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Smoke Signals: Sniffers and seekers

With the seriousness of a surgeon reading an X-ray, Boris Zilberman is analyzing a pork rib on his plate at the Tender Rib barbecue restaurant in Temple Hills.

“I’m getting a lot of smoke,” he says, referring to the flavor of hickory in the meat.
Seated next to Zilberman in the spacious family-style restaurant, Adam Muhlendorf nods in affirmation. “Mmmm-hmm,” he concurs.

The two hunker down to the business at hand. A half-slab awaits, unsauced, on each of their plates. Plastic containers of tomato-based hot and mild sauces are off to the side.

“We always get them without sauce,” Muhlendorf says.

“See how they taste on their own,” Zilberman says.

“The meat should have a flavor of its own,” Muhlendorf says.

“The sauce should complement the meat,” Zilberman says, “not overpower it.”

And so it goes, the two frat brothers from the University of Alabama, finishing each other’s thoughts as they assess the ribs at yet another Washington-area barbecue joint for the blog they created three years ago, beltwaybbq.com.

Finding good barbecue in the Washington area can be like climbing a mountain in a blizzard. Unless you have a guide, your journey could end in disaster.

Beltwaybbq.com wants to help you.

By day, Muhlendorf, 29, works for a PR firm and Zilberman, 26, is a lobbyist. By night, and weekends, and whenever they can, the two barbecue fanatics explore the region’s barbecue culture. In their ever-expanding drives north of Baltimore, deep into Virginia and elsewhere, they hit the sparkling-clean eateries and the dingy shacks.

After moving to Washington, the guys pined for the meaty ribs at the fabled Dreamland in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and, just down the road, their personal favorite, the ones from the tiny Archibald’s, a rib shack in Northport. They started searching. Soon they decided their notes would make a good Web site.

In July 2008, Beltwaybbq was born.

The two, who are Kansas City Barbecue Society-certified judges, rate on appearance, flavor, tenderness, sauce and “overall impression” on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. Their search has led them to upgrade online, recently adding a regional map of restaurants they have reviewed, have been to but have not yet reviewed, and have heard about but have not yet visited.

They only review pork ribs because they are of the opinion that they understand ribs better than the other meats. And, they point out, ribs are universal: “There are so many different styles of barbecue,” Zilberman says. “But everybody has ribs.”

Which brings us back to the Tender Rib.

Zilberman: “They have the membrane on the back, but it’s pretty clean.”

Muhlendorf: “Some have been mushy. Others have been okay.” Pause. “It has a good bark [crisped exterior] on it.”

Zilberman: “It’s like the other places in Southeast. There’s a Southeast style; mildly seasoned, prominent flavor being salt and hickory smoke.”

Muhlendorf: “And a sweet ketchupy sauce.”

Zilberman: “I’d give them a 7.5 or so. They’re cooked well.”

Muhlendorf: “I’ve enjoyed the food. I would come back.”

They push their plates to the side. Their sherpa work at the Tender Rib is done.

-- Jim Shahin, who writes a monthly barbecue column for the Food section. Follow him on Twitter.

To read their full review of the Tender Rib, along with their others, check out beltwaybbq.com.

BBQ CALENDAR
Take a drive this weekend to enjoy one of the best events on the barbecue contest circuit. Pickin' in the Panhandle features bluegrass music and barbecue Friday through Sunday at the Lazy A Campground in Berkeley County, W.Va. The competition pits some of the top teams, including Tuffy Stone's Cool Smoke and the D.C. Firefighters, against each other for the state championship.Overnight camping is available (no hook-ups). See the Web site for details.

By Jim Shahin  |  September 7, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Smoke Signals  | Tags: Jim Shahin, Smoke Signals, Tender Rib  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Groundwork: Just stew it
Next: Beer: Fermentables in your future

Comments

So a couple of yuppie frat-brothers started a blog and made themselves self-appointed experts on bbq? Please...

The bar is not exactly high to become a "Kansas City Barbecue Society-certified judge" - pretty much anyone reading this could become one too. Trust your own taste buds - good BBQ is in the eye of the beholder. And while there is a lot of mytique surrounding it - it's really not that hard to do it yourself. Buy a Weber Smoky Mountain and the book "Slow and Low" by Gary Wiviott and you're well on your way.

Posted by: duffymoon | September 7, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Correction - I meant to type "Low and Slow" as the book title...

Posted by: duffymoon | September 7, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

These two fools don't have a clue about barbeque. Willard's is maybe a 5 on its best day. Place out in Gilbert's corner is awful. tried it a few times to give it a chance. The lobster and popcorn guys could prepare better que.

Posted by: sheepherder | September 7, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

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