Burnt Ends: The Fast History of Low and Slow Life

Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonder and Home. Andrew is the host of Heard Tell podcast.

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21 Responses

  1. DensityDuck says:

    wow, burnt ends is a thing? I thought I was the only one who did that!

    I mean, duh–that’s where all the flavor goes! If you’re scared of saucy flavor then why aren’t you just eating lunchmeat?Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    I first discovered burnt ends back around 2005. The little place around the corner had all kinds of BBQ available for $X for a quarter pound… but, for burnt ends, you got a *THIRD* of a pound for $X.

    So I got burnt ends. AND OH MY GOSH I WAS NOT SORRY.

    I think the name puts people off. That’s the only thing I can think of.

    Well, as time went on, burnt ends got more popular. It became $X for a quarter pound for everything. Now, the original little place closed but the other really good place now charges *MORE* for burnt ends than for everything but brisket.Report

  3. Freeman says:

    Great piece! Having been born in Kansas City and lived here most of my life, it’s a little amusing to see that some people are discovering burnt ends so recently – it’s so ubiquitous here and seems like it’s always been that way. There’s nothing else quite like it, and it’s easily my favorite bbq dish.

    I remember being with my Mom in a grocery store in Seattle in 1967 after having recently moved there, and she had to ring the bell at the meat counter to ask the butcher for a brisket. He didn’t know what brisket was, and asked if she could point it out on a pictorial display of a cow with the various cuts outlined in dotted line. When she did, his response was “We don’t sell THAT, it’s all fat and gristle. That’s dog-food meat.” He couldn’t believe someone wanted to cook it for dinner, but in KC even back then everyone knew if you cooked it right it would come out tender, juicy and delicious! Similar to Jaybird’s observation, brisket meat was very inexpensive back in the day, but nowadays in KC it costs more per pound than a good lean roast.

    My late wife was involved with the Kansas City BBQ Society (which sanctions the American Royal, Memphis in May, and most of the big competitions) from the very beginning. It was founded by the wife of an insurance agent, and my wife worked in the office at the time. She had Certified Barbeque Judge badge #33. In 2014 we signed up to judge the American Royal, I took the judging class and was issued badge #77158. We stood in a long line of hundreds of volunteer judges that stretched far outside the huge judging tent, waiting our turn to sample and opine on some amazing competition-class bbq – the event is that big! Back in the day she was on a competition team, and I have a photo next to my easy chair of her proudly showing off a plate of the chicken that won her second place at Memphis in May.

    Thanks for the post, it evoked some mighty fine memories, and right now I really needed that!Report

  4. I loved this. Your stories make me feel like I’m traveling even though I can’t even go to the post office. Thanks for sharing it.Report

  5. Oscar Gordon says:

    There was a place near Great Lakes NTC back in the 90’s that did burnt ends. It started my love of all things BBQ.Report

  6. CJColucci says:

    One of my quarantine entertainments is competitive BBQ shows. It’s getting to where I have become a fan of certain repeat competitors, and I can predict what Myron Mixon is going to say. Ask me what my favorite regional style is, and my answer is “Yes.” NYC doesn’t have a style of its own, but it has in recent years developed many fine BBQ joints in a variety of styles. I haven’t found a place that does Alabama style, yet, but I haven’t given up.Report

  7. Burt Likko says:

    On a business trip to Austin a few years ago, I met up with another OT’er, who asked if I wanted to go to the big famous BBQ place or the place he and his buddies went, and I opted for the lower-key “Maximum Texas” option and holy crap to this day I still dream of that brisket literally melting in my mouth like chocolate. Texans will insist that their barbecue is the best, and damn did that brisket make a strong bid. The argument, of course, is part of the fun.

    Love me some burnt ends which I first had in Nashville and have sought ought (usually unavailing) in most of my travels since. Maybe it’s a more regional thing; being a west coast guy that’s where most of my travels have taken me and it may not be as big a thing out here. Of course, once you get into about the central time zone or east of that, it seems like no one knows what a tri-tip is, to the saddening detriment of the steak-eating folks out there.

    In a way, it’s a bit of a joy that there is still regionalism in America; we haven’t been completely homogenized by T.G.I. Friday’s and their ilk just yet.Report

    • Yeah I got a crash course in tri tip from my California cousins, and then living in Vegas it was a go too meat at Vonns for a few years there.Report

      • Aaron David in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

        Yes, Burt is downplaying it, but Santa Maria style BBQ (just minutes from my hometown) is the best BBQ. Tri Tip, beans, French bread. Only thing missing is coleslaw. Tennessee is second (but first in locations, as every bombed out gas station has been turned into a stand.)Report

        • Burt Likko in reply to Aaron David says:

          And the best beans for it are those little pink guys that seem to only grow in California’s central coast. And for crying out loud, DO NOT SAUCE YOUR TRI-TIP! The spice rub, the melting fat, and the taste of the open-flame char are what make it good.

          Some BBQ folks will insist that this is “grilled” steak because it is prepared in whole or in part over an open fire and thus is exposed to both direct heat and indeed to flame. I am not so precious or narrow in my definition of BBQ as this; and even were I to adopt the insistence that only indirect heat and smoke can be used to cook “actual” BBQ, there is nothing at all wrong with grilling a steak.

          All that said, I hesitate to call Santa Maria style the “best,” because of course there is so much good BBQ in so many different styles all around the country and I will go no farther than to identify a “favorite” once I feel I’ve had enough to sample it all (and what’s more, Santa Maria’s spice, Texas’s tenderness, and Tennessee’s smokiness are all so wonderful it’s like asking me to pick my favorite child).Report

          • Aaron David in reply to Burt Likko says:


            BBQ threads are an invitation to trash talking, as it is truly the great American food. Pork, Beef, Chicken and even Lamb are all celebrated, and the vast regionallity are part of the great charm.

            Now, outside of tri-tip at Jocko’s, pulled pork on a hamburger bun with slaw. Memphis style. There was a place on the south side of town that my wife and I stopped at one afternoon, ate, got a too go order and ate that about three hours later because we couldn’t stop talking about it. We will occasionally have it sent to us in Oregon for Christmas.Report

    • JS in reply to Burt Likko says:

      ” I wanted to go to the big famous BBQ place or the place he and his buddies went”

      My general view is always go where the locals go.

      Unless there’s a specific reason you want to go to the big famous place — like, you know, wanting to experience that particular place more than ‘I want the best food’.

      There’s also what you want to try. If you [a person in general, not you specific] come to Houston and want recommendations, I’d have to start with “high end, middle, or just roughly chain-level prices, but with better food? Or regional chains that you wouldn’t have eaten at before?” and then move into “What kind? BBQ? Cajun? Vietnamese? Indian? German? Tex-Mex? Authentic Mexican? Brazilian? Fusion? Do you care about wine lists, or craft beer lists? Live music? What part of town are you in?”

      And I’m not a huge foodie. I just live here. But if you want, say, great craft beer coupled with some rather awesome Vietnamese-fusion after visiting Johnson Space Center, or maybe authentic German food with live music — I can point you in the right direction. If you’re downtown, another raft of options. West side, another list.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to JS says:

        I’m blessed to live in Portland, which has become one of America’s great food cities. But I am well aware that Houston is also one of America’s great food cities. I look forward to returning there and eating my way across different tastes of the entire world, as I explore more of the city than I did on my last visit.

        Get your baseball team to quit cheating, and I might even return to see another game in their vertigo-inducing downtown stadium!Report

        • JS in reply to Burt Likko says:

          Look, I’ve been following Houston sports for 30 years now. If we don’t cheat, we’re literally never going to win.

          I think the climate literally leeches either talent or coaching ability or both out of any sports team down here.

          The stadium is pretty sweet, and while I loved the look, I’m glad they got rid of that little ankle-breaking hill out in the far end of the outfield.

          Although I found a fantastic new restaurant down here — Xochi (https://www.xochihouston.com/) which I dearly hope will manage to recover post lockdown. I went back in January or February, and it was fantastic. Sadly, price wise it’s definitely a “very rare occasion” sort of place .

          Right now I’m really missing Nobi (that Vietnamese fusion place with all the craft beers), and this really fantastic little Bier-garden on the south side of town. It’s where I go when I’m feeling nostalgic for my grand-mother’s cooking.

          Even though, if she were alive and went there, she’d sniff and declaim it to be from the wrong and clearly lesser part of Germany. (As best I can tell, it’s the German version of “Oh, that’s [pizza from region X] and I mean [Chicago deep dish or whatever]) But almost acceptable, since it’s clear the recipes were actually German.

          Also, good beer again. 🙂Report

  8. Oscar Gordon says:

    Damnit, all this talk of BBQ, and the days are sunny and warm, and I can not find ribs in any of the damn stores!Report

  1. December 31, 2020

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