Best burger, best pizza, best almost anything foodwise (or otherwise) is a contentious claim — but then there’s best barbecue. The regional differences alone make for fight-picking, and when you add in particularly fierce personal preferences, the chances of proclaiming a meaningful “best” become disappearingly small … and the chances of getting yelled at on the internet, probably a lot, are 100 percent. The great barbecue debate is something a food writer is wise to not touch with a 10-foot pole, whether it be oak, mesquite, cherry or what have you.
Food & Wine’s David Landsel just went there — and went so far as to declare “The Best BBQ in Every State.” To cut to the chase, the best barbecue here in Washington, according to this list, at least, is officially Jeff’s Texas Style BBQ in Marysville.
Jeff’s is indeed very, very good, to my mind/mouth, but when I wrote about the place last summer, I avoided superlatives in favor of documenting how very seriously owner Jeff Knoch takes his brisket and suggesting you go try it yourself. Oh, and noting that he caters for the Seahawks, who love his barbecue so much, he can’t seem to bring them enough. The first time he fed them, the team ate 40 pounds of brisket (served alongside 45 racks of ribs, turkey, sides and more); the next time, he brought 60 pounds of brisket, “And we ran out again.” The third time, he brought even more — and still ran out.
The scene at Jeff’s after the Food & Wine list came out last week was much the same: He sold out every day from Wednesday through Sunday, despite increasing barbecue volume to the best of his ability. Knoch says being named best in the state feels “Pretty good! I think the hard work and long hours that myself and my employees put in are worthy of high praise.” But on a philosophical note, he says, “I really hate comparisons and competition. I would rather these lists were something like… ‘Here are some great BBQ joints to try in Washington State.'” He says the whole who’s better/best thing “just annoys” him, but he does admit to being thrilled to be on the same list as the widely revered Louie Mueller Barbecue. (Louie Mueller lacks Knoch’s compunction, calling itself “THE BEST BARBECUE IN TEXAS (WHICH MEANS THE BEST IN THE WORLD).” Knoch imports post oak from Texas for his meat work.)
Food & Wine also named “at least one runner-up for every choice, because there’s more good barbecue out there than ever before.” The choices for Washington’s runners-up are both in Seattle: Jack’s BBQ (“crowd-pleasing” and “typically a good time”) and Emma’s BBQ (“homey, family-run”).
I asked Food & Wine’s Landsel about his methodology — did he actually eat at all the places? If so, is he OK? He said that “this sanctioned craziness began as a private obsession, some time ago,” and that he’s “hit all 50 states, some many times, 40 last year alone” (!?). He “had help getting current — so much evolving! — in the more distant lands,” but he aims for a 100-percent-firsthand update down the road.
Upon publication of the massive list, Landsel tweeted, “I’ll be over here grilling vegetables for the rest of the summer, in case you need to yell at me.”