Calvin Trillin once wrote that anytime you see a building with a picture of a pig on it, you can bet there’s good grub inside.
Yours truly has always said that barbecue is like sex: the worst we ever had was still pretty good.
Turns out both of us were wrong.
Turns out that neither of us had eaten at Big Ern’s in Container Park when we made such foolish remarks.
Big Ern’s serves up such an execrable excuse for ‘cue that even a couple of barbecue hounds like Calvin T. and ELV are going to have to rethink their lifetime philosophies about smoked meat.
How bad is it?
Well, take a look:
Can you imagine a less appetizing sandwich?
Not only was this “pulled pork” un-pulled, it was also untrimmed and devoid of smoke and seasoning. Making matters worse: it tasted like boiled pork mush.
Almost as bad was the beef brisket: dry, smoke- and seasoning-free. The ribs fell off the bone — no doubt because they had been par-boiled — and were either as tough as shoe leather (on their ends) or as pliant as baby food.
For the record: we were going to leave Big Ern’s alone. We ate there about a year ago, had the same, terrible food, but felt that the good sense and good taste of the public would do it in soon enough. Instead, lines inexplicably form out the door every day at lunch — making us wonder if the downtown denizens haven’t developed a taste for dog food?
So we returned to see if they had improved. On our way into Container Park, we spotted a foodie friend whose taste in all things culinary is generally unimpeachable:
He: Where you headin’ for lunch?
Us: Big Ern’s…to see if there’s been any improvement.
Right as usual, Terry Leavitt.
As we were throwing 80% of our meal in the trash can, all we could surmise was that someone, somewhere, once told someone named “Big Ern” that he knew something about smoked meat. Both of them were wrong. Because neither of them has the slightest clue what goes into good barbecue. Like every other ‘cue joint in Vegas (admittedly, there are only a handful of them) they think all you have to do is throw meat in some industrial smoker to get a decent product. The trimming, seasoning and care it takes to shepherd briskets, racks and butts through hours of slow, careful cooking (over just the right kind of hardwood smoke), completely escapes these pretenders. It’s more art than science — another inconvenient fact that evades these meretricious mountebanks of meat.
Thus have we had servings that looked like they were carved by a six year old with a butter knife (Billy’s BBQ – on tables adorned with Siracha of all things), to brisket (and ribs) so tough you couldn’t cut them with a steak knife (twice, at Rolling Smoke).
And whatever sauce-laden, cooked-to-death proteins they’re serving at John Mull’s Meats aren’t worth the time and the Sherpa guide it takes to find the place. It isn’t barbecue as much as it’s steam-table slop. The lines that form there are more a testament to its cheapness than any (non-existent) quality.
So please, don’t waste our time telling us how much you like this place or that. Neither you nor they know what the hell you’re talking about.
Las Vegas is where barbecue goes to die.
You have been warned.
BIG ERN’S BBQ
In Container Park
707 East Fremont Street
Las Vegas, NV 89101