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June 19, 2012
Today, Heather reminded Camden and me to drop by the Mount Pleasant Farmer’s Market to pick up some BBQ from the Charleston Bay Gourmet tent. They often have a booth at the Farmer’s Market, and they have earned a good reputation among us locals. We actually haven’t had it before (ok, maybe years ago at a friend’s house).
Note that I said often… not always, however. We actually tried to go the week before, but it was a typical Charleston summer day, with thunderstorms adding some humidity to the already drenched, thick air of the Lowcountry. As someone said to me, “If there’s even just a cloud in the sky, those guys usually won’t be there.” So, a warning: if the threat of rain is clear, you may not find Charleston Bay Gourmet there.
Before going on, it should be noted that Charleston Bay Gourmet is in the catering business for various functions and is not a “BBQ joint” exclusively. However, as I said there BBQ has earned a great reputation in the Charleston area and, in fact, it was on a message board I frequent that one knowledgeable poster suggested they have the best BBQ around.
Since the Farmer’s Market is less than 2 miles from our house, this was a no-brainer. Camden and I drove over and, eventually, found a place to park. (The Farmer’s Market is very popular.) Fortunately, it was a relatively cloudless day, and the Charleston Bay Gourmet folks decided to show up. 😉
We approached their tent and read the board. They sell bulk, dinners, and sides (even a veggie plate). Pulled pork (or chicken), whole/half chickens, and ribs comprised the meat options. We got 2 pounds of pulled pork BBQ ($12/lb) and a half a rack of ribs ($10) for a total of $34.
Letting my frugal side take control, I decided against ordering any sides, so I won’t be able to comment on the quality of their sides. I will say they looked good, and you can see the photos of each that Camden took below.
We took the BBQ home, and we waited for Heather to arrive home from her summer job at Boone Hall Farms. When she arrived home, we dug in (well, the truth of the matter is that Camden opted out, not feeling well after having eaten too much funnel cake and kettle corn at the Farmer’s Market.)
Their pulled pork is very good, we agreed. Not exceptional, but very good. We agreed that if we were ranking our BBQ’s, and for the first time, we’ve sampled enough BBQ to start, we would place them third out of the four places we’d been. They don’t seem to pre-sauce the meat, which we prefer, of course, because you can get a true feel for the quality of the product on its own. Again, their’s is very good. It has a nice smokiness to the meat, and I would guess it is cooked over coals, but I did not confirm it. It definitely has more taste than simple gas-cooked BBQ. Whatever they are doing, they should keep doing.
That gets us to the sauces. We asked for a sample of them all, and they gave us two of each in small, plastic containers. One was a “Kansas City” style BBQ: thick, ketchup-based sauce with a smokey sweetness. I didn’t like it. For me, it is too thick and sweet for pulled pork BBQ. Heather said there “is too much Liquid Smoke in it.” She knows because she makes several different kinds of sauces herself from scratch, and she didn’t like this one, either.
The second sauce was a vinegar/pepper-based sauce. It was the best of the three, but it wasn’t great. Heather liked it. but she noted that it had too much tomato base in it. This was the thickest vinegar sauce we’ve seen. Much thinner than the Kansas City sauce described above, but thicker than any vinegar sauce we’ve seen. It would, in fact, lightly coat the back of a spoon, for example. For me, it was the one I always returned to among all the sauces. Again, this was our favorite of the three.
The final sauce was a mustard-based sauce. I swear I like mustard sauces, but as Heather said, this one “didn’t do anything for us.” She described it as a sweet honey-mustard sauce, “maybe for the kids?” I don’t know, but we didn’t care for it. Might have been good on chicken, who knows?
Side note: Heather makes the only mustard-based sauce I actually prefer to vinegar on pulled pork. We cook a hog every Christmas Eve, and she makes three sauces for our guests: one vinegar, one mustard, and one Kansas City style. It is very common for those who claim to have always disliked mustard-based sauces to tell her out of the blue that hers is the only one they’ve ever liked. So, maybe we’re spoiled by that recipe, I don’t know…
The ribs… we actually never finished them. I saved some for Camden when he felt better or our other kids, Christian, and Chelsea (who haven’t yet joined us on a BBQ journey – teenagers!). They were way better than Brown’s pickled ribs, but I wouldn’t buy them again. The ones we got were overcooked to the point of falling off the bone. The did have a good taste in general, but I didn’t find myself craving more.
Really for us, it is all about the BBQ. In the end, I actually preferred their BBQ without any sauce at all. The meat was just that good.
Bottom line: was it worth the trip?
Well, from 2 miles away, it certainly is. From farther… it’s hard to say, given that we didn’t try the sides and the sauces were not our favorite. As I’ve said repeatedly, the meat is very good, but I’d prefer one of Heather’s sauces on it.
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