Two and a half weeks, 6,000 miles, and 20 states. Those are the stats on my recent motor home trip across the country. Beyond relaxing, visiting presidential libraries (Eisenhower, Truman and Lincoln) and seeing the National Parks #48 and #49 (Congaree and Big Bend), I was very much looking forward to sampling different BBQ joints.
I started easy with New Mexico and Oklahoma, moved on to Kansas City (perhaps a bit over rated) and then ate my way through Kentucky, Tennessee, both Carolinas, Florida, Georgia and finally, Texas.
I ordered the same thing every time; a rack of baby backs, beans and a root beer. Any joint that didn’t have all three was immediately eliminated from championship consideration. The service was almost always great and pricing was almost always consistent across the board. Most of the places took great pride in their “Q,” with posted news articles and customer testimonials to support their pride and their claims.
And while I was impressed by many of the lunches/dinners, a nagging thought kept at me. Just before leaving on the trip, I had visited a well-known, local, BBQ joint. I kept thinking it’s food was as good, or even better, than what I traveled 6,000 miles to sample.
So, yesterday, I went back to the local place and placed my standard order: half rack of baby backs, one scoop of baked beans and another of chili beans, and a fountain drink of root beer – plenty of ice. And it turns out, the best BBQ meal I’ve had in the last two months is right here in my own hometown of Thousand Oaks, CA, at Thousand Oaks Meat Locker. It’s a family run business founded in 1957 (coincidentally, the year I was born) and, some time ago, was made famous for being one of President Ronald Reagan’s favorite eatin’ spots.
Lesson learned? Sometimes the very best of something can be right in your own backyard. It’s not as exotic and not quite as fun of a story as one that starts with “This little back road in Southern Tennessee…” or “it’s a hundred miles off the main road and only open on Wednesdays,” but it’s close, it’s clean and it’s damn good BBQ.