The Federalist Pig, Hyattsville, Maryland

We pause for a special bulletin before we get to our Colorado trip. The Washington area barbecue scene is on the threshold of another leap forward as Rob Sonderman presses ahead on opening a branch of his very popular Federalist Pig place in the Adams Morgan section of DC. The big news is that at the Hyattsville location, all of the cooking will be with wood. And that makes a big, big difference.

(I earlier praised the ribs at the Adams Morgan location as the best within DC. The major limitation of the DC location was the use of a gas-assisted cooker.)

For now, the Hyattsville location consists of a food truck — a really nice one — in a parking lot, and four picnic tables. The key is that the food truck boasts a big J&R wood-fired smoker, the same kind that the highly regarded Heirloom Market in Atlanta uses.

Nancy and I arrived, claimed a table and, after a glance a the menu on the side of the truck, I ordered a half pound of burnt ends (you order meats by the half pound, ribs by the pound) and a jalapeño cheese sausage.

Burnt ends used to be bits of outside meat from the brisket that were sort of scraped or fell off and, at least at Arthur Bryant’s back in the day, were given away. Calvin Trillin publicized and thus killed that golden goose, and now burnt ends are purpose-made. Take smoked brisket, chop it into squares, add sauce, and smoke it some more. The result is immensely popular.

The burnt ends in Hyattsville arrive moist and tender, and with a nice bit of bark on each square. I enjoyed them quite a bit, despite my usual growling about the inevitable sweetness in the twice-cooked method — the very thing that most people love. In any event the smoke flavor came through nicely. And the burnt ends were accompanied by some Claussen-style pickles. You know, they’re the ones in the refrigerator section at the grocery. I like them a lot, and they went well with the burnt ends.

The sausage was very good, with a great texture and snap — so much snap, indeed, that it was a challenge slicing it with a plastic knife. That’s a great sign for a sausage.

Nancy ordered smoked turkey and sides of coleslaw and bbq beans. She was very enthusiastic about the turkey, which had a good smoke flavor and was nice and tender–no trouble at all slicing the turkey. Nancy dabbed a bit of the Federalist Pig’s Carolina-style sauce on it, and praised the sauce as well as the turkey. Nancy also liked the coleslaw, which was fresh and dressed with a light dressing applied with an equally light hand. There was a lot more cabbage than dressing, just as there should be. Nancy liked the BBQ beans, but let me have a taste and never seems to have gotten them back. I usually avoid baked beans, which too often have a treacly taste and texture. These beans tasted like barbecue — or beans cooked in a barbecue sauce. The menu describes them as smoky, savory, and a little bit sweet, and that’s a good description. With most beans at barbecue places, the smoke and savor are buried by the sweetness. Just the opposite is the case with the Federalist Pig’s beans: the smoke and savor come through well.

Each entree comes with Texas Toast, which was a good vehicle for stray sauce and the likker from the beans.

We didn’t eat everything, of course. That was a lot of food, and we made dinner out of the leftovers, eking it out with some local tomatoes. The Federalist Pig has chosen a good location strategically. It’s near the University of Maryland with its hordes of hungry students. Apartments and condos are sprouting downtown, and the rents in Hyattsville are very manageable compared to tonier and, indeed, some not at all tony parts of DC. Indeed, with 2fifty Texas just a hop, skip, and stumble away, Hyattsville is on its way to becoming our local Lockhart or Lexington or Pitt County.

I’ll head back soon to try their pork, ribs, and chicken, and, if no one is looking, the chicharrones de carne. If I’d paid attention to the menu and seen that the pork comes with crispy skin, just like the Skyline Inn, Bum’s, and other great places, I’d have ordered the pork this time.

I actually got to the Federalist Pig as a result of a subterfuge. Nancy and I stopped there for a late lunch before I fully realized we were on our way to IKEA. I hate going to IKEA. I liken it to looking at an infinity of paint samples. Nancy last persuaded me to go to an IKEA over 30 years ago, and I swore, Never Again. Mellow from our delicious lunch, I behaved myself and actually agreed to go to IKEA again — in another 30 years. I’ll certainly be back at the Federalist Pig long before then. It’s well worth the trip. I can’t wait for them to wade through the red tape and finalize their brick and mortar location so that I can give them their Campaign for Real Barbecue True ‘Cue certification.

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5 thoughts on “The Federalist Pig, Hyattsville, Maryland

  1. Always great to notice mentions of Skylight and Bums, I am originally from Greenville, NC but now live in Augusta. Hard to find good Q here. We have Willie Jewels and Shanes. They are all using the commercial cookers rather than a pit outside.

    Chris Sumrell

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    1. Sad. Check out truce.org, and their true ‘cue
      USA page. They list places in Georgia and South Carolina that still cook with wood. Note that the SC list is a bit out of date, and some places have closed

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  2. 2Fifty Texas and Federal Pig-Hyattsville are close enough that a head-to-head tasting competition would be very doable. I was going to try Federalist Pig last night (a Wednesday), but they’re only open Thursday-Sunday right now.

    So I was forced to go to 2Fifty Texas as a backup, which was not exactly hardship duty. It’s my third time eating there and it’s been impressively good each time.

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