I got a chance to try some "Texas-style" BBQ on a trip last week to Columbia, Missouri. I'm alway skeptical when I hear those words and I'm not in Texas. The meat is usually cooked on a gas burner and that ain't Texas-style in my book.......
Longtime friend Jim Curley, a photojournalist in Columbia, drove us north 21 miles to Harrisburg, population 184, home of Lonnie Ray's BBQ. Mike Whiteley, owner and pit boss, has been cooking most of his life and opened Lonnie Ray's seven years ago.
Jim had heard about the Gee Wilikers sandwich, a wholly original choice you can order at Lonnie Ray's. I doubt you'll find this creation anywhere else. It consists of ample portions of smoked bologna, then pickle slices, pepperjack cheese, three layers of onion rings and cole slaw, topped with secret Wilikers sauce. Here's a fun video on Myspace about Lonnie Ray's BBQ and the unique Gee Wilikers sandwich.
The outside looked promising, a small joint with BBQ hand painted in red over the door. Since we were there to try a range of meats we ordered the combo plate, consisting of brisket, pulled pork and baby back ribs, along with three sides. The waiter returned with a plate stacked high with meat and we dug in.
The brisket was really good, with texture and taste similar to Pecan Lodge in Dallas. I thought I tasted a hint of mesquite smoke, which would be very unusual for Missouri. The pulled pork and ribs were very good as well, though not quite as smokey as the brisket.
After lunch, we got the full pit tour from Mike. He cooks with a mix of hickory and pecan, all of which he chops and splits himself. He uses mesquite every now and then when he can find it, but I was fooled a little on the brisket's flavor profile.
No gas is used in the cooking process, only wood and smoke, which is a point of pride for Mike and a rarity for commercial BBQ in this part of the country. We talked Texas cooking techniques and I told him about some of the joints the Posse has visited over the past couple of years.
Mike insisted we try some smoked bologna, or "Arkansas round steak" as he calls it. He warmed up a big chunk and we dug in one more time, bringing back memories and reminding me of the cooked bologna sandwiches I ate growing up. The next time I'll try the Gee Wilikers for sure......
Lonnie Ray's BBQ, 81 East Sexton Street Harrisburg, MO, (573) 874-0020. Open Tues-Fri 11am-8pm, Sat 8am-5pm.
Photos by Chris Wilkins