Here's a suggestion for all you reluctant barbecuers out there, the ones who are dreading the prospect of sweating over a hot grill for hours every summer weekend.
Get takeout from Pig Picker's instead.
The two-location chain offers hickory-smoked meats, yummy traditional sides and a kicking barbecue sauce, and the prices are dirt-cheap.
I ordered a half-rack of pork ribs, half a smoked chicken, a half pint of cole slaw, a half pint of baked beans, a half pint of potato salad, a pulled pork sandwich, a chopped beef sandwich, six corn muffins and a small bag of potato chips, and my bill came to $35.16, tax included. And I also got a large container of barbecue sauce and plenty of napkins and plastic implements.
Pig Picker's began in the 1980s when the King family, owners of the Sea King seafood markets, decided to add a menu of hot barbecue items to two of the locations.
Bill King Sr. traveled to Memphis to learn about dry rubs and hickory smoking, and then opened Pig Picker's, first in Randallstown and then in Catonsville. (The third Sea King location, in Ellicott City, is adjacent to the Crab Shanty restaurant and does not have a Pig Picker's.)
The Catonsville location, on Route 40 just west of the Baltimore city line, was remodeled in 2002, but it's still nothing fancy. It has a few small tables, but it's basically a takeout counter, with Sea King's crabs and other seafood to the left and Pig Picker's chafing dishes of meats and sides on the right. You can pay for both the seafood and the barbecue at a single register.
Pig Picker's meats are cooked in a hickory smoker that gives the food a rich smoky taste. The chicken, especially, was infused with smoke flavor, yet was still moist beneath the tasty, slightly crunchy deep brown skin.
The ribs, too, were flavorful, but not as moist. They were better once doused with the deliciously tangy barbecue sauce. Even the mild sauce, which I ordered, gave my taste buds a nice jolt. Next time, I'll try the spicy.
The pulled pork sandwich, served on a hearty roll that didn't get soggy, was generously stuffed with shredded pork doused in a slightly more vinegary barbecue sauce. The meat was mostly tender, though I did encounter a few bites of gristle. The chopped meat in the pit beef sandwich, on the other hand, was uniformly tender.
Sides at Pig Picker's include collard greens, mac and cheese, corn muffins, cole slaw, potato salad, corn on the cob and baked beans, all made in-house. The baked beans, flavored with bits of fatback, swam in a very rich and thick sauce, a little too heavy for my taste. The cole slaw and potato salad, though, were terrific, mild, creamy and wonderfully fresh tasting. The potato salad had bits of parsley in it. The corn muffins were more sweet than corny, but not greasy at all.
The sweet potato pie at Pig Picker's, made on the premises, is not to be missed. The small pies, which would comfortably feed two to three people, boast a flaky crust and a filling that is rich and moist, with a strong sweet potato flavor. I even detected chunks of potato as I ate.
Other desserts include cheesecake and carrot cake. I had the carrot cake, a dense and nutty treat topped with a generous swath of sweet icing with a true cream cheese tang.
You can get combo deals at Pig Picker's such as the "barbecue pignic," which claims to feed five people and includes a whole rack of ribs, a whole chicken, 10 corn muffins and a pint each of cole slaw, potato salad and baked beans.
For $36.95, this sounds like a good alternative to spending hours tending a grill.
Where: 5230 Baltimore National Pike, Catonsville, and 8219 Liberty Road, Randallstown, both in Sea King seafood carryout markets
Call: 410-747-5858 for Catonsville, 410-655-0110 for Randallstown
Credit cards: All major
Atmosphere: * 1/2