Today was our first step into the world of barbeque right here in Virginia, just south of Washington DC. Virginia barbeque isn’t as hotly contested as its cousins in the Carolinas (seemingly), however there’s still a lot going on.
Our first distraction was the ME Springs coffee house and roasting operation as we needed a post flight caffeine hit. What a place – we had a personal tour by coffee roaster Scott and a great chat about the drip-through process of single estate coffee from Emma – more of that coming up in the next blog.
We headed to Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company in Alexandria and before lunch, were warmly welcomed and shown round by manager Rebecca Gomez. Rocklands expanded into Alexandria from its first outlet which started in DC 25 years ago and has been barbequing pork butt, beef brisket, short ribs and chicken ever since. Rebecca has worked at Rocklands for 15 years and took obvious pride in giving us a back of house tour. The centrepiece is the oven, basically a big metal wardrobe with an oak and hickory wood fire alight in the bottom and a load of racks for the meats hanging over it with channels to catch the meat fats. This oven has been in non stop use since the outlet started and is properly black from smoking and roasting the meats for 8 hours at a time – this colour won’t get shifted by any cleaning agent any time soon.
We were there on a Thursday lunchtime and there were just a couple of shelves half full of meat but at the weekends this oven is packed and repacked with joints for the restaurant, for outside catering and their street food trucks.
Pork butts may sound disconcerting however a butt in this context is a shoulder joint, full of flavour and juices. The meat is sourced locally and in the US, this can be anything up to 3 states away but Rocklands buy from Maryland and Virginia.
The menu is blackboarded up in the entrance and the choice is overwhelming however when in doubt ask the man behind the till what he recommends. So we ended up with the 3 meat plate – pork, brisket and chicken with a couple of sides of fried plantains and a black bean salad. Just to check out the specials we also had the chicken, cheese and bacon sandwich with broccoli salad and barbeque beans. You can see we’re trying to keep up the veg and salad input along with the protein….
Even though we’re barbeque novices, we can see the main dispute is in the sauces – should it be tomato based, vinegar or mustard?? Further south it would seem it’s one or the other but here in Virginia, we had a tomato based sauce cut through with vinegar and spices – a great introduction.
The verdict of our first barbeque – moist, melting and sweet as a nut. Bring on the rest of the trip; cheers for now!