James Douglas and Scott Munro are messiahs of the low and slow barbecue. Red’s True Barbecue is their church. They are rapidly gathering cult followers who make the pilgrimage to their new smoky sanctuary on Manchester’s Albert Square looking for sacrilegious injections of sticky sauces and redemption in The Donut Burger.
The religious metaphor is not my own. The concept is to convert non-believers to the real barbecue of the Southern American States. That means smoking low and slow, rather than grilling.
Red’s True Barbecue began in Leeds and the pseudo-religious theme is pulled off with swagger at their new Manchester branch. It can’t be missed as it saturates everything: ‘The Good Book’ menu begins with The Ten Commandments of the Barbecue, the toilet cubicles are confessional booths. Even their emails are signed ‘Amen’. If I was religious, I might well be offended. Blending Southern American religiosity and truck-loads of barbecued meat may seem a little impious but I couldn’t help being impressed by it all.
“Everything we do is about passion and enthusiasm,” Douglas tells me. True to his word, a real sense of theatricality accompanied the attention to detail. However, it is not the kind of refined artistry of an upmarket eatery. It is the loud, large and dirty American kind, where flames erupt from the grill in the open kitchen, country rock music booms out of the speakers and just one burger contains the entirety of your recommended daily calorie intake – yep, that’s The Donut Burger.
‘Dirty food’ in American-influenced restaurants are a dime a dozen recently; pulled pork, burgers and ribs abound. The simplicity of the food is attractive to restaurateurs who might want to make a nice profit and not put too much thought into the menu. This is not the case at Red’s True Barbecue. The menu is huge, possibly too big. Of course it is all sticky and saucy but there is no sign of laziness, especially when you see the three industrial-sized smokers on show in the restaurant and the lovingly-wrapped packets of jerky.
They have definitely done their homework. After Douglas and Munro “met through a mutual friend” they “just dived straight into it…we went all over the US and really got under their skin and got more heavily involved in the British barbecue circuit”.
As a testament to this research each table has ranks of five sauces lined up itching to be used. According to ‘The Good Book’, these sauces “represent true regional barbecue from East to the West”. However, two of these were almost identical in flavour and the sauce selection was more novel than necessary.
The food is undoubtedly a product of their research, too. Three types of rib sit in a bucket obscuring the view of my companion. They are all gooey with a BBQ slathering that reflects the abundant neon glow, and they have all spent serious time smoking over hickory and fruit wood. The low and slow doctrine means they aren’t cooked to destruction, but still have bite. The champion to rise from all this meaty mess: The Beef Long.
The real showstopper, the dish that has everyone talking, is The Donut Burger and it is sitting across from me. It is a creation that Douglas and Munro first encountered in Memphis. They later adapted it so it could be stuffed with even more calories (more than 2,000) by doubling up the glazed donuts, bacon and burgers, Red’s True Barbecue signature dish is a main wrapped in dessert. Hailed as the ‘the holy union of sweet, meat and heat’, I was left unconvinced by its holiness. It is not the flavour combination that dissatisfies, but the structure. Rather than melting in your mouth, it melts in your hand. Despite this, it is not hard to see why this is such a favourite. As a country, we are increasingly captivated by America and this burger encapsulates America on a plate.
A mere 12 months after Douglas and Murno first met, they opened up in Leeds. It may seem like a short time but their personal relationships with the barbecue had been cooking low and slow for some time. South African-born Munro has been addicted from a young age: “Where I’m from, you grow up with meat in your veins; you’re flipping steaks, sausages and Bratwurst when you’re three or four years old.”
In South Africa, Munro grew up with Clinton Britz, Red’s ‘Chief Pitmaster’. Britz is the mutual friend who got Munro and Douglas together when they were both beginning to think about converting from day jobbers to restaurant owners. And, as a happy coincidence, Britz had all the necessary training and kitchen experience to help set up the restaurant.
And Douglas? Well, Douglas perfected a BBQ sauce at home and, when it touched the tongue of his son, his three-year-old proclaimed: “You should sell this.”
“From the mouth of babes comes great ideas,” quips Douglas. And so it came to be. The trinity was formed: the man of the sauce, the man of the barbecue and the man of experience.
It is undeniably a successful trio. In Leeds alone they serve more than 17,000 people a month. And across both the Leeds and Manchester restaurants they have served more than “40 tonnes of meat in the last month”. They attribute their own success to being able “to sell the food we love…we wanted to eat the food that we love and there was nowhere to eat it”. Chucking in their day jobs seems to be the finest decision that these three wise men ever made because their smoky barbecue dream has become a dirty, meaty, finger-licking reality.
Where: Lloyd Street, Albert Square, Manchester and Cloth Hall Street, Leeds
More info: http://truebarbecue.com/