Best Barbecue

Sure, Peg Leg Porker and Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint may have built massive meat emporiums visible from space, and Edley’s has popular outposts in three different burgeoning Nashville neighborhoods. Jack’s may have neon pigs flying over Lower Broad, but some of the best smoked meats in town may just be coming from a tiny trailer parked in the lot beside Porter Road Butcher at 501 Gallatin Ave. Matt Russo is the owner/pitmaster at The Gambling Stick, and if you haven’t dined in the canvas tent that offers cover in the parking lot, you need to get your pork butt over to East Nashville. Russo is a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef and former Porter Road employee who decided to spin off from the butcher shop. He still sources all his meats from his next-door neighbors, and the produce for The Gambling Stick’s exceptional scratch-made, small-batch side dishes comes from local farmers.

Russo believes in honoring the pasture-raised, synthetic-hormone-free animals that Porter Road supplies by cooking creative and delicious dishes that are not your regular run-of-the-mill barbecue fare. All the meats are dry-rubbed and smoked low and slow over cherry wood until they are tender but still juicy. In addition to the expected pulled pork, The Gambling Stick’s regular menu features items that aren’t found in many barbecue joints outside of Texas. Russo expertly trims his dry-aged beef brisket to leave the perfect fat cap to survive a long smoke without drying into shoe leather. Simply seasoned with a peppery crust, it’s the best brisket in town, and some of the burnt ends make their way into an outrageous baked-beans side dish. They say you don’t want to see the sausage being made, but whatever Russo is stuffing into his house-made hot links makes for the best meat tube I’ve had outside of the Lone Star State. Another Texan delicacy is a proper beef rib, and The Gambling Stick serves Fred Flintstone-sized bones cooked until they fall off the bone with only a gentle tug, just like they should. These beef ribs, along with pork spares and whole rotisserie chickens, are regular rotating specials, so learn the schedule and mark your calendar accordingly.

The final specialty of the house is a unique cut from around the breastbone of the pig that Russo calls “pigsket.” Imagine a smoky sandwich that has the flavor of pork combined with the toothsome texture of beef brisket, and you’ll have a good idea of what this phenomenal dish is about. Better yet, experience it yourself! CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

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