I had a call from Doug Jacobson, the Kansas City Barbecue Maven, suggesting we check out yet another DC area barbecue place. With that same irrational triumph of hope over experience that accounts for Mickey Rooney’s second through eighth marriages, I leapt at the chance.
We picked Mixon’s because it was #5 on the hilarious Washington Post 2017 Best Barbecue list (they’ve since come out with the 2018 Best Barbecue list), and also because name seemed familiar to me. There are a bunch of Mixons in Conecuh County, Alabama, home of the truly wonderful Conecuh Sausage. That’s reason enough for me to try a barbecue place.
As it happens, Myron Mixon is not from Conecuh County. His claim to fame come from winning “more than 220 Grand Championships” on the apparently sprawling barbecue contest circuit. He also is a producer of commercial smokers. I have expressed my dim view of food festivals, and my skepticism of barbecue places owned by people who spend their time entering barbecue contests, so I won’t belabor that.
Mixon’s is a good-sized, new and pleasant place in ever-expanding Old Town Alexandria. The waitress suggested that we order the brisket and the ribs, but, as Prisoners of Duty, we felt bound to try a range of meats. We each ordered a two-meat plate, one with pork and ribs, and greens and macaroni and cheese.
and the other with brisket and sausage, and with slaw and sweet potato fries. (As you can see, the food got mixed as we shared.)
Let’s start with the brisket, their claim to fame.
It looks good. It was moist and tender. And it had not one iota of smoke flavor. It didn’t taste like barbecued brisket. It tasted like a second-rate pot roast.
I subsequently did a little digging. The brisket tastes like pot roast because it is steamed, more or less. As the Washington Post has reported, Mixon’s uses a H2O Water Smoker, a product of Myron Mixon Smokers (“Focused on ROI? Our smokers let you do just that!”). The H2O Water Smoker pumps moisture into a pan of water set within the grill. The water steams the meat. In the H2O Water Smoker, the water pan has an actual water connection and a float that, disturbingly, when you think about it, operates on the same principal as the float in your toilet tank. When the water evaporates to a certain level, swoosh, more water automatically comes in until the float stops it.
When even the H2O Water Smoker’s toilet tank contraption isn’t enough to keep the meat moist, Mixon’s dunks the slices in a mixture of meat drippings, apple juice, and butter. That, apparently, is common in barbecue competitions, which is another reason to avoid barbecue competitions. Smoked, steamed, and dunked. It sounds like the Waffle House hash brown options, but it sure doesn’t taste as good.
The ribs were about the same: no smoke flavor, a mediocre pork flavor.
The smoked sausage tasted as if it had never been smoked, or seasoned with any thought. And the meat had been ground far too fine — it was the consistency of a hot dog, and there was no snap to the skin.
The pulled pork was just atrocious. It tasted as if the pork had been cooked a day or three before, left uncovered in a refrigerator, and improperly reheated before being plopped maliciously on the tray. We sent it back — and both of us eat a lot of lousy food without sending it back. The waitress, who was very nice, offered us a chicken quarter to replace it. I chose dark meat, which was good because even the thigh meat was almost dried out. It had little taste. I added a generous amount of salt and it tasted a little better.
Three sauces are available at Mixon’s, none of which is memorable in a positive way.
Doug thought the mustard sauce helped the sausage, and I guess that it did, but not as much as any ballpark mustard would have.
The sides were better, with the exception of the sweet potato fries, which were well seasoned but mushy, without a hint of crispness. The slaw was crisp with a good creamy dressing — not overdressed. The collards were pretty good, and I liked the macaroni and cheese.
It was another traumatic Washington barbecue experience. I might be ready to try another DC area barbecue place in a couple of months. Maybe six or eight. Sometimes I feel like the Diogenes of barbecue, iPhone aloft, looking for an honest pork butt. Around here, all I find are places that seem to be focused on ROI, return on investment. If only one, just one, would focus on making good barbecue.