I have a little rule about random barbecue trailers in parking lots. It’s pretty simple, really: never pass up a random barbecue trailer in a parking lot. That’s it. It’s never steered me wrong.
My first experience with random barbecue trailers in parking lots was back in 1989, in the parking lot of Lee’s Liquors in South Bend, Indiana. I was 7. My dad had stopped for a beer on the way home and decided to bring a few slabs of ribs with him. I remember watching through the windows of our shitty station wagon as dad handed over a wad of bills in exchange for a short stack of Styrofoam containers. In hindsight, I have no idea if the ribs were actually any good. It doesn’t really matter, though. In the annals of my nostalgia-tinted personal history, those random-barbecue-trailer-in-a-parking-lot ribs were fan-freaking-tastic.
That brings us to the parking lot of the Heights Wal-Mart at 1 o’clock in the morning on December 6th. I had been sent out in search of last minute shoe-stuffing items in honor of my nearly forgotten saint’s day. I mean, what’s a good Catholic boy named Nicholas gonna do? Disappoint his kids, who had so excitedly set their loafers in a row by the front door? I don’t think so.
There was still a crowd gathered in front of the store when I emerged, meager stock of presents in hand. Fragrant smoke billowed from a slightly battered drum smoker mounted on a trailer, towed behind a slightly battered pickup truck. One man stood in front of the trailer, cajoling the crowd with samples of meat. Another worked the pit, filling orders and dousing the firebox, which had gotten a bit unruly.
“How about you, pop?” the Boudain Man asked as he turned to me. I ordered boudain, of course—pork (though the Boudain Man also advertises chicken and beef versions). Also, a sliced brisket sandwich. I paid the barker, telling him to keep the change. I’d gotten cash back for my handful of baubles, not realizing the Bookity Bookity Boudain Man takes plastic. “Hey,” he called to his partner, who was reaching into the smoker for a rope of sausage, “hook this guy up.” With a nod, his partner reached back into the pit and fished around for a minute.
As I stood there, he apologized for the wait. “I figure when you’re buying barbecue in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart at 1 o’clock in the morning, you’re not exactly in a hurry to be anywhere special,” I said. The Boudain Man gave a slight chuckle and a nod of agreement before handing over a greasy tinfoil packet in the coiled shape of a length of sausage, along with a soot-smeared Styrofoam box. I made it exactly as far as my car before unwrapping the tinfoil to see what was what, proving yet again that I am right in my insistence to carry a knife at all times.
I had cut through the snappy casing and severed an inch-long piece of boudain by the time the aroma hit me. Creosote. Petrol. Acrid and striking, the aroma was not smoky in the manner of pig fat slowly rendered by woodsmoke. It was smoky like the poorly carbed lawnmower I used to push angrily around my parents’ lawn, hacking at the fumes and the effrontery of chores.
I popped the bite in my mouth (I prefer to slice and eat boudain with the casing, unless, of course, I have a sleeve of crackers). Snappy casing gave way to a simple but well-seasoned filling of pork and rice that offered few hints that liver had any involvement. It wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t the best boudain in the city. On the plus side, that acrid smoke note faded quickly, seeming to have gotten trapped in the foil and released upon opening like some sort of sad ghost of smoked meats. In its wake, a strong but pleasant smoke flavor remained. As for the Styrofoam box? That just led to confusion.
It was supposed to be a chopped beef sandwich. In all fairness, I guess it might have been, if you want to get exceedingly literal. I’d been expecting a rubble of chopped brisket. Instead, I got a confusing jumble of hacked up meat bits with an unreasonable amount of gristle. I’m not entirely sure if it was pork or beef; one minute it seemed like a pork chop, the next a mediocre ribeye. Regardless of its animal provenance, it had been cooked to a “jerky nugget” degree of dryness that was truly unappetizing. I tossed most of it away. My assumption is that I got someone else’s order by mistake; I’d be hard pressed to believe that this is what the Bookity Bookity Boudain Man intends as a chopped beef sandwich.
So, I mean, things weren’t perfect. The boudain could have been more assertive, and I clearly don’t know what was going on with that sandwich. At the same time, things were kind of perfect. I got boudain out of a trailer in a parking lot in the middle of the night. That’s a beautiful thing. Besides, the boudain was tasty enough that my wife and I had a little stalemate over the last bite. Maybe boudain is subject to the Pizza Rule of Relative Valuation*. If I see him again, I’m going to give the Bookity Bookity Boudain Man another chance. Like I said, I have a little rule about random barbecue trailers in parking lots.
*The Pizza Rule of Relative Valuation states that even when pizza is kind of bad, it’s still kind of good. The rule may also be applied to other subjects, including but not limited to sex and beer.