Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Championship Barbecue Served Up At Short Stop

Barbecue champion Chris Marks joined the Barbeque Train at the Short Stop Food Mart to cook up the perfect rib.

customers waiting to buy from the barbeque train

Photo: Sarah Gordon/WFIU

Every Thursday through early fall is BBQ day at Short Stop Food Mart in Bloomington, Indiana. Locals line up to buy a wide selection of barbecued meats.

Barbecue Traffic Jam

Chris Smith, owner/operator of the Short Stop Food Mart and gas station, doesn’t need much of an excuse to get his Barbeque Train going.

“It’s Thursday, and in Bloomington, Indiana, Thursday is barbecue Thursday. Everybody in town knows that!”

Parking at the Short Stop comes at a premium on barbecue days. It’s not located on a main thoroughfare, which is a good thing because traffic is backed up for a block in both directions. The food table has a line of people that stretches past the gas pumps.

And it’s not even dinner time yet.

They serve up Texas-style brisket, Carolina-style pork and Chicago-style ribs every Thursday during the summer through the early fall.

Champ In The Parking Lot

This is a special Thursday because Smith is sharing his parking lot with award-winning barbecuer and educator Chris Marks. Marks has won the American Royal Barbecue Contest Grand Championships nine times along with 45 other regional contests throughout the U.S.

So what’s his secret?

“Low and slow,” he says. “It’s a different type of cooking, but look at the different flavors you get with it.”

  • Low — Marks aims to get the internal temperature of his meat to 140 degrees at which point he knows the meat has absorbed the smokey flavor.
  • Slow — The ribs took four hours while the brisket smoked for over 12 hours.

Marks is a slave to flavor, so no, he would never dream of speeding up the cooking process by using a gas grill. “Sacrilegious!” he says. “Gas is for ease. We call it turn and burn.”

Chris Marks, barbeque champion

Photo: Sarah Gordon/WFIU

Chris Marks swears by his "low and slow" method of cooking ribs. Marks has won the American Royal Barbecue Contest Grand Championships nine times using this method.

That’s A Pretty Rib

Marks teaches barbecue boot camps all over the country. Short Stop’s barbecue cook Gerrick DeVane attended a class last year in Sellersburg, Indiana along with food writer Lynn Schwartzberg. They came back from the class wanting Short Stop to start cooking Kansas City-style ribs, but Smith says his customers might not be ready for that.

“The problem is it’s regional. You gotta be careful about your regions,” he says. “Around here, people like Chicago-style ribs,” which means falling-off-the-bone meat.

Smith and Marks both agree — that’s an over-cooked rib.

“That’s why all the restaurants do it, the big chains, because you can’t mess them up,” says Smith. “You season them right, put the right sauce on them, you cannot mess them up. To do a real competition-style, or Kansas City-style rib is very difficult and timing is everything. And then the question is can you deliver those all day?”

perfectly cooked rib

Photo: Sarah Gordon/WFIU

Chris Marks took a bite out of this rib to demonstrate what a perfectly cooked rib looks like. The meat is not falling off the bone. Instead, it requires a firm bite to pull it completely off the bone.

Marks grabs one of the ribs he cooked today and takes a big bite to demonstrate what a perfectly cooked rib looks like. “When we bite that rib, we want to gently tug it,” he says (with a full mouth). “You take another bite, and you see how that bone comes clean.”

Best On The Menu

In addition to the ribs, Marks and Smith are serving Scotch eggs, fatties, shrimp, salmon, sausage links and lamb chops.

Smith’s pick for the best item on the menu today:

“Shoulda gotten the brisket, but it’s gone.”

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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