The Religion of Barbecue

TnT BBQ is making new converts….

People say that if you want to start a fight in the US South, just bring up football, religion or barbeque. It’s been described as a metaphor for American culture, this worship at the altar of “Low and Slow,” with parishioners fervently divided between the four denominations of barbeque styles: Texas, with its “naked” barbeque (sauce served on the side) and preference for beef; memphis, known for its wet marinated pork ribs; Kansas City, with its thick, spicy, tomato-and-molasses-based sauce; and Carolina, featuring every part of the pig mixed with a tangy vinegary sauce.

Thirty-somethings Logan Tisdal and Mark Ton are aiming to make converts to the best of America’s barbeque with TnT BBQ (a combination of the first letters of their last names, and a reference to the dynamite sauces they use packing the heat of chili powder and cayenne pepper).

Part science, part art, the science comes through in the delicate balance of smoking the meat just right, a balanced equation of hardwoods imported from the US and the “low and slow” philosophy ― controlled temperatures over 16-17 hours for brisket, smoking the meat just so, tinkering with moisture and heat so the wood smokes but doesn’t ignite. The friends import apple wood and hickory, eschewing local products like cashew and sugar cane. “We want to stay true to what we do and that’s doing barbeque exactly how it tastes in America. We want someone to bite into what they’re used to, and not just say that it tastes something like back home. Without using real hardwoods, you simply can’t get that taste,” says Logan. “Hickory produces a bite, not quite as strong as mesquite, which is great for beef and pork, but with poultry, you need fruitwoods which impart a slightly sweet flavor to chicken and turkey,” adds Mark. “And forget liquid smoke. That’s just sacrilegious,” they agree.

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Hailing from Clinton, Oklahoma, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of less than 10,000, but squarely in the southern Barbeque Belt and anchored by renowned Jiggs Smokehouse (“So good, they open and close whenever they want,” recalls Logan), he knows a thing or two about barbeque. Mark is from California, via Chicago, and takes his inspiration from BBQ festivals like the nearby Great Eldorado BBQ, Brews and Blues Festival in Reno (Nevada).

Their collective but varied experience means the duo don’t subscribe to any one particular style of barbecue. Instead their “goal is to make things taste as good as they possibly can. If that takes more butter, then it takes more butter,” say the pair, proudly unapologetic. After all, one does not live on vegetables alone. Sometimes, it’s simply soul fulfilling to chomp into something that once had a face and a family, smoked to the point of being impossibly tender, then slathered in sauce. “People talk about ribs that fall off the bone, but really, it should break off easily, but not fall off. Nothing will make you lose a competition faster than that,” says Logan. The pair should know. A trophy sits in their kitchen, a testament to a second place finish earlier this year in a rib-off, beating out the worthy likes of Hog’s Breath, Al Fresco’s and Quan Ut Ut.

The Holy Trinity
TnT BBQ is applying the “low and slow” philosophy to its business model as well. Since opening 10 months ago, the pair decided to start off as delivery only (order via phone at 0166 666 7858 or Facebook at tntbbqvietnam). There are only seven mains on the menu, including a quartet of sandwiches: the hickory smoked pulled pork (VND95,000), true to its North Carolina roots, including molasses made on site; the smoked beef brisket (VND130,000) smothered in TnT original sauce and served on a bun, truly a labor of love after 15-17 hours in the smoker; the apple wood smoked chicken breast (VND110,000), topped with a tangy southwest ranch sauce and crunchy bacon bits; and the apple wood smoked turkey breast (VND110,000), a generously portioned sandwich that’s at once firm but juicy, hard to do considering how easy it is to dry poultry breasts out because they have no bone or fat. Topped with cranberry sauce and the shop’s original sauce, it’s basically Thanksgiving in your mouth, guaranteed to elicit some Hallelujahs or at the very least, expressions of rapture.


TnT BBQ’s apple wood smoked chicken (either Original or Dynamite, marinated in a teriyaki sauce amped up with roasted garlic, chili powder and cayenne, both VND50,000 per drumstick or thigh) is nothing short of heavenly. The duo has chosen to use only US imported chicken because “if we’re going to take the time to cook something that long, we don’t want people to feel cheated. Why charge people for a quarter kilo of chicken and have half of it be bone? It’s also safer because it goes through the USDA process. We’re feeding people we know ― people we play sports with. We want to have food that’s safe and good for everyone,” they say of the added expense.

Outside the shop, the smokers are going at full capacity, the largest one able to accommodate 80 kgs of ribs. And if there’s one menu item that’s truly a standout, it’s the hickory smoked pork ribs where the art of barbecue really shines through. First, the shop’s original sauce adds the sour notes courtesy of sweet apple cider vinegar and ketchup. A rub gives it some saltiness and a secret final layer imparts the tanginess, culminating in a slap-you-into-next-Tuesday goodness.


Sides complete the menu (VND35,000 each) with well made classics like coleslaw, garlic mashed potatoes and cornbread (popular with a customer in Binh Duong who always orders one or two pans’ worth) and some with a twist like the spicy potato salad with cayenne and paprika and corn on the cob grilled with herb butter, all to be washed down with American favorites of Kool-Aid or Dr. Pepper.

The pair also have plans to add homemade sausage soon, “to complete the holy trinity of barbecue,” says Mark (ribs, brisket and sausage), and are finalizing a dine-in location for later this year.

As a food, everything about barbeque, from its rich flavors to choice cuts of meat to it being the ultimate sharing food, makes it a religion worth joining. “Barbecue alone encompasses the high- and lowbrows, the sacred and the profane, the urban and the rural, the learned and the unlettered, the blacks, the browns, the yellows, the reds, and the whites,” writes Lolis Eric Elie in Smokestack Lightning. Amen and pass the corn bread.

Images by Ngoc Tran


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