Vermont Smoke and Cure Real Sticks

Vermont Smoke & Cure (South Barre, VT) creates a variety of smoked meats and snacks. With an emphasis on natural and local ingredients, Vermont Smoke and Cure produces top quality meats with no fillers or artificial preservatives. Their meat products use high quality, antibiotic free pork and beef that goes above and beyond industry standards.

Vermont Smoke & Cure produces a full line of bacon, sausages and hams, but it was their "Real Sticks" meat snacks that caught my eye. Real Sticks are packaged in individually wrapped 1 oz. portions (24 per box). They are currently available in two flavors: BBQ and Cracked Pepper.

While they may look familiar, Real Sticks aren't quite like the "meat" sticks you typically find on convenience store counters. These snacks are moist and far less salty than most meat sticks. Additionally, you won't find strange fillers likes mechanically separated chicken in the ingredient list of Real Sticks. The sticks are soft, with a slight chew

I found Vermont Smoke & Cure's Real Sticks to be very well seasoned. I also enjoyed the consistency of each stick. I didn't need to rip or tear to bite into it. The texture seemed more to me like a frank or stadium sausage than a typical cured meat snack.

I've had a hard time deciding which flavor I like best. I've solicited opinions from several friends and co-workers. The consensus favorite among them seemed to be the BBQ flavor. Were I forced to choose one, I'd probably lean toward the Cracked Pepper, but I don't think you could go wrong either way. 

Real Sticks and other Vermont Smoke and Cure products can be purchased directly from their website. If you're a fan of quality meat snacks, I definitely recommend checking them out. Don't forget to see how I rated Real Sticks on our "Product Reviews" page.

Pigchaser Habanero BBQ Sauce

With the BBQ boom that our country has experienced over the last decade has come the introduction of hundreds of new and creative sauces. Pigchaser BBQ (Grayslake, IL) joined the fray in 2007 and has already made a significant mark on the specialty sauce market. This innovative company produces five different sauces ranging from Pineapple-Mango to a Bacon BBQ sauce containing real chunks of bacon.

Like the products they produce, the story behind the Pigchaser name is equally unique. I won't go into great detail (You can read the story here), but it involves the owner of Pigchaser actually chasing a pig in the middle of the night through an Arizona desert.

After speaking to Ron (The Pigchaser) on the phone about his product line, he was kind enough to send me some of his award winning Habanero BBQ Sauce. The sauce recently earned a coveted 1st place Scovie in the "American Style Hot" category. The prestigious Scovie award is one of the most respected honors in the industry. After reading this year's contest results, I was anxious to give Pigchaser a try.

Like all Pigchaser BBQ sauces, Habanero is packaged in stout 16 oz. bottles. The white label features the Pigchaser BBQ Sauce logo as well as a creative description of the sauce's characteristics. Additionally, the label displays standard items like nutrition facts and ingredients. Through the bottle, the sauce is a beautiful red color and speckled with multicolored spices. The thick sauce, pours very slowly in the tradition of Kansas City style BBQ.

While I enjoy sauces with a kick, I'm always a little apprehensive when tasting a habanero product for the first time. Unfortunately, too many companies abandon flavor for the sake of heat. Rather than making a sauce that tastes great and also has a burn, they set out to make the hottest sauce possible and pray that the flavor is decent as well.

Thankfully, my fears were immediately put to rest after the first taste. Pigchaser Habanero BBQ sauce is very sweet initially. The sauce uses multiple sweeteners like honey, brown sugar, pineapple juice, maple syrup and molasses to create a far superior flavor to the one note sweetness provided by HFCS. There is also a slight hint of hickory from the liquid smoke.

The heat level is substantial, but sneaky. The sauce allowed the sweetness to take over my mouth before busting my tongue with the habanero burn. While it caused my nose to water and forehead to sweat, I couldn't help going back for more. The heat slowly built with each bite, but it was a pleasant pain. The blend of sweet and heat were exactly what I look for in a hot BBQ sauce.

I brushed the sauce on free range chicken quarters from Shelton Poultry just before they finished cooking. The thick sauce worked perfectly as a glaze. Though I enjoyed the sauce on chicken, I couldn't help thinking about how good it would be on ribs. For those with an appreciation for fiery foods, Pigchaser Habanero BBQ could be the perfect rib sauce.

I love BBQ and fiery foods, but I rarely find products that combine sweet with heat as well as Pigchaser. After testing their Habanero BBQ sauce, I can see that their Scovie award was well deserved. Learn more about Pigchaser BBQ Sauces by visiting their website. See how their Habanero sauce compares to other sauce on our "Product Reviews" page.

Tipton's Bar-B-Que (North Wilkesboro, NC)

I'm always on the look out for intriguing BBQ joints within a reasonable driving distance from my home base, High Point, NC. I came across Tipton's Bar-B-Que on a random Google search. Their attractive website and extensive menu had me interested immediately. North Wilkesboro is just a little over an hour away from home so I decided to make the drive this weekend.

The exterior of Tipton's looks like a typical neighborhood bar and grill. With a mix of table and booth seating, the subdued interior more closely resembles family restaurants like Denny's or Shoney's. The restaurant was sectioned off with only half of the tables open for lunch service. Upon entering, I was seated promptly and presented with a menu.

Tipton's menu features an eclectic mix of pizzas, sandwiches, steaks and salads. Several of those items sounded appetizing, but I didn't drive 70 miles for a sandwich. I opted for the large combo platter that featured ribs, chicken and pork in addition to two sides, slaw and hush puppies. I chose baked beans and fries for my sides.

Calling the combo platter "Large" doesn't quite do it justice. It's actually too big for a single plate. The ribs were brought to the table on a separate plate. I could here murmurs from the table next to me when the meal arrived. Things like "Can you believer that?" and "Is he going to eat all that?" were whispered just loud enough for me to hear.
I'll start with the pork. Tipton's describes their "Q" as traditional Lexington style. Their pork shoulders are smoked with a blend of hickory and other hardwoods. Tipton's serves their pork either sliced, pulled or chopped. In keeping with the Lexington tradition, I ordered mine chopped.

The pork was well cooked and very tender. It was tossed in a tangy Lexington style vinegar dip. The hardwood smoke was detectable, but not as prominent as I'd hoped. Perhaps I should have specially requested the brown bark because there wasn't any in the portion that I received.

The chicken was the highlight of the meal. The white meat quarter was tender and remarkably juicy. The skin was rubbed with an earthy chili powder spice. The flavors really melded nicely. Unlike the pork, the chicken was very smokey. The chicken alone made my trip worth while.

As I mentioned, the combo platter also included a half rack of ribs. When the rib plate arrived, I was amazed at the portion size. Tipton's uses an untrimmed spare rib. My "half rack" probably weighed around three pounds. I'm a rib guy so I was really excited to dig into the massive rack. However, I was immediately met with strong resistance. Though the spare ribs were thick and meaty, they were also very fatty and tough. The utensils I was given weren't up to the task of carving up that slab. I dug. I sliced. I pulled. My efforts were causing enough of a mess that it was beginning to become embarrassing. There was just no way my weak little fork and steak knife were going to carve up those ribs. If Tipton's is going to smoke whole spare ribs, I really think they should cut them before serving them to customers.

Though the texture of the ribs was troublesome, I have to admit that they had very good flavor. They were smokey throughout and finished with a rich tomato based sauce. Tipton's also offers three different vinegar based tables sauces. Each was ok, but the ribs were already sauced and I didn't feel the other meats needed sauce.

The sides were all pretty good. The thick cut steak fries were crispy and well seasoned. The mayo based coleslaw was sufficiently creamy. The hush puppies were crispy on the outside, but still had a moist interior. My favorite side, baked beans, appeared to be standard canned beans, but were significantly enhanced by ground beef and bacon.

Though the ribs were disappointing, my overall impression of Tipton's was pretty positive. Their menu is diverse enough to satisfy just about every craving. I may not drive 70 miles specifically to visit Tipton's again, but I wouldn't be against a return visit if I found myself in North Wilkesboro. Take a look at Tipton's website. You can also find them on Facebook. See how Tipton's rates on our BBQ Ratings page.

Taco Chic Salsa

The origins of Taco Chic can be traced back nearly 100 years to the Mexican revolution. Emeterio Ortiz fled the country with his family and settled in the United States. When the Ortiz family came to America, they brought their Mexican heritage with them, including the family salsa recipe.

Taco Chic Salsa is now produced in Idaho under the direction of Emeterio's granddaughter, Juanita. The Taco Chic, Juanita, is committed to producing the highest quality product in honor of her family. Taco Chic packages their salsa in 16 oz glass jars and offers three varieties: mild, medium and hot.

Juanita was kind enough to send a few jars for review. All of Taco Chic's salsas are all natural jalapeno and tomato based products. The main ingredients are accented by onion, garlic, cilantro, vinegar and additional spices. The recipe is very simple and traditional. The ingredients yield fresh, familiar flavors.

I've used Taco Chic salsas on tacos and nachos. Chips and salsa are a favorite snack in our house so I've been able to put all three heat levels to the test. One thing I appreciate about Taco Chic's products is that their heat content is appropriately labeled. I felt like each product had exactly the right amount of spice for its corresponding category. While reviewing salsas, I've found several with misleading labels.

I found the flavor of Taco Chic's salsa to be very similar to the leading national brands. However, Taco Chic's all natural ingredients give them a leg up. You won't find any artificial flavors or preservatives in any of Taco Chic's products.

Taco Chic Salsas can be purchased at several gourmet retailers in the Northwest United States. You can also purchase jars online. Click here to order some for yourself. See how Taco Chic salsa rates on our "Product Reviews" page.

Alisha's Shake Your Steak

Shake Your Steak is the fifth and final product from Alisha's Kitchen to be featured on The "Q" Review. The other products have all received pretty high marks so I was excited about using Shake Your Steak this weekend. I wasn't about to let the cold, damp January air keep me from firing up the grill....especially when I had two beautiful NY strips ready and waiting.

Like Alisha's other dry spices, Shake Your Steak is packaged in 3 oz. plastic shakers. The red label is loaded with info including the ingredients and directions for use. The seasoning itself is a fairly coarse blend, bu the shaker holes are large enough to accommodate even the biggest flakes.

Shake Your Steak starts with the classic combination of black pepper, onion, garlic and salt. You can count on these ingredients being the base for most good steak seasonings. Unique additions like mustard seed and dill seed make Alisha's blend stand out from the crowd. These ingredients also make the seasoning incredibly aromatic. I picked up the mustard and dill scent right away.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Alisha's Shake Your Steak is the fact that it's not overly salty. Salt is a crucial ingredient steak seasoning. Finding the right balance of salt vs. spice is the key. Some rubs go overboard by making the salt flavor so dominant that the other ingredients become inconsequential. Alisha allows the salt to compliment the black pepper and other spices without overpowering them.

I used Shake Your Steak pretty liberally on my grilled steaks and was awfully glad that I did. The spices seared nicely on the steak's exterior. The flavors penetrated the meat just enough that they were detectable in each beefy bite. I hate to say it, but Alisha saved my steak dinner. The steaks turned out to be a little tough, but at least they tasted great (Thanks to Shake Your Steak).

For more info about Shake Your Steak, check out Alisha's Kitchen online. See how Shake Your Steak rates on our "Product Reviews" page.

Mangrate Grill Enhancement System

A major part of the art of grilling is the final presentation. Any experienced cook or chef will tell you, "You eat with your eyes first." Often, presentation is the only thing separating a backyard  cook from a seasoned professional.

The Mangrate Grill Enhancement System was designed to provide backyard cooks the tools they need to grill steaks, chops and chicken just like the pros. Mangrates are heavy duty, cast iron grates that sit directly on your grill's existing grates. Each grate measures 15" x 4 1/4" x 1 3/8" and weighs approximately 8 lbs (though they feel more like 20).

According to, Mangrates use radiant heat to both sear the exterior of meats and provide an even cook. Mangrates also feature an angled design and built in ledges to trap grease as it falls from the meat. This not only reduces flair ups, but also provides additional flavor as the simmering oils essentially impart smoke flavor into the meat as they burn.

After one look at the Mangrates, I had very little doubt about their quality. As I said before, they're incredibly stout and durable. Each grate is made in the USA and features a limited lifetime warranty. My only question about Mangrates was whether or not they were really necessary. I'm pretty satisfied with the grates on my gas grill. Would using Mangrates really make a difference?

This was the question I set out to answer this weekend. Mangrates are solid cast iron and therefore need to be seasoned before using. I followed the online instructions for seasoning my grates. I sprayed the cooking surface thoroughly with cooking spray and set my grill to high heat.

After 15 minutes, the grates were screaming hot. I dropped a pair of strip steaks and some green onions on the grill and they immediately started to sizzle. The grates definitely did a good job of preventing flair ups. The radiant heat seared the exterior of the steaks quickly. I was anxious to flip them to see what kind of marks I was getting.
After the flip, I got a good look at the grill marks. The grates worked as advertised. Both steaks had nice cross hatched marks. Unfortunately, the pictures don't quite do the steaks justice. I apologize for the low quality images. The battery died on my camera and I was forced to use a low quality backup.

For clean up, The Mangrate Grill Enhancement System includes a wood handled wire brush. Some of the food remnants were difficult to reach, but the brush did a pretty good job of removing the charred bits. The grates will remain hot long after you've finished cooking. Be careful when handling them.

The Mangrate Grill Enhancement System definitely passed the test at my house. They are as well made as any grilling gadget you'll find. The initial price tag is a bit hefty, but it's hard to imagine ever needing to replace them. With proper use and care, they'll last a lifetime. Like all quality cast iron cookware, they'll just get better with age. 

If you're not satisfied with your current grill grates, give Mangrate a look. They are also a great option for using on public grills while camping or cooking at a park. Check out their website to learn more.

Bar-B-Q Center (Lexington, NC)

Lexington, North Carolina is world famous for their pit cooked chopped pork BBQ. The region has been credited by many as the birth place of American BBQ. The Bar-B-Q Center in uptown Lexington, is one of the area's BBQ landmarks. Since 1955, The Bar-B-Q Center has been slow smoking pork shoulders and serving them up chopped or sliced with their famous red slaw.

Bar-B-Q Center is the epitome of the classic Carolina style joint. It's an ultra casual family restaurant featuring a simple, one page menu. The main attraction is, of course, is the pit cooked BBQ. While many restaurants in the area have switched to electric rotisseries, Bar-B-Q center is one of the few remaining joints still slow smoking their pork with hardwoods. Smoke can be seen pouring from the chimney around the clock and the parking lot is scattered with neatly stacked wood piles.

Katie and I met some close friends (and Lexington residents) for lunch at Bar-B-Q Center this weekend. It was the first time any of us had eaten there. The place was three quarters full with families and seniors. The interior featured a mix of booths and tables and patrons were directed to seat themselves as they arrived. Additionally, Bar-B-Q Center featured a long lunch counter and a multi bay drive up awning for curb side service.

I ordered a chopped BBQ plate ($7.40) that included red slaw, fries and hush puppies. The food was served promptly on plastic ware (as is the case with most Carolina joints). Both the portion size and price were in line with other restaurants in the area. Needless to say, you won't leave a Lexington style BBQ joint hungry.
The pork came tossed in a house made vinegar base sauce or "dip". The "dip" was thin and tangy. It did, however, have a bit more sweetness than typically found in Lexington dips. The color was also more red than what I'm used to. I have to assume the sweetness and color come from ketchup being added to the vinegar and spice base.

The pork was very tender. Since it was already sauced, it was difficult to tell how moist the pork was on its own. The flavor was very mild. With all the smoke I'd seen rolling out of the back of the building, I had expected a bolder smoke flavor. Occasionally, I'd get a piece of dark bark that had absorbed the hardwood smoke, but it was nearly undetectable in a good portion of the meat.

There are so many BBQ joints in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Each joint features it's own unique take on chopped pork. However, few stick to the traditions that made Carolina BBQ famous more closely than Bar-B-Q Center. If you're looking for an authentic Carolina BBQ experience, you won't find a place much more authentic than Bar-B-Q Center.

Click here to see the Bar-B-Q Center website. See how their "Q" rates compares to other joints on our "BBQ Ratings" page.

Backhills Barbecue Sweet N' Sassy

Backhills Barbecue Sauces are unlike any other sauces that I've come across. They are completely unique both in appearance and flavor. I've already reviewed their Hot Barbecue Sauce and recently got the chance to try their Sweet N' Sassy sauce.

Like Backhills' other BBQ sauces, Sweet N' Sassy is a bright red and accented with very coarsely ground herbs and spices. The thickness exceeds most typical BBQ sauces. It pours slowly and is best served brushed on ribs and chicken or as a dip.

The Sweet N' Sassy variety has a very similar flavor profile to Backhills' Hot Barbecue. The heat factor has been cut just a tad, but it still has a hefty kick. The sauce is very sweet, but uniquely so. It's much more like a tangy Asian sweet chile sauce than the typical sweetness most BBQ sauces feature.

I used Sweet N' Sassy on several different occasions. The thick sauce was great as a finishing glaze on chicken quarters. It left the chicken with a beautiful red, glossy shine. The sauce has also become one of my favorite dips for french fries. The combination of sweet and spicy make a great alternative to ketchup. It can also be used to spice up burgers, hot dogs and meatloaf.

Backhills Barbecue Sauces can be purchased online here. If you happen to reside in or be passing through Northern Idaho, several fine retailers carry the sauces. Don't forget to see how these sauces rate on our "Product Reviews" page.

Mad Dog Original BBQ Sauce

Mad Dog BBQ sauces are the creation of David Ashley (Ashley Foods). David's company is one of the most respected names in the fiery foods industry. In addition to BBQ sauce, Ashley Foods produces an extensive line of hot sauces. David is the brains behind some of the hottest, most popular sauces in the world.

I previously reviewed Mad Dog Chipotle BBQ and recently had the chance to try their original recipe. Like the Chipotle sauce, Mad Dog Original BBQ is a dark, full bodied sauce. The sauce is fairly thick and pours smooth, but slowly.

This tomato based sauce has a slight brown sugar sweetness, but it's balanced with smokey, earthy spices. Mad Dog's bold flavor may be too much for some, but Ashley Foods doesn't make products for the timid. The sauce has a medium heat level (substantially less than the Chipotle version) that sneaks up on you at the finish.

I used this sauce on grilled chicken and pulled pork. It worked well as a finishing sauce for the chicken. The flavors matured nicely when the fire was applied. The sugars caramelized well adding great color and flavor to the chicken. The sauce also worked well on the pork. It was especially nice when used in tandem on a sandwich with creamy coleslaw.

Mad Dog hot sauces have an unsurpassed reputation for quality. Their line of BBQ sauces is garnering similar attention. While I enjoyed their Chipotle BBQ Sauce, I believe I like Mad Dog Original even more. For those looking for a rich, bold flavored sauce, Mad Dog is a top shelf option. To learn more about Ashley Foods and the entire Mad Dog line, Click here. See how Mad Dog Original rates on our "Product Reviews" page.

Pap's Genuine Beef Sticks

Pap's Genuine Beef Sticks (Junction City, KY) was started by folks with a passion for meat snacks. That passion has been the motivation for folks at Pap's to create a better beef stick. Their all beef sticks demonstrate their commitment to quality.

Many leading "beef" stick makers actually include ingredients like separated chicken and soy/wheat fillers. These are cheap, low quality ways to stretch the beef mixture used for making beef sticks. The people at Pap's don't cut corners and the evidence in their products.

Pap's currently produces three different flavors of Beef Sticks: Mild Smokey, Honey and Spicy. The mild stick is savory and salty with a hint of natural hickory smoke flavor. The Spicy stick kicks the heat up with natural pepper spice. My personal favorite, Honey, adds the sweet accent of real honey to the original Mild recipe.

With no fillers and plenty of flavor, Pap's is a big step up from the leading national brand. In addition to their three current flavors, Pap's plans to introduce several more in 2012. Pap's Genuine Beef Sticks can be purchased online or in convenience stores throughout KY, TN, IN and OH. Click here to learn more about Pap's. See how their beef sticks rank on our "Product Reviews" page.

SuckleBusters Texas Heat Original

When the sample pack of SuckleBuster's pepper sauces arrived at my door, I made a prediction. I said to Katie, "These are going to be good. Everything I've tried from SuckleBusters has been quality." It turns out I was right on the money.

In addition to competition level BBQ sauces and rubs, SuckleBusters also produces an all natural line of Texas Heat pepper sauces. The Texas Heat line features four award winning varieties, but I decided to start with the Original. Texas Heat sauces are thicker than traditional vinegar based (Louisiana style) hot sauces. They pour slowly, just a couple drops at a time. While most hot sauces start with vinegar, peppers are the number one ingredient in SuckleBuster's Original sauce. This accounts for the thicker texture and also provides a much richer flavor. The Original sauce is brown and speckled with pepper seeds and spices. .

The flavor of SuckleBuster's Original Texas Heat Sauce really sets it apart from the other sauces that I've used. While I really enjoy a quality Louisiana pepper sauce, Texas Heat has really changed my expectations for pepper sauces. I typically put a dash of hot sauce on just about every savory dish for the added spice, but Texas Heat Original is the first sauce that I've actually enjoyed right out of the bottle. The blend of peppers and spices make the flavor very rich and complex. It's simply a more flavorful product than the sauces I've always used.

Texas Heat Original has plenty of peppery kick, but the heat isn't overwhelming. SuckleBusters categorizes the sauce as "medium" heat. It's just enough spice to add a jolt to any type of savory dish. I love it on tacos and nachos. It's also great in casseroles or even on pizza, eggs and burgers.

Learn more about the entire SuckleBusters product line by clicking here. See how Texas Heat Original rates on our "Product Reviews" page.

Bobby Joe's Ole-Time BBQ Sauce

Bobby Joe's Ole-Time BBQ Sauce goes back three generations in the Cason family. The original recipe came from a travelling salesman who was visiting the Cason family's milling company in Statesboro, GA. Dorris and Grace Cason tweaked the recipe to their tastes and it instantly became a family favorite.

Sadly, when Grace died, the recipe seemed to be lost. Years later, Bobby Joe Cason stumbled upon the recipe in an old family cookbook. Bobby Joe and his wife revived the sauce and began making it again for friends and family. They instituted an open bottle policy. They invited locals to bring empty bottles and the Casons generously filled them. Eventually, people even began asking to purchase the sauce. Thus, Bobby Joe's Ole-Time BBQ Sauce went from being a family favorite to a professionally bottled sauce.

Bobby Joe's is packaged in 12 oz. glass bottles. The bottles feature attractive labels that really compliment the color of the sauce.The sauce is dark orange / red and speckled with coarsely ground dark spices. It's on the thinner side and pours quickly.

The original Ole-Time sauce is a sweet, ketchup base with a mild flavor. It finishes with a vinegar tang. I used the sauce on both grilled chicken and pulled pork. I felt the sauce was a bit too thin and mild for use as a finishing glaze. It didn't provide the chicken with the flavor I was looking for. Bobby Joe's , however, seemed tailor made for the smoked pulled pork. I always like a sweet, tangy sauce to compliment smoked meats. My recommendation for Bobby Joe's would be to liberally pour it over smoked meats or use it as a dip.

In response to the health needs of Bobby Joe's friends, the Cason family worked with Braswell's (an award winning producer and distributor of gourmet foods) to create a sugar free version of their sauce. The new sauce is sweetened with stevia and contains just 10 calories per serving. The sugar free version is meant to mimic the flavor of the original Ole-Time recipe. However, I found the new sauce to be completely unique from the original.

Bobby Joe's sugar free sauce is thinner and has a bit more tang. Because the sugar free version contains a fairly substantial amount of mustard, it is also lighter in color than the ketchup based original. I appreciate Bobby Joe's effort to create a sauce that diabetics can enjoy. Sugar free sauces are very rare. In fact, this is the first one I've reviewed. That being said, I don't think the sugar free version quite meets the standard set by the original Ole-Time sauce.

Bobby Joe's sauces can be purchased in several Georgia retail locations. Click here to learn more about Bobby Joe's company. See how their sauces rate on our "Product Reviews" page.

13 Bones (Greensboro, NC)

Two things that I absolutely love are saving money and eating ribs. Needless to say, when Living Social offered up a deal to a new local rib joint, I was quick to purchase a certificate. The Greensboro location of 13 Bones opened in August of 2011. It's their second location. The original restaurant opened in Mount Airy, NC in 2009.

13 Bones opened in a building that was formerly occupied by a Ryan's restaurant. It's a casual, family friendly steakhouse. The hostess greeted us with a smile when Katie and I walked in the door. Before I evaluate the food, I'd like to note that the service was excellent from beginning to end. Our waitress was prompt and friendly. Several courteous employees checked in to see if we needed anything. The entire staff was polite and attentive.

13 Bones offers up the typical assortment of seafood, steaks and pasta, but advertises (as their name would suggest) their slow roasted baby back ribs as the house specialty. Katie and I both ordered rib dinners. I opted for the whole rack while Katie went with the half rack. Each dinner included two sides. Additionally, we ordered a basket of fried pickles for an appetizer.

The pickles arrived first. The basket was quite large. It would have been an adequate appetizer for a group of four or five. The batter was tasty, but they were over salted. I've never understood the need to salt something that has been battered and fried. Fry batters and breaders are typically pre-seasoned with a fair amount of salt. Hitting them with additional sodium when they come out of the fryer is overkill.

Our dinners arrived promptly. The serving sizes were substantial. One area in which 13 Bones scores well is  the price / portion ratio. All the dinner entrees are moderately priced while the portions appeared to be quite generous. (I apologize for the lack of pictures. I forgot my camera)

The ribs are advertised as "slow roasted". Of course that means they're cooked in an oven. Judging by their texture, I have to assume that they're covered and steamed as they cook. They are finished on the grill before being sauced and plated. Because of the steam cooking technique, the ribs were fall off the bone tender. While restaurants love the "fall off the bone" phrase, BBQ folks know that authentic, slow smoked ribs should never fall off the bone.

Like the pickles, the ribs were very salty. The salt did not penetrate to the interior meat telling me that they were salted after being cooked. I saw little need for the added salt considering they were also sauced. The sauce itself was thin and tangy. It definitely drew from North Carolina BBQ's vinegar roots, but I wouldn't call it a traditional Carolina sauce. It was orange and also had a sweet component that typical Carolina dips don't have.

Overall, our evening at 13 Bones was pretty pleasant, even if the food was a little disappointing. Simply holding back on the salt content could have greatly improved our dinners. The ribs, though incredibly tender, weren't exceptional. I think one could do a little better just down the street at Smokey Bones.

To learn more about 13 Bones, click here to visit their website. See how their ribs compare to other restaurants on our "BBQ Ratings" page.

Obie-Cue's Steakmaker

Steakmaker is one of the signature products from a company that has a HUGE line of spice blends and BBQ rubs. Texas based Obie-Cue has been churning out award winning rubs since 1985. Their Steakmaker grilling spice is one of their most noteworthy blends. Steakmaker has earned acclaim from a variety of sources including being named "Best Rub on the Planet" at the 1995 American Royal.

Obie-Cue's Steakmaker combines all the classic flavors that are traditionally used to compliment beef. The first ingredient is Worcestershire. Though most are familiar with Worcestershire Sauce, Steakmaker uses the essence and flavor of Worcestershire in dry powder form. Additionally, Steakmaker includes salt, pepper, garlic and onion and even lemon flavor.

Upon opening the 4.8 oz shaker, the Worcestershire and lemon scents were both evident. The lemon aroma was fairly intense. I was a little concerned how it would translate on grilled beef. Thankfully, the lemon flavor isn't nearly as pronounced as the aroma. The lemon citrus was barely an afterthought when I applied it to grilled buffalo burgers. The Worchestershire flavor was noticable, but mild.

Steakmaker is a finely ground blend. Because of the small grains of spice, the flavors are very mild unless it's applied heavily. Generally, I prefer a coarse ground rub for steaks and burgers. Beef benefits from the big, bold flavors provided by large flecks of garlic and black pepper.

Overall, Steakmaker was an adequate compliment to grilled beef. The classic combination of Worcestershire, onion, garlic, salt and pepper are hard to beat. The lemon, though aromatic, does little for the flavor. While I would prefer an all natural, coarse grind, Steakmaker is a safe choice for seasoning steaks and burgers.

To learn more about Obie-Cue's rubs, click here to visit their website. See how Steakmaker rates on our "Product Reviews" page.

American Pride Foods

American Pride Foods was founded by Alaska native, Martin Rathburn. Rural Alaskan life required a certain reliance on locally hunted game. This lifestyle led to an appreciation of quality, natural foods. Martin turned that love of Alaska and quality food into American Pride Foods.

Still located in Alaska, American Pride Foods ships gourmet beef, poultry and wild game all over the United States. While you can probably find a source of quality poultry or beef a little closer to home, good luck scoring elk, caribou, buffalo, ox or reindeer at your local Whole Foods. It was these exotic meats that piqued my interest in American Pride Foods.

American Pride Foods sent samples of buffalo burgers and sausage as well as reindeer sausage. Remarkably, the meat can be shipped overnight (Fed Ex) from Alaska to just about anywhere. My meat made the 3,600 mile journey in just over 24 hours.

Buffalo Sausage: The first product I used was the jalapeno and cheese buffalo sausage. Calling it "buffalo" sausage is a bit misleading. The buffalo is actually blended with pork and beef and stuffed inside a natural casing. The sausages are vacuum sealed in 1lb packages with four sausages per pack. Of the three products that I sampled, this sausage was the clear favorite. The jalapeno and cheese chunks added a fantastic burst of flavor to the already delicious sausage. The sausage was well spiced, but not overly salty. The consistency and texture was much like a traditional kielbasa. I sliced up three of the sausages for my jambalaya casserole and reserved one link to enjoy on its own.

Buffalo Burgers: With the price of beef on the rise, I don't get the opportunity to grill burgers as often as I would like. When the sample pack arrived, I was excited to see that it contained buffalo burgers. The burgers are 90% lean and made from naturally managed Alaskan buffalo. The 1 lb package comes vacuum sealed with three 1/3 lb patties. I grilled the burgers and topped them with cheese, bacon, onions and mushrooms. Despite being so lean, the burgers were still flavorful and juicy. The flavor is very similar to ground sirloin. Had I not told my wife that the burgers were buffalo, I don't think she would have even noticed.

Alaskan Reindeer Sausage: Like the buffalo sausage, the reindeer links are actually blended with pork and beef for additional fat and flavor. According the American Pride website, the reindeer sausage is a staple in Alaskan cuisine. In fact, they call their reindeer sausage "Alaska's most popular sausage." This was my first taste of reindeer, but being raised in Michigan, I've had plenty of experience with other types of venison. This sausage was very similar to the pork and venison links found in the Midwest. It's bold and salty and available with different levels of spicy heat. I found the flavor to be similar to a beef stick (Slim Jim).  The texture was much like the buffalo sausage. However, it seemed to be a bit more fatty. It was also a bit more greasy when I cooked it up.

For some, wild game meat is a bit intimidating. However, those who are willing to give it a try quickly learn that these meats are every bit as delicious as the domestically farmed meats they're used to. In most cases, their also healthier. Unless you or a relative is a skilled shot with a rifle, finding natural game meat may be a challenge. That's where companies like American Pride Foods come in. If you're a foodie, but not a marksman, simply go online to place your order and have these unique products shipped directly to your door in as little as 24 hours.

For more information about American Pride Foods, click here to visit their website. See how their products scored on our "Product Reviews" page.

Casa Fiesta Peppadew Salsa

Casa Fiesta Mexican inspired products are produced domestically in El Paso, TX by Bruce Foods. I've been really impressed with the Bruce Foods lineup thus far, but Casa Fiesta's Peppadew Salsa may be the best yet. Using peppadew piquante peppers, this salsa provides an unexpected sweetness you won't find in other salsas.

Peppadew Salsa has the same consistency of most mass produced chunky salsas. The color is bright red and contains visible chunks of onions and peppers. The aroma is also pretty common. The sweetness is almost undetectable in the smell.

Because of the familiar look and smell of Casa Fiesta's Peppadew Salsa, I was not prepared for its unique flavor. The peppadew piquante is unlike most peppers used for salsa. While their is a slight spice, it would most definitely be characterized as a sweet pepper. The sweetness from the peppadews (and a little added brown sugar) make the initial flavors of this salsa pleasantly surprising. The fresh sweetness is followed by the familiar flavors of onion, vinegar and jalapeno.

This salsa is great on everything from scrambled eggs to burritos. It's a nice change of pace from typical jalapeno salsas. The salsa is pretty mild, making it an excellent choice for feeding company. The unique flavor is bound to get your guest's attention.

Click here to learn more about Casa Fiesta's entire product line. See how Peppadew Salsa rates on our "Product Reviews" page.

Pork Barrel BBQ All American Spice Rub

In my review of their BBQ Peanuts, I detailed the origin story of Pork Barrel BBQ. It stands as one of the coolest and most unique stories I've found while running The "Q" Review. Though the guys from Pork Barrel got an unexpected lift from national television, their quality products are at the heart of their success.

After enjoying their BBQ Peanuts, I was looking forward to sampling Pork Barrel BBQ's other products. The first product I had a chance to try was the All American Spice Rub. This rub is an all natural, savory blend with a variety of coarse and fine ground spices.

All American BBQ Rub is unique in that it doesn't contain sugar as a base ingredient. I typically prefer the sweet sugar rubs, but Pork Barrel has me rethinking my position. The flavor and aroma of Pork Barrel's rub is very earthy and smokey. The smoked paprika and ancho chiles give the rub an added dimension that most don't have. It's one of the most aromatic rubs I've used. It filled the house with a delicious, comforting smell as I slow roasted a pork loin.

For grilled and slow roasted meats and veggies, All American BBQ Rub is one of the best spice blends I've had the pleasure of using. It's versatile enough to use on red meats as well as poultry and seafood. My top recommendation would be for grilled chicken or seafood. It's a top shelf option for beer can chicken as well. I can't really think of a food situation that wouldn't benefit from a shot or two of All American BBQ Rub.

To learn more about Pork Barrel BBQ and all their product, click here to see their website. See how All American BBQ Rub rates on our "Product Reviews" page.

Amy's Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Black Bean & Corn Salsa is the second Amy's product to be reviewed. Chips and salsa are a staple in my household. Either with a meal or as an evening snack, we burn through jars of salsa at an astounding rate. After quickly finishing off our jar of Amy's Mild Salsa, we dove into the Black Bean & Corn Salsa this week.

All of Amy's Salsa's start with organic tomatoes. The remainder of the recipe is pretty simple: onions, peppers, vinegar, salt and spices (all organic). It's this wholesome simplicity that makes me appreciate and enjoy Amy's products so much.

The Black Bean & Corn salsa is pretty much the same as the Mild Salsa with two added ingredients. The beans and corn make this salsa slightly more chunky than the regular version. There is no real detectable spicy heat, but the flavors are still fresh and robust. It's another Amy's product that the entire family can feel good about eating. If you like hot salsa (as I do), add a couple dashes of your favorite pepper sauce to your portion or dice up a fresh hot chile.

In our house, the 14.7 oz. jar lasted only two days. Fortunately, we've got another jar (medium) in reserve. For more information about Amy's salsa's, click here. See how this Black Bean & Corn Salsa rates on our product reviews page.

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