week.

And even though Hall says he's not a sauce guy, they offer quite a few homemade ones to try.

The Grilling Company owner Keith Hall, right, stands with his team (from left) Jim Golczynski, Joe McKeiver and Jeff Nodurft. Cory Morse |

Pit Stop and The Grilling Company might not be traditional restaurants, but they are making traditionally delicious barbecue. Stop by and grab lunch to take back to the office, or dinner for the family. You'll be glad you did.

Delicious dishes from Slows in Grand Rapids. Amy Sherman |

Trendsetter Award-Slows Bar-B-Q

Brisket from Slows in Grand Rapids. Amy Sherman |

Trendsetter Award-Slows-Bar-B-Q

A trendsetter is someone who leads the way for others, and that is exactly what Slows Bar-B-Q did when they opened in 2005. They haven't been open the longest and they aren't the biggest. They are certainly one of the best.

Slows showed Michigan that authentic, "elegant" Southern style barbecue could be enjoyed in a sit-down restaurant, kicking off the barbecue craze across the state. We talked to many owners who credited Slows with showing them that it could be done, and that Michiganders were ready for top quality ɼue.

We'll be eternally grateful to Slows for their innovative move over 13 years ago.

The line up of sauces available from Slows. Amy Sherman |

Trendsetter Award-Slows Bar-B-Q

Slows represents regional barbecue styles from across the country, especially in their collection of sauces. They range from a sweet one, that is the most traditional, to a surprisingly interesting apple version. South Carolina mustard is bright and acidic, while the North Carolina is thin, vinegary with a bite of red pepper.

Sides at Slows are also top-notch. The mac and cheese is fantastically rich and creamy, with some kind of secret ingredients that we couldn't figure out and Slows wasn't revealing. Smokehouse beans are a nice balance between sweet and savory, and the chunky sweet potatoes seem like a tasty, healthier choice.

Pulled pork from Slows in Grand Rapids. Amy Sherman |

Trendsetter Award-Slows Bar-B-Q

It's hard to do meat consistently at just one restaurant, let alone three. Slows uses Southern Pride smokers to cook up their proteins, and create their fantastic meats. The pulled pork comes out in long tender shreds capped by a flavorful bark, while wings are dry rubbed and super juicy.

Sandwiches are a big deal here, the "Yardbird" was named the best sandwich in America by Adam Richman in 2012. It features smoked chicken, sauteed mushrooms, cheddar cheese and bacon, and then doused in the "Yardbird" sauce, a heady combination of honey, horseradish, mustard and heat. This a sandwich that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Slows was at the forefront of the barbecue movement here in Michigan and setting an example for hopeful restauranteurs across the state. We give them a tip of the tongs for their vision of what barbecue could achieve.

Some of the crew at the Grand Rapids location of Slows. Amy Sherman |

The "big" brisket sandwich from West Texas Barbecue in Jackson. J. Scott Park |

#10-West Texas Barbecue

Great sides from West Texas in Jackson. J. Scott Park |

#10-West Texas Barbecue

Our number-one pick for Michigan's Best barbecue in 2012 is still cooking strong in Jackson. West Texas has been smoking up great food since 1991, and they still are.

The business has really grown since our last search. Owner Dan Huntoon explained, "We just keep going. I don't really care what others do. I have a plan and we just keep chipping away at it."

Whatever that plan is, keep on working it, please. They've added some more seating indoors, but the majority of people grab and go.

The best-selling brisket here is exemplary, meaty and beefy with a great smokey flavor. Huntoon told us, "You just have to take your time and be patient with brisket. Remember that each brisket is unique." The pulled pork is simple, but exactly what you want it to be. We especially like their Hot Link sausages here, they were nice and peppery.

The meat is smoked so well that we found we didn't even really want to put any of the four homemade sauces on it. But we did, and they were great.

Ribs from West Texas Barbecue in Jackson. J. Scott Park |

#10-West Texas Barbecue

The collard greens were some of the best that we found, with nice big leaves, a tiny bit of a kick, and juicy without being soupy. The baked beans are rich with molasses, and sweet without being cloying. Mac and Cheese is the number-one side. It's well cooked and mellow with cheese.

Huntoon has been in the barbecue business for a long, long time "way before barbecue was cool." It's not an easy business. "There's so much time involved. Someone has to get up at the crack of dawn and do the work. And when they find out how much work is involved, well that's just the nature of this business."

We appreciate all the work Huntoon and his staff has been doing over the years. It is still some of the very best barbecue in Michigan.

The staff at West Texas Barbecue in Jackson. J. Scott Park |

A full spread of food from American Char in Drenthe. Amy Sherman |

#9-American Char

The pulled pork from American Char. Amy Sherman |

They're cooking with locally-sourced wood at American Char, and you can taste it in their smoked meats. All the meats get a homemade dry rub, then spend up to 20 hours cooking low and slow to perfection.

The brisket is tender, with a great flavor, as is the pulled pork. Ribs are fall-off-the bone tender, because "that's how people like them out here," owner/chef Len Towne told us. "I've tried to simplify the process here. If I rub the meat, and the temperature is right, everything should take care of itself."

The double-rubbed wings were a revelation of spicy crispiness. They get rubbed, smoked, chilled, fried, and rubbed again for a crazy deliciousness. The savory beans are pintos, cooked up Texas-style with a bit of tomato, a hint of smoke and a slight kick. They keep the mac and cheese super simple so that kids will like it. We're pretty sure that everyone will. Potato salad is a traditional Southern style, with hard boiled eggs, scallions, mayo and mustard.

"Fried, Not Fried" from American Char in Drenthe. Amy Sherman |

We loved that the sauces are all numbered according to style by the year that state entered the Union. You can try the original Memphis style sauce, #16, a sweet one that would be great on pork, or the #8 Carolina mustard sauce, which we liked with the chicken. A unique one, #15, is a Kentucky black sauce, and is made with espresso for a surprisingly complex and well-balanced offering.

You can get both "cones and Q" at American Char, and we highly recommend saving room for the "Fried, not Fried" dessert. A scoop of cinnamon ice cream gets a crunchy coating of some kind of Michigan made cereal (I promised chef that I wouldn't tell which one), and then drizzled with honey, for a delightful little treat.

The crew at American Char, including owner/chef Len Towne, center. Amy Sherman |

Chicken and eggs at Saddleback BBQ in Okemos. Amy Sherman |

#8-Saddleback BBQ

1754 Central Park Drive, Suite G2

Giant beef short ribs at Saddleback in Okemos. Amy Sherman |

Owner Matt Gillett has always worked in the hospitality industry, but the idea of owning a barbecue joint just kept popping up. He partnered with Travis Stoliker and opened their first shop in the REO town neighborhood in Lansing in 2015.

Last year, they opened their second location in Okemos. "It seemed like a good opportunity," Gillett explained. "Our food and techniques have grown. We just didn't know how big the potential was. It just keeps building."

Brisket and more from Saddleback BBQ in Okemos. Amy Sherman |

The brisket here develops a great bark from the rub it gets of black pepper, brown sugar and cayenne pepper. The pulled pork also has a delicious crust on it with a gentle, smokey flavor.

Some of the best wings we had can be found at Saddleback. Their "Wu Tang Wings" are smoked, flash fried crispy, super tender and come jazzed with their spiced-up yellow sauce. Our guest eater that day said, "I don't even know how to describe these, but they are really good."

If they have the beef ribs on the menu, get one of these 1 1/2 pound beauties for the selfie potential alone. They are also pretty delicious.

We enjoyed the devil eggs and the sizzling, crunchy pork rinds laced with hot sauce as starters. House-made pickles have everything you want: a punch of vinegar, a bit of spice, fresh dill. The best pop of all time, Vernor's Ginger Ale, shows up in both the sweet potatoes and the spicy vinegar barbecue sauce. Mac and cheese is extra creamy here. The collards still taste like the greens that they are, retain a nice bite, and get a boost of flavor from a bit of onion and bacon.

"Barbecue has kind of become a wow factor for some places," Gillett said. "We are trying to keep it traditional and consistent." Classic offerings done well can be found at Saddleback.

The crew, including owner Matt Gillett, second from the right, at Saddleback BBQ. Amy Sherman |

Some of the great dishes at Smokehouse 52. Ben Allan Smith |

#7-Smokehouse 52

Pit style nachos from Smokehouse 52, plus some of their seasonal cocktails. Ben Allan Smith |

Smokehouse 52 owner Phil Tolliver knows his way around pork, as he grew up on a pig farm. "The only thing I knew was 'hogwise',"he told us. "I've done my share of pig roasts."

He and his wife, Jenn, decided in 2013 to go all in on barbecue. He studied barbecue all the time, spent a month cooking with Mike "The Legend" Mills, and then sold everything and launched their restaurant.

At the time, Tolliver was thinking, "I've got everything I don't need to open this place. Three kids. A mortgage. No restaurant experience. But Mills told me 'If you smoke it, they will come.' And so far, they are."

The insane "Main Street Mac and Cheese" at Smokehouse 52. Amy Sherman |

They take a fresh approach to barbecue here, making classic items and serving them with a twist. All the sauces are homemade, and the sweet sauce gets a fun kick from the root beer reduction in it.

The stewed green beans and tomatoes are incredibly simple, and yet so very good. Hush puppies are buttery and tender and light. Potato chips are handmade, and the loaded mashed potatoes are loving referred to as "butter, with a side of potatoes."

Tolliver is very particular about his ribs. They need to hang off the plate, be tender but not falling off the bone, and have a great smoke ring. He's nailing it.

Brisket can come both sliced or chopped. We especially loved the brisket in one of the craziest dishes we had, the "Main Street Mac and Cheese," a conglomeration of epic proportions. Cavatapi pasta, a rich and complex cheese sauce, and smokey brisket get mixed together. Then a creamy onion dip gets put on top and broiled. It puffs up like a souffle and is pretty dang amazing to eat.

Looking for something other than barbecue? We can attest that the Southern Fried Chicken is downright delectable. They've also got a great cocktail menu, and plenty of craft beers and wine to pair with your meal.

"It's just my dysfunctional family serving your dysfunctional family barbecue. We're just having dinner together," Tolliver explained. Nothing is an afterthought here. "We keep the bar high. I want to be great at barbecue, not good." Things are great at Smokehouse 52.

The crew at Smokehouse 52 in Chelsea. Amy Sherman |

The Pig Candy at Bad Brad's. Tanya Moutzalias |

#6-Bad Brad's BBQ

Clinton Township, MI 48035

House made sausages at Bad Brad's. Tanya Moutzalias |

#6-Bad Brad's BBQ

When the first dish that arrives at your table is a custom-designed mini clothesline with "pig candy" hanging from it, you know you are in for a good time. That "candy" is actually thick-cut hickory smoked bacon that gets marinated with cane sugar and chipotle and is every bit as good as that sounds.

Owner Mike Pollard, along with his brother and executive chef, Marc Pollard, prides himself on buying only the best quality ingredients and making everything homemade from scratch, and consistently across all four locations.

Mac and cheese at Bad Brad's. Tanya Moutzalias |

#6-Bad Brad's BBQ

The best-selling hickory smoked brisket ages an additional 30 days after it arrives here for added flavor. A super simple rub of black pepper and salt, and a long, slow turn in the smoker results in a juicy, tender beef bomb. Chicken wings are incredible here. They get brined, dry rubbed, smoked and flash fried for a finger-licking result. The house made sausage is a unique, Mexican style with notes of cumin and cilantro and a great grind. The pork belly burnt ends are an indulgent treat: smoked bits that get fried, and tossed with a caramelized sauce that has a sweet heat.

Mac and cheese comes out in a cute, mini iron skillet with a crunchy breadcrumb topping. We like the addition of creamy black eyed peas to the collard greens, and appreciated the fact that the giant french fries are hand-cut, and cooked twice. Don't miss the chili cheese grits, they are fantastic, and as Mike Pollard told us "There is nothing more Detroit than chili cheese anything."

Bad Brad's was on our original BBQ search in 2012, and we loved seeing how much his business has grown since then. With three restaurants, and one take-out place that also acts as a commissary kitchen, he's kind of the king of barbecue in the northern Detroit metro area. He, along with his welcoming staff, are cooking up good things.

Best BBQ In America How do these rankings work?

50. Hoodoo Brown – in Connecticut

Who’d have thought that the best BBQ in Connecticut would be found in the quaint town of Ridgefield? Hoodoo Brown has been serving residents top-notch barbecue for years, and they seem to just keep getting better and better. We suggest trying their Holy Texas Trinity, which comes with a whole pound of brisket, various sausages, a rack of ribs and cornbread to top it all off.

49. Russell’s Quality Food in Delaware

The pulled pork at Russell’s Quality Food is easily some of the best pulled pork in America, likely due to the fact that they smoke it using three different kinds of logs – oak, hickory and cherry. It’s smoked to perfection and so delicious that you don’t even need any sauce.

48. BBQ4Life in Idaho

You’ll actually find lots of great BBQ in Idaho, but what we love about BBQ4Life is that it caters to vegans as well as meat-eaters. Their custom smoking setup lends itself to a unique smokey taste that seeps into anything you order here, vegetarian or not. This kind of take on traditional barbecue is what makes the diversity in American BBQ so unique.

47. Black Diamond Barbecue in Vermont

Even though you don’t typically think of true Texas BBQ when you think of Vermont, Black Diamond Barbecue is beginning to change that for locals. They serve a brisket that’s been smoked for 16 hours and they use lots of local maple woods for flavour. The local beers they sell here pair really well with whatever you order, and that’s something that other BBQ joints don’t always offer.

46. JR’s Barbeque in California

California is home to the best tacos in America, but when it comes to true Texas BBQ, it’s a cuisine that’s a little harder to find. That’s why the best BBQ in California isn’t in San Diego or even downtown LA, it’s in Culver City. The family-owned JR’s Barbecue serves up Memphis-style meat that practically melts in your mouth it’s so soft.

45. GQue Championship BBQ in Colorado

The award-winning BBQ at GQue is some of the most underrated BBQ in the entire country. We’re not quite sure why this Westminster BBQ joint isn’t ranked higher on a lot of top barbecue lists, but we are sure that they serve up quality meat that’s cooked to perfection and smothered in pretty savoury sauces.

44. Sin City Smokers in Nevada

You don’t need to head to Vegas for some of the best BBQ in America. The former competition team of Sin City Smokers serves up quality pork, BBQ chicken, and even some expertly-grilled veggies. After eating the BBQ here you won’t even have to make it out to Vegas, you’ll feel like you’ve sinned enough it’s that good.

43. Andy Nelson’s Southern Pit Barbecue in Maryland

If you’re looking for the absolute barbecued ribs and pulled pork in Maryland, then we highly recommend Andy Nelson’s. According to travellers, they love the fact that their brisket tips are super tender. Everything here pairs well with their homemade cornbread, so make sure to save room for a piece or two.

42. Noble Barbecue in Maine

Meat lovers rejoice – we’ve found your paradise! Sure, Noble Barbecue serves some of the most scrumptious BBQ in America, but the twin brothers behind this restaurant excel at cooking and flavouring pretty much any kind of meat. Case in point, their smoked meatloaf cheeseburger. Head there once to try the BBQ and then again for the cheeseburger. Wash it all down with one of the local craft beers on the menu.

41. Sunset Smokehouse in Hawaii

Who’d have thought you could find true Texas BBQ on the island of Oahu? Not us. But, travellers let us in on the best-kept secret in the world of Hawaiian BBQ: Sunset Smokehouse. The man behind the pit hails from Texas, where he spent hours and hours of his formative years learning how to smoke meat in Austin. The result? Some of the best BBQ in America but in a more tropical setting than you’ll usually find.

40. Gotta Q – in Rhode Island

Gotta Q pretty much dominates the BBQ scene in the small state of Rhode Island, but they’ve worked hard to earn the top spot. Their wood-smoked pulled pork is cooked to perfection and their sirloin is some of the most savoury in the region.

39. Big Rig BBQ in South Dakota

Fancy some of the most mouth-watering pulled pork you’ve ever tried? Head to Sioux Falls and try the pulled pork at Big Rig BBQ. However, locals seem to also love their ribs, which have won national awards for their savoury taste. You’ll want to visit this place extremely hungry, as their pork is addictive no matter how you order it.

38. Red Bridges BBQ Lodge in North Carolina

The Lexington-style sauce and hand-chopped pork at this Shelby hotspot have been pleasing visitors from near and far since the 1940s. There’s nothing quite like the BBQ at Red Bridge, which they cook over hickory and oak wood. Then, they serve it up with some of the tastiest Southern sides you’ll find in the Carolinas. In short, it’s a full-on meal that you’ll be dreaming about for a while.

37. Laughing Sun Ale & Smokehouse in North Dakota

You can ask Yelp, TripAdvisor, locals, and international foodies and they’ll all tell you that the best BBQ in North Dakota is in the small town of Mandan. What was once Taylor Made BBQ is now Laughing Sun, as they’ve paired with Laughing Sun Brewing to expand their alcoholic offerings. On the BBQ side of things, they’re well-known for its ever-expanding and uniquely creative menu. Try the beef and pork ribs if you’re feeling extra hungry.

36. HQ Southern BBQ in Wyoming

We’re not the only publication that things HQ Southern BBQ serves up some of the best-tasting BBQ in America. They’ve been featured in numerous other write-ups and review sites, and they’re well-loved by locals. Head here on the weekend to try their famous hickory-smoked prime rib.

35. Rollin’ Smoke BBQ in West Virginia

The slogan here is “we smoke it all,” and not only do they do just that, but they do it extremely well. While there might be other places in West Virginia that have gained more notoriety, guests seem to believe that the quality of the BBQ at Rollin’ Smoke is so consistently good that it’s about to become one of the most-visited BBQ joints in America.

34. Bombers BBQ in Indiana

Looking for baby back ribs? There’s no other place in America that serves them quite like they do at Bombers BBQ. The flavour, which is a tad sweet due to the fact that they smoke them over apple and cherry wood, is second-to-none. The BBQ ribs here are definitely the best in Indiana, but they might also be the best in the entire country.

33. 4 Rivers Smokehouse in Florida

4 Rivers Smokehouse is another place that’s become so famous within its own state that any time you ask someone about the best BBQ in Florida, they automatically shout out their name. It’s become so popular that’s grown into a mini-chain of sorts, but that hasn’t affected the quality, especially when it comes to their aged brisket.

32. The Notorious P.I.G. in Montana

With hands down the best name for a BBQ restaurant in the entire world, The Notorious P.I.G. is just as creative with their BBQ as they are with their name. The founder, a Missouri-native, offers his guests some of the best-tasting sauce in Montana. When doused all over the perfectly-smoked ribs, it makes for easily some of the best BBQ in America.

31. SLOWS Bar-B-Q in Michigan

We’re a fan of any place that perfectly combines BBQ and beer, and so are thousands of travellers who’ve made their way to SLOWS Bar-B-Q in Detroit. After expanding their restaurant space, SLOWS added 36 beer taps, and while that’s got nothing to do with the superb quality of their BBQ, we definitely feel like it adds to the overall culinary experience.

30. Mike’s Barbecue in Pennsylvania

Make your way to South Philly and plop straight down at Mike’s Barbecue. The ribs here are all-you-can-eat, which is good because you’re going to literally want to eat them all. Don’t forget to try the most Philadelphian menu on the item – the famous brisket cheesesteak.

29. Local Smoke BBQ in New Jersey

The pitmasters behind Local Smoke BBQ were part of a competition barbecue team before they decided to open their own restaurant (now with three locations). Their outstanding BBQ has earned then five NJ State BBQ Championships and numerous other awards all over the country. And, after one bite into their tender brisket, you’ll understand why.

28. Ted Cook’s 19th Hole Barbecue in Minnesota

The chef behind Ted Cook’s actually grew up in Ghana, which is where he first learned how to perfect the art of grilling. Today, he uses an open pit with hickory and cherry wood to serve some of the best BBQ in America. This is what you’re looking for if you’re looking for a truly old-school barbecue taste with absolutely no pretence.

27. Goody Coles in New Hampshire

The owners of Goody Coles are originally from Texas, which hints at just how deliciously authentic BBQ is there. The flavour, which is pretty true to Texas BBQ, comes from the 100% hickory wood that they use as they smoke the meat for 12 hours at a time. One waft of the smell at this place and you’ll be craving BBQ for months.

26. Iron Grate BBQ in Wisconsin

Numerous locals let us in on a little secret – Iron Gate BBQ is going outshine all other long-standing BBQ joints in Wisconsin to become top-dog this year. It’s likely due to their unique weekend menu offerings, such as crawfish on Fridays, or the fact that they source their meat locally.

25. MAD Jack’s in New Mexico

In Austin, Texas they take BBQ very seriously, especially at the world-famous Black’s BBQ, which is where the owner and pitmaster of MAD Jack’s trained. The taste of the BBQ is equally as good as any place you’d find in Austin, but with the owner’s own unique touch. Expect to have to wait in line to sample some of the brisket and pork belly burnt ends. But, expect to feel like it was well worth the wait.

24. Blue Ribbon BBQ in Massachusetts

The signature sauce that Blue Ribbon BBQ uses really sets it apart from other competitors in the state. However, there’s more to the flavours here than just a special sauce. They truly know how to cook their meat to perfection, and quality service just makes the BBQ-eating experience all the more enjoyable.

23. Jethro’s BBQ in Iowa

Expect hearty portions of true Southern comfort food when you head to Jethro’s BBQ. Slinging meat that’s tasty enough to be considered some of the best in the Midwest, there’s a lot that Jethro’s gets right. And, really nothing that they do wrong. Perhaps their BBQ is almost too delicious?

22. R&R BBQ in Utah

If you’d have told us that there isn’t any great barbecue in Utah, then we might have believed you. But, we’re incredibly grateful that R&R BBQ has proved us all wrong. It doesn’t matter what you order here – pulled pork, ribs, or brisket – it’s going to taste so amazing that you’ll believe just how great the BBQ in Utah is.

21. Jeff’s Texas Style BBQ in Washington

The BBQ here is so good that the Seattle Seahawks contracted owner Jeff Knoch in order to cater for them once. There’s really nothing else we can say to make you believe just how mouthwateringly scrumptious BBQ here is, except that they smoke it over wood that’s imported from Texas. This gives it a taste you won’t find anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest.

20. Ray’s BBQ Shack in Texas

This Houston favourite is home to all things barbecue. Decide between sliced brisket, Chicago style ribs, sausage and baby-back ribs all served with hushpuppies. Ray’s BBQ Shack’s meats are hickory smoked to the high heavens, and the barbecue sauce is homemade. In addition to delicious varieties of barbecue, Ray’s BBQ Shack is family owned and operated, which means you’ll always feel right at home.

19. The Joint in Louisiana

Consistently ranked as one of the best BBQ restaurants in America, The Joint in New Orleans often flies under the radar because it’s not necessarily located in the BBQ Belt. The meat, which is smoked on-site, fills up the entire neighbourhood with the most savoury smell you can imagine. The taste? Even better.

18. The Shed Barbeque & Blues Joint in Mississippi

Live music and BBQ go together so well that it almost feels weird chowing down on brisket and ribs without the sounds of blues in the background. The Shed is a family-owned BBQ restaurant that serves up savoury meat with a side of great vibes. Their whole hog has won more than its fair share of competitions, so whatever you get, make sure to try their pork.

17. Old Hickory Bar-B-Q in Kentucky

Slow-smoked ribs and a special house sauce are two of the most popular items on the menu here. But, if you ask any patron they’ll likely tell you that anything they’ve ordered at Old Hickory Bar-B-Q has been fantastic. If you’re a fan of a unique BBQ sauce and high-quality meat, then this is the best place for you when it comes to BBQ in America.

16. Eli’s BBQ in Ohio

The line to taste some of Eli’s famous BBQ snakes out the door many days a week. With flavours that literally seem to melt, burst, and linger in your mouth, the wait is well worth it just to try some of the best BBQ in America. Order the hickory-smoked ribs and enjoy every second of them.

15. Burn Co. BBQ in Oklahoma

Southern Living once claimed that, contrary to other top BBQ spots in the south, Burn Co. BBQ isn’t about low and slow, it’s about fast and hot. And, that kind of unique take on classic BBQ is something that visitors from near and far seem to really love. While BBQ is their speciality, you can order a lot of outstanding meat here, like bratwurst and smoked sausage.

14. Jones Bar-B-Q Diner in Arkansas

Jones Bar-B-Q is run by fourth-generation pitmaster James Jones, and it’s clear upon the first bite just what kind of expertise he’s been passed down from his family over the past few generations. Hickory embers fuel the fires here and you can always expect the same taste each time you visit – downright delicious and perfectly tender.

13. Hometown Bar-B-Que in New York

It seems weird that a BBQ restaurant in New York might make the top 20 for any list of the best ‘cue in the States. But, don’t let the northern location fool you there are some outstanding BBQ joints in New York. The best is Hometown Bar-B-Que. From smoked brisket to smoked lamb, there’s nothing on the menu that’s not absolutely delicious.

12. Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q in Georgia

Georgia is home to lots of great BBQ, which makes finding the best BBQ a bit of a task. Locals, travellers, and food critics all agree that Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q serves some of the best in the state, if not the entire country. The patio space here truly adds to the ambience, but you’re going to want to stay for how tasty the slow-roasted ribs are.

11. Beast Craft Barbecue in Illinois

Any BBQ expert who’s been to Illinois will tell you that Beast Craft Barbecue’s meticulous attention to detail when it comes to meat is unmatchable. The Hickory-smoked meats here are so savoury that they leave you dreaming about the taste for weeks after. If that’s not the mark of some of the best BBQ in America then we don’t know what is.

10. ZZQ in Virginia

White-oak smoked spiced brisket is the hottest item on the menu at ZZQ, and it’s cooked to such perfection that you’ll wonder why you waited so long to make it out to Richmond just to try it. Even though the owner here is a Texas-native, they add a Virginian spin to all of their BBQ, creating one of the most unique, superb tastes in BBQ at the moment.

9. Little Miss BBQ in Arizona

Little Miss BBQ has become quite popular in the world of BBQ over the past few years, and for a good reason. The mouth-watering true Texas BBQ is so good that it causes lines out the door just waiting for a taste. We suggest trying their brisket, which tastes truly Texan.

8. Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que in Alabama

Once ranked as having one of the top four BBQ dishes in the entire country, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que excels at hickory-smoked chicken. But, it’s the Alabama white sauce that’s got travellers from faraway places flocking just to figure out what it is. We’ll give you a hint: it’s delicious.

7. Harp Barbecue in Missouri

What stands out as particularly impressive about Harp Barbecue is that the owner’s made it a point to travel to over 300 different BBQ restaurants in the country just to perfect his recipe and style. His dedication shows, as the brisket at Harp Barbecue is some of the best in the entire country and his sausages would hold up against any you might find in other parts of Missouri.

6. Lewis Barbecue in South Carolina

There’s no denying that La Barbecue is one of the best places for BBQ in Austin, Texas. So, it comes as no surprise that John Lewis of Lewis Barbecue worked there and has been able to transfer the same superior taste to residents of South Carolina. Beefy ribs are his specialty, so make sure to order a few racks.

5. Matt’s BBQ in Oregon

The pitmaster here learned how to smoke meat in Australia, which isn’t something you’d particularly expect out of American BBQ. However, it works really well for him, and customers seem to find it extremely satisfying. From tender, juicy brisket to white-oak-smoked ribs, there’s nothing here that doesn’t taste absolutely delicious.

4. Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que in Kansas

Slow and steady wins the race, which is something that the people at Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que have taken to heart. The restaurant, which is located inside of a gas station, slowly cooks their tender brisket for a whopping 15 hours. Crispy and delicious, their burnt ends sandwich is some of the best BBQ in America. Others seem to think so too, which is why they wait in line for hours just to get a taste.

3. Central BBQ in Tennessee

This downtown BBQ joint is famous near and far for being home to the best BBQ in Memphis, in part due to the sheer variety of pork they offer their guests. Choose from mouth-watering pork shoulder and ribs or chow down on what they call “dark,” the heavily smoked crust that any true BBQ lover is going to die for.

2. Louie Mueller in Texas

If you’re not from here, then all you need to know about true Texas BBQ is that it’s the best. Locals and out-of-staters will pretty much tell you the same thing, which is why choosing the best BBQ in Texas is pretty hard to do (touchy subject). While there are lots of different styles and flavours to choose from, Louie Mueller is currently dominating the BBQ scene. The brisket here is incredibly smokey and full of flavour. There’s not much else to say except for that it’s absolutely delicious.

1. Skylight Inn BBQ in North Carolina

After speaking with numerous locals, travellers, and barbecue experts, the conclusion is that the pork served at Skylight Inn BBQ is the No. 1 best barbecue in America. The pork sandwich has long been on any BBQ lover’s foodie bucket list in the States, but we’re looking to help it go global – it’s just that good.

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Another long-standing Detroit favorite, Parks Old Style Bar-B-Q in New Center has been around since 1964. The simple yet mouthwatering menu includes slabs of ribs, half chickens and pulled pork with a choice of sauces. You can choose from meat and bread only options, or get the full dinner which comes with two additional sides.

Bad Brads BBQ has developed into a Metro Detroit mini chain, with four locations to the north and northwest of the city. Though each location has a unique menu, they all concentrate on St. Louis-style ribs, BBQ chicken and platters of pulled pork, sausage, smoked turkey and beef brisket. You can even try their smoked meats on pizza.

Look at This Stuff

The Oakland Press reports that the Detroit landmark Slows Bar-B-Q is expanding into Pontiac.

Owner Phillip Cooley to the Oakland Press, “We chose Pontiac as the site of our first Metro Detroit expansion for the same reasons we chose Corktown. It’s an underserved community with a defined identity and potential for an exciting evolution.”

@BBQJUDGER added his thoughts about the addition of another BBQ emporium in the area.

The restaurant will occupy 6,500 square feet adjoining The Strand Theatre For the Performing Arts, the city’s newest development investment and only performing arts theater located at 12 N. Saginaw Street. Construction on the Slows Bar-B-Q in Pontiac will begin in early 2015 and will open in tandem with The Strand Theatre in late 2015.

WJR's Marie Osborne mourns son -- but finds hope in 'Plaid Pig'

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WJR-AM newscaster Marie Osborne, who lost her 28 year old son John to a heart issue, works in the WJR studio at the station in Detroit, Michigan on September 13, 2018. (Photo: Daniel Mears, The Detroit News) Buy Photo

It was what the police wouldn't say that told Marie Osborne what she didn't want to know.

She's been a reporter and an anchor for more than a quarter-century, on WJR-AM (760), WWJ-AM (950) and WJR again.

She has spoken to command officers and knows when they're being strategically evasive. She has knocked on the doors of weeping families and commiserated and managed to do her job, fortunate to be on radio where no one can see you wipe away a tear.

Now she and her husband were racing to St. Joseph Mercy Oakland.

"They told me to come quick," her husband had told her before he picked her up at work, and oh, God, they don't say that if someone is going to be OK. They say "drive carefully" because there's time, or at least hope.

John Osborne wore a plaid shirt, as was his standard, on a family vacation in Luxembourg. (Photo: Courtesy of Marie Osborne)

She called from the car and heard the same ominous instruction. Then they sprinted through the door and were taken to a side room where their older son was already waiting, and no, no, no.

Not John. Not her baby, all 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds of him. But if he was alive they'd have taken her to his bedside, and instead here came a doctor with two other people, hospital staffers maybe. The doctor was saying she'd done everything she could, and it was real.

That was 14 months ago. John was 28. "You couldn't miss him," she says, now that she does. He had all that size, and a big 'fro, and a smile that wouldn't go away even when he was at the restaurant and the heat was on.

"He was kind to his cat," his mother says, one of those odd things you offer up when you're doing a mental Google search and sifting through thousands of hits.

John Taylor Osborne’s grave marker at a small cemetery in Birmingham is inscribed with a lyric from Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around.” (Photo: Courtesy of Marie Osborne)

He was steady. He knew the names of all the homeless people who'd linger outside Slows To Go in the Cass Corridor, and don't tell, but sometimes he'd sneak them something to eat from his barbecue smokers.

Now he's the inspiration for a scholarship. And a sandwich, of all things, both bearing the name Plaid Pig — his go-to pattern combined with his favored meat.

There's a benefit for the John T. Osborne / Plaid Pig Endowment Oct. 18 called A Night of Swine Dining, with tickets $100 apiece. Some chefs who knew him, and some chefs who know those chefs, will cook a multi-course meal at the Whiskey Factory near Eastern Market. Detroit City Distillery will pour its first single barrel bourbon, also called Plaid Pig.

The goal is to fund annual grants for culinary arts students in the renowned program at Schoolcraft College, where John was accepted four years ago. He'd talked of earning a two-year degree and then rolling out a food truck, but he never eased off the throttle enough to enroll.

The hope is that helping other young people achieve his dream will also help his survivors, wracked with undeserved guilt.

"If we can make that happen," Marie Osborne says, "it's going to give us a moment of peace."

The Osborne family: from left, Robert, now 31 mom Marie John T., who died at 28 Domenique, 38 and dad John H. (Photo: Courtesy of Marie Osborne)

John, who lived in Warren, would think about Schoolcraft as fall approached, then put the notion on a back burner. "Mom," he'd say, "I just want to finish another year at Slows."

Then after seven years there he took a new job at a butcher shop and deli in Sylvan Lake, and a month later the co-owner was looking up a recipe in his office when he heard a thump.

It didn't register, Dave Hubbard says.

Hubbard had worked with John at the carry-out spinoff of Corktown's Slows Bar-B-Q. John was the pitmaster, "a little goofy, just an awesome kid."

He was delighted when John walked into the Butchery saying he was open to a fresh challenge.

John was making sausage on that last, haunting, mid-July morning. He was excited about it, Hubbard says, which invigorated everyone around him. Hubbard was maybe 10 feet away, around a corner, thinking it was almost time to turn on the lights and welcome customers.

Then, from the deli counter, where a college kid had been hired for the summer: "Big John! Big John!"

John was on the floor. Hubbard started CPR. The professionals were there within two or three minutes with their equipment and expertise. An ambulance roared away.

Hubbard stood numb, thinking of John's parents and of his own children, now 4 and 2.

Marie Osborne careened northward from the Fisher Building toward the first moments of an aching emptiness.

"I have covered death and destruction," she says. "Accidents and suicides. Plane crashes. Train crashes."

Her heart would always break, she says, and she would always give thanks: "There but for the grace of God."

Then the grace of God turned somewhere else, and Osborne was left wondering what signs she missed and how she could have missed them.

The official finding was dilated cardiomyopathy, what the division head of cardiology at Henry Ford Health system calls "a fancy way of saying 'weakened heart.'"

"There's no clear screening tool," Dr. Henry Kim says. From a public health standpoint, we'd be better off if more people knew CPR and there was a defibrillator in every building, but if the ailment is detected it's usually by the patient.

Fatigue, swollen legs or abdomen, a falloff in stamina, chest pain. Shortness of breath. John fell into the most common demographic, men aged 20 to 50, but he never complained about any of the symptoms.

Kim says there might not have been anything to notice. An unrelated EKG five months earlier hadn't sounded any alarms. The most common causes are a heart attack, virus or unfortunate genes, but the first two were ruled out and testing by his survivors hasn't pointed to the third.

Across an unknown span, John's left ventricle simply stretched, weakened and failed.

Osborne called the coroner's office, searching for clues: "I'd been on the phone with them plenty of times before."

Brian Perrone, one of the founders of Slows Bar-B-Q, poses with the Plaid Pig sandwich at Slows To Go carryout on Cass Avenue in Detroit on Friday, September 14, 2018. (Photo: Max Ortiz, The Detroit News)

She pumped his friends. His co-workers. His girlfriend, Blair West, maybe 5 feet tall — "the most hilarious looking couple ever." West lives a few blocks away from the Osbornes in Royal Oak now and she's essentially a part of the family, but she offered no clues.

Osborne is in the question business, but there's no satisfactory answer to be had.

There are just memories, an endowment to fund, and an enormous sandwich.

The Plaid Pig "is pretty ridiculous," concedes Brian Perrone, the founding chef at Slows. "It's huge. But so was John."

Perrone says it took a while to decide on a suitable tribute. He and his staff considered a meatball sandwich, but it wasn't practical. Then he recalled John smoking a ham for him, delighting in the process.

Hence the Plaid Pig, a stack of shaved ham and smoked jalapeño bar cheese with mustard barbecue sauce and a cross of bacon skewered with a steak knife to the top of the soft brioche bun. It's $13 at the Corktown and Midtown locations, with $1 bound for the scholarship fund.

The Plaid Pig sandwich at Slows To Go carryout restaurant in Detroit. (Photo: Max Ortiz, The Detroit News)

"We've all had it," Osborne says — she, her husband, her daughter in from New York, her son who lives in Hazel Park. They are a tall family, from her daughter at 5-foot-9 to Osborne an inch more and the men at 6-foot-6, "and I'm not kidding, it feeds two people."

It's something John would have liked. It's comfort food, in the most literal sense.

It's a reminder of something Osborne clings to, something she probably told strangers after she came to their doors with a microphone, something that gets her through the days when she leaves work and can hardly remember being there.

Slows To Go

Slows Bar-B-Q is so many, many things to Detroit. It's a place to eat. It's a destination for tourists and suburbanites who might not otherwise go into the city. It's a place that Detroiters take enormous pride in. It's a part of the city's renaissance.

"In this city, a much-heralded emblem of industrial-age decline, and home to a cripplingly bad economy, a troubled school system, racial segregation and sometimes unheeded crime, there is one place where most everyone — black, white, poor, rich, urban, not — will invariably recommend you eat: Slows Bar B Q.

Slows opened in 2005 at the edge of downtown Detroit, in Corktown, across from the long-abandoned central train station, itself a symbol of widespread blight. Hidden behind a stylish wooden door with no discernible handle, it has become a beacon, drawing longtime Detroiters, newly arrived young people and scores of suburbanites, who wait for hours to sample the pulled pork and dry-smoked ribs and coo over the upcycled design. The restaurant and its sleek décor were dreamed up by one of Slows’ owners, Phillip Cooley, who has emerged as a de facto spokesman for the now-hip revitalization of this city."

It's proven to be so popular that Slows To Go was opened as a means to deal with the crowds at the original site, such that hungry folks could simply run in, pick their options, and then take their food elsewhere in order to let the next set of hungry folks satisfy their appetites. If you've got a couple of hours to spend waiting for a table at the original, eating, luxuriating and loitering . by all means, you absolutely want to visit the mainstay.

But if you're in a hurry or if you're just too hungry to wait, Slows To Go is your option. So that's where Jeremy, Stuart and I ended up one recent Saturday, because neither of my companions particularly excels in the patience department. And there are a few stools available at counters that line the walls so rather than taking our food with us, we merely perched and ate with giddy, gluttonous abandon.

You can order enormous plates of ribs or pulled pork or brisket or chicken (even "veggie chicken") or wings these come with your choice of sides and sauces. There are combo plates. There are some gluten-free options. There are soups and even salads . pfft! Like you go to a barbecue joint for lettuce!

And then there are sandwiches, served on Zingerman's rolls, which are the most economical way to get your carnivorous fix. Jeremy and Stuart each ordered the Triple Threat Pork Sandwich pictured above: "Applewood bacon, pulled pork and ham stacked high and mighty. Heeyah! Git some!" Oh, man, this was an unbelievable feast of smoky, tender, pork heaven! The boys devoured these.

I chose The Reason: "Naturally-Raised Pork butt, smoked slow and pulled, bathed in our NC Sauce and topped with our signature coleslaw and dill pickle strips." That I love North Carolina vinegary barbecue, that Slows serves Michigan's own McClure's pickles, and that if I ate some cole slaw I could delude myself into thinking there were some health benefits to my lunch . well, all of these led to my astoundingly flavorful and fabulous meal. Because we ordered three sandwiches, we were able to choose three different sauces to go with them: Sweet, Mustard Creole (the unanimous favorite), and Apple (even sweeter than Sweet).

Slows is also justifiably noted for its macaroni and cheese, which is utter decadence. It has absolutely no redeeming nutritional value, but oh, was it good for our souls! Each of us was sorely tempted to just inhale this greedily, but knew we needed to share. We did so reluctantly, in that we wanted to selfishly keep it all to ourselves but we did so generously, as well, because it was just so, so good that we wanted our loved ones to share in the joy.

So come to Detroit! Eat at Slows! And if you're in the area, let me know - I'll happily join you . :)

Watch the video: The Best BBQ Pitmasters of the South. Southern Living (July 2022).


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