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You’ve heard or read it before-that in Memphis, we’ll barbecue anything and put barbecue in and on just about everything (and yes, barbecue is both a noun and a verb in the south, depending on who you ask). We’re know for bbq pork shoulder and dry ribs, but it’s true-in Memphis, you’ll discover all sorts of barbecue creations, from bbq pizza, to bbq spaghetti, to bbq spuds, to bbq bologna, to bbq tacos, and one of my favorites-bbq nachos! Occasionally, I get the itch that no other culinary creation can scratch. I have to go out and get my bbq nacho fix. Yet, as good as they were, I often found myself imagining a better bbq nacho and the perfect bed of bbq nachos eluded me. Finally, in the spring of 2015, I discovered what I would later pronounce as my very favorite bbq nachos. Barbecue nacho perfection had finally been achieved!
The events that led to my discovery of the very best bbq nachos I’ve ever had actually began back in 1877…well, sort of. That’s when the Memphis Brewing Company was formed, which led to the building of the Tennessee Brewery in 1890. After operating as a major beer brewery for the U.S. for over half a decade and even surviving the Prohibition, the brewery closed it’s doors in 1954. The massive and magnificent Romanesque building in downtown Memphis is positioned upon a bluff looking out over the Mississippi river. Now, over half a century later, there is revived interest in the building itself to be renovated for a multiuse apartment building and retail operation.
This revival of interest was inaugurated with the Tennessee Brewery Untapped urban beer garden series, which lasted for a few weeks in the spring of 2014, and again under the new name Revival Beer Garden in the spring of 2015. Lights were strung up on the iron rafters in the brewery’s red brick atrium, which was also decorated with trees, plants and a large fountain. Local art was also on display, music filled the air, beer was on tap and a couple of food trucks were parked right inside the atrium as well. It was there, after traveling and eating at nearly 250 bbq joints for over a decade and a half, that I discovered the absolute best bbq nachos I’ve ever put in my mouth, by way of a
simple food truck-Grill Master Chew, owned and operated by pit-master Antonio Chew. I don’t hand out those kind of accolades very easily. In fact, I never have. After eating so much barbecue both as a judge in competition and at bbq restaurants, I’ve not been able to really pinpoint a single “best” ribs or “best” pork shoulder. But when it comes to bbq nachos, I knew that I had found my favorite. Now of course, I haven’t eaten bbq nachos from all of the bbq shops during my travels. On most visits, I get ribs or a bbq sandwich. On other visits I may get bbq nachos, brisket, burnt ends, bbq chicken, smoked turkey leg or even rib tips (more on that last one later). But suffice it to say that I’ve had a lot, and I mean a lot of bbq nachos, especially because I steel a few from my wife and kids when they order ’em.
So what was it that I liked so much about Grill Master Chew’s bbq nachos? In short, they were everything I like about bbq nachos-crunchy, creamy, cheesy, smoky, saucy, savory and spicy. To understand this, you really need to understand the construction of Memphis-style bbq nachos. Typically, a bed of nacho chips, either triangles or rounds are layered with tender, smoked pork shoulder (although, many bbq joints offer chicken or beef bbq nachos as well), which is topped with a creamy nacho cheese sauce, drizzled with bbq sauce, dusted with bbq dry rub seasoning and finally, topped with optional sliced jalapeños. Ideally, as with any bbq sandwich, the meat shouldn’t be just the tender, white meat from the center of the shoulder, but should include the smoky, savory bits of crust (a.k.a. bark) from the exterior of the meat. The cheese sauce needn’t be homemade necessarily, but a good quality cheese sauce and using the right amount makes a difference. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had bbq nachos that had some of the elements of good bbq nachos, but still missed the mark in something or another. One has good meat, but a cheap high school football concession grade cheese sauce, reminiscent of reconstituted dry cheese powder from dollar store mac-n-cheese. Another has a quality cheese sauce, but the meat is void of smoke flavor and tastes as though it’d been oven-baked. Then there are the ratios. One doesn’t give enough meat, thereby reducing your bbq nachos to mere bbq-flavored nachos. Another gives a bucket load of chips and only enough cheese sauce to leave you with a half plate of dry nachos halfway through.
Grill Master Chew’s nachos had all the right elements of great bbq nachos and all the right ratios of awesome crunchy bbq nachos. To verify, I looked up Grill Master Chew on Facebook to find his next location, which was out at Winchester and Tchulahoma, where I gave his bbq nachos a second go. The second time was no different, just crunchy, creamy, cheesy, smoky, saucy, savory, spicy bbq nacho perfection. The sauce was a delectable balance of sweetness with tanginess and all the complex spices you’d expect for a bbq sauce. More importantly, it complimented the smoked pork. The most important element of course, was the smoked pork shoulder. It was some of the very best smoked meat I’ve had anywhere. The meat was full of balanced and flavorful smokiness. It was also tender and juicy (I was easily able to squeeze juices from pieces of the shoulder), but had the kind of integrity that good smoked pork shoulder should have-not sloppy like boiled meat. Finally, the meat included those wonderful little bits of savory, smoky, crusty bark that we all know and love in the south. No-we’re unashamedly not part of the white meat only crowd.
Already it was unusual for me to actually pinpoint a “best” bbq nacho, but on my second visit, I also had the smoked rib tips and…amazingly enough, I can honestly say that they were the very best smoked rib tips I’ve ever had. I didn’t plan that, but it just turned out that way. It’s obvious that pit-master Chew has honed his bbq craft. In case you’re a little unsure about just what rib tips are, they’re the meaty, cartilaginous ends of spare rib bones, usually chopped off in a long section to create St. Louis cut ribs. These rib tip sections are then smoked just like ribs, then chopped into smaller bite-size little nuggets of bbq gold. Here’s a rundown of what I liked about the rib tips. Besides the tasty bbq sauce that the rib tips came in, the rib tips themselves were very tender and juicy, well-seasoned bark and laden with wood smoke. From past experiences, I’ve come to expect for rib tips to have a slight bit of chew. Most often they are slightly tougher than the full slab of ribs. These rib tips, however, were perfectly tender, smoky, crusty little morsels of mahogany, meaty love.
In all my years of eating bbq, the smoked meats I enjoyed from Grill Master Chew had truly exceptional smoke flavor, tenderness and moisture. Combined with a savory blend of spices and flavorful bbq sauce, Mr. Chew’s barbecue is some of the best you’ll find in Memphis. For the best bbq nachos and smoked rib tips in Memphis, you’ll need to find the grill-master, Grill Master Chew.
Don’t miss my Facebook Q&A chat session with Antonio Chew below, where he provides some inside details about his barbecue craft! To find Grill Master Chew, just follow the food truck on Facebook or grillmasterchew.com. There you can also see some photos, including Antonio Chew’s experiences cooking with high profile barbecue competitor Moe Cason (from the TV show BBQ Pitmasters).
Got a moment for a few Q’s?
Right on. First…
In Memphis, we know that barbecue is the meat and sauce is just a condiment. As such, many bbq shops don’t bother with a homemade sauce. Some do, but others use either a store bought sauce as is, or doctor up a store bought sauce. Nothing wrong with it, since the essence of bbq is the smoked meat. What about you? Do you have a homemade barbecue sauce, store-bought, or doctored up store bought?
No most times it’s a tomato base sauce that is homemade
It’s a really good sauce. I enjoyed the balance of sweetness and tanginess. Moving on to the meat…
First, the shoulder…
How do you smoke your shoulder? Indirect? Stick-burner? Wood only or wood and charcoal?
I smoke my shoulder only indirect with pecan wood I use less charcoal and more wood (pecan)
That’s cool. Pecan is my favorite smoking wood too. Now a question about Moe Cason…
When we spoke for the first time over the phone, you told me that you spent some time cooking with Moe Cason at MIM. What, if anything did you learn from him and he from you?
Moe always tell me that I have a true passion as a pitmaster.What I’ve learn from him in MIM to stay humble at all times. I learn to cook a better competition brisket lol which i borrowed a couple of his secrets lol
Brisket secrets from Moe? ooh la la, do tell!
I can’t tell lol
Of course. But I had to try.
I told you (and meant it), that your bbq nachos and bbq rib tips are the best I’ve ever had. After eating bbq from nearly 250 bbq joints, I don’t hand out those accolades easily. In fact, I never have until now. Will you be so kind as to explain briefly your procedure for smoking rib tips?
I rub them down with Grillmaster Chew’s seasoning an smoke the tips at a low temp to get the perfect mahogany color
In the low 200’s?
Do you smoke the whole rib tip section, then cut them into the smaller bite-size pieces?
You mentioned earlier that big Moe liked your blend of seasonings. I’m sure the recipe is top-secret G-4 classified, but is there anything that you would like to share? Perhaps an unexpected ingredient?
Ummmm try to guess it is all I can say lol
Last couple of questions…
Tell me about your pit setup. Is it a water smoker? Do you have a fire box? Basically, where is the meat in relation to the coals and do you use a water pan?
No for box, no fire box just old fashion BBQn
That’s interesting to know, because your shoulder was some of the juiciest shoulder I’ve had and the smoke was perfect. Great bark too. Your pit must really lock the moisture in. I’m assuming you smoke the shoulders in the low 200’s as well. Was your pit custom built?
Where did you learn your craft? Who taught you how to barbecue? Or are you self-taught?
I learn my cooking craft from for ladies my mom,both grandma’s and my aunt Lucy mae
That’s interesting. Is there any barbecue tip that you can pass on to my readers to help them better their own. I mean, other than the obvious stuff like, smoking the meat low and slow.
lol if you’re looking you’re not cooking …
Well said my bbq brother. thanks for your time. Just for the record, your name is Antonio Chew, correct?
You’ll be competing or selling bbq as a concession?
Glad to hear that. I’ll be there judging. I look forward to seeing you there.
Are you smoking with Moe Cason again, or forming your own team?
DTS DOWN TO SMOKE
So you’re competing with Moe Cason again. Any thoughts of forming your own team?
You chose a great pit-master to learn from and I dare say, he’ll learn a thing or two from you.
My shoulders and ribs yes I wrap them in foil at the very end
Thank you sir.
- Here are a few notes about the ‘que:
- Rib Tips-The rib tips were succulent and tender, but had a nice bark on the exterior of each piece.
- Shoulder-The smoked pork shoulder meat on the bbq nachos was perfectly tender, with crusty bits of bark from the exterior mixed throughout. I was able to easily squeeze juices from pieces of the pork.
- Rib Tips-The rib tips had the perfect amount of wood smoke for my taste.
- Shoulder-The smoke pork shoulder had the perfect amount of wood smoke for my taste.
Sauce-The bbq sauce had a great balance of sweetness, tanginess and complimenting spices.
Thanks for visiting my Memphis bbq blog! All comments are welcome. Tim Shirley