In Bucks County, good barbecue is hard to come by. It seems like every restaurant around advertises its awesome ribs but, truth be told, most of the racks we’ve tasted are more about boiled pork and bottled sauce than real barbecue. So, the places that make a real effort are worth paying attention to: The ones I know of are the Duck Deli in New Britain, J.B. Dawson’s in Langhorne, Smokin’ Lil’s in Doylestown, Wegmans in Warminster and, if you care to cross the river, H.I. Rib in Pennington, N.J.

There are plenty of other places around, I know, and give me time – I’ll get to them.

Smokin’ Lil’s, where Lynne and I ate last night, is the one I had the highest hopes for. It’s part of Lilly’s Restaurants and Catering, the same folks who run Lilly’s on the Canal in Lambertville and Café America and Lilly’s Gourmet in Doylestown. All of these places are friendly and consistent, so I go into any of them ready to be happy.

And, I can’t say I was unhappy at Smokin Lil’s. I think the barbecue there is pretty good, but only pretty good. The meat’s tender but was smothered in sauce and over-spiced. If I had to use one word to describe our meal last night, it would be “peppery.”

Lynne and I both had a “I’m Just Gettin Started” platter, which allows you to choose one meat entrée and two sides. I had ribs, with sides of cole slaw and corn (off the cob, but hey, it’s December). Lynne had brisket, cole slaw and baked beans. We agree the cole slaw was very good – not too saucy, not too heavy on the mayonnaise. The corn wasn’t mushy – which is no small thing for a side of corn – but it was peppered to the point of stinging my tongue after a few bites. Lynne thought the beans were okay, but didn’t have much beyond that to say about them.

Of course, in barbecue the main attraction is the meat. (Well, maybe the macaroni and cheese, but I’m on Atkins, so I skipped that.) Both the ribs and the brisket were tender enough, and if you scraped off the sauce, you got a nice hint of sweetness and smoke. But you shouldn’t have to scrape. The  layer of slightly oily, very peppery sauce seemed unwarranted. Lynne, who’s traveled to Memphis and Kansas City enough to have developed a true attitude when it comes to barbecue, feels strongly that anyone who drenches their meat is trying to hide something. And while we don’t think the folks at Smokin’ Lil’s were doing that, we do think all that sauce was unnecessary. There are pitchers of it on the tables, after all, so we wondered why they didn’t just serve up the meat and let diners add sauce to taste.

Of course, you can avoid the whole issue simply by ordering your meat without sauce. I’ll try that next time.

And, we’ll definitely go back to Smokin’ Lil’s. I want a full portion of brisket, they’ve got several options with chicken that look good, and – like everyone at Lilly’s – the folks there are friendly. They also make good ice tea, though I don’t recommend that when it’s snowing outside. (We had to go across the street to Chambers19 for a bourbon to warm up. Iced tea and snow – what was I thinking?).

We’re still looking for Bucks County’s King of all Barbecue.

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