Mile 2,705: Abe’s BBQ

CLARKSDALE, MS.  Our final stop on a cross-country barbecue road trip was located 40 miles off the Interstate, accessible only by a two-lane country highway, which we drove at dusk with the sun at eye level.

Well, Keith did the driving and I was busy looking at YouTube videos, doubling over at cats playing the keyboard (it’s hilarious stuff, check it out here). Every 10 seconds, I hear Keith let out a Whoa! or Holy… as a head-on 18-wheeler just misses brushing our Chevy Malibu. All I wanted was Keith to shut up so I could find out the ending to Charlie Bit My Finger.

This, in fact, actually happened, and by the time we reached Abe’s BBQ in this town on the Mississippi Delta, Keith said, “Never again,” followed by a terse, “This better be worth it.”

It was worth it, if only we took a more direct route. Then you consider Memphis, a barbecue holy land only one hour north, so it’s not as if options are lacking.This shouldn’t take away from the most-excellent barbecue served at Abe’s BBQ, old school as they come, with a history in Clarksdale dating back to 1924.

Ribs and pork butt are cooked in a Southern Pride using hickory and pecan, the latter imparting a subtle sweet smoke, similar to fruit wood. This, they say, is to balance the tangy house sauce, tomato-based with a Worcestershire finish, laid over the baby backs thick and shiny. Ribs straddled the tender-chewy divide with streaks of intra-muscular fat visible. Terrific balance on all counts  textures, flavor, smoke. Messy as hell, too.

The tamale tradition we find in Chicago was born here in the Delta, and Abe’s serves house-made versions with saltines, two slices of Kraft American singles and covered with a thick chili. Wade through the beef-speckled chili and you manage to find even more meat, the tamale seemingly more pork than masa. Fine by us.

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