The Delaware barbecue scene is on fire. Literally.
Whether you’re looking for a taste of Texas brisket, North Carolina pulled pork or ribs à la Memphis, there’s a local spot serving up authentic tastes of these regions. Barbecue at its core means cooking food, typically meat, over flame or hot coals. Don’t have a meat smoker at home? You can still get close to the real thing with these tips for mastering the grill.
After 30 years in the barbecue business, Rick Betz stands by the Fat Rick’s BBQ slogan: “Nobody beats my meat.”
Betz opened the barbecue restaurant and catering business in Wilmington after leaving the corporate world to be his own boss. “Marching to somebody else’s drumbeat didn’t work for me,” he says.
At Fat Rick’s, Betz and his wife became students of classic American barbecue. Their little book of recipes, covered in sauce and grease, holds the keys to a variety of regional flavors, from North Carolina pulled pork to Memphis ribs and Texas brisket.
Betz’s Grilled Veggies—a combination of onions, zucchini, peppers and other seasonal vegetables—draws a crowd and is the bestselling side dish.
They’re also known for their popular traveling pig roast. Betz helps his catering clients decide which size pig they need for their gathering and then brings everything along, including the pig already roasting in the smoker.
Betz cooks all of his barbecue over a mix of hickory, oak and cherrywood. All the meats—except turkey, which receives a wet brine—are covered in a specialty dry rub and slow smoked for hours. “The same way it was done 100 years ago,” Betz explains.
The meats are then paired with a sauce fit for their barbecue type, each made in the classic style for the region with no fancy additions: Think vinegar base for the pulled pork, tangy sweet sauce for the ribs and a rich beef flavor for brisket.
As for barbecuing at home, Betz says it’s close to impossible to make the authentic meal without a setup worthy of a pitmaster. But if the home griller attempts a pulled pork or brisket, don’t expect it to be quick. “There are no shortcuts,” he says. The meat must be roasted for the same amount of time you’d expect at Fat Rick’s—upwards of 10 hours.
301 Barrett St., Wilmington; 345-8863; fatricksbbq.com
There’s always something smoking at Limestone BBQ & Bourbon.
Pitmaster Nick Wallace clocks in at 4 a.m. to check on the brisket and pork shoulders that have been smoking since the night before. He adds the turkey, ribs and chicken, and then crafts the pairing sauces—Classiq (zesty and sweet), Carolina (a hybrid of the Lexington and Eastern styles, with ketchup, vinegar and chili flakes), Philthy Hot (cayenne and cracked pepper) and Sassafras White (the Alabama classic with a sour cream, cider vinegar and mayonnaise base).
Wallace says his barbecue is most reminiscent of Texas style, heavy on salt and pepper to produce a smoky flavor. There’s a touch of North Carolina barbecue with the restaurant’s pulled pork and a sprinkle of brown sugar on the ribs.
Wondering what to pair it with? High 5 Hospitality culinary director Robbie Jester likes something fatty and acidic, like the White Cheddar Mac and Cheese, Fresh Cut Cabbage Slaw or the chili mac—which “fills the cracks in your heart,” Wallace says.
For mouthwatering barbecue done at home, Wallace recommends a charcoal grill, a personal smoker or a smoke box for wood chips. For added flavor, Jester suggests soaking your wood chips in alcohol or spreading on the raw spices.
Indirect grilling helps prevents the meat from cooking too fast at a high heat. Build your fire on one side of the grill and place the meat on the other side, allowing it to cook slowly and build a smoky flavor over time.
Whatever method you choose, Jester says to watch your time and temperature, as nothing should be smoked quickly over a high heat. Also be aware of the type of smoke your grill creates—gray smoke is preferred over a white smoke, as it can give the meat a bitter taste.
Lastly, Jester adds, “Make it an event, smoke it all the way through and serve it fresh the way it was meant to be.”
2062 Limestone Road, Wilmington, 274-2085, limestonebbqandbourbon.com
For Clint “Chef Bones” Harris, barbecue is a family affair.
The namesake behind TenderBones Rib Shack created his menu from recipes passed down through generations. He visited family in the Carolinas and Virginia to bring authentic regional barbecue back to Delaware.
“We like to cook our meats like we’re at home,” he says.
Chef Bones’ joint pays homage to the mom-and-pop rib shacks across the southern U.S. And he’s made his home states proud, as people make a point to visit his restaurants in Delaware when they’re traveling north. You won’t find small St. Louis–style ribs here; in fact, they’re so large that some customers confuse them for beef ribs.
He also serves up a 3-pound cheesesteak, an off-menu item that has earned national recognition. When he travels, passersby recognize him as Chef Bones. “My wife can’t stand it,” he says, laughing.
Harris is passionate about being a pitmaster, and sharing his cooking secrets with customers is half the fun.
For the home smoker, Harris suggests starting with a dry rub. He stays away from the salt and instead works with spices like cayenne, garlic and black pepper. When it comes to making the perfect brisket, trim it to keeping about 1/8th of an inch of fat on the bottom, he advises. Rub down with spices and allow to smoke for seven to 10 ½ hours at 215 F to 218 F. For pulled pork instead, cover with spice rub and allow it to smoke for 10 hours at 218 F.
2504 Red Lion Road, Bear; 832-RIBS; 617 E. Loockerman St., Dover; 832-7427; tenderbones.com