SPRINGFIELD Ted Harris has an easy way to tell the authenticity of a barbecue place.
"You can always smell good barbecue," he said. The aroma of smoke and cooking ribs, brisket or pork acts as a herald for diners.
That's what awaits customers to Harris' Texas-style barbecue operation on Bay Street. For the last two years, Harris and his mobile kitchen have been in the parking lot of B&A Produce serving ribs and pulled pork he cooks over charcoal every day. With Harris, there are no shortcuts. He doesn't parboil his ribs. He doesn't bake them. He searches area butchers for the best quality and price in ribs and pork. He washes the meat and then applies his own dry rub. Then it's to the charcoal fuel smoker for slow and steady cooking.
He shows this reporter a rack of ribs that has been cooking for hours.
"They're perfect," he said with a smile.
Sauce is something Harris offers his customers, but he said the mark of a great rib is how it tastes without any sauce. Sauce can add a dimension of flavor, but the meat should stand on its own, he added.
Harris is a 40-year resident of Springfield, but a native of Mississippi whose father was in the military. His family moved around a lot and along the way he learned how to barbecue.
Over two years ago, Harris, a religious man, re-discovered his long-dormant interest and started his barbecue operation. He said that he wouldn't have thought about it without the intervention of God.
"It's something I prayed for. He made it happen," he said.
Once he started barbecuing he became better and better at it. Barbecue is "something I really love to do," he said.
"If you have something good, you stay with it," he added.
Harris serves pulled pork and homemade collard greens as well. He mixes in some cabbage with the collard greens and cooks them with smoked turkey necks.
This reporter tried the pulled pork sandwich that Harris serves open-faced. He puts a layer of cole slaw on the bread and then a generous layer of shredded pork. A drizzle of barbecue sauce is then applied. The $3 price is a bargain.
The ribs are completely cooked, but moist and really don't need any sauce. Although I'm not a fan of collard greens, my wife is and she was impressed with his recipe.
Harris said that real barbecue is difficult to attempt for the backyard griller, as most home charcoal grills are not large enough to keep the meat the required distance away from the direct heat. Ask Harris about using a gas grill and you get a quick "no."
Harris is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. His unpretentious operation has two picnic tables for diners but most of his customers bring his food home to enjoy.