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Review - Sugarfire Smokehouse, St. Louis

I'm not a huge fan of chain restaurants, even if they are BBQ joints. Which is why I had not noticed that the Dickey's BBQ near my office had suddenly been converted to Sugarfire Smokehouse. I figured it was a good sign that they always seemed to be busy at lunch time. In fact, too busy for me to try the place. But this weekend, I happened by there just after they opened and was finally able to try it out.

I was encouraged by the Ole Hickory smoker sitting on the patio right by the front door. Thats an odd place for your pit, but I've eaten some really food BBQ out of one of those pits, so i took it as another good sign. There a few remnants of the former Dickey's, but I was encouraged to see the place rearranged with the kitchen in full view and lots of employees busily prepping for the lunch crowd.

Like a lot of classic BBQ joints, the menu was written in chalk at the order station. That's not a bad thing, unless you use a lot of unique names for your menu items. There's no place on the chalkboard to describe what a "Big Muddy" sand which is for example.

Nonetheless, I ordered up the 2 meat platter and watched as the guy at the counter pulled out a large tray covered with butcher paper and piled on pulled pork and freshly sliced brisket. Down the cafeteria-style line I went, adding bbq beans and hand cut fries to my meal. And like any self respecting BBQ joint, sweet tea completed my order.

I grabbed a seat at one of the tables left over from the days as a Dickey's franchise and eyed the four bottles of clearly homemade sauces that seem to be a requirement for any BBQ joint these days. I got what I expected from the Texas Hot, Sweet BBQ, & White Sauces. But I cautiously tried the "Cherry" sauce as indicated (as they all were) by the handwritten masking tape label. Let me just say that I hope that's not a regular sauce and just an experiment, cause it was not good.

Other than my dislike of the Cherry sauce, I didn't find another thing that wasn't good. The pork & brisket were moist and tender, the bark was tasty, and the sides were very good. The portions were very generous, and I found the meal to be a good value overall.

Here's how I'd rate my visit to Sugarfire Smokehouse:


Side Dishes -

Atmosphere - B-

Value - A-

Overall - A

I keep a list of the best BBQ joints in St Louis. Since I'm the resident BBQ snob among my friends & family, I'm often asked where to get good BBQ. Sugarfire Smokehouse just made the short list. If you're interested, here's their particulars:

Sugarfire Smokehouse
9200 Olive Blvd.
Olivette, MO 63132
St. Louis, MO, USA

Business Hours:
11am - 9PM Daily




Review: Hutchens BBQ - Benton, KY

Every spring, I head down to Kentucky Lake for some spring fishing with my dad and my brother.  We have a good time fishing, laughing, and eating.  A couple of times, we've stumbled across BBQ joints that I would have never found otherwise.  Such was the case this year when we happened upon Hutchens BBQ in Benton, KY.


This was clearly a local joint serving lots more than BBQ, but BBQ is what we were there for.  There were a good number of locals in the place, but we were welcomed right off and offered up sweet tea while we looked over the menu (I love sweet tea).  I realized that we had arrived only 20 minutes before closing time, so we placed our orders quickly and learned a little about the history of the place.

Company Overview

In 1947, W.C. Hutchens purchased a building in downtown Benton, Kentucky to open a new restaurant. The first menu included a variety of items such as BBQ sandwiches, hamburgers, cokes, fountain drinks, coffee, BLTs, hot ham and cheese, country ham sandwiches, hot dogs, and lots of ice cream and milkshakes.

Since then the restaurant has grown into a full-service dining experience but still values the importance of taste, good service, and hospitality. We still make a world-class BBQ sandwich as well. 

My brother and I ordered the large BBQ sandwich and dad order the turkey.  We were served up really large sandwiches with our choice of mild, medium, or hot BBQ sauce.  I had the the medium.  It was a thin sauce with a nice kick.  The pork was very tender and while it had a definite smoke ring, there was an absence of any other seasoning as far as I could tell.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the BBQ and would recommend the place.

I love finding little BBQ joints like Hutchens in the places that I visit.  These joints have a long history in their communities and are obviously doing something right or they wouldn't last as long as they have.  

Here's how I'd rate my visit to Hutchens BBQ:

  • BBQ - B

  • Side Dishes - A

  • Atmosphere - B

  • Value - A

  • Overall - A-

If you find yourself in Benton, KY for a little fishing or boating, make your way over to Hutchens BBQ.  I don't think you'll be disappointed.  I know I wasn't, and I look forward to stopping in again when we make the trip next year.




Review: Char Crust Seasonings

I recently had the opportunity to sample a couple of seasonings from Char Crust.  I was unaware of the rich history of this family owned business, despite the fact that I'm a fellow Illinoisan.  It seems their line of seasonings is the result of the legacy of their father's steak house in Chicago.  Although the restaurant is no longer there, the seasonings are still available both direclty from their website or through various grocery and specialty stores.

I sampled the All American Barbecue Rub recently.  As I usually do, I sampled the rub straight from the package and then applied it to chicken breast for gilling.  The rub had a nice combination of sweet and salty, but it definitely finished with a kick when I sampled it straight from the package.  Frankly, I was a little worried that the heat might be too much for my family as they don't typically care much for that.  However, the rub really mellowed during the cooking process.  The finished product had a nice BBQ flavor that wasn't at all over powering.

Interesting note here.  The directions on the package suggest dredging the meat thoroughly and then applying a spritz of EVOO or something similar to help bind the seasoning to the meat.  I did not follow these directions primarily because I was a little worried about the kick of the seasoning when I sampled it straight from the package.  Given how much the seasoning mellowed during the cook, I would try following the directions a little more closely next time. 

Overall, I'd recommend these seasonings based on this experience.  I plan to cook with the Hickory & Molasses version next and will provide an update on that effort soon.  

In the meantime, here's how you can get your hands on Char Crust Seasonings.

Char Crust, Inc.

3017 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60657
Phone: 773.528.0600 or 800.311.9884 or 773.CHARCRUST




Meat America

One of the things that I've tried to make a conscious effort to do is to get better at photography.  So, I've begun listening to some podcasts and following some online resources on the subject.

Someone turned me on to a a website by a photographer named Jared Polin called Fro Knows Photo.  While listening to this week's podcast, I heard about a photo project that sort of blends food and photography.  Another photographer named Dominic Episcopo has a new book coming out soon called Meat America.  

MEAT AMERICA is not just a photo story, art print bonanza and upcoming book by renowned photographer Dominic Episcopo.

MEAT AMERICA is a state of mind, an eye-opening and artery-closing tour of America’s spirit of entrepeneurship, rebellion and positivity.

MEAT AMERICA celebrates our appetite for insurmountable odds, limitless aspiration, and immeasurable success. Actually, just between us;

it’s a way for us to combine a few of our favorite things. Meat. Quotes. Facts. Photography. And the indefinable adjective that is “American.”



Here's a link to one of the pieces.  


It might be a bit of a stretch to link this project to a BBQ blog, but I think it's pretty cool stuff.  

Be sure to check out the Meat America photo book that's due to laucnh soon.







Review: Gary's Sweet for Mama BBQ Rub


I recently had the opportunity to sample the Sweet for Mama BBQ Rub From Gary's Seasonings.  I wasn't familiar with Gary's line of seasonings until now.  So I wasn't really sure what to expect.  However, I was pleasantly surprised with the flavors in the Sweet for Mama Rub.

I have to confess, that I typically try rubs and seasonings first with just a little taste straight from the bottle.  This time was no exception.  When I tasted the rub, I immediately liked it.  In fact, I asked my wife to sample it because there was something familiar about the flavor.  I never did figure out why it seemed familiar, but I liked it.


I also like to sample BBQ rubs and seasonings applied to chicken.  Grilled chicken breasts don't overwhelm the seasonings or sauces that are applied like other meats.  So, I applied Gary's Sweet for Mama rub on some chicken breasts for dinner.  

This is a sweeter rub than I'm used to, with not nearly as much paprika in the blend.  So the rub didn't color the meat as much as a lot of others.  Additionally, the cayenne flavor really comes through.  All in a good way.  My family enjoyed the flavor as did I.  In fact, later that evening I applied some more of Gary's Sweet for Mama to a bowl of popcorn.  Something about the combination of sweet & salty in this rub made me want more and it was awesome as a popcorn seasoning!


Gary's was kind enough to include sample packets of their other seasonings.  I look forward to sampling the other products, including:


  • Gary's Original Blend
  • Hot for Mama
  • Too Hot for Mama


Each of these are available in Salt Free versions as well.  And here's a really cool option for anyone who would like to trial Gary's flavors.  Trial sizes can be had for .39 cents each with free shipping!  I haven't seen anyone else doing this, but I think it's an awesome idea and a great way to market your products.

Check out Gary's Seasonings at or check them out at a variety of west coast locations.  I think you'll like it!




Review: Tasty Licks - Black Bart's Brisket Rub


I have to confess, I've never eaten BBQ in Texas.  So when I read a "Taste of Texas" on the label on Fred Benardo's brisket rub I sort of have to take his word for it.  Now I have had other brisket rubs from Texas and I have to say that this one stacks up pretty well.

I've develped a taste for a peppery rub on brisket and beef in general.  I found Black Bart's Brisket Rub to suit my taste buds nicely.  It's a nice blend of salt, pepper, and paprika, with just a hint of cayenne.  When I'm not trying a new rub, I keep it pretty simple with just garlic salt and black pepepr for my beef.  So the simplicity of this rub really hit the mark as far as I'm concerned.  I've used it a couple of times and really enjoyed it.

If you'd like to give Tasty Licks rubs a try, head over to Tasty Licks BBQ Supply for their line of rubs and seasonings as wella s a variety of other BBQ related products.

If you happen to live in greater Shillington, PA area, tell The Smokin' Guitar Player that I sent you.



Now That's a Knife!


Whether you're just getting started or you've been BBQ'ing for awhile, there comes a time when you need to evaluate the knives you're using.  After all, they're a pretty important tool for the BBQ chef.  I spent the first few years just using whatever fell to hand in the kitchen.  But a few years ago, my wife presented me with a nice set of knives for Christmas.  The difference has been night and day.

So here are a few things to consider if you're in the market for knives.

  • Consider the type of blade and the maintenance.  Some blades are harder to sharpen and some require professional sharpening, like serrated blades.
  • Like buying shoes, you need to try it on.  Pick it up and feel how it fits your hand.
  • Buy individual knives rather than a set and buy the best knife you can afford.  Buying a set is certainly acceptable, but you may find that there are knives in the set that you don't use much.

And here are the knives that I'd recommend you start with.

The Chef's Knife - This is a good all purpose knife that can be used for dicing, mincing, and slicing.  Just be sure to buy one that's comfortable in your hand and not too long.


A utility knife.  This knife is longer than a pairing knife and used for miscellaneous cutting.  Typicaly these knives have blades in the 4-6" range.

The pairing knife.  A short knife typically used for peeling or coring vegetables and smaller food items.  These knives typically are 3-5" long with a straight, sharp edge.

The only other knife that I'd add to get started is a serrated knife for slicing.  Unfortunatley mine is MIA, but that's a whole other blog post.

Sharpening Steel - Sharp knives are the most useful, so make sure you have a sharpening steel or some other tool to keep a good edge on whatever knife you use.

Remember, even when the world is at peace, a gentleman still keeps a blade by his side.



The Smoking Jacket

What?  This isn't what you had in mind?  You thought I meant some sort of silk-lined jacket with a cravat? Well then you don't know me very well.

This is my "smoking jacket".  It's an old ski coat that I began using to stay warm while tending the smoker in cold weather.  I love the way it smells.  I love the way it feels on a cold morning.  And I love the way it shows the battle scars of my time tending the fire.

My wife doesn't love it nearly as much as I do!  :)





Review: Omaha Steaks Beef Tenderloin


As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm lucky to receive a number of grill and BBQ items for Christmas.  One of those items was a gift package from Omaha Steaks.  I've had some of their items before, but this was the first time that I received a shipment/gift via UPS.  The assortment of steaks and side dishes was packaged in a styrofoam cooler and arrived frozen and perfectly in tact.  


So, for New Year's Eve I grilled up the beef tenderloin steaks for dinner.  I used a very light seasoning and no sauce to let the meat speak for itself.  I grilled them over a ~500 degree grill.  They weren't very thick, so they reached the desired temps pretty quickly.

The family enjoyed the steaks, although for tenderloin they were a little fattier and "chewier" in places than they would have liked.  But the combination of good beef, grilling over a hot charcoal fire, and the dusting of seasoning resulted in a flavorful steak.  Oh, there were no left overs!

I certainly won't look a gift horse in the mouth, but given that I live in a metropolitan area I'm able to get equal or better quality steaks at comparable prices.  So, I won't likely order these on a regular basis.  However, they're certainly worthy of giving or receiving as a gift.

Oh, and their chocolate cake rocks!







Review: Sonny's BBQ Restaurant

I recently visited my folks in Southwest Florida.  They know that I'd rather eat BBQ than just about anything else, and they also like to share their discoveries with me.  So, when it came time to grab lunch they steered us towards the Sonny's BBQ in Cape Coral.  

Sonny's is a BBQ franchise with locations in 9 states.  A quick look at their website find ~125 locations listed.  With that kind of succes, you'd think they must do something right.  Turns out, they do.

The place was pretty nice and business was a bit slow given that we were late for lunch and early for dinner.  Nonetheless, we ordered up some sweet tea and took a look at the menu.  It was extensive.  I opted for a trip to the salad bar and the brisket plate with a couple of sides.  Turns out, I should have skipped the salad bar.  The brisket portion was generous, and the side dishes were large as well.

The brisket was sliced thin and had a good flavor.  I had a little more fat on my plate than I'd prefer, but it was tastey.  There was a variety of sauces on the table, all original Sonny's flavors.  They were all pretty good, but I opted to enjoy my brisket without sauce.  My folks went for the sweet sauce and enjoyed it as well.

They had a decent selection of side dishes.  I opted for cole slaw and green beans since I've been trying to watch my diet a little.  They were both very good, but I was sure wishing for that I'd ordered some of the BBQ beans or baked sweet potato that my folks enjoyed.  They looked great.

Here's how I'd rate my trip to Sonny's:

  • BBQ - B

  • Side Dishes - B

  • Atmosphere - B

  • Value - B

  • Overall - B

Overall, a solid joint that I'd enjoy eating at again.  And, given their growing footprint that's highly likely.