Big Dan’s East Tenn BBQ Company occupies a compact storefront near Elizabethton’s fabled Covered Bridge. Owner and pit master “Big Dan” Britt had been smoking and serving barbecue in Carter County for 10 years before moving to the far end of East Elk Avenue last May. Inside, the walls of Big Dan’s are decorated with Carter County prep sports memorabilia. There is seating for a hundred or so patrons. The cashier and take-out order counter can be found in front of the kitchen’s pass-through window; restroom access is nearby.
Fried onion rings appetizer: Our server Ms. Rory was currently taking orders at the counter. After consulting the wall-mounted chalkboard, I ordered some fried onion rings ($5.99) as an appetizer, which Rory had in front of us inside of 10 minutes. The basket was filled brim-full of golden brown, breaded and deep-fried yellow onion rings which, though factory made, were enough for the entire table. Our table’s selection of two barbecue sauces (hot or mild) and ketchup would serve as dipping sauce.
Large pulled pork barbecue sandwich: Meanwhile, the Carnivore had found Big Dan’s Daily Special, a large pulled pork barbecue sandwich with a side of Big Dan’s barbecue beans ($7.99). Ms. Rory had the Carnivore’s Special out post-haste, leaving my meat-eating friend settling down for some serious barbecue enjoyment. Dan Britt makes a very good slow-smoked pork shoulder that is properly pulled; lean, with just the right amount of smoke-bearing juices and fat. Being a barbecue purist, the Carnivore refuses to add any sauce, letting the smoked pork and the flavorful barbecue beans do the talking.
Smoked Chicken sandwich: While the Carnivore was pleased with his pulled pork sandwich, the Dieter was having some issues with her Big Dan’s smoked chicken sandwich ($6.50). My calorie-counting friend found the chicken meat properly smoked all right, but much drier that in a typical barbecue sandwich. Adding some mild barbecue sauce remedied the situation somewhat, and the Dieter was pleased. My dining partner opined that, having to add sauce back to a sandwich to re-moisten it would be unnecessary if the chicken were allowed to rest properly after smoking. Her diagnosis was seconded by the Carnivore.
Cheeseburger w/fries: As my dining partner opted to order a Big Dan’s cheeseburger ($5.75) with a side order of French fries ($2.49). The cheeseburger was grilled properly with a slice of good ol’ American cheese, topped with lettuce, tomato and onion, and decorated with some mayonnaise and a squirt of yellow mustard. Though pleased with her cheeseburger entrée, my dining partner remarked that a barbecue joint’s burgers should exhibit at least some smoky flavor from the cooking process.
“Don’t get me wrong,” said my dining partner, “my cheeseburger is good. It would be so simple a task to add some smoky flavor and make it a signature-quality cheeseburger.”
Oh, and my dining partner’s order of French fries were dry, resulting from over-baking.
Burnt Ends small bowl: I noticed that an order of Burnt Ends could be had at the price of $7.99 for a small bowl (or $15.99 for a platter full of them). Burnt Ends are derived from the secondary cut off a beef brisket, corresponding to the beef steer’s superficial pectoral muscle. This cut of meat is usually triangular in shape and has a higher fat content than the larger beef brisket. The pit master usually cubes the meat, adding additional spices and rubs to it before returning it to the smoker for another hour or so to complete the rendering out of the fat and develop the Burnt End’s additional flavor.
My $7.99 got me a bowl of five or so “Ends” that were not “Burnt.” Each one was about three to four inches long and an inch or so across, composed of one-third brisket beef and two thirds un-rendered beef fat. There were no additional spices or rubs present, nor was there any requisite charring to the meat portion of each piece. Separating fat from meat was somewhat involved as the only utensil supplied with my meal was a fork in plastic wrap. Not nice.
The bottom line: Big Dan’s East Tenn BBQ is a needed addition to the dining scene in downtown Elizabethton. Their location near the Covered Bridge means they are in a prime location to draw hungry customers from any of the festivals that dot Elizabethton’s social calendar. Pit master Dan Britt, Ms. Rory and the rest of the team are working hard to make Big Dan’s a success. They just need to see that some few opportunities for improvement are seen to and issues ironed out.
It was the Carnivore had the last word: “Sure, Big Dan’s is worth a return visit. They just need some time.”
Big Dan’s East Tenn BBQ
633 E. Elk Ave.
Tue-Sat 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Available on Facebook & social media
Credit cards accepted