Big Country's Hickory Pit BBQ, a log cabin trailer with a couple of picnic tables in an open lot, might just be the barbecue joint closest to the halfway point between Boston and New York City. That and the easy access from I-91 (take exit 13, head west a half mile, then a half mile north on Route 5) make it a perfect pit stop for any commute. The custom smoker is on display at the back of the trailer, filling the air with the smell of sweet hickory.
The barbecue-only menu at Big Country's is fairly simple: babybacks, chicken (dark meat only) and pulled pork, with brisket burnt ends "while they last." There are four sides and cornbread, and that's it. Combinations allow the flexibility to configure the right mix and quantity.
On a weekday lunchtime visit with a fellow barbecue junkie, we learned that the burnt ends were sold out within ten minutes of the stand's 11:00AM opening. We wound up trying everything else but the potato salad.
There are no appetizers as such on the menu. I'd think chili would be a natural in the winter months.
Ribs: A half rack of babyback ribs ($10.99 with one side) was short but meaty, scattered randomly throughout the takeout container. They were well sauced, but the pinkness of the meat and the bumpiness of the rub crust were still very noticeable at first glance. The moist, tender meat pulled easily from the bone, supplying a nice mix of flavor from a light smoke, a mainstream sweet barbecue sauce and an aggressive spicy-salty rub that was the clear star of the show. Actually, "tender" might be a bit of an understatement, as the ribs were cooked slightly past what I prefer, but I think they're what most of the general public seeks in a rib and well within my range. I had just a couple ribs, but based on size and overall enjoyment would probably order a half rack per person next time.
Pulled pork: Ordered as a sandwich ($4.99), the pulled pork arrived as a generous serving that had trouble staying within the confines of the soft bun. The floppiness of the well chopped meat initially made me think Sloppy Joe, but the first bite changed that thinking: the saucing was enough to lubricate the meat, but the meat did all the talking. The brown color of the sauce camoflaged the pinkness of the meat and very abundant bark, which made themselves known more through flavor. Smoke level was more noticeable than on the ribs, and there was plenty of moistness in the meat itself, not just the sauce.
Chicken: An unsauced leg quarter ($6.99 with one side) arrived as separate leg and thigh pieces, with a thick, dark, crunchy crust formed by another very generous rub allotment and what appeared to be numerous, well integrated sauce bastings down the home stretch. I wouldn't call the chicken dry, but it wasn't moist. Flavor (again spicy and salty, possibly with some ground coriander) and overall texture (crunchy outside, tender inside) more than made up for that. For me, the chicken was the highlight of the meat trio that satisfied all the way around.
That mainstream sweet sauce I alluded to earlier is none other than Sweet Baby Ray's. I have to admire that Big Country's for having the balls to put out a bottle of it rather than pretend like some others that they concocted something from scratch. If you're going to use a supermarket barbecue sauce, Sweet Baby Ray's is the one I'd recommend.
Sides were a mixed bag. Before the visit I was looking forward to the baked beans—made with four kinds of peppers, onions and pulled pork—almost as much as the meats. Unfortunately, they were coated too heavily with sauce, which didn't provide much of a departure in flavor from what I already tasted on the meats. I liked the smoked mac and cheese, which had some richness from bacon and sharpness from the creamy but not overdone cheese coating. Store bought cole slaw was bland, overloaded with overly thick mayo. Cornbread was a fresh miniloaf that tasted as close to Twinkie as you can get.
The Bottom Line
I had some misgivings about the sides, but I won't miss giving a spirited recommendation for the barbecue at Big Country's Hickory Pit BBQ. Although not quite destination 'cue, the combination of flavor, affordability and convenience will make it a regular stop on future barbecue trips to and from New York City. I don't have a problem with their sauce and I'm in love with their rub.
Urbanspoon reviews of Big Country's Hickory Pit BBQ