One of the first things that’s immediately impressive about Buck’s Naked BBQ is the scope of the menu. No matter what your barbecue preference, from the sticky-sweet Kansas City style, to the mustardy, vinegary shores of South Carolina, Buck’s tries to ensure that if you’ve ever enjoyed barbecue, anywhere, you’ll find something to like on their menu.
Seven different kinds of wings. Deep fried pickles, sweet potato fries, baskets of brisket burnt ends, and, in total defiance of nature, something called “Buffalo Sausage Nuggets,” breaded, deep-fried slices of sausage tossed in Buffalo wing sauce and served with blue cheese dressing. Both baby back and St. Louis-cut ribs, huge beef ribs, pulled pork, and “cowboy” sausage. Brisket, jerk chicken, pulled chicken, and pit-roasted chicken. I couldn’t even consider the back-half of the menu, where I spied not just numerous sandwiches, tacos, and hamburgers but finally, just to round everything off, three different kinds of steak, which you can mix-and-match with seven different sauces.
Buck’s is also, as far as I can tell, a pioneer in the world of what they have labeled, somewhat unfortunately, “FOOZE.” As you may have guessed, it’s the glorious, inevitable combination of food and liquor. Remember when you got a boiled shrimp in your Bloody Mary that one time at brunch, and you weren’t sure what to do with it? Buck’s Naked BBQ takes that concept to its ultimate conclusion, featuring a whole column of specialty drinks that include some sort of food as a garnish. Like Bloody Marys? Buck’s bets you’ll like them even better with a baby back rib on top. And what tops off a Dark ‘n’ Stormy like a single, spicy jerked rib? I opted for the “Margarita Gone Wild” ($7.00), a full pint of margarita on the rocks, with salt on the rim…as well as still-steaming chili-lime baby back on top. Disgusting? Certainly. Awesome? Doubly-so.
Everything is smoked slow-and-low, and served without sauce (which is where the “Naked” in “Buck’s Naked” comes from). Sauces are served on the side, from plastic squeeze bottles on each table. There’s a blueberry BBQ sauce, which seems like a jokey, nod-to-Maine novelty, but turns out being fairly subtle with its blueberry flavoring, and therefore ended up being one of my favorites. There’s also a house BBQ, sweet with hints of chipotle, a Western North Carolina tomato-and-vinegar sauce, as well as a South Carolina mustard and vinegar sauce, that leaned a little too heavily on bright yellow mustard for my taste. In the end, it didn’t matter, as my carefully-separated puddles of sauce in the middle communal sauce plate all ran together, and I found myself swiping slices of sausage through all four.
We were determined, between the three of us, to sample as much as Buck’s had to offer as possible, in one sitting. We tried the “Choose Two Combo,” ($13.99) with pulled pork and brisket, sweet potato fries, coleslaw, and corn bread. Both the pork and the brisket were served pulled, resulting in an enormous pile of salty, still-moist meat, that stood up to the onslaught of sauces we threw at it. The sweet potato fries were a little bit soggy, as they tend to be, but were nicely seasoned with salt, pepper, and brown sugar. The coleslaw was pretty drab, dry stuff, which is probably a conscious choice; which so many other sweet, salty, sticky flavors and textures, having something that is a little plain is a bit of a relief for your mouth.
We ordered the “Kentucky Hot Brown,” ($10.99) a hungover-dream-come-true of a sandwich that combines pulled pork, piled high on a sandwich roll, topped with thin slices of tomato, bacon, and is then covered with a chipotle cheese sauce. It’s all of the goodness of a Welsh Rarebit with, um, pulled pork added for good measure. A side of stovetop mac & cheese, bitter collard greens, and more cornbread rounded out the plate.
We also tried the “1/2 Rack Combo,” ($18.99) including a half-slab of baby back ribs, sausage, corn bread, baked beans, and more coleslaw. I’m not sure why baby back ribs caught on in America the way they did; they’ve always struck me as incredibly boring little slivers of meat and bone, without a ton of flavor or excitement. St. Louis-cut ribs have so much more going on, with all of their fat and bark and tender, fall-off-the-bone meat. As baby backs go, these were good, with a ton of spicy, salty dry rub caked to the outside, a gorgeous pink smoke ring, and lots of heavy smoke flavor. If anything, they were a little tough, but this may owe to the limited amount of pork on each bone, which are probably quite easy to dry out. The baked beans were delicious, so thick that they could nearly stand up a spoon, mixed with more pulled pork and covered in a not-too-sweet sauce. My favorite of any of our choices, though, was the “Cowboy Sausage,” two huge links of smoked sausage with crispy-charred ends, an incredible snap, and a wonderful lip-coating, sausage fattiness that I really enjoyed.
What’s most impressive about Buck’s Naked BBQ is how well they manage to tackle so many styles of barbecue, spread across so many different cuts of meat, and spanning so many areas of the United States. Everything was slow-smoked until pink and nearly perfect; none of the pre-boiled, splashed on the grill nonsense that passes for barbecue in so many places. A nearly unlimited variety of sauces means that barbecue fans from all regions of the country will find something to like at Buck’s, even if they don’t find their horizons broadened and their lives changed forever. This is good, old-fashioned ‘cue, with a few over-the-top, creative twists that make Buck’s a fine place to visit for either a booze-soaked dinner made of “FOOZE,” or a heavy, coma-inducing weekend lunch. It’s once-a-day-eating done right, and when I want to scratch my barbecue itch, it’s where I’ll be returning.