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Check it or Chuck it: Barbecue Boogaloo

This article expresses the views of its author(s), separate from those of this publication. Readers are encouraged to comment or submit a Letter to the Editor to share their opinions. To submit a Letter to the Editor, follow the instructions here.

Howdy y’all, welcome back to another edition of “Check it or Chuck it.” For this one, I’ll be shining a spotlight on one of my favorite cuisines—barbecue.

When it comes to food that most people consider “American,” barbecue is usually at the top of the list. Something about cooking slabs of meat over open flames really brings out that classic do-it-myself American individualism. However, what makes barbecue truly American is pretty simple; like most things, it was brought over by people on boats.

If you’re a barbecue enthusiast, the Carolinas, the state of Texas and the cities of Memphis and Kansas City are known as the four kingdoms of American barbecue. Each one of these places has its own distinct style, but none of this happened by accident. 

In the Carolinas, where pork is primarily used, the signature tangy, mustard-based “Carolina Gold” barbecue sauce reflects French and German immigrants’ use of mustard and vinegar in their respective cuisines.

The beef-heavy Texan barbecue came from the fact that the first immigrants to the state (to my Texan audience, I am aware it used to be a country) had the space for herding cattle, leading to the advent of the pinnacle of smoked meats—brisket.

Memphis’ world-renowned, sticky-sweet sauce was due to the city’s status as a popular port along the Mississippi River, where goods like molasses were often sold.

The last of the barbecue kingdoms, Kansas City, combines Texan beef, Memphis sweetness and Carolina pork to bridge the gap between East and West.

Extremely brief history lesson aside, Jacksonville also holds space for more than a few bastions of barbecue. Because most barbecue restaurants nowadays allow you to mix and match your plate, I decided to run a little experiment.

I visited three different barbecue restaurants in Jacksonville: Mission BBQ, 4 Rivers Smokehouse and The Bearded Pig. I ordered the same thing: brisket, sausage, collard greens and French fries. In other words, my experiment was eating barbecue. I love my job.

In a first for “Check it or Chuck it,” I hereby present to you my findings.

Mission BBQ

I was a tad disappointed in the first leg of my scientific endeavor. While the service was quick, the food left much to be desired. 

Mission BBQ (Ethan Leckie)

There was no choice between “lean” (cuts with less fat) and “moist” (cuts with more fat) brisket. From what I could tell, I was given “moist.” However, the brisket slices were thin and chewy with little to no bark (the dark, crispy outer layer of seasonings on brisket).

The jalapeno-cheddar sausage wasn’t too bad, but I was expecting a little more kick than I got.

The sides were the best part of the meal. The fries were pleasantly golden-brown and crispy, the perfect vehicle for their selection of barbecue sauces. I like my collard greens made with pieces of pork sprinkled in, but while there wasn’t any, they were still enjoyable. The only thing I would change about them would be to get rid of the tomatoes.

4 Rivers Smokehouse

I hate to admit it, but my scientific impartiality was slightly compromised here. Being an Orlando native, I’m well acquainted with this particular chain.

4 Rivers Smokehouse (Ethan Leckie)

However, out of the three establishments I dined in, 4 Rivers had the best quality meat. The sausage was smoky, juicy and full of spice. It had a gorgeous deep red color outside and a delightfully thick casing to chew through. 

For the brisket, I had the choice between lean, moist or both. In the name of science, I decided to try both types, and I immediately felt vindicated in my decision. The lean wasn’t too dry, the moist wasn’t too fatty and both types had a thick layer of tasty bark.

The fries were okay—I’m not a huge fan of crinkle cut (steak fry supremacy)—but they were crispy and salty. In other words, it’s good enough for me. The collard greens, on the other hand, were amazing, complete with pieces of pork and no tomatoes. Eating my veggies had never been so easy.

The Bearded Pig

No Jacksonville barbecue review would be complete without a stop at The Bearded Pig. At the Jacksonville Beach location, I enjoyed the casual and laid-back vibes that only the beach can provide. 

The Bearded Pig (Ethan Leckie)

The mains were a mixed bag. The sausage was my least favorite of the three. It was too greasy and had little smoke flavor. It felt more like eating a hot dog than anything else.

The brisket—I again ordered both lean and moist—wasn’t anything too special compared to the last two. The bark was solid, and the slices were thick and meaty, but it didn’t top 4 Rivers’. 

The fries had a peppery flavor, a refreshing change from the typical salty fare. They were served with what I can only describe as a type of aioli and were crispy and plentiful, just how I like them. The collard greens were hearty, tangy and delicious. Aside from the sausage, The Bearded Pig was a good end for my experiment.

Check it or chuck it?

In the spirit of trying new things, I will rank each restaurant from best to worst in each category:

  • Brisket: 4 Rivers, Bearded Pig, Mission BBQ
  • Sausage: 4 Rivers, Mission BBQ, Bearded Pig
  • Collard Greens: 4 Rivers, Bearded Pig, Mission BBQ
  • French Fries: Mission BBQ, Bearded Pig, 4 Rivers


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About the Contributor
Ethan Leckie
Ethan Leckie, Enterprise Editor
A Pad Thai enthusiast, NASCAR follower, and Jon Bois fanboy, Ethan Leckie is a third-year journalism major at the University of North Florida, minoring in international studies. He first began his involvement with Spinnaker as a volunteer reporter in the fall of 2021 and currently holds the position of Enterprise Editor. Ethan has always had a passion for writing and hopes to work for a newspaper one day. He enjoys watching YouTube, cooking, and visiting restaurants in his free time. If you see him on campus, ask him about his pieces - he loves to talk about them!

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