Barbecue. Barbeque. Bar-B-Q. Barbie. BBQ. The process of cooking slowly over low, indirect heat and smoke. Styles, technique and apparatus has evolved since the days of Columbus when his crew found Tainos Native Americans roasting meat over a wooden framework grill in 1492. What has always remained the same is the pure essence of the art; using fire and smoke to transform raw ingredients into a divine meal. Finding your style and taste preference may take a whole lifetime, but for me it only took a cold day in 2014.
When the first ever Fire, Flour and Fork was held from October 29 to November 1, 2014 I was lucky enough to get a free ticket to its Saturday events. It just so happened that one of the demonstrations that day was called “The Tao of Bark” taught by Chris Fultz, the owner of ZZQ Texas Craft Barbeque. This session promised to give us a glance into the art of crafting the perfect bark on a brisket using dry rub, charcoal and wood. For all those unsure of what “bark” is, it is best described as follows: the crust that forms on the outside of barbeque smoked meats. It forms when the dry rub, the sugars it contains, smoke and fat in the meat combine and cook together on the outside of the meat. As this combination occurs on the outside of the meat which is exposed to the heat in the cooking, they form a delicious shell around the rest of the meat trapping in flavor and juices. Hope that helps clear that up. I knew this event was a must attend, as I myself am an amature barbequer.
At 11:15am on November 1, 2014, I found myself at the lot across from the Library of Virginia. The weather was less than ideal, to say the least. It was in the mid-40s with a light rain and 30 mph gusts of wind. Not the best weather to use a cooking process that relies on smoke and heat. Yet, here I found Chris Fultz, the pitmaster, and his wife Alex Graf, the pitmistress, smiling and ready to give their presentation. As they delved into the intensely deep subject of what makes a good rub, how you need to factor in the intensity and flavor of your smoke and how the distance of the charcoal affects the cooking, they began pulling brisket out of the smoker. To say they used a knife to slice off pieces is wrong. They simply slipped a knife into the meat in a smooth motion to cause the brisket slices to gently part from the main hunk. There was no sawing. No hacking. No forceful pressure. Just a gentle push of the knife through the meat to create generous pieces. My memory of words spoken from here on out get spotty because all I can recall is that slice of meat. The bark was marvelous to behold. A solid layer of rich, smoky goodness. It sat over a delicate layer of the beef fat, which had mostly rendered itself admirably into the meat. The meat itself was tender, juicy and undeniably good. It was the single best piece of barbecued meat I had ever had.
The end of that session felt like catching the biggest fish you have ever caught only to have it leap out of the boat to freedom before you get a picture. Or brewing the best cup of coffee known to mankind, but spilling it all over the floor before you get a good sip. For those of you who can’t identify with either example, your world upsets me. I had tasted, briefly, the best piece of cooked meat ever and I would never taste it again. It haunted me for quite some time. Then, in June of 2015, Ardent Craft Ales opened up in Scott’s Addition. They had invited Chris and Alex to move a smoker there so that they could run a ZZQ pop-up for the masses. They did just that for two years to lines of devotees, including myself. Still, it wasn’t enough for the masses. Eventually you need to give your following a church to visit. On March 3rd, ZZQ opened their brick and mortar restaurant. From smokey street prophets to bishops of a barbecue monastery.
The meat monastery at 3201 W. Moore St. is a clean, unassuming looking metal building. The parking lot isn’t big and is surrounded with the kind of plantings you expect to find in Texas. Various cactus and such poke out of the light colored gravel. I appreciate the aesthetic it creates. The best part of pulling up to ZZQ is seeing the smoke rise behind the building from the smokers. When the woody, meaty smell permeates your nostrils, you almost can’t help but stop to suck in deep lungfuls. It’s the kind of smell you want to wrap yourself in.
You are greeted upon entering the building by the large visage of a cow. It looks at you almost as if to issue an unspoken challenge — Are you truly ready for some BBQ? I wouldn’t be surprised if those large cow eyes have poured an ice cold pitcher of doubt over the confidence of lesser eaters. I stared back, accepting the challenge. Do your worst, cow.
Across from the cow is the history of ZZQ in pictures. In what I can only define as a cross between a collage and a mural, you can follow the growth from a pleasing hobby to a passionate culinary requirement. I would never have thought of covering a wall in a walk down memory lane. Always good to remember how you got where you are.
The menu board, broken into two columns, is clear and easy to work with. Various meats are priced per pound. Sandwiches are listed below that. The other column is all of the sides available that day. It also lists the housemade desserts and the beverages. The very bottom helps you figure out how much meat to order. I think that if you are committing to one meat, get ½ pound. If you want to try two, get ⅓ a pound each. Add in a side and you have a lot of food.
Leave the menu board and step right up to the great folks carving the goods. It is almost a tease to watch your tray slowly get slid down from station to station. First is meats, where knives slip gently through hunks of—you guessed it—meats. Juices pool in all the right places. Sandwiches go from words on a board to beautiful sculptures. Next on to hot sides. Jalapeno mac n’ cheese and blackstrap collard greens generously heaped into their cardboard homes. Make a stop at the cold sides next. Red-cabbage coleslaw and housemade pickles should find a little room on your tray. Finally, you reach that register and are handed your tray. Contain yourself just a minute longer, my friend. Pay and walk calmly, if not briskly, to a table. Rip off a few paper towels. It’s time.
In the roughly a week that it’s taken me to write this post, I have been to ZZQ three times. So, I’ve gotten quite a large portion of the menu. I’m going to do my best to sum it all up. We will start with the Tres Hombres sandwich. Sliced sausage, chopped brisket and pulled pork topped with pickled red onions on a bun. This sandwich is a monster. Been having trouble sleeping lately? Tackle this gang and I promise a strong nap is in your future. Each meat comes out swinging with this beast. Each bite is a guessing game as to which flavor beats out the others. Part of the joy of wrestling this animal into submission is never knowing which type of smokey goodness is going to punch you in the tastebuds. Ordering a side here is encouraged, but probably not recommended unless your pants have a stretchy waistband.
Meat by the pound is a great option as it allows you to truly invest in learning the flavor of each offering. The pulled pork comes with a light coating of vinegar sauce tossed into it. I’m sure you could request it dry, but don’t be a fool. The pork spare ribs are meaty and generous. They are so flavorful and pull nicely off the bone. You will find yourself scouring your finished bones for any hidden nibbles of meat. The sausages, custom made by local sausage-maker Sausage Craft, are personal favorites. Thick and packed with flavor, you could make a meal out of just two or three of these. I want them with eggs in the morning. Maybe some takeout is in order. The crown jewel of the meats is the beef brisket. If you need a description, please see above. It is still just as amazing as the first taste I ever had.
The sides, both hot and cold, are made in-house. All of them deserve to be highlighted in this paragraph, but I’m only going to touch on my personal favorites. The jalapeno mac n’ cheese is a must get each visit. The flavor of the jalapeno is certainly present in each bite, but you don’t get much of the heat. It’s nice because it doesn’t destroy your taste buds. I applaud the choice of the cavatappi noodle over the standard elbow noodle. It lends to a heartier bite because the cheese clings better to the ridges. When the blackstrap collard greens are on the line, I get a double helping. The blackstrap molasses cooked into these tender greens adds a rich and deep flavor. The raw red onion adds a wonderful contrasting texture in the dish. I want to make these at home for every meal. As far as the cold sides, you can’t lose with the terlingua coleslaw. The red cabbage base provides a striking color to your tray. This is a vinegar-based coleslaw so it is quite tangy. I don’t even mind the little bits of cilantro living among the crunch. Finally, the housemade pickled things. Get them all, no hesitation. The red onions, the dill pickles and the jalapeno. Mix them in a bite at a time with various other tray inhabitants. They are welcome in each possible bite.
Across the restaurant from the stomach filling meats is the bar. The dark wood top and light wood front blend beautifully in with the rest of the restaurant. Just beware the slight angle to the front of the bar top when placing drinks down. I, not being a big cocktail guy, have not really explored the cocktail menu. Cody got a Daiquiri al Pastor on a recent visit. I had a sip and was very impressed. It was very smooth with well balanced flavors. The pork-washed rum added a velvety texture to the drink in a pleasing way. It finished with a touch of heat which seemed to bring the drink home in your mouth. I personally go for the beer. ZZQ has a rotating selection of beers offering a steady range of types and breweries. When in doubt, go for the Lone Star, a Texas beer that works with Texas BBQ.
There is something about cooking over flames and smoke that seems to reach down into your soul, hitting a happy place. It makes you want to be with friends with cold drinks in your hand. You want to wrap yourself in the warm smoke while munching on food prepared with true passion. ZZQ Texas Craft BBQ provides you the perfect setting to indulge in those feelings. If you don’t believe me, go there yourself. Bring a friend. You won’t regret it. Until next time, readers, may your ribs be dry-rubbed and your brisket kissed with smoke.