Judge Reed Soergel takes his time scoring pies on display at the Blue Ribbon Apple Pie contest at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, Pa., on Saturday, January 5, 2013. In order to qualify for the state competition, entrants must have won in a local or county fair. FOR THE DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS — JEFF LAUTENBERGER

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This story ran well after I left Dallas. It was a pleasure to hang out with Clyde for several hours, watching the master go through all the motions of preparing true, traditional barbecue. Every barbecue man I’ve ever met (and I’ve met a lot) has been a character, and Clyde was no exception. He told a ton of stories and anecdotes and he’s had a colorful past. Hopefully his comeback is successful. And yes, after getting my sample the next day made sure to drop a Hamilton into the tip jar.

Pitmaster Clyde Biggins walks around stacks of oak wood in his front yard after preparing his smoker to barbecue on July 26, 2012. Biggins, who once ran a barbecue shack in Dallas, is attempting a professional comeback after being sentenced in 1993 to 20 years in prison for his role in a drug ring. (Jeff Lautenberger/The Dallas Morning News)

Pitmaster Clyde Biggins grabs several racks of pork ribs out of a cooler before preparing them to smoke on July 26, 2012. Biggins went on to seasoned the meat with only a blend of salt, pepper and chili powder, denouncing many of the more complex rubs and marinades commonly used today. (Jeff Lautenberger/The Dallas Morning News)

Pitmaster Clyde Biggins enlists the help of his daughter to rinse of pork ribs with a hose before smoking them on July 26, 2012. (Jeff Lautenberger/The Dallas Morning News)

A shaft of afternoon light is visible through the smoke as Clyde Biggins places beef briskets on his smoker on July 26, 2012. In preparing his traditional Texas-style brisket, Biggins simply broke open the cryovac packer briskets and set them on his hot smoker. No salt or pepper to be found, just smoke. (Jeff Lautenberger/The Dallas Morning News)

Pitmaster Clyde Biggins serves barbecue to a crowd of friends from his trailer hitch on July 27, 2012. (Jeff Lautenberger/The Dallas Morning News)

Pitmaster Clyde Biggins serves barbecue on July 27, 2012. (Jeff Lautenberger/The Dallas Morning News)

A jar full of tips sits on a table as Clyde Biggins serves barbecue from his front yard on July 27, 2012. Earlier this year, he set up his pit on an East Oak Cliff corner and sold barbecue off the street. Police shut down his business because he didn’t have the required food service permit or enclosed kitchen area to cook the food. He’s been looking into how to make his barbecue business legal. (Jeff Lautenberger/The Dallas Morning News)

Almead Stutts stands in the kitchen at Stutts House of Barbecue on Apache Street on July 29, 2011. Stutts has owned the restaurant for 18 years, but the building has served as a north Tulsa barbecue joint since the 1950s. The original smoke pit is still in use today, JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World

I’m always up for good barbecue. Anyone who knows me knows I’m really picky about it, too. I can’t count the number of hole-in-the-wall barbecue places I’ve hit up in my life. From my travels, I’ve pretty much narrowed down my favorite places in each major “region,” Carolina, Kansas City and Texas. But I also like finding above average places else too. Stutts in north Tulsa falls into that category, and is easily in the top 10 of places I’ve been. To say I’d definitely go back is a big deal for me, since I’m pretty quick to dismiss a second chance at a place if I’m not impressed. Like I said, I’m picky.

Almead and her employees were super nice to me and our food reporter, even giving a peek inside the 60-year-old smoker in the back of the kitchen. It’s always a good sign when you walk up to a place and smell nothing but burning pecan and hickory wood. I didn’t need an actual photo of food for the story, but after the reporter left, I was so hungry that I decided to order up some food to try anyway. I was so focused on gnawing at my ribs that I took a bite before taking a picture, which is why there’s that little empty spot under the bread below. Oops.

A serving of St. Louis style ribs is accompanied with buttermilk pie, baked beans and cole slaw, along with the customary fixins of onions, pickles and white bread at Stutts House of Barbecue. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World

Clarence Robinson, a school bus driver and longtime customer sits at a table in Stutts House of Barbecue on Apache Street. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World

Performers from the Sol Azteca folk dance group wait in an alley before parading through Centennial Green Park during Salsafest on July 15, 2011. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World

Editor: “I know you’re working early but can you do this 7 p.m. assignment tomorrow? SalsaFest…there’s a chihuahua race and some other stuff.”
Me: “YES PLZ.”

Did I know what a chihuahua race was? No. I don’t even like chihuahuas, I think they’re some of the stupidest, peskiest, brattiest little prick canines in the world. But it sounded fun. I even planned to use a GoPro at chihuahua-level to capture some of the ridiculousness. Unfortunately, the SD card in the camera was somehow corrupted so that effort turned out to be waste. But do check out out the video at the end of the post for a look at part of the race, as well as a cameo by my friend Esten who just happened to be competing in the habanero eating contest.

Julie Grant, a volunteer with Sustainable Tulsa who has worked at the past two Salsafests, uses chalk and water to draw a chihuahua on East 6th St. before the start of the festival on July 15, 2011. In addition to salsa tasting, a pepper eating contest, music and dancing, Salsafest featured a chihuahua race and costume contest. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World

Kate Sheckarski, of Bixby, fills up sample cups of her fresh garden salsa for Salsafest attendees at Centennial Green Park on July 15, 2011. For $5, guests received a bag of chips and cards to sample and vote on more than a dozen salsas. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World

Florence Briggs, 81, puts a pitcher of water back in her refrigerator during lunch in her Owasso apartment on June 15, 2011. Briggs drinks mostly water, but sometimes drinks Almond Breeze as a milk alternative. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World

“It’s never too late to improve your health and your life,” said Briggs, who started dieting at 79 after collapsing while walking in a mall and learning she had a 95-percent blocked artery. Since then, she has lost 50 pounds, and kept it off with a strict daily ritual of healthy eating and calorie tracking through a website and dieting tool called NutriMirror. The site offers a social outlet for people attempting diets, and Briggs says she’s become a role model for others working to lose weight. “Everyone calls me Granny,” said Briggs. “That’s even my name on the website.”

Florence Briggs, 81, prepares a healthy lunch of pecan-crusted salmon cakes, baked sweet potatoes, raw bell peppers and grape tomatoes in her Owasso apartment on June 15, 2011. Briggs has lost and kept off 50 pounds since starting a new diet in Feb. 2009. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World

Florence Briggs, 81, shows her food diary, a daily updated log or calorie and nutrient intake. Briggs uses her computer to access NutriMirror, which calculates the data she enters to track diet progress. LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World

Florence Briggs, 81, poses in her Owasso apartment on June 15, 2011. Briggs says she is in her healthiest condition in years. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World

Smitty's Market, in Lockhart, Texas.

Putting this post together, I realized I didn’t actually take any photos of the pound of fatty brisket and pound of sausage we bought. I must have been too busy eating it with my bare hands (“no forks, no sauce”). Sorry. Please forgive me.

A front door so old and worn it won't even close on its own.

Smoking pits with open fires. You walk within five feet of the flames to order your barbecue...

...which is weighed and served on nothing but brown butcher's paper.

In a separate dining room/market, you can buy drinks or sides if you want. Not many do.

A walk around back reveals Smitty's wood supply.

Caldwell County Courthouse - Lockhart, Texas.

oklahoma joe's bbq, kansas city bbq, kansas city, bbq

Patrons eat inside Oklahoma Joe's, after enduring a 30-minute line just to order food.

When I first went to Oklahoma Joe’s back in 2008 before the Big 12 Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium, I told myself, “This must be the best BBQ in Kansas City.” I’d heard of Arthur Bryant’s and Gates, but hadn’t been to either. It didn’t matter to me. I knew nothing could top what I ate that day. Two-and-a-half years later, I’m inclined to say the same thing. On my trip back to Columbia from Manhattan, Kan., where I just photographed the K-State/Missouri men’s basketball game, another stop at Oklahoma Joe’s was a necessity. Upon walking up to the restaurant, we noticed the line of people waiting to order snaked all the way through the restaurant and up to the main entrance. It could have been worse – a sign on the door gave instructions on where to stand in case the line stretched outside the building and toward the gas pumps. Yep, forgot to mention the best BBQ in Kansas City is actually part of an in-service gas station. (As Dak pointed out, so is Lutz’s in Jefferson City).

During our 30-minute wait, I perused a paper menu that I’d picked up at the door, deciding what combination of meats and sides to get. I knew I could do no wrong, and just when I had finally decided and reached the front of the line, the “Specials” menu came into view, causing me to completely change my mind and go the The Hogamaniac.

oklahoma joe's bbq, kansas city bbq, kansas city, bbq

The "Hogamaniac" - two ribs, 1/4 lb of pulled pork, 1/4 lb of sausage, Texas toast, pickles, fries, and BBQ beans (with chopped pieces of all kinds of meat).

The pulled pork was so tender it practically melted. The sausage had just the right amount of spice, reminding me of the fresh Polish sausage my Grandma used to buy at Ostrowski’s (please excuse the web design), a small family-owned store in East Baltimore. And the ribs…next time I go I’m getting at least an entire half-rack for myself. They had an absolutely ideal bite to fall-off-the-bone ratio, and were perfectly seasoned and smoked to not even need any extra sauce. In fact, nothing really needed any sauce. That’s what makes me love Oklahoma Joe’s so much compared to a place like Arthur Bryant’s, where everything comes slathered in sauce whether you want it that way or not. To me, it completely masks any flavor the meat might actually have

I still need to go to Gates…but I am prepared to be let down. I’m sticking with Anthony Bourdain.

steak, t-bone, food, meat

Made a T-bone steak for dinner, part of a balanced diet, of course. Unfortunately it ended up looking better than it tasted.

chicken piccata, food, lemon, parsley

You can never have enough fresh parsley.

Chicken piccata, without capers, which I discovered later are not actually in the traditional recipe. I hate capers. They’re briny, mushy, little sodium bombs and I can’t even stand their smell. So shoot me. Plate photographed on my sofa, with a handheld daylight-balanced bare bulb overhead.

John Fussner gets out of his pickup truck, holding a hand-powered ice auger used to drill holes for ice fishing. Fussner was fishing the lake at Cosmo-Bethel Park, where the ice was about seven inches thick on Friday, Feb. 11, 2011. Fussner spent about two hours at the lake and said the ice on Friday was the thickest he ever remembered. "We wanted to come out here today since it might not be here next weekend," said Fussner, referencing the present warming trend in the weather.

Carrying a trout still attached to hook and line, John Fussner walks toward friend Kirk Bruce to show off his catch. Both fishermen were using different hooks and jigs to see which combinations worked most effectively. Starting Feb. 1, anglers with a trout permit are allowed to keep four trouth per day, according to Missouri Department of Conservation regulations. Previously, only catch and release fishing was allowed.

Two trout rest on the frozen lake surface. Fussner and Bruce were using salmon eggs, bottom center, as bait. The two have been close friends for more than 30 years, and have been on several hunting and fishing expeditions together, including a six-day river rafting and salmon fishing trip in backcountry Alaska. "We had more fun than two guys should ever have," said Fussner.

John Fussner replaces the lid on his Weber grill, which he used to smoke the trout he caught using hickory wood and charcoal. This was the first time Fussner tried the recipe, which involved a marinade consisting of oil, lemon juice, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, salt and toasted sesame seeds.

John Fussner shows off the aromatic smoked trout to his wife Charlotte in their living room. Charlotte, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, uses a motorized wheelchair to get around the house which Fussner built four years ago. John and Charlotte both worked in education most of their lives; John as a principal at Benton Elementary and Charlotte in the administrative offices at MU.

I had the idea for my one-day story early on, originally influenced by an ice fisher I met at Walmart buying supplies. Although that subject didn’t pan out, I went out to Cosmo-Bethel Park in hope of finding someone to work with. I scanned the area, walking around the frozen lake looking for some to hang out with. I chatted up a few people before coming across John and Kirk. They were by far the most vocal and interested in what I was doing.

We had a great ongoing conversation during the couple hours I stayed at the lake, and John was more than willing to let me into his home to complete the story of him smoking and eating the fish.

Iceberg wedge salad with bleu cheese, bacon, tomatoes and red onion.

Mmmm, bacon. Three slices to be exact.

When I visited Chris in Atlanta, I ordered an iceberg wedge salad at Atlantic Seafood Company. I’ve ordered wedge salads before, but for whatever reason, they never actually looked like wedges — the lettuce was always chopped up or spread out like a regular salad.

Atlantic’s version was good (and the proper shape) but had a little too much dressing even for my heavy palate. I was also disappointed with the miniature size of the bacon bits and finely diced tomato pieces. I knew I could make a better one at home, so I did for dinner tonight.

Super easy, super fast, super tasty. And not too unhealthy considering it was the only meal I ate all day.

Exposure: 1/125, f/6.3, ISO 320

Technique: natural window light, plate on black velvet.