Anchor's Quest to Find America's Best Barbecue

His technique for making ribs is quite simple. He starts the fire in the pit each morning using hickory wood. Then he comes inside and starts laying slabs of ribs -- no rub on his -- and tossing them onto the grill.

When they're ready -- Archibald decides that by visual inspection and some judicious prodding with a fork -- he pulls them out and serves them up on a square of wax paper over a paper plate.

The sauce is key. It's what really brings out the barbecue's subtle meaty flavor. His is a milky yellowish color and it's vinegar-based. Beyond that, Archibald won't say much.

"It's been a secret all these years, we'd rather keep it a secret," he said.

I asked him what distinguishes his barbecue from that made with dry rubs or served with ketchup-based sauces.

"Well, mine has got a little more swing to it," Archibald said with a smile that suggested both humility and pride. "Swing. That's what I put in it, ketchup-based, I guess that's all right. But I will stick with my vinegar."

Sitting at the counter, customer Dallas Richey said, "To me, it's one of the best in town. I live across town and I come here just to get some barbecue. And I pass two or three other barbecue places getting over here."

That is effusive praise in barbecue-loving Alabama.

The last of our four finalists was Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue in Syracuse, N.Y.

The Northeast is not normally known for its high quality barbecue, but "The Dinosaur," as its fans affectionately call it, has a large and vehement following in upstate New York. It also has an unusual history.

Click here for Dinosaur's recipe!

Owner John Stage discovered barbecue more than 25 years ago mostly by accident. At the time, he was a biker, as in motorcyclist not bicyclist. He and his pals spent their time riding the roads and attending biker rallies, but the food served at the events was disgusting, so he and two friends decided they could do better, sell it and make money.

"We could never get good food so we decided to get into the business of feeding bikers," he said.

They started off grilling hamburgers and hot dogs, which they called barbecue. One day, a rider from the South explained that burgers and hot dogs aren't barbecue.

Stage was baffled. What was barbecue?

Eventually, he traveled to the South and discovered what barbecue really is. He went from place to place, sampling the barbecue and asking questions and eventually selling his own, cooked over a 55-gallon oil drum cut in half.

In 1988, Stage and his two partners opened Dinosaur. After a struggling beginning, it took off. It still draws a large biker crowd, along with a cross-section of college students, middle-aged and elderly customers and people in business attire.

Today, there are also Dinosaur restaurants in Manhattan and Rochester, N.Y.

"Here's the secret of barbecue," Stage said. "There is no secret. It's spice. It's meat and it's sauce."

And, he explained, it's knowing when the cooking barbecue is ready to "give up the ghost" -- the exact moment when it is transformed into great barbecue.

The executive chef of the Dinosaur chain is Jeff "Cooter" Coon, a large, tough-looking man with massive arms festooned with tattoos.

Appearances deceive. Coon is a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and used to prepare French haute cuisine at a nearby country club. He kept coming to Dinosaur to eat and finally asked for a job.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • 4
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...