BBQ Post 401
This could be the best BBQ in the Burg, and I know those are fighting words.
Apparently, Allman’s has some competition! Nelson Head, native of Alabama and proprietor of the justly famous Dixie Bones in Woodbridge, has set up a pretty slick operation right here in Fredericksburg.
At dusk on an exceedingly cool day last week, I stopped into Mr. Head’s BBQ Post 401—as in the final three digits of our zip code—to warm the bones and take the chill off.
And off it came: yes, I loves me some Allman’s pork barbeque, but with the prospects of chicken and beef as well, I could hardly resist this new spot out of petty traditionalism. Besides, I’m a food critic.
BBQ Post 401 is housed in a brightly lit space that ushers directly to a counter where you place your order. Behind the counter, where they keep a sheet a fudge to tempt you (alas, for now 401 doesn’t offer the splendid array of pies you can find at Dixie Bones), there is a wall of ovens where your barbeque cooks all day. After you order and pay, you make your way to a table with your number and wait anxiously for your food while the smell of smoke and brisket permeate the air.
This is real pit barbeque: chicken, pork shoulder, and beef brisket rubbed with spices and cooked long and slow over wood for 10-, 12-, or 14 hours. The flavor comes from a few factors: quality of the meat, first and foremost; the spice rub; the smoke from the wood; and any seasoning or condiment you might add.
The meat itself isn’t super distinctive—no locally–sourced and/or organic proteins here—but nonetheless very fine versions of what they were. The rub and smoke combination produced chicken, pork, and beef that were quite smoky and very tasty; and the low heat left the meat fully cooked and yet soft, succulent, and fall–apart tender.
The buns are worth mentioning: no soft, mushy Wonder bread roll mopping up sauce here; firm, rich, white–flour buns brushed with yolk give them a toothsomeness that made the perfect platform for eating barbeque. And not too salty, either, which is desirable given that salt in the rub and sauces. Clearly, Mr. Head has thought this thing through.
The sauces were excellent and all served separately so you can control proportions and let the meat retain its character. A well–balanced sweet vinegar sauce married well with pork; for the beef there was a tomato–based sauce with onions, garlic, butter, Heinz ketchup and spices; for the chicken (or pork, for that matter) there was a tangy white sauce with buttermilk, lemon, and dill. On their own, no sauce might have given you much pause, but with its partner the effect was extremely satisfying.
If I had any complaint, it was that the sauces were uniformly mild. If you want heat, you have to add Texas Pete yourself. With a wide array of interesting peppers now available, more was possible.
But these are quibbles, and if you are going to offer excellent barbeque at reasonable prices, you have to scale back your ambitions somewhere.
And at least they didn’t cut corners on truly important things like sides: the cole slaw is as good as you’ll find in the area. Clearly, this is made fresh daily: ultra–thinly sliced cabbage and a salt, sweet, and creamy sauce. French fries are cut shoe–string thin and cooked in peanut oil. They may be the best fries in the area (and that’s counting Five Guys, too).
I got up from this meal sated, a newly confirmed carnivore, dripping with different sauces and a bit of oil from the fries, and stood before a granite sink with a foot-pump faucet.. As I stepped back into the winter cold, I knew the next time I craved barbeque I would probably return here (pace Allman’s).