Jonbalaya Catering at Woodbine Farmers' Market Saturday: Could These Be the Best Ribs in Nashville?



Not long ago, we passed along the tip that the Woodbine Farmers Market — open 9 a.m. to noon every Saturday (including tomorrow) at Coleman Park, corner of Nolensville and Thompson Lane — was serving breakfasts of biscuits, sausage and gravy courtesy of an outfit called Jonbalaya Catering. That's cool, we thought ... and then we got our minds fully blown by Jonbalaya's baby back ribs.

Holy smoke. These were the best ribs we'd ever tried in Nashville. When burly proprietor Jon Heidelberg (who proudly repeats his motto, "Never trust a skinny cook!") peeled back the aluminum foil and drew his knife between the ribs, they parted like Popsicles on a hot day. The meat was permeated with smoke and fell off the bone, and the crust had a spicy, faintly vinegary tang. One bite of this porcine crack, and I ended up taking home a $12 rack and wishing I'd gotten more. Good thing I thought to get some of those roasted ears of sweet corn that Heidelberg had sizzling on the smoker, along with a gooey slice of his amazing pina colada cake.

Heidelberg hasn't had ribs the past few weeks, but we hear that at Saturday's market he'll have those and something called "tiger wings," which sold out four dozen in 10 minutes the last time he brought them. We asked him to share something of his process, and he sent this reply:

After carefully selecting our baby back ribs — preferably from local sources — I rinse them, rub them with our own championship rub, then put them in the warm smoker. I prefer to smoke the ribs at 200-225 degrees, for a minimum of 6 hours. I use the 3-2-1 method that other competition smokers employ. So, for the first three hours, I smoke them openly in the smoker. Then, I baste them in our own homemade competition barbeque sauce and put them in a foil packet to continue cooking for 2 more hours. The final hour, they are uncovered, mopped again, and watched carefully, so they don't burn. It's a lot of work, but I haven't had anyone complain about it yet.

I generally use a combination of hickory and cherry wood, purchased, again, from a local artist who makes furniture and artwork with the wood, then I get the scraps. My smoker is custom-made, by a man simply named "Smoking Joe." He himself is a champion pitmaster, so I knew I could trust his handiwork. I couldn't be happier with the wonderful rig he created for me, and it gets me a lot of attention!

Seriously, if you find ribs better than these in Nashville, I want a street address and a 50-gallon leaf sack full of WetNaps.

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