OK, so I know that New England and barbecue don't necessarily go together. But my fiancé, A., and I have this dream of serving delicious smoked barbecue at our wedding next summer, so we've been combining our wedding venue search through NY's Hudson Valley and New England with a bbq-joint scouting trip. We're not experts by any means, but we tried to be serious in our evaluations of each meal, so I thought I'd share our "tasting notes" from the four places we hit this past weekend.
(BTW, we had originally talked to Dinosaur BBQ—our favorite place in NYC—about sending out their rig from Syracuse, but now it looks like we're probably going to hold the wedding in VT or NH, which is too far for them to travel, sadly.)
1) Hickory BBQ in Kingston, NY - Probably the worst bbq we've ever tasted. A.'s brisket was bland; my spareribs were pretty much inedible. I thought they were tough, fatty, and flavorless; A. said they tasted like formaldehyde. They were also the most expensive of any place we went this weekend. As for sides, the baked beans, mash, and collards were mediocre; the only thing in the whole meal that I thought was decent was the mac and cheese, which wasn't too gloopy and had a nice crust from having been run under the broiler. We got cornbread and biscuits at the beginning of the meal; both were cold and dry. I gave them a 2 out of 10, mostly on the strength of the mac and cheese; A. gave them a 1.5.
2) Top of the Hill Grill in Brattleboro, VT – The day after the Hickory fiasco, we were so thrilled to get some food that was actually edible that we wolfed our entire combo plate down happily, even though none of it was stellar. The ribs, brisket, and chicken had nice tenderness, just not much flavor. They came presauced. The baked beans tasted canned, the cole slaw was OK. We took a peek in the kitchen and they did have several industrial-sized smokers. It was nice to sit out in the sun at their outdoorsy location; they certainly seemed popular, and half the inns in the area recommended their catering when we asked for bbq suggestions, but overall we thought they weren't anything to write home about. I gave them a 5 and A. gave them a 4.5.
3) KC's Rib Shack in Manchester, NH - By far the best of the bunch. All of the meat was moist and tender and had flavor. The spareribs had a nice pink smoke ring, good bark, and didn't need any sauce, though their four sauces were also the best of all the places we tried. The pulled pork was tasty; the chicken was really the standout, incredibly moist all the way through. The baked beans (strong maple flavor) and cornbread (cakey) were just OK, though the "grubby rice" was very good. We cleaned our combo plate. They don't do brisket, unfortunately. A. gave them a 6 out of 10 and I gave them a 7. I also just reread pigtrip.net's review (http://www.pigtrip.net/review-KCRS.htm) and I think it is dead on, right down the slightly odd "apple slatha" sauce, which A. liked more than I did.
4) Goody Cole's in Brentwood, NH - Given their good reviews on pigtrip.net and on chowhound, we were pretty disappointed here. Overall, the meat was dry. The brisket had a flavorful crust, but the inside meat was dry and tasteless. Same for the chicken. The ribs, which we think were baby backs (they were small), weren't awful, but we thought that whatever seasoning they're using in their dry rub must be a little strange because we kept saying how "different" these ribs tasted, and not in a great way. They also weren't as tender as the ribs at KC's or Top of the Hill. The collards were disgusting, tasted like they'd been boiled in brine; the baked beans and cornbread were decent. I think I gave them a 4.5 and A. a 4, and we sadly agreed that we'd probably rather eat at Top of the Hill Grill than there.
We've also recently tried Big W's in Wingdale, NY—best chicken we've ever had, decent ribs and sides, great prices, though I'm not sure he does catering or how far he would travel. We're also talking to some places in Boston (Redbones, Blue Ribbon) about catering, and I'm intrigued by the local/organic spin of Holy Smokes catering in West Hatfield, MA, which I'd like to try. We've heard mixed-to-bad about Curtis BBQ in Vermont, so we didn't try them on this trip.
If anyone has opinions on these options or any other suggestions for great bbq in New England, I'd love to hear it.