Big T’s BBQ – Calgary, AB

Big T’s BBQ
2138 Crowchild Trail NW
Calgary, AB
(403) 284-5959

Barbecue.  Definitely one of those forms of cooking that is greatly underestimated for its difficulty, precision and variety…

Here in North America, its roots go back to the 1800’s when pork was the staple item used in outdoor cookouts in the southern United States, and it remains one of the most favoured ingredients even today.  Its true magic how skilled barbecuers can take lower quality cuts or portions of beef and pork, infuse them with flavour from intricate spice rubs and wood smoke over long periods of time cooking at low temperatures, to make them absolutely tender and full of flavour.

There is no end to the number of die-hards who proclaim their version of barbecue the best in the business. Just do a basic investigation into the annual calendar of barbecue cook offs, contests and competitions in the US, and you’ll easily see how much reverence barbecue holds down there.  Among the better known regional differences are from places like Texas with its focus primarily beef brisket seasoned with dry rubs, North/South Carolina with pork (shoulder a popular item) and states like Missouri and Tennessee are well known for their pork and pork ribs.

Barbecue also holds an interesting social context in the modern era.  In an of itself, it is more than just the act of having a meal of slow cooked, smoked meats. Traditionally, it is often connected to a celebration or momentous occasion. As a social activity, it brings people together, all under the umbrella of sharing a feast… be it the backyard of a neighbour or in a public park.   And when people gather, you always need good food to keep them happy.

Despite the deserved reputation of Alberta as producer of some of the country’s best quality beef and pork – much of it going to export markets around the world – the rich culture of barbecue as a culinary art form has not developed as much as it has with our southern neighbours.  My memories of outdoor summer meals growing up in Alberta consisted simply of grilling.

Sauces are another element full of depth and breadth and differs by region when it comes to barbecue.  Some base elements in these flavorings might involve the tartness from vinegar, the body from tomato/ketchup, the bite from mustard, and sweetness from things such as molasses.

Additionally, sides such as macaroni and cheese, cole slaw, baked beans, etc. help to round out barbecue meals.

Now Big T’s tries to do its part to showcase the prevailing image of southern barbecue by emphasizing the ‘wood smoked’ and ‘slow food’ components of this tradition.  Its interior design includes relevant elements such as album covers of blues artists from yesteryear, a rich earthy color scheme and predominant use of natural wood in its furniture and wall structure.

I debated going all out as my dining partner did, but balked.  They ended up ordering the Flintstones-sized prime beef ribs pictured above.  They were a task to try and eat cleanly with a knife and fork, but my companion gave it a valiant effort.  I managed to snag some bits off it for my own tasting.  I’d rate it as very average tasting and on the overdone side with a dried out texture.  The one redeeming quality was that it had a nice bark on the outside.

The pulled pork plate was my main.  Again, by all appearances looked good but something was lacking.  I tried it on its own for a few bites but was just not getting much excitement, flavour-wise from the meat.  The hints of smoke were there but the meat itself was bland.  So I added some sauces from the accompanying bucket that was brought to our table.  Sure, it jazzed it up a bit, especially the richer original sauce (I think it was called), but that kind of defeated the purposes of the wood smoke that was supposed to flavour the meat.

And normally, I’m not a huge fan of baked beans and cornbread, but I managed to finish both of these.  The beans were so-so, but I was pleasantly surprised with the cornbread.  Perhaps it was the slightly sweeter taste of them that intrigued me.  The cole slaw was almost bitter in nature, and had none of the rich creamy texture that I desire in such a side.

I honestly wish I had a solid base of experience gained through a personal trip to some southern American state that specializes in traditional-style barbecue in order to make an accurate comparison.  But alas, I have yet to venture to the home of North American barbecue south of the border.  Even still, I can probably predict and speak on behalf of those who have, that what you get at Big T’s, is still not even remotely close to the “real thing”…

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13 thoughts on “Big T’s BBQ – Calgary, AB

  1. Well, for someone without a solid base of experience, i think you’ve nailed it. Big T’s is a big disappointment. No depth or complexity when it comes to their BBQ. Their wet-approach to adding flavour is a cover up for the speed, and lack of care and attention to proper smoking.

    Too bad their pit master didnt get proper training. Good BBQ is something Alberta could really use.

  2. Why oh why do we not have good BBQ. We have meat, we have wood..maybe we just don’t have the time in Canada.

    My experience with BBQ in the states is drastically different. It always seems busy, with huge turnover. Which I suppose explains why (a) the chefs are better at their craft – more skill/practice, and (b) why the meat rarely seems dried out – too much turnover. I could be totally wrong of course, but I’ve wondered if our BBQ is almost always a little dried out, because we just don’t have the turnover. So the meat ends up spending too much time fully cooked..

    Get a kick out of this, I found a menu from Old Hickory House Restaurant in Charlotte, NC, when I was cleaning this week.BBQ Pork Sandwich – $2.90, BBQ Pork Plate – $7.50 which included beans, stew, slaw, and dill pickles. Oh the days.

  3. Having enjoyed Barbecue all over the South I’d had some high hopes for Big T’s but was disappointed by the lack of overall character in the flavors.

    Maybe some day we’ll get a truly good and authentic barbecue store in Calgary and with luck people will recognize what it is and we won’t loose it… but I’ve been saying that about a sushiya and many other flavors of restaurant for years.

    • Great point RR – having fantastic, truly good BBQ is one thing, but having people recognize and support it is another.

      Im seeing progress…i think people are starting to demand better food, and be less accepting of mediocrity. Of course, that might just be people i hang out with, but any progress is good progress.

  4. As a girl from Alabama who lived in Texas for 5 years, I have consumed A LOT of bbq in my life. I save myself for when I get home b/c big t’s is just not hat good. Oh, and NO ONE in the South EVER serves bbq with cornbread. Ever…it’s just wrong! You eat bbq with white bread. I asked for a piece of bread & they had nothing. They finally brought me a hamburger bun. geez!

    • White bread yes. Just don’t tell me wonderbread. Blech. 🙂
      If you ever speak to their complaint department, let them know they shouldnt bother with plates either. Butchers wrap. That’s the way to go!

      • I did mention to them that the cornbread was wrong but they didn’t really seem to care. I’m with you on the butcher paper. My hubby and I keep saying we should open a Rudy’s like in Austin, TX.

  5. Awesome photos, as always. I actually like Big T’s. Like you, I don’t have a solid base of knowledge but it has sort of become my go-to place for BBQ.

    That being said… I always get the same thing: the Big T’s platter of Elvis Platter. Perhaps with all of the meat that it includes, the missing character you describe is compensated for. Or perhaps my palate is really simply overblown by eating a ton of meat. Their chicken is really quite delicious and juicy. Their St. louis ribs are a bit dry but their spare ribs are pretty tasty. The pulled pork and beef brisket are just oily.

    Anyway, in the absence of a better place for BBQ, Big T’s is still my go-to place. I’ve heard good things about Palomino but since I don’t live in CowTown anymore, it has been hard to give it a try!

    • Thanks for dropping a note Russ. I’d heard about that Elvis Platter, but was in no state of mind to attempt it with my dining companion. Volume for me will never trump quality I’m afraid though. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the other items that we didn’t try though, for our readers reading. Palomino, I attempted to try in the past, but never got around to it. Perhaps next time I pass thru Cowtown (early 2010).

  6. Worst meal in a long time!! Everything was dry as a bone no matter how much bbq sauce I slathered on it. Total waste of money!! Maple syrup?? I say store bought pancake syrup!! I think they mistakenly gave me a dish sponge instead of cornbread!!

  7. Well, this seems to be the place to register your beefs. I agree, the flavour does not have a lot of character, and the measly portions of bad cornbread and ok bean and coleslaw leave a lot to be desired. Granted, I LOVE MEAT, but the ribs (had ’em 3 or 4 times) are my big beef, actually! They are pre-cooked, then seared before serving. The heat lasts about 5 minutes (three ribs) then I’m eating the rest luke-warm. I don’t think the ones in the center really get very hot at all (Micro-waving them would be better.?)

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