Review: Bob’s Family Butchers, Hatfield

Mark Burley, and his wife Vanessa, are the proprietors of Bob’s Family Butchers located in Hatfield, Hertfordshire.  Mark began working there when he was 12 years old until he left school, but even then he continued to help out during the Christmas period every year.

It appears butchery remained in his blood, because years later he took over the shop which continues to serve Hatfield as it has done for the last 50 years.

Mark is well known and respected in the UK BBQ and outdoor cooking community, as being one of the few ‘go to’ butchers when it comes to sourcing specific cuts for BBQ.  It helps that he loves BBQ himself, as certain cuts used in low and slow smoking which are common in the US, are often hard to come by in the UK, unless the butcher has prior experience in the area or they have customers, like myself, who like to request an unusual cut not regularly asked for and are willing to chat about what they want.

Many butchers will be accommodating when it comes to requests, however I’ve had my fair share of difficulty finding the right local butcher.  So when Mark got in contact with the suggestion that I review his products and delivery service I jumped at the chance.

On this occasion I was sent a selection of meat to sample on a complimentary basis, but as always I was free to give my honest opinion.

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Jacobs ladder aka beef ribs

My delivery arrived in a chilled, Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) box and every item was in perfect condition.  Ice packs ensured that the meat was perfectly chilled, even after a considerable journey.

Inside the box I found a large 5 bone Jacobs ladder (pictured above), 2 sheets of baby back ribs, a rack of super meaty St Louis cut ribs, an enormous bone-in pork shoulder and a brisket point.  Although I would have loved to, there was no way I could cook the whole lot all at once and so everything bar the beef ribs was put in the freezer.

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The haul!

Also inside this box that dreams are made of, were a selection of rubs by Oakridge BBQ who are based in Missouri.  They sponsor Mark Slatter and James Loye of UK based Ditch Brisket BBQ team.  My better half and I had been lucky enough to meet the lads at Grillstock this year, and they took loads of time out of their manic weekend to introduce us to these fabulous rubs and made us feel so welcome.  They also get their competition meat from Bob’s Family Butchers and had been kind enough to pop along to the shop and slip a few bags of rub in with my order before it was shipped!!  If you’ve never heard the expression ‘BBQ Family’….this is what it’s about.

As always, any smoking wood mentioned in my cooks was supplied courtesy of James at Smokewood Shack, my awesome wood sponsor :)  Click on the link for some awesome smokey goodness!

So the first cook was a big 5 bone rack of beef ribs, or Jacobs ladder as they’re also known.  I rubbed them with plenty of Oakridge Black Ops and went low and slow on the Kamado Big Joe ceramic BBQ with a few chunks of apple wood.  As expected from looking at the raw article, the meat was superb.  The rub complimented the beef really well with an added, and welcomed, peppery oomph!  The meat was super tender and, as I often find with beef ribs, the epitome of everything beefy.

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Jacobs Ladder

Processed with Snapseed.

Beef Rib

Next up I decided to go for the pork ribs.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that all the trimming, including the removal of the silver membrane on the bone side of the ribs, had been done for me.  This is one of my least favourite jobs when it comes to prep, especially if I have multiple racks to do.  I rubbed them with Oakridge BBQ Secret Weapon rub and chose maple chunks for smoke .

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St Louis (top) and baby back rib racks (centre & bottom)

They cooked up like a dream.  The baby backs only needed 2 hours smoking at 225˚f, then 1 hour wrapped in foil with a little butter, brown sugar and apple juice, and then 15 minutes to set the BBQ sauce.  I used my favourite Angus & Oink Rampant Angus (also available from Bob’s Family Butchers) on one rack and an off the shelf sweeter brand on the other (the kids are yet to have their palates educated).

I went for a similar 3/2/1 approach with the St Lois cut rack and used Angus & Oink Pitboss sauce to finish.  There is a very good reason why there aren’t more photos of the finished article.  They were demolished with lightning speed!  Beautifully flavourful meat, tender and juicy.  I LOVE RIBS!!!

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Baby back ribs

Next came my nemesis!  I have to admit that this was the first time I’d smoked any part of a brisket.  Mark had sent me a point, which I was reliably informed was the best part!  I took some very good advice with regards to cooking this piece of meat.  I really didn’t want to mess it up.   I opted for low and slow on the KJ Big Joe with chunks of pear as my smoking wood.

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Brisket point

I rubbed up the point with Oakridge Black Ops which is just perfect for this cut of beef.  I stuck to between 225 and 250˚f for the entire cook, which took about 6 hours.  I could have taken it a bit further if I’m honest, but for my first ever attempt it was superb!  Brisket is a strange beast, especially if it’s the less fattier UK brisket that I was using here.  Again, it didn’t last long once served up.  Juicy and super flavourful.

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Smoked brisket point

Finally came the beast of a pork shoulder, which I’d like to have stated a weight but my kitchen scales wouldn’t register it!

Due to having 2 young kids and no forced air system to regulate the temperature of my smokers (it’s on my wish list), I decided to cook the shoulder hot and fast on my Bristol Drum Smoker after taking advice from a very knowledgeable source.  This would reduce the cooking time drastically and also meant that I wouldn’t have to sit up through the night babysitting the cook.  Drum smokers are ideal for this method, given the distance between the cooking grate and the fuel source and a great big heat diffuser separating the two.

I rubbed the shoulder with Oakridge Competition Beef & Pork rub, opted for a cooking temperature of between 300 & 350˚f and chose hickory as my smoking wood. Surprisingly it took less than 6 hours!  Ideally a low and slow approach would have been my first choice, but time was against me.  The pulled result was beautiful.  Really tasty and moist with a great bark.    It fed us for a good few days, as well as snacking in between!

This review took me a lot longer than I’d hoped to put together, and that’s purely down to my personal circumstances over the last 6 months.  Mark has been very patient and for that I’m forever grateful.

To summarise, I really can’t recommend Bob’s Family Butchers highly enough.  You get a very personal service, lots of communication between customer and butcher and in the end you get the exact cut you want.  And they have an amazing selection of sausages and regular cuts to boot!  If you’re struggling to get what you want with regards to BBQ cuts, give Mark a call, email or visit the website for more information at Bob’s Family Butchers

And if you’re fortunate enough to live close enough to call into the shop….I’m very jealous!

K x

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