You know when you look forward to returning to a BBQ restaurant because the last time you were there, the food was just plain good? I recently had this feeling upon returning to Smokin’ Jim’s BBQ in Auburndale, FL on the way back from picking up my Step-Dad Jim with my Mom, Fran. It had been a little while since I’d seen Jim, so I thought a BBQ lunch at a spot that I remembered to be good and that shared his name would be a nice way to spend the afternoon.
Smokin’ Jim’s BBQ has been a local favorite here in Imperial Polk County, FL since February 2005. When it opened up, Jim Rabe – who is a Winter Haven, FL native – wanted to create an environment for diners that made them feel like they were eating BBQ at his home. I experienced this feeling during my first trips out to Smokin’ Jim’s BBQ – enjoying good quality pork, ribs, and chicken that was pretty darned good.
While I’ll go into more detail later in this post, allow me to say that I feel the quality of the ribs, pork, and brisket I had at Smokin’ Jim’s BBQ the other day was average at best.
Smokin’ Jim’s BBQ Ribs
I ordered a rib and brisket plate and a side order of the pulled pork. You can get the pork and brisket as sandwiches, but I didn’t want the bread, so I just asked for the extra pork on a two meat plate. The ribs come untrimmed – meaning they are full uncut spares rather than St. Louis cut.
As you can see, there’s a great smoked pink to the rib from the side view. You can also notice that the tops of the ribs got a bit dark. By taste, there’s not much in the way of a rub on the ribs, and they come without sauce – which I prefer. What I did taste on them was basic salt, pepper, maybe some garlic seasoning wise. I wonder how much the ribs are seasoned prior to being put on the smoker. My sense is that they are likely seasoned after they are cooked and if wrapped at all, maybe just prior to that.
Tenderness was just on the overcooked side, as the meat tore away from the bone quite easily. I know many folks prefer their ribs falling off the bone. To be fair, these were “nearly” so, and for me they were at the edge of what I prefer – as I like more of a bite mark to be left (think Jaws) when you pull back. The ribs had good moisture, and you can definitely taste the pork, which again I prefer over being overly sauced as you get in some joints. Oak can be a little overpowering if you use too much, and in my opinion, the smoke profile on the ribs is too heavy. It goes way past the seasoning to the point where you’re left tasting smoke after you eat the rib, rather than a well-balanced smoked pork flavor.
Smokin’ Jim’s Beef Brisket
You may have read my recent review of 4 Rivers Texas Smokehouse in Winter Park, FL. The brisket at Smokin’ Jim’s BBQ is very different from the Texas style beef at 4 Rivers. As you can see in the photo below, it is served in fall apart chunks. This is actually the way I like it if I’m eating it on a sandwich with a little horseradish and some mayo. So, I won’t detract from it here for not being served in slices.
What I did find lacking in the brisket is much in the way of a smoke profile or bark. Presented as it was, the beef was more like pot roast than it was BBQ brisket. Overall, I found the texture to be dry and the meat in need of a little more salt and pepper. The spicy sauce served was a welcome addition, and if you like a thinner spicy BBQ sauce, I recommend the one they serve here – as it was pretty good. Again, this would be perfect if served in Brunswick Stew. I wasn’t overly impressed with it as a stand alone protein selection.
Smokin’ Jim’s Pulled Pork
The pulled pork at Smokin’ Jim’s is served not so much pulled as it is shredded to a great extent. Gone are any of the typical pulled muscle fibers you see in hand pulled pork, yet it doesn’t have the consistency of having been chopped by a cleaver. My guess is that there might be a mechanical chopper (perhaps a buffalo chopper) employed. In any case, the meat seems to be a bit overworked in the process leaving it a little mushy.
Taste wise the pork had a great smoky flavor profile. It comes to the table pre-mixed with what tastes like Smokin’ Jim’s Sweet Sauce – which is pretty tasty. What this leaves you with however is an inability to discern whether the meat has a good smoked pork tastes on its own. Overall, I found the pork flavorful if not a little dry. I do think it would make one heck of a sandwich on a regular white hamburger bun with some coleslaw on top of it.
For sides, I chose to have the macaroni and cheese and the baked beans. The macaroni and cheese was good, but nothing that falls outside your standard macaroni with yellow cheese sauce on top of it. The beans were really good, as they weren’t overcooked and mushy and had a little of the sweet sauce along with some other spices blended in.
Smokin’ Jim’s BBQ Final Thoughts
Among places to eat BBQ in Imperial Polk County, FL Smokin’ Jim’s is widely known to be one of the best “non-chain” selections – easily beating out all of the chain locations on most days. That said, out of a top 5 rating, I have to give yesterday’s meal a 3 at best. Here’s hoping it was an off day. I look forward to visiting here again to find out.