Here at Serious Eats, we have decided to go whole hog on National Pig Day. National Pig Day, you ask? Sure enough. Serious Eats general manager Alaina Browne's pig-themed calendar, Pigs on Parade, tells us that today is a red letter day in the porcine world. So what better way to celebrate than to turn the whole site over to pigginess for a spell? Eventually our goal is to make National Pig Day an official national holiday through an act of Congress, but we realize that it’s probably a little too soon for that. So for now, we're going to elevate National Pig Day by instituting the Pig Heaven Honor Roll, something we hope is a precursor to being inducted into the Porcine Hall of Fame.
Though exhaustive, this honor roll is by no means complete. We couldn't possibly eat at every barbecue joint in the nation in search of the perfect rib or Chinese restaurant for the most succulent suckling pig. If you have a nomination for the list, we'd love to hear it!
Barbecued Pork: Best Baby Back Ribs | Best Pork Shoulder | Chicago Barbecue | Kansas City Barbecue | Los Angeles Barbecue | Memphis Barbecue | New York City Barbecue | North Carolina Barbecue | San Francisco Barbecue | Seattle Barbecue | Tennessee Barbecue | Texas Barbecue
Serious Eaters know there is no such thing as bad bacon. That said, it is undeniably true that some bacons are meatier, sweeter, and smokier than others. Having tasted hundreds of bacon over the years, my favorites are Nueske’s (nueskes.com), from the frozen tundra that is northern Wisconsin, and Allan Benton (bentonshams.com). Please don’t ask us to choose. It would be like asking us to choose one child over another.
There are many great country hams out there, and we don’t pretend to have tasted them all, but I will tell you you won’t be disappointed with Allan Benton's (bentonshams.com) or Colonel Newsom's (newsomscountryham.com).
The heritage pork breeds raised by Michael Yezzi and Jennifer Small at their Flying Pigs Farm (www.flyingpigsfarm.com) in upstate New York are so juicy and porky and delicious you may never be able to eat supermarket pork again.
Best Ham in the World
Pretty soon you won’t have to fly to Spain to eat the world’s best ham. Jamon Iberica bellotta is the prized Spanish black-footed ham that is fed only acorns (bellota is Spanish for "acorn"). Finally, after years of keeping this serious pig out of the country, the feds are allowing us to eat this ham in the States. Tienda.com is now taking orders for bone-in Iberico bellota hams for winter 2008 delivery. At $79 a pound and with an average weight of 15 pounds, an order will set you back about $1,200 (price is determined on final weighing). Yes, each ham is going to cost over a thousand dollars, but that’s less than four people will spend for one dinner at the French Laundry in Yountville, California, and the ham will last a lot longer. If you have the means, you won't regret it. This is ham as God would make it—sweet, just marbled enough, and fantastically porky.
For years no one made prosciutto in the U.S. that could compare to Italy's Prosciutto de Parma. Now, even many serious diehard Italophile chefs in America are putting Iowa-based La Quercia prosciutto (laquercia.us) on their menus.
Chez Panisse alumnus Paul Bertolli’s Fra’ Mani salamis (framani.com) are so good they’ll have you swearing you’re in Italy. At Salumeria Biellese in New York, the three original partners have about 200 years' worth of sausage-making in their family histories. Finally, Mario Batali’s dad, Armandino Batali, is making a name for himself with some unusual dried sausages made in his state-of-the-art curing facility in the back his tiny Seattle storefront sandwich shop Salumi.
Salumeria Biellese: 376-378 Eighth Avenue, New York NY 10001; 212-736-7376
Salumi: 309 3rd Avenue South, Seattle WA 98104; 206-621-8772
I often find myself in grocery stores with nary a slice of designer ham in sight, and that’s when I thank the Lord for Hormel Cure 81 ham. It’s smokey and tender and makes a serious ham sandwich.
Best Baby Back Ribs
Mike Mills can only be described as our country’s baby back ribs auteuror maybe we should just call him our babybackalaureate (baby back poet laureate?). Whatever you want to call him, nobody makes baby back ribs as good as the ones Mills makes at his two Illinois locations. They’re tender, just smoky enough, and have a lovely caramelized exterior.
32 North 17th Street, Murphysboro IL 62966; 618-684-8610
2700 17th Street, Marion IL 62959; 618-998-1114
Best Pork Shoulder
I first tasted Big Bob Gibson's (bigbobgibsons.com) pork shoulder in the pouring rain during an event at a barbecue conference in Oxford, Mississippi. It was held in a small park in a residential neighborhood, and though the park had become a sea of mud and I was soaked through to the (ham) bone, one bite of Gibson's pit master Chris Lilly’s shoulder had me thinking the weather was just perfect for eating 'cue. There are three ways to eat Big Bob Gibson's 'cue. Head to one of two locations in Decatur, Alabama, or head up to New York for the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party this June.
1715 6th Avenue Southeast (U.S. Hwy. 51), Decatur AL 35601; 256-350-6969
2520 Danville Road Southwest, Decatur AL 35603; 256-350-0404
When you pass your money through the bulletproof slot at Lem’s make sure you order your rack of ribs “to the bone,” which means that each rib has been completely separated from its neighbors. I have discovered the hard way that it’s much easier to eat ribs with your hands when each rib is separate if not quite equal. The good folks at LTHForum.com in Chitown swear by the ‘cue at L’il John’s. In fact they will tell you that it’s better than Lem’s. I need to do a rib by rib comparison before I concede.
Lem's Bar-B-Q House: 311 E 75th Street, Chicago IL 60619. 773-994-2428
Uncle John's BBQ: 337 E. 69th Street, Chicago IL 60637. 773-892-1233
Kansas City Barbecue
Though most folks think Kansas City barbecue is all about beef (brisket and burnt ends) Serious Eats managing editor Adam Kuban discovered on a recent pilgrimage that the ribs at Oklahoma Joe's are superb, and the pulled pork sandwich at LC’s might give the North Carolina folks mentioned above pause.
Oklahoma Joe's, KCK: 3002 West 47th Avenue, Kansas City KS 66203; 913-722-3366
Oklahoma Joe's, Olathe: 5800 Strang Line Road, Olathe KS 66062; 913-782-6858
LC's: 5800 Blue Parkway, Kansas City MO 64129; 816-923-4484
Los Angeles Barbecue
Only hardcore barbecue lovers know that Los Angeles has at least a trio of extremely serious barbecue joints:
Gadberry’s: 5833 South Broadway, Los Angeles CA 90003; 323-751-0753
Phillips Barbecue: 4307 Leimert Boulevard, No. 3, Los Angeles CA 90008; 323-292-7613
Woody’s Bar-B-Que: 3446 West Slauson Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90043; 323-294-9443 (run by Philip’s cousin)
The late Ray Robinson, immortalized in Smokestack Lightning, has passed on but his son Ray, Jr. is making his dad proud at this little corner of barbecue heaven in a nondescript strip mall in Memphis.
Cozy Corner Restaurant: 745 North Parkway, Memphis TN 38105; 901-527-9158
New York City Barbecue
For years New York was a barbecue wilderness. Then in short order, restaurateur Danny Meyer and chef-turned-pit master Kenny Callaghan opened Blue Smoke (bluesmoke.com), where the baby backs have a definite Mike Mills influence (Mills was in fact a consultant on the project). Shortly thereafter, classically trained chef Adam Perry Lang opened Daisy May's (daisymaysbbq.com), where the whole pig rocks (you have to special order it). Finally, motorcycle buff and barbecue junkie John Stage opened a branch of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Harlem (dinosaurbarbque.com); Dinosaur also has branches in Rochester and Syracuse, New York. Stage's ribs are tender, smoky things of beauty, with just enough chew to let your teeth know they have a little work to do.
Blue Smoke: 116 E. 27th Street, New York NY 10016. 212-447-7733
Daisy May's BBQ: 623 11th Avenue, New York NY 10036; 212-977-1500
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que: 646 W 131st Street, New York NY 10027. 212-694-1777
North Carolina Barbecue
Again, it’s tough to single out one or twoor even threegreat North Carolina joints in a state crawling with barbecue joints, but I am up to the task. At Allen & Son in Chapel Hill, if you get there at 5 a.m., you’ll see Keith Allen out chopping the wood he uses to smoke his shoulders to porcine perfection. At the Skylight Inn in Ayden, the late Pete Jones has moved on to the great barbecue pit in the sky, but his family is still putting out some serious 'cue.
Allen & Son: 6203 Millhouse Road, Chapel Hill NC 27516; 919-942-7576
Skylight Inn: 1501 South Lee Street, Ayden NC 28513; 252-746-4113
San Francisco Barbecue
Lolis Eric Elie (see Smokestack Lightning) loves the 'cue at Memphis Minnie’s. San Francisco Chronicle's restaurant critic, Michael Bauer, swears by the 'cue at Bo's Barbecue and Catering.
Memphis Minnie's: 576 Haight Street, San Francisco CA 94117; 415-864-7675
Bo's Barbecue and Catering: 3422 Mount Diablo Blvd, Lafayette CA 94549; 925-283-7133
I've toured Seattle barbecue joints, and my favorites are:
Pecos Pit, 2260 First Avenue South, Seattle WA 98134; 206-623-0629
Jones Barbeque, 3216 South Hudson Street, Seattle WA 98118; 206-725-2728
R & L Home of Good Barbeque, 1816 East Yesler Way, Seattle WA 98122; 206-322-0271
Ricky Scott, of Scott's Bar-B-Que, can only be called idiosyncratic, but the man makes barbecue so good it will make you cry.
Scott's Bar-B-Que: 10880 Highway 412 West, Lexington TN 38351; 731-968-0420
The Chinese gave us the Year of the Pig (hooray!), it's only fair we single out some of our favorite info on Chinese-style pork offerings.
Chinese Suckling Pig (Los Angeles)
It's no surprise that nearly every Chinese restaurant that the L.A. Weekly's Jonathan Gold reviews here makes mention of a delicious-sounding pork dish, but the suckling pig at Triumphal Palace sounds amazing: "Suckling pig is not diet food. It is served as thin, crackling wisps of skin, ready to be smeared with hoisin sauce, garnished with a sliver of shredded scallion and tucked into thin Chinese pancakes, to be consumed as the most decadent tacos imaginable, like porcine Beijing duck. Then the rest of the pig shows up on a big platter, neatly separated from the bones and a rather heartier affair, like the Cantonese equivalent of a Carolina pig-pickin’ feast."
Triumphal Palace: 500 West Main Street, Alhambra CA 91801; 626-308-3222
Chinese Suckling Pig (New York City)
If you like your pig in smaller, bite-sized pieces, you can’t go wrong at Great NY Noodle Town and Pig Heaven. Great name for a restaurant, and great ribs as well.
Great NY Noodle Town: 28 1/2 Bowery, New York NY 10002; 212-349-2690
Chinese Spare Ribs (New York City)
In New York’s lower Manhattan Chinatown, look no further than Big Wong for the messiest, most delicious Chinese spare ribs I’ve ever had. For a more refined Chinese rib experience, head to the aforementioned Pig Heaven on the Upper East Side.
Big Wong: 67 Mott Street, New York NY 10013; 212-964-0540
Pig Heaven: 1540 Second Avenue, New York NY 10028; 212-744-4333
Chinese Barbecued Pork (Seattle)
Seattle chef Tom Douglas has spent many a late night in search of roast pork in Seattle's International District, and his favorite is King's Barbecue House.
King's Barbecue House: 2710 South Beacon Avenue, Seattle WA 98144; 206-720-4715
Best California Taco Article
Cindy Price wrote perhaps the definitive piece on California tacos, many of which are pork-based: Chasing the Perfect Taco Up the California Coast.
Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich
I spent four years in Iowa getting my BA at Grinnell College (not in Pork Studies), but this is a state awash in swine. The unofficial state sandwich is a pounded and deep-fried pork tenderloin in the size of a Frisbee served on a hamburger bun with mayo and lettuce. 5 minutes from the Des Moines airport is Smitty's, which might make the best pork tenderloin sandwich I've ever tasted. My last visit to Smitty's caused my son to be for his interview at my alma mater. Hey, a man's gotta have his priorities.
Smitty's Tenderloin Shop: 1401 Army Post Road, Des Moines IA 50321; 515-287-4742
Philly Roast Pork Sandwich
Everybody's always yapping about cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, and with good reason, but the real reason to hit the city of Brotherly Love is for the roast pork, provolone, and broccoli rabe sandwich at John's Roast Pork.
John's Roast Pork: 14 Snyder Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19148; 215-463-1951
San Francisco Pork Tacos
Serious Eater Scott Stohler, a food television producer and one of filmmakers behind Smokestack Lightning (see Best Pig Movie below), recommends the carnitas tacos at La Taqueira. The San Francisco Chronicle backs him up, naming the place to its 2006 list of 100 best restaurants in the city.
La Taqueira: 2889 Mission Street, San Francisco CA 94410; 415-285-7117
Wisconsin Bratwurst and Summer Sausage
Wisconsinites know bratwurst and summer sausage, and Usinger's (usinger.com) is their purveyor of choice for most pork products. But when it comes to bratwurst, R. W. Apple Jr.'s The Meat That Made Sheboygan Famous.
Chicago Pig Chef
Whenever I go to Paul Kahan’s two terrific Chicago restaurants, Blackbird and Avec, conveniently located side by side, I just look for the dishes with any form of pig in them. This strategy has yet to fail me.
Blackbird: 619 West Randolph Street, Chicago IL 60661; 312-715-0708
Avec: 615 West Randolph Street, Chicago IL 60661; 312-377-2002
Los Angeles Pig Chef
Though many people insist on ordering the justifiably famous pot roast at Suzanne Tracht’s Jar (8225 Beverly Blvd., 323-655-6566), I go straight for the pig, in the form of braised pork belly and the char sui pork chop, or the braised pork shank.
New York Pig Chefs
Mario Batali:Who else can sell pig fat as "white prosciutto"? (Babbo, 110 Waverly Place, New York NY 10011; 212-777-0303)
Tom Valenti of Ouest, who knows that everything does taste better with bacon. (Ouest, 2315 Broadway, New York NY 10024; 212-580-8700)
Daniel Boulud: The man should know pighe comes from Lyon, the pork capital of France. (Daniel, 60 East 65th Street, New York NY 10021; 212-288-0033)
David Chang of Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssam Bar, who convinced me that the way to make great chicken soup is by adding a ton of pork. (Momofuku Noodle, 163 First Avenue, New York NY 10003; 212-475-7899. Momofuku Ssam, 207 Second Avenue, New York NY 10003; 212-254-3500)
Seattle Pig Chef
I may be biased, because I co-wrote one of Tom Douglas’ cookbooks Tom's Big Dinners, but I think the man knows how to cook swine, especially ribs.
Palace Kitchen: 2030 Fifth Avenue, Seattle WA 98121; 206-448-2001
General Barbecue Books
Smokestack Lightning, the barbecue movie we've excerpted here, started as Smokestack Lightning, a terrific book by New Orleans Times Picayune columnist Lolis Eric Elie and photographer Frank Stewart.
Who knew that baby back rib zen pitmaster Mike Mills would write a great book about barbecue, Peace, Love, & Barbecue? Of course, some of us know he had a lot of help from his daughter Amy Mills Tunncliffe.
Kansas City Barbecue Book
The Grand Barbecue: Doug Worgul has written a mouthwatering, informative, and entertaining guide to Kansas City barbecue culture. And yet very few people even know of this book’s existence.
North Carolina Barbecue Book
North Carolina Barbecue: Bob Garner's Guide to North Carolina Barbecue has spent his whole life eating North Carolina barbecue and reporting and writing about it, and I have used this book many times successfully searching for ‘cue in North Carolina.
Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. If you insist on making your own salami or sausage, this is the book to buy. (Paul Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand also has a fantastic section on salumi and charcuterie.)
Overall Pig Books
Pig Perfect is "hamthropologist" Peter Kaminsky’s passionate grail quest for delicious pork and sublime ham. Bruce Aidell’s Complete Book of Pork is the most comprehensive book I’ve ever read about the wonders of pork. Having spent many 5,000 calorie days with Bruce in search of the perfect sausage, I can tell you: The man knows pig. On the subject of bacona number of bacon cookbooks has appeared recently, but I think the ultimate bacon book remains unwritten.
Calvin Trillin is the pig poet laureate. Just pick up the Tummy Trilogy or Feeding a Yen and you'll be convinced. Vogue food critic Jeffrey Steingarten loves pork more than life itself, as you will find by reading either The Man Who Ate Everything or It Must Have Been Something I Ate. Alan Richman, who is angry with me because I had the temerity to take him to task for the silly piece he wrote about New Orleans restaurants for GQ a few months back, has a wonderful, hilarious piece on North Carolina barbecue in his book Fork It Over.
No, it's not Porky's. It's Smokestack Lightning. We might be biased because the folks who made this documentary have become friends of ours, but we still think it's the best barbecue movie ever made. Watch our multipart series of excerpts.