Back Beach Barbecue just celebrated its one-year anniversary. My family and I stopped by on a recent rainy weekend to check out the reports, which were highly favorable. Lunch and takeout followed, and we have now joined the chorus of praise.
The restaurant sits close to the roadside, with a good-sized open parking lot, a small fleet of businesslike meat smokers—some in use, some idling—outdoor seating (both open-air and sheltered) and an indoor dining area. Inside there’s a long serving bar, booths, free standing tables, and buckets of iced beverages. The weathered wood walls and ceilings bear guitars, posters, menu boards and signs.
There are overhead fans, but the sweet scent of meat cannot be dissipated. The house music veered between country, bluegrass, progressive bluegrass, and blues. There are TV screens placed here and there.
We arrived early enough for only a very brief wait, but the line of dine-in and takeout customers grew long only minutes later. Our host (I think he was an owner) greeted us, explained the system, and stood by while a trainee prepared our order. Our host was friendly and patient, and the trainee did fine.
Back Beach Barbecue serves a breakfast menu from 6:30 to 10 AM, when the changeover to lunch and supper begins. Breakfast choices include bacon, brisket, sausage, pulled pork or chicken thigh biscuits, egg, cheese and meat tacos, eggs, brisket hash, biscuits and gravy, and a breakfast casserole.
The meats offered on the lunch and dinner menu are beef brisket, Carolina pulled pork, pork ribs (and beef, with advance notice) housemade sausage, turkey breast, smoked wings (advance notice), and chicken.
We ordered brisket and pulled pork sandwiches, sides of BBQ baked beans, mac and cheese (for my daughter Grace), brisket Brunswick stew (which also contained samples of all their meats), bags of chips, and soft drinks. We put in a to-go order for a half-rack of pork ribs and half a chicken. Our host told us there’d be a little wait on the chicken. The meats (and chicken salad) are also available by the pound. The restaurant will prepare tailgate and party packages of various combinations, do limited-area delivery, and catering.
We watched our sandwiches being made. On the brisket, we were asked “Lean or fatty?” and each mound of sliced or pulled meat was carefully arranged, formed, and balanced on the buns. There are three house sauces—Spicy House, Sweet and Smoky, and Carolina Mustard—on every table. I suggest tasting the meat first before adding sauce—you might not need anything at all, or you might want to keep it on the side.
Our food was brought out to us; we got drinks, pulled plastic cutlery, piled up the napkins and fell to. The cup of Brunswick stew was loaded with sausage—which was dense and meaty—and other meats, chunks of tomato, corn, and peppers. I wish I’d had some cornbread. The brisket was dry-rubbed, with a crisp, salt-and-peppery crust that needed no sauce—though the Carolina Mustard makes a tangy dip. The tender beef was lean, with just a little edge of fat.
The pulled pork had the perfect combination of crisp outside and moist, feathery inside meat. I liked it with the Sweet and Smoky, also on the side. The beans were seasoned with onion, and laced with chunks and slivers of meat. They were less sweet than most places’ beans, but you can add whatever sauces you like.
Among the other menu items and sides are loaded baked potatoes with choice of meat, brisket chili, a chopped salad with choice of meat, coleslaw, Carolina collards, and redskin potato salad. There are two desserts—key lime pie and banana pudding—but we did not try them.
Our takeout was ready when we were, and the server brought out boxes for leftovers. We had the ribs and chicken for supper. The ribs were a P.C. (Panama City) Masterpiece, the fat completely melted and permeating the meat, which dropped off the ribs with just a twist, no knife necessary, though a plastic one helped. The falling-apart chicken was likewise tender and moist, with seasoned skin.
In an area that’s especially blessed with slow-cooked, smoky meats, Back Beach Barbecue stands out even among the best. We’re already coming up with lists of errands to run in the Panama City Beach area, so we can stop by. I have to try a brisket biscuit, just to say it.
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