Delicious low and slow American barbecue with a kick of dynamite
Barbecue is popular throughout the world and Vietnam is no exception. The idea of barbecuing meat conjures images of hibachis, pits or propane-fuelled grills where folks can pile on meat until grilled to their liking. This past year, American- style barbecue has made quite the splash in Saigon. Americans do it differently and aren’t content to simply grill meats over a flame. Aficionados in that part of the world adhere to the ‘low & slow’ method of extracting the most flavors possible by smoking them over various types of wood at low temperatures for long periods of time. It’s a methodology that requires more patience, but the delayed gratification rewards those willing to wait.
TnT BBQ (3 Dang Tran Con, D1; open for lunch and dinner, and does deliver) has made the transition to a proper brick and mortar restaurant after two years as a delivery-only establishment to increase the options for those seeking out smoked meat feasts. Strolling through their front door, one is greeted by savory aromas from their barbecue pit wafting through the air. The scent is distinctive and a sure sign of proper barbecue. The menu is splayed across a blackboard covering an entire wall, and the décor is all wood, from the floors to the walls, to the tables and chairs.
TnT is the combined effort of Logan Tisdal and Mark Ton, who hail from Oklahoma and Southern California, respectively. “We wanted to bring a taste of home to Saigon,” explains Mark, who grew up working in his family’s restaurants in Chicago and Hanoi. “We missed the Sunday barbecue with cold beer so we’re focused on making TnT as authentic as possible to stay true to what we had back in the States.” To do that they import all the wood used to smoke their meat from Oklahoma, using applewood for the poultry and hickory for the beef and pork. In addition, other than the pulled pork, which is sourced locally, all their meat is imported from the US.
After putting in their time in the smokers, the meats are finished on a custom-built barbecue pit to bring them up to temperature before making their way to your table. The chicken comes either in original flavor (VND55,000) or dynamite (VND60,000), which as the name suggests, packs more spice to heat up their original sauce. The first thing you’ll notice about these drumsticks is their size; these birds aren’t local. The pulled pork comes as a plate of meat (VND139,000 for 200g) or as a sandwich (VND100,000) and is a tender and tangy traditional favorite. The sandwich is perfect for lunch. For those who wish to partake in some real BBQ but want to keep it on the healthier side, TnT’s applewood-smoked turkey breast (VND157,000 for 200g, VND110,000 for the sandwich) is excellent. Tender and juicy, their turkey is a welcome addition to a town that seldom sees turkey outside the traditional holiday season (although TnT will have an all-you- can-eat turkey dinner on Thanksgiving!).
I’m of the opinion that a trip to a BBQ joint where you don’t order the ribs is a waste of time. TnT serves up a rack of hickory smoked imported ribs (VND214,000 for 400g) that are fall-off-the- bone tender and beg to be doused in more of their signature sauce. As with all the meat on their menu, the serving sizes are suggestions. Those with more voracious appetites are encouraged to ask for larger slabs.
Last, but not least, there is the beef brisket (VND175,000 for 200g, VND130,000 for the sandwich). The guys at TnT score a bull’s eye with this one. It’s their signature menu item and you simply should not visit without trying it. Words won’t convey how tender it is when it comes off the grill, you have to experience it for yourself. Though devoted to ribs, the brisket had my full attention.
If TnT served up only meat I doubt anyone would complain, but they have a full complement of sides to accompany all that smoky goodness. Sides come in two sizes, regular (VND40,000) and jumbo (VND120,000). We had to narrow our selections to the french fries – the only one they don’t make in-house – corn on the cob, cornbread, baked beans, coleslaw and garlic mashed potatoes. All of them are done traditionally and reflect tastes back in the US. The baked beans with bacon are mandatory, as is the cornbread served with honey butter. The coleslaw is very light and simple, and the garlic mashed potatoes, while something I wouldn’t normally associate with BBQ, are a side that needs to be taken seriously.
TnT does things their own way, and the menu reflects some different offerings that aren’t found around town. There’s another American BBQ joint in town, and this little gem nestled on a small street in D1 is sure to catch on.
Images By Ngoc Tran