Frank Sabatini Jr.| Downtown News
They say the ribs in Memphis are the least messy. That’s because by default they’re served “dry” and derive their piquant flavor from generous rubs of paprika, cumin and other spices that kitchens in and outside of Elvis land typically don’t reveal.
Such is the case at Lil’ Piggy’s Bar-B-Q, the only place in Coronado that cranks out mondo batches of gently smoked meats on a daily basis. We’re talking 40 racks of baby back ribs, nearly 100 pounds of brisket and about 10 hefty pork shoulders all suffused in clouds of hickory for hours at a time.
Sauces come into play for those who prefer their meats wet, but the kitchen applies the liquids traditionally in small squirts. If you’re a fan of chin-dripping Kansas City-style barbecue, three types of sauces contained in squeeze bottles on the tables allow you to douse away.
The molasses-kissed house recipe is the sweetest; the mango-habanero is the fruitiest and the vinegar-based Texas sauce that the staff recommends on brisket tasted the zestiest. We shot it onto everything.
Among the preludes to our meat fest, the “piggy poppers” left us ecstatic. Stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped neatly in bacon, they’re cooked in the smoker until fork tender, qualifying them in my book as the mother of all jalapeno poppers. Even my companion with his aversion to capsaicin couldn’t stop eating them.
A “Texas potato” arrived with the bigness you’d expect, a smoked one-pound Russet crammed with cheese sauce, sour cream, bacon, green onions and brisket chili. While digging in with wild abandon, and with a basket of fried pickles parked alongside, the unglamorous self-deprecating pig jokes we tried avoiding began rolling off our lips.
Skipping over sandwiches made with smoked brisket, sausage, pork, chicken or turkey, we each opted for the two-meat combo plates served with a full ear of excellent non-mealy corn, plus some down-home white bread and a choice of two sides.
We both choose ribs as one of our proteins. I requested them dry, which doesn’t mean their fatty juices melt away like they do when cooked over flames. These were moist and unctuous. My companion chose wet, if only for that extra-caramelized flavor achieved when the ribs are finished off briefly on the grill with a tad of sauce.
His other meat choice was chicken — a bone-in, skin-on breast and thigh. As with the piling of pulled pork rounding out my plate, we admired the nuances of the smoke, which were less intense than other barbecued meats that sometimes taste as though they were cooked in a house fire. Here, your taste buds can easily distinguish the differences between poultry, pork shoulder and rib meat.
Fresh, crisp coleslaw, firm baked beans and dessert-like corn fritters served with honey-cinnamon butter clenched this all-American meal.
The experienced was further enhanced by big picnic tables arranged on a spacious covered patio, a rambling craft beer list and a Lynyrd Skynyrd tune playing on satellite radio as we forked into a slice of Julian apple pie with relatively clean fingers.