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What defines barbecue? And what is the difference between barbecue and grilling? Though the terms are frequently used interchangeably and the results (usually) delectable, they mean very different procedures and end results. As Chris Schlesinger explains in his 1990 book The Thrill of the Grill, grilling is placing food near a heat source and cooking by conduction, searing the exterior and concentrating juices on the interior while browning the outside (the Maillard effect). Barbecuing, on the other hand, means placing a large quantity of food (usually meat) within a pit or other closed chamber and letting it cook very slowly by indirect heat and smoke from a hardwood fire.
Grilling is fun, fast, and convenient. Barbecuing is not fast, easy, or cheap, but it is an obsession. Barbecue masters – nearly all men – might not sneer at a grilled steaks, but they won’t give you quarter if you try to usurp their title and skill. Writer Calvin Trillin noted that Henry Perry, who began the business that evolved into the legendary Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue in Kansas City, enjoyed seeing customers suffer when they sampled his incendiary sauce. Trillin explained that a man who spent all night tending a hardwood fire could be excused for developing some dark and malevolent tendencies. (Arthur Bryant himself later tamed the sauce down since he appreciated the sight of a returning customer more than a screaming customer.)
All this to say: most barbecue is not barbecue. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste good, or isn’t fun to share with all the family and college buddies, but don’t confuse it with the real deal. If in doubt, New Orleans-based food writer/barbecue cookbook author Colleen Rush helpfully compiled a list of 7 Foolproof Ways to Spot a Fake BBQ Joint.
For a couple of years, barbecue restaurants popped up all over the greater Redding area – Palo Cedro, Cypress Avenue, Shasta Lake – and one by one they disappeared into the gloaming. Fat Daddy’s Gourmet BBQ is one of, if not the, longest running barbecue restaurants in Redding. Located in an old A&W Stand (who else remembers those frosty mugs of root beer with the ice shards that slid into the drink?), Fat Daddy’s has been serving for over ten years and seems to still be going strong. Inside are easy-clean Formica tables and easy-mop flooring, with dollar bills tacked to the ceiling. Order at the counter and they’ll call your name when your food is ready. There’s a small condiment table stocked with extra sauce, pickles, and small semi-hot pickled peppers.
Tri-tip sandwich with macaroni salad, $8.25
Tri-tip is a notoriously tough but flavorful cut of meat that is popular with barbecue enthusiasts. It’s been Femme de Joie’s experience that barbecued tri-tip is nearly always dried out and exceedingly chewy, not unlike chewing on a baseball mitt or a pit bull’s tail. Since this tri-tip had never seen a barbecue, it didn’t suffer from toughness, though it was a bit fibrous. The meat itself was on the bland unseasoned side, but was slathered with copious amounts of barbecue sauce, as is all the meat served at Fat Daddy’s. The sauce was not as sweet as some commercial sauces, which Femme de Joie appreciates, and owed some of its flavor to molasses (as opposed to tomato and/or ketchup). The sandwiches came on rolls that were a bit better than the average roll and did not fall apart into a soggy mess. To be sure it was a generous serving and fair for the price. Macaroni salad was a deli standard with little to distinguish it.
Pulled beef sandwich with potato salad, $8.25
A variation on pulled pork, shredded beef was doused heavily with barbecue sauce. The meat itself was more tender than the tri-tip – not too surprising – and maybe more flavorful, though it was hard to tell since all Femme de Joie could really taste was the sauce. Potato salad on the side seemed to have come from the same place as the macaroni salad: nothing bad about it but neither was there anything special.
Chicken meal with cole slaw and Caesar salad, $10.25
Femme de Joie could not fault the tenderness and moistness of the chicken. Three pieces (a leg and two thighs) were fall-apart tender and juicy, but again, these were not cooked on a barbecue or a grill since the skin was flabby without any crust, and again, absolutely soaked in sauce. Caesar salad (Caesar salad at a BBQ place?) was deliciously crunchy and tart. Cole slaw was fresh and likewise crunchy. Both salads were big improvements over the very average potato and macaroni salads.
Obviously Fat Daddy’s knows their target audience since they’ve been in business eleven years (an eternity in the restaurant industry and especially in Redding). Portions are fair for the money and customers seem to love the barbecue sauce (for sale on site). It isn’t real barbecue, but then they don’t claim to be (despite the giant portable grill chained outside). Femme de Joie doesn’t crave sweet goopy barbecue sauces much – a little goes a very long way in her estimation – so while she wouldn’t make a special trip to Four Corners for Fat Daddy’s, if she wound up dining there she wouldn’t kick too much. But she would definitely ask for sauce on the side.
Fat Daddy’s Gourmet BBQ, 942 Hartnell Avenue, Redding CA 96002. 530-221-8270. Open Monday through Friday, 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Closed weekends. No checks. Parking lot. Not much for vegetarians to see here except salad. Website at http://www.fatdaddysredding.
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