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Links Love Lost

March 25, 2011

Barbeque. Light of my life. Fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Bar-be-que. The tip of the tongue taking a trip down the palate to stop, on three, on the teeth. Bar. Be. Que.

Suffice it to say, I love the stuff.

From a truck, on a piece of waxed paper, Jewish style (aka pastrami), eaten with fingers, in sandwiches, served at restaurants with actual silverware, made from pigs, cows, chickens, goats or what have you. I appreciate the regional differences, but I would be hard pressed to choose between a killer Texas brisket and a dynamite Carolina pulled pork.

There are a few criteria that I do believe all good barbeque shares. And those all come from the low and slow use of heat and smoke that melts tough raw fat into an unctuous buttery goo that enriches the meat, deeply flavors the protein with a clear and well-defined pink ring of smoke, and tenderizes some of the toughest cuts to the point where the muscle can still hold a bone, but a modest pull will pull the bone cleanly from the flesh.

Barbeque isn’t health food, so when I eat it, I expect it to be good. It’s hard to find good links. But when Dinosaur Bar-B-Que opened in Troy I thought their links were among the highlights of the menu. I had been meaning to get back there for a while to enjoy a meal dedicated to this smoky delight.

Yesterday was the day, but it didn’t go quite as expected.

I went with Albany John, because I wanted to show him just how good these links were. And we ordered them two ways. They have a sausage appetizer called Sausage, Cheese & Crackers ($7.95) which is, “Our own homemade smoked ‘hot link’ sausage served with house pimento cheese and black pepper cheddar crackers & pickled onions.”

It’s a platter composed of seven cracker rounds, each stuck onto a board with a dollop  of pimento cheese. The crackers are topped with more cheese, a slice of the sausage, and crowned with pickled onions. In theory it’s a nice balance of textures and flavors, but it never really comes together. It needs more sausage and more potent onions to cut through the heaviness of the cheese and the biscuity cracker. Still, this appetizer is the best way the whet one’s appetite for the full sausage links to come.

The sausage on the appetizer was just as I’d remembered. The casing had developed a nice chew from its time spent in the smoker, and the well-textured meat inside had fully absorbed a deep smoky flavor. The interior fat had rendered, leaving the sausage itself rich and tender (but not juicy). I was eagerly looking forward to my full plate of sausage.

Oddly, the menu doesn’t provide an option for just ordering the sausage. But our waitress suggested that we could order the links a la carte for $4.50 per piece, which is exactly what I did. Two links sounded like plenty, and I felt no need to mess around with sides.

What happened next was surprising.

Cutting into the links they were clearly undercooked. More than anything else they resembled grilled sausages and not something that had spent at least three hours in a smoker. The casing didn’t have the same chewy texture, the interior fat wasn’t rendered, and most strikingly the sausages were still pink and mushy on the inside.

This is not the exterior layer of pink that comes from a deeply permeating smoke. This pink was at the center of the link, which was also speckled with chunks of white fat. Mind you, we just had their sausage minutes before, and this looked nothing like the link on the appetizer. Albany John also noticed that the undercooked links had a significantly greater girth than those we had received earlier, which would be consistent with the rest of our observations.

I had no idea how the quality control of the kitchen would have sent this out. A gentle squeeze reveals a juicy springiness that only is found in undercooked meats. Properly barbecued, a link really collapses a bit on itself as the fat renders and gets absorbed into the meaty bits.

The manager brought them back to the kitchen and confirmed that indeed they were undercooked, and the barbecue masters at Dinosaur were going to try again.

While we had the manager at the table, we confirmed that the sausage in the appetizer is identical to the one served by the piece. And we also confirmed that they do not do anything additional to the sliced sausage we were served earlier. Effectively, the kitchen takes a link just like the two we had sent back, slices it up, and puts it on the cheese and crackers to order.

This proved that not only can they still make good links, but that there must have been well-cooked links in the kitchen as well.

Of course this made it doubly stupefying that our second round of links was also undercooked. The tally for the day was one well-cooked sausage (obscured with pimento cheese and cheddar biscuits) and four undercooked sausages that went uneaten.

It’s a mystery that I hope is solvable. At the very least manager Molly Deegan was gracious through the whole affair and took the order off our bill. I really do not generally send food back, and I take no joy in relating this story. Hopefully she can help me figure out what happened today, because I’ve had good food here before, and I would like to think the chances of getting food cooked right is greater than 20%.

But until then, I regret to say, I’m in no rush to return.

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Update 4/14/2011: I got my answers, and a new respect for what goes on at the Dinosaur.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 25, 2011 9:16 am

    Wow, of all the stories I could have imagined you having, this sure is out there. The surprising part to me is that, since sausage is generally fatty, done-ness is fairly forgiving; most people who cook sausage will err on the side of overcooking to be safe, since the presence of extra fat – in good sausage – will maintain a moist texture even at a well done (unless you vaporize the darn thing).

    I think that the quality control and training might be the culprit in our varied experiences, and other varied experiences I read about. You linked to my first (overall bad) experience, and I’ve returned twice since that time to take away some of their wings. The first time I went back, the wings (Devil’s Duel) were incredible! Nicely smoked, not overly fatty. The second time, I got mushy, soggy, fatty wings which didn’t compare at all with how they were the first two times.

    As I’ve said on other forums, being that I live less than five minutes away, I really wanted this to be a place that was a no-brainer for me to regularly patronize, as I love ‘que and love not having to travel far from the house, but the hassle of finding parking (yes, I’m going back to that), dealing with a wait, and playing roulette with food quality just isn’t worth it to me, not with all of the other BBQ places that are just a short distance away.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and giving me that little kernel of satisfaction that helps me feel like I’m not (completely) crazy!

  2. March 25, 2011 9:42 am

    The onset of mediocrity. All skin and no meat, one might say of Dinosaur Troy.

  3. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    March 25, 2011 11:09 am

    It’s “barbecue,” not “barbeque.”

  4. March 25, 2011 12:14 pm

    I’ve been trying to think of something clever and literary to say, but I’ve got nothing. Look at this tangle of thorns!

    I am glad though, that it seems the staff outside the kitchen did their best to be helpful, or at least polite.

    (I’m also 99% certain that both barbecue and barbeque are correct).

  5. March 27, 2011 1:26 pm

    For BBQ that’s on the bucket list of places to visit before you die, go to Kansas City, MO:

  6. Eric permalink
    March 30, 2011 7:55 pm

    I moved up a few years ago from North Carolina, where I lived less than a mile away from this place — — which served the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten. As a kid, I grew up in the piedmont region, near Charlotte, part of the Carolina barbecue belt, and had more than a dozen options to choose from when it came to barbecue, all of them good.

    It’s the thing I’ve missed most, besides more temperate winters, since moving here. Nothing in the area has been great. At DinoBBQ, you pay three times as much for pulled pork that southerners buy for $5 at school fundraisers. Capitol Q was pretty good, and the Pig Pit serves up a lot of meat per dollar. I don’t even see much difference between Dino and the place beside the Italian steakhouse on Central Ave.


  1. derryX promotes: CGOH’s Annual Jewish Food Festival « detention with derryX

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