Is there any food more given to hyperbole than barbecue?
“World’s greatest sauce . . . ribs . . . pig”?
Does the cuisine invite the braggadocio, or is the braggart drawn to the medium?
Barbecue is a process by which (historically) cheap cuts of meat are cooked low and slow – at a low temperature for a long period of time – to create an unctuous, meltingly tender finished product, flavored with smoke, spice, and sweat. Is it any wonder the cook, after spending two days preparing a meal, might tend to overstate the amazing nature of their creation, declaring their finished product the finest on God’s green Earth?
It is not.
It is as natural as the urge to cook meat over fire, a primal drive to label me and mine God’s finest kind.
And what of the regional difference? Can we even agree on how to spell barbecue? Or BBQ? Or Bar-b-que?
Heck, pitmasters can’t even agree on the right meat!
In Kentucky, it’s mutton.
In the deep south, it’s pork. In the Carolinas, whole hog. In other parts of the south, pulled or chopped pork.
In Texas, it’s beef. Beef ribs, short ribs, or that most Texas of all barbecue–brisket.
It’s generally agreed the world’s best brisket is prepared in Texas. Kreuz Market, Salt Lick BBQ, Killen’s Barbecue — legendary names. Even Franklin Barbecue, which Texas Monthly called “the best barbecue in the known universe.”
Maybe even fabrication?
Sure! Ask a pit master for his sauce recipe. Or for his cooking time and temp for his favorite cut. Whatever he tells you, you can be sure that probably ain’t it.
What if I told you the nation’s best brisket is a bit north of Texas?
What if I told you Michigan now has one of the country’s best restaurants for barbecue?
And what if I told you that you could find it in Dearborn Heights, Michigan?
But hear me out.
This is Ali Bazzy.
This is his partner, Abraham Jebai.
Together, they run A. B.’s Amazing Ribs, a new barbecue spot in Dearborn Heights, MI.
A Halal barbecue spot, meaning two things:
- No pork. No pulled pork. No chopped pork. No whole hog. No baby back ribs. No pork, capice?
- The meat is prepared according to Islamic law.
If you eat out in Dearborn, you’re probably already familiar with halal meat. For others, fear not. It simply means the animal was humanely killed, and the meat is blood-free. And it isn’t pork.
In the case of A.B.’s, that means the whole briskets come from Creekstone Farms, a Kansas packing house that works only with US herds of Black Angus cattle, hormone and antibiotic-free.
A.B.’s buys only Choice or higher (Prime). Ali believes you can only get a great end product, by starting with great meat.
Ali has been smoking meat for ten years. He started out in his garage in Dearborn, and he’s refreshingly humble about his first attempts at brisket.
“It sucked,” he says, describing meat that was tough and rubbery. He was cooking at too high a temperature, so the fat and connective tissue never rendered out.
He tried beef ribs, 4 – 7 lb. racks smoked in a Kenmore propane smoker he purchased at a liquidation sale. He was cooking for family and friends, and started to get the meat right, dialing in the time and temp for the perfect rack.
Then he turned to the sauce. Ali believes a good sauce is key to a good barbecue meal, that the proper sauce enhances the meat, complementing the smokey taste, rather than covering it up.
He worked through a number of commercial sauces, and found them to be universally too sweet, and too heavy. Setting out to make his own, he started, as do most sauce recipes, with a ketchup base.
But the next day, the sauce always had a vinegar taste he found off-putting.
So he tried tomato paste.
Then tomato sauce.
He couldn’t get the consistency right.
Finally, he found a commercially-made tomato paste that he liked, and that became the basis for his sauce.
And that’s the only ingredient he’ll share. The other ingredients are secret.
He describes his sauce as one-of-a-kind, and perfect for everyone. He achieved a sauce that is best described as what it isn’t: it isn’t too sweet, and it isn’t too spicy.
It’s subtle, a word not normally associated with the bombastic world of barbecue.
I might even call it unassuming.
He then made a second sauce, a white sauce spiked with horseradish. He made it primarily for the chicken, but it works on the beef as well.
Once he had the recipes, and the sauces, it was time to open. Ali and Abraham found this storefront in a Dearborn Heights strip mall. They gutted the space, worked for 5 weeks, pouring in about $100k in renovations.
They opened on March 22, 2019. They sold out in 2 1/2 hours.
They added a second smoker.
A third one is on the way.
The menu features chicken, wings, beef ribs, short ribs, and brisket. Sides are simple – fries, coleslaw, cornbread, mac & cheese.
You can order the meat as a platter, or a sandwich.
Beef ribs and short ribs are generously finished, mopped with the red sauce, as you can see here.
Short ribs are huge, about 2 lbs. per rib before smoking.
Rubs tend to be minimalistic. For example, the brisket rub is an exotic blend: salt and pepper.
After a rub and a rest, it’s into the smoker, stoked with apple or cherrywood. Set to a temperature somewhere between absolute zero and the surface of the sun, for a period of time that’s sometime between a zeptosecond and the length of the Mesozoic Era, the briskets rotate in the smoker. At certain periods, a fine mist of some liquid may or may not be applied to the exterior of the meat. The fat and connective tissues render, releasing the gelatin that is the key to succulent brisket.
Following that recipe exactly results in a brisket that stands among the nation’s best.
Visually, there’s a beautiful bark, the delicious crust of caramelization you see on the best examples of barbecue. There’s the pink ring, and indication of smoke judiciously applied. The slices are thick, about the width of a #2 pencil (Why does the thickness of the slice matter? Because a tough brisket will be sliced thinner, in an attempt to cover up its inferiority.}. The slices have visible juices flowing, demonstrating the juicy succulence of the best meat.
Tactilely, the meat has the perfect “tug”, that brief moment of resistance before the slice gives way, and pulls apart. It’s tender, achingly tender, but it isn’t mush. It still has a beefy chew.
And the taste? Succulent. Smokey. Moist. Beefy.
It’s the ideal of what brisket should be.
And it’s in Michigan.
A.B.’s Amazing Ribs is located at 27310 Ford Road, in Dearborn Heights, MI. They are open 7 days a week, from noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays. Find them on the web at https://www.abamazingribs.com
Pro tip for the readers of this column: order the brisket mac & cheese. Don’t ask why, just drop me a thank you note afterwards.