A Tale of Two Barbecues
The Best in Maryland and Alabama
by Karin Leperi

Nothing captures the essence of American culture and regional cuisine better than that perennial food favorite – barbecue.

Whether the meat of choice is beef, pork, chicken or turkey; and whether it is pulled, diced, chopped, minced, or sliced – barbecue fans from around the country are forever pursuing their “quest for the best.”

Then there’s the issue of the sauce and which is most tantalizing to the taste buds: vinegar, mustard, tomato, green chili or molasses. And there are red, white, and yellow sauces — some are even green in parts of Texas and New Mexico.


So, without your having to traipse across the country in search of the elusive “best barbecue,” the Leperi culinary crew has done the legwork for you.

We are pleased to bring you the best in slow-cooked meat and sauce, and to give our personal thumbs up to two of the very best barbecues in the U.S. — in Alabama and in Maryland.

So set your GPS for Maryland’s Urban Bar-B-Que or Alabama’s Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q.


The Urban Bar-B-Que in Rockville, Maryland

What first caught my attention about Urban Bar-B-Que was how two accomplished chefs ended up smoking barbecue for time-pressed urbanites and suburbanites. (Both come from fine-dining backgrounds.) But it only took a few bites before I knew I had found the best barbecue in Maryland and the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

Aiming for succulent perfection, owners Lee Howard and David Calkins combine their formidable talents in conjuring up a menu offering both variety and quality to please the most discriminating of barbecue aficionados. Their motto? “Genuine slow-smoked barbecue served with big city flavor.”

The modest Urban BBQ headquarters challenges patrons to “discover your inner redneck at Urban Bar-B-Que Company.” The restaurants has a down-home décor that entertains diners with twangs of “tongue-in-cheek” sarcasm for those of us who are cowboys or cowgirls at heart; and clever double-entendres for the urban sophisticate. This is self-service with a full-service feel.

My teenage daughter and son thought “UBQ” was cool with its offbeat wit. They also agreed that the barbecue — especially the beef brisket — was a hot commodity.

Urban Bar-B-Que's Commitment

Things We Do

Smoke our meat slow and low
Treat you right
Love our Mothers
Support our Troops
Use only the freshest products
Cook everything with extra love and sarcasm!

Things We Don’t Do

Blow smoke
Date your sister
Steam our ribs
Take any guff
Cheat our guests
Use pre-made products
Play show tunes

Co-owner Lee provides a quick run-down on regional differences in barbecue. He tells us that folks from the Carolinas prefer “pulled” or diced pork with a vinegary base and a dash of red pepper flakes. The Midwest, which he sometimes calls Kansas, is characterized by a tomato-orange sauce with celery seed while Texans want beef with a hearty but sweetly-laced sauce. Parts of Texas reflect Southwest heritage with ever present tones of chili powder and cumin. Memphis barbecue — Lee’s admitted favorite — is usually pork with a sweet and tangy tomato base. Thick and smoky with a base of molasses, sauces are usually red. Though he says some say Urban BBQ is a fusion of all four regions, Lee is quick to point out that various dishes on their menu capture regional distinctions as well as the different personalities of Urban BBQ itself. At a later date, co-owner David admits, “We are guilty of adapting to our surroundings and clientele.”

UBQ has choices to meet everyone’s preference in BBQ. “But people from the Carolinas are usually the toughest and most particular when it comes to barbecue,” Lee says. “They have distinct druthers for the way meat is diced, sliced, chopped and minced. . Barbecue is not just an art form, but a way of life for many people, and that’s what we try to capture here.”

With a Midwest cut smacking more of St. Louis style ribs, nevertheless they are flavored with a smoky sweet and tangy tomato-based sauce more in the makings of Memphis. The hybrid result is a slab of succulent, moist and tender ribs with substance, texture, and taste.

For me, the Urban’s Soul Rolls are a personal favorite, excellent for light appetites or as bar food washed down with a Shiner Rock Longneck. These Soul Rolls are the redneck version, with a southwest twist — a BBQ egg roll with brisket, and caramelized onions, and three cheeses served with Redneck Fondue “for dippin’.” Lee says the fondue consists of three cheeses with the restaurant's famous Two Step Chili. I love the mustard-based “yella” sauce with everything including the Soul Rolls — strange because my usual preference is for Texas-type BBQ.

Karson and Kosette, my teenaged gastronomic crew, give top marks to the cornbread which they find truly exceptional because of the sweet crumby moistness and little surprises of corn kernels that add texture. (Unfortunately our more than ample serving disappeared before I could confirm their assessment.)


Lee Howard


For 2006, Urban Bar-B-Que offers Talking Travel listeners a special traveler’s deal: your choice of a free Draft Root Beer made with Virginia honey or a Texas Sweet Tea with counter orders of $10.00 or more. Be sure to mention that you are a listener of Talking Travel. It’s only a matter of time before the White House discovers this gem just outside the beltway. Once that happens, expect standing room only to taste the best ribs in the region.


For the best barbecue at UBQ, all three of us are unanimous: we give the gold medal to the Brisket and the silver to the Ribs. The brisket is tender and cut against the grain as it should be, with a hint of chili powder and cumin as background notes heralding flavors of the Southwest. The result is divinely delectable beef that compels us to hum, “Home on the Range.” As the Leperi clan is genetically challenged and lacking music genes, we refrain. This is somewhat contrary to prevailing reviews by other noted Washingtonian food critics. Oh and by the way, fair disclosure requires I mention that both Karson and Kosette have attended over 100 hours of cooking instruction for children at L’Académie de Cuisine in Bethesda, and that Karson is an aficionado of the Cooking Channel.

For our next visit, we'll try the “Urban Legend,” a signature dish that Lee describes as an archaeological mound of food his partner concocted as a tasteful reminiscence of childhood days in Texas. Advance warning: Order this dish of a bed of Fritos® topped with chopped brisket, sliced sausage and heavily garnished with BBQ-Ranch beans only if you have an immense appetite or have a partner to share it with.

Other dishes high on our list for future visits include the mashed potatoes for which Kosette is the reigning expert, crab cakes, and key lime pie. That’s the problem about this place; it takes several visits to try all the tempting menu items.

If You Go:

Urban Bar-B-Que Company, Inc.
World Headquarters
2007 Chapman Avenue
Rockville, MD 20852

Call 240-290-4UBQ (4827) or check them out at: www.urbanbbqco.com

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama

South of the Tennessee River and West of Wheeler Wildlife Refuge, lies Decatur, Alabama. This city of some 53,000 people is situated within a region that has the most engineers per capita in the nation. Besides an abundance of engineers, Decatur is home to Meow Mix, rockets, hot air balloons, and award-winning barbecue.

It all started in 1925 when Big Bob Gibson was faced with the prospects of a job transfer. Choosing to remain in Alabama, Big Bob turned his talents to “the pits” — barbecue that is — to support his growing family. He never looked back, nor four generations later has his family.

Voted the “Best Barbecue Restaurant in Alabama” by readers of the Birmingham News, Big Bob's is known for its hickory smoke which infuses slow-cooked meats. His championship line of sauces and rubs offers variety for his loyal regulars: factory workers, truck drivers, doctors, lawyers, and of course, engineers.

Big Bob Gibson is also famous for his original white sauce — a tangy condiment with a black pepper finish that it is absolutely great on chicken, turkey and pork. Some fans have even been known to dress fried seafood and hush puppies with this local twist. The legacy of Big Bob's condiments has expanded to include an array of award-winning sauces such as a Championship red, a fiery habañera, and a “yallo” mustard sauce. Be sure to try the special thin vinegar red sauce. (At the time of this writing it is only served at the restaurant and not available through their line of mail order products.)

“Barbecue has been good to my family,” says Don McLemore, grandson of Big Bob. He and his wife Carolyn have taken over the Decatur institution. “I live and love barbecue; it’s a fun business with a proud heritage.” Dining at Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q is an equally fun experience, meant to be shared with friends and family. Be sure to bring a hearty appetite.

If You Go:

Southeast Decatur Location: 1715 Sixth Ave. SE, (US Highway 31) 256-350-6969

Southwest Decatur Location: 2520 Danville Road, SW, 256-350-0404

On the web at: www.bigbobgibsonbbq.com

Food, Culture, and Barbecues

It is often said that landscape defines culture. This is also true of food. For a comprehensive cultural, historic, and geographical view of the barbecue, read the Wikipedia article on this human phenomenon. It may surprise you.



Big Bob

Big Bob's first store

The Leperi Back-up Barbecue Crew

Karson and Kosette Leperi, siblings and sometimes rivals, team up with their travel writing and photographer Mom on gigs that require a multimedia approach.

Both straight “A” students with a natural aptitude in math and science, they participate in the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth Program, enjoying a 3 week residential program every summer at a college campus. Watch for their next road trip as they review roller coasters and chocolate in “All Roads Lead to Chocolate:
A Pennsylvania Road Tour to Hershey.”

Karson in the Kitchen

It's noisy, it's hectic. Karson asks the chef about barbecue styles.