There’s good BBQ, and then there’s the imitators. The most popular American epicenters focus on a specialty, like beef brisket and hot links in Texas Hill Country; burnt ends in Kansas City; ribs in Memphis; and chopped pork in the Carolinas. These inevitably set the standard for the rest of the country, and often BBQ restaurants outside of those locales attempt to cook some or all of the items, with varying results. Though there are plenty of said shacks all across New England, few are worthy of a return trip—and even fewer deserve a mention here.
When our very first Roadfood.com friend, pjagger, mentioned Blue Ribbon Bar-B-Q to us several years ago, we were initially excited yet hesitant. It took us a very long time to try Blue Ribbon, and now we admit that our skepticism was unfounded. Blue Ribbon does indeed serve great BBQ in various styles, most of them remarkably so, and their sides and sauces have no peer in the northern states.
Their North Carolina pulled pork, favoring bigger hunks of meats over the almost minced varieties found down South, is quite excellent, and their housemade sauces (their vinegar version nails it, though their spicy chipotle mustard is divine) are especially great when used sparingly. We’d skip the smoked sausages and the Texas beef brisket (which are both fine, though we’re spoiled for the real deal) in favor of the Kansas City burnt ends and the Memphis dry-rubbed ribs. Coupled with the sauces, these items are superb and make you long for the same from their respective birthplaces. A brilliant special is the West Virginia chow-chow pork sandwich, which substitutes sweet vinegar slaw for their usual mayo-based cole slaw, and we’re also quite fond of their Cuban sandwich, made with house-smoked ham and homemade pickles.
Side dishes are not at all an afterthought at Blue Ribbon, and their creative twists on tried-and-true staples are noteworthy. Cheese grits are particularly creamy, and the black-eyed corn is tangy and toothsome. The skins-on potato salad is fresh and chunky, and the collard greens are best when drizzled with their jalapeño vinegar. Cornbread, slightly sweet and not cakey, is also significant. Blue Ribbon runs a second store at 908 Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington and also a catering service with portable smokers for large parties. Blue Ribbon is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.