Best Bbq Apps in 2023
The Pit Pal BBQ App
Crazy BBQ Backyard Party
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BBQnGrill by iFood.tv
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- Fear Ringtones
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The Smoke Shop's Backyard BBQ: Eat, Drink, and Party Like a Pitmaster
Grilled Salmon Recipes - Basil BBQ Sauce
- Easy Grilled Salmon Recipes to Impress at Cookouts
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- How To: Grill Salmon on a Gas Grill
- Grilled Salmon With Basil BBQ Sauce
- The Healthiest Salmon is Grilled Salmon
The Barbecue Guys
- Pitmaster Tips and Tricks
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Smokin' with Myron Mixon: Backyard 'Cue Made Simple from the Winningest Man in Barbecue: Recipes Made Simple, from the Winningest Man in Barbecue: A Cookbook Winningest Man in Barbecue
- Search numerous tasty barbecue recipes
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- Send recipes via e-mail
- View photos of completed dishes
- Star favorites
Tuscaloosa's Original Dreamland BBQ
Although innumerable places make this boast, Dreamland has as good a claim as any to making the finest BBQ Ribs and sauce in the country. They'd better be good; it's all they serve.
At that time, Tuscaloosa, the capitol of the Old Confederacy, was well stocked with very good rib restaurants. I moved to the town in 1967 and my culture shock was attenuated by my discovery of rib heaven. Since childhood, I had been a very serious fan of BBQ ribs. Having spent most of my early life in Cleveland, Ohio, my exposure to good BBQ was narrow, but my enthusiasm was, nevertheless, great. Tuscaloosa presented numerous superb BBQ restaurants, three of which were so superior to any I had ever encountered that I knew I was home. Two of these were small, almost exclusively African-American, neighborhood places; the third was near the university, predominantly white and, also, a small neighborhood restaurant. Two of the restaurants were converted old houses and one was a converted old garage. Over the years, two of these fell away with the passing of their founders and chefs; one, Dreamland, rolled on and slipped into national fame, not entirely because of the quality of their ribs.
Don't misunderstand; the quality of the product is good enough to have generated several internet sites purporting to have "nearly reproduced" the BBQ sauce. They're not close. Personally, I spent 30 years trying before I learned a major part of their secret (by seeing their trash). I can come fairly close, and I'm not telling, but theirs is still better, anyway.
It is important to note that I am talking about the original Dreamland, not the four branches or the innumerable franchised restaurants. There is a major difference and the history of Dreamland is an important part of understanding this difference. The "original" is as unchanged as any such establishment I have ever seen. It retains all of the flavor it had when I first encountered it over forty years ago -- and some of the same people. Big Daddy is gone, but his family and friends carry on without missing a beat.
So how did this small shack surrounding a fire pit become the center of a franchise and famous enough to command feature stories in the New York Times? Strangely enough, a substantial part of the answer to this is the fact that the original restaurant was as naive and unsophisticated as a kid's lemonade stand. Big Daddy, as I mentioned earlier, wanted to cook and sell ribs. That meant that he would sell ribs, supply white bread, and allow a limited number of beverages (including beer) and bags of potato chips to be the only options aside from how many ribs you wanted. If you wanted a hamburger, you could go down the street to the MacDonald's that opened there. If you wanted chicken, or even BBQ pork, you could find it elsewhere, but if you wanted ribs -- that he would gladly sell you. John was selling ribs for $8.95 a slab when I first encountered him (fifty cents more if you wanted them cut apart). They are a few dollars more than that now, at $17.95, but now they are always cut apart. There is another difference, too. Now, the customer is charged tax. You see, in Tuscaloosa, restaurant food is taxed at currently an outrageous nine percent. Prior to a few years ago, the customer did not pay that. Neither did Big Daddy. It was the omission of this nicety that led to the publicity that contributed greatly to the fame and success of Dreamland.
Big Daddy sold ribs and buried money in the backyard. He never bothered with state sales tax, and, I suspect, not much other tax, either. Somebody noticed this a few years ago and Dreamland was taken to court. By that time, Dreamland (the one location), had already become something of an institution. This was due, in part, to some very visible free publicity. You see, Tuscaloosa is the home of the Crimson Tide. That is, it is the home of the University of Alabama, which, for many years, fairly or not, has been known more for its football team than its academics. ESPN often broadcast from Tuscaloosa and the broadcasters were much taken with Dreamland, never failing to mention it in the course of calling the football games (or basketball). They were largely responsible for turning this restaurant into an immensely busy and integrated operation. Nearly as many white folks as black now crowded into the place, particularly on weekends.
So what does a local judge do to an institution of this importance to the town? A brilliant solution to the dilemma occurred to the court. Dreamland was sentenced to serve free ribs, once a year (in perpetuity, I think) to a local facility for mentally handicapped people, as much as they could reasonably eat. It was this event that propelled Dreamland into the national scene with stories describing it in newspapers from coast to coast. So the sauce was bottled and sold, satellite Dreamlands opened in Northport (a sort of suburb of Tuscaloosa), Birmingham, Mobile, and Huntsville. Eventually, Dreamland franchised.
Now, all of the other locations departed from the original philosophy that you could order anything you wanted, as long as you wanted ribs. Kids menus, 'pulled BBQ', chicken, and other impure foods, along with side dishes were introduced. These were available everywhere but the original Dreamland, which, as I said, remained pure and true to its original mission, except that it now paid taxes.
This icon remains. It is still a shack, surrounded by numerous dogs seeking scraps, and surrounding the original pit. It still brings platters of ribs and heaps of white bread to slop up the fantastic sauce, which generously covers the ribs and is additionally provided in Styrofoam cups. Side dishes are still limited to the bags of potato chips behind the bar, but you can order banana pudding for dessert. The service remains incredibly fast, good, friendly, and almost hebephrenically cheerful. The ribs are still splendid, firm enough to provide a mouthful to chew and tender enough to chew it. The sauce has never changed, a red sauce that has both a vinegar and tomato base, sneaky hot and only a hint sweet. Perfect. Actually, there is more to the base, but I'll never tell and the imitations have not found it. The sauce is no longer made on the premises so the strategy I used to discover the ingredients can not be applied.
Despite being always crowded and busy, the atmosphere is invariably friendly, containing customers who appear to have no complaints -- ever -- and who are visibly enjoying themselves. I have never seen a fight or even a serious unpleasantness. They have a thriving take-out business and an overflowing group on the premises, but virtually no wait for anyone, or, perhaps, I have just been lucky when there. But I have been going there for over forty years, sometimes sitting at one of the four wooden tables or equal number of booths, sometimes taking it home to enjoy over the next two days. No matter how much I buy, it never lasts longer than that. I suppose if I had no access to any other food, I would eventually tire of the very limited menu, but that is a theoretical supposition. It hasn't happened yet.
When I dropped by to take the picture in this review, I ordered three slabs of ribs to go. I turned around and took a picture of the menu on the wall, the only menu there has ever been. It hadn't changed except for the prices in the forty years I have been a customer and, I am told, the nineteen previous years of the restaurant's existence. As I turned back to the server to ask her to add an extra quart of sauce, she handed me my order. It couldn't have been two minutes. I am writing this the same night. There aren't many ribs left. I came home and put the containers on the counter. Margaret, my wife, asked whether we could "snitch" a little. Neither of us sat down; we were too busy "snitching." Two of the slabs were gone before our nearly eight year old granddaughter came to visit and help us attack the last slab. Funny thing, Margaret never really liked ribs before we found Dreamland.
How can you rate this as a restaurant? It has none of the amenities of a family restaurant or a fine dining establishment. It has its own ambience, not easily compared to any other. If you want ribs, it's a five star restaurant; if you don't, don't go there.