I bemoaned not having any barbecue during our recent long weekend in Virginia. In fact, the only time I’ve had it all year was when I smoked a rack of ribs on my back patio a couple months ago. The last time I ate it away from home was the lunch at Holy Que Smokehouse that I raved about in late December of last year. I liked the ribs and brisket there so much that I picked it as my best meal of 2021.
There is another barbecue purveyor a similar distance north of Philadelphia but a little ways west of Holy Que that I’ve heard very good things about and have been meaning to try for a few years. The pandemic almost certainly played a role in delaying my first visit to Jesse’s Barbecue & Local Market of Souderton, PA for so long, but I finally made it there for lunch Tuesday with my lifelong friend and occasional dining partner, John.
What I saw before even entering Jesse’s looked promising.
Those are old-school wood-burning smokers; the kind you want to see at a restaurant that specializes in barbecue. I use lump charcoal with wood chunks at home. But as my friend John Tanner – who blogs on the subject – will tell you, the only way to make truly genuine barbecue is to do it with only wood.
I’m always happy to see a board with the day’s smoked meat offerings on it, but I had purused the menu online and knew what we’d be having. I say “we” because John is always gracious enough to go along with what I want to share and photograph.
Jesse’s is partially a food market. While I noticed only a relatively limited amount of space devoted to items for sale, they appeared to have some good stuff there. They also have a small dining room where we ate our lunch. Orders are placed at the front counter.
The menu is fairly standard for southern-style barbecue. We ordered two meals – one each with brisket and a half-rack of pork spare ribs. John chose a corn muffin and mac-and-cheese for his sides. I inquired as to whether the collard greens are made with vinegar, which I’m not a fan of. When told they were, I also ordered mac-and-cheese as well as hush puppies. I like hush puppies and they are hard to find in the Philly region, so I was willing to pay the extra $2.75 they charge for them when ordered as part of a meal.
While standing up at the counter, we noticed they had Briar’s birch beer – a new brand to me – on tap and each ordered one. It was outstanding; possibly the best birch beer I’ve ever had.
The rib platter came out first. They were lightly sauced and pushed up against each other so that – factoring in my poor vision – I wasn’t sure if they had been pre-cut at first look. It turned out they had been.
The meat was moist. extremely soft and flavored nicely with smoke, although I couldn’t detect what type of wood was used. For a lot of people – those who like their rib-meat at the point of falling off the bone with the application of the slightest pressure – these ribs would have been ideal or very close to it.
In fact, I was unable to get a decent shot of the smoke ring because the meat had detached from the sides in at least spots on each rib that I saw. I was busy photographing the brisket while John separated the ribs into our two portions, so I’m not sure if they arrived from the kitchen that way or if it happened while he was pushing the ribs apart with his knife. Rather than show you a photo of a rib that looks like it’s half-eaten, I’ll let you use your imagination. There was indeed a smoke ring though, and there was plenty of meat that remained attached to the top of the bones.
While I certainly enjoyed the spare ribs, I’m not really a fall-off-the-bone guy. I prefer my ribs with the meat tender, but still needing to be pulled a bit to get it off the bone. The ones I had last year at Holy Que Smokehouse were ideal in that respect.
But again, I’m quibbling. These were very enjoyable ribs in terms of flavor, and the meat wasn’t overcooked to the point of being dry; just a little softer than ideal for me.
There is no need to qualify my enthusiasm for the brisket, which arrived a few minutes after the ribs.
I was so blown away by the spare ribs and brisket I had at Holy Que last year, that I really thought it unlikely Jesse’s would equal either. But they may very well have done so with their stellar brisket, which was exquisitely tender and juicy. As was the case with the brisket at Holy Que – and at Louie Mueller during my 2016 Texas barbecue trip – the smoke flavor was very subtle. Rather it tasted purely like brisket, without much interference from smoke and seasoning.
I should at least briefly touch on the sides, which were unspectacular. The mac-and-cheese was merely solid. I haven’t had hush puppies at many places, but the ones at Jesse’s seemed a bit dry compared to my expectations. In retrospect, I should have followed John’s lead and gotten a corn muffin instead. I may try their beans if I return but wasn’t in the mood for them on this occasion. Of course the sides take a back seat to the meat when I’m eating barbecue, and Jesse’s scored big with their meat, especially the brisket.
I am going to give it my best shot to not wait another year or longer before going out for barbecue again. I’ve intended to return to Holy Que Smokehouse since last year’s great experience. Hopefully that will happen in 2023.
And the number of barbecue restaurants in the Philly metro area has gone up sharply in recent years. Perhaps the place with the best reputation is Mike’s BBQ of South Philadelphia. I had takeout from there a couple times when I was working downtown before Covid hit. The results were mixed with the ribs being very good and the brisket disappointing. I may try to get back to them at some point. I’m not sure if any of the other places that have popped up in the past few years are as good as Jesse’s and Holy Que. But I intend to track down any that are and provide you with the details.
4 thoughts on “My Return to Barbecue: Jesse’s of Souderton, PA”
Not bad, but those hushpuppies do look a bit overdone. Does Jesse’s offer much in the way of sauce options? Or is there just the one that came on the ribs?
They have three or four different sauces on a counter for self-serve. I took a little of the sweet sauce and dipped a few pieces of brisket in it, but I ate most of it without the sauce. They also had a mustard sauce, I think a NC vinegar-based sauce and a hot one.