B&B Southern Barbecue was part of an August Good to Go column.
For 32 years, William Stringer lived in the line of fire, as a Memphis police officer and an undercover federal narcotics officer. These days, as owner of B&B Southern Barbecue in Laurel, Stringer is still playing with fire: in the pit where he cooks such crowd-pleasing dishes as beef and pork ribs, smoked sausage and turkey.
When it takes four hours - and layers of hickory wood and charcoal - to make up to 60 slabs of ribs at a time, the pitmaster is so named for a reason. "I'm the only one allowed to operate the pit," says Stringer, 59.
Originally, he and his late wife, Betty, operated the business as a weekend mobile stand from a parking lot across the street, just west of Fort Meade. In 2003, they bought an old 7-Eleven, gutted it and moved the road show inside. The switch brought them more room and more devotees.
Raised in Clarksdale, Miss., Stringer is clear about what Memphis barbecue is all about: Its sauce is tomato-based, unlike the vinegar foundation common in North Carolina. In general, however, "there's no right or wrong way to do barbecue," he says. "The public will be your jury. They will not lie."
Stringer picked up some of his secrets as an off-duty cop who liked to sample the food at barbecue competitions in Memphis. While "the little old ladies wouldn't tell you anything about recipes, they couldn't prevent you from looking," he says.
His investigation paid off. The pork ribs (half slab $12.50, full slab $20) arrived at our table moist and tender, bearing only traces of fat and tasting of smoke without being overpowered by it. Stringer likewise doesn't go hog wild with the seasoning; his intent is for the meat to taste like meat and the natural juices to be remembered most. Alas, the dollop of sauce that crowned the ribs tasted like a store-bought afterthought.
He does right by the swimmers: fried catfish, tilapia and whiting ($9-$11, including two sides, corn muffin and white or wheat bread). The plump helping of farm-raised catfish was expertly fried to a golden brown: crispy but not greasy.
What would a Southern table be without an assortment of simply prepared sides? His front-line favorites, macaroni and cheese and collard greens, are winners. Rather than being boiled to mush, the greens tasted fresh and retained a slight bite. The mac and cheese was beautifully creamy under a crisp topping, and the sweet potato pie ($3.50 a slice) was a masterpiece: not too sweet, with a sturdy crust.
Many of Stringer's clients breeze in after work for takeout orders or to relax at one of the eight tables in the red-carpeted dining room, where a vast mural depicts lifelike figures of such blues icons as W.C. Handy and Muddy Waters. On weekends, pigs' feet and chitterling dinners become part of the menu.
It's homey food all the way, and to that end, Stringer insists he is not out to gain top-dog status among Southern cooks. "We cannot touch your mama's cooking," he says. "But we can become second."
- Tony Glaros, August 25 2010