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Munch goes to Big Rig’s BBQ in Monroeville

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette logoPittsburgh Post-Gazette 3/11/2020 By Dan Gigler / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
a close up of a hot dog on a bun © Provided by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It wasn't the springing forward of the clocks. It wasn’t the warm breezes or pristine azure sky. Nor was it the endorphin release from the year’s first strenuous hike through Frick Park.

None of that was what had my internal monologue chanting, like a high school basketball student section, “IT’S ALL OV-ER! CLAP! CLAP! CLAP-CLAP-CLAP! IT’S ALL OV-ER! — in regards to the 2019-20 winter (that frankly never really was).

Rather, it was three letters: B.B.Q.

Now, I know the calendar says that we have a week and change left before the vernal equinox. And I know that you can get quality barbecue around the region year round, but man there’s just something special about wolfing it down when you don’t have to wear a sweater. And to that end, I would implore you: Go to Monroeville.

Normally, that directive might simply be a less hostile way to tell someone to get lost, but since October of last year, local veteran chefs Josh Toney and Eric Delliquardi have been making ‘cue worth enduring the Squirrel Hill Tunnel and the Parkway East at a little place called Big Rig’s that could raise the zombies at Monroeville Mall.

Most recently, the Mr. Toney was the executive chef at Cenacolo, a temple of fresh pasta in Jeannette; Mr. Delliquardi was the main pizzaiolo at Cenacolo’s former next-door sister restaurant, Dal Forno, which is to reopen in April as Salvi’s Pizzeria and Wine Bar.

Mr. Toney and his wife opened the small eight-table spot in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shopping center on Center Road. The name has nothing to do with trucks, but rather comes from Mr. Toney’s nickname “Riga-Toney,” which ultimately turned into “Big Rig.”

Barbecue is one of those beloved foods, like pizza, in that making it is as much an art as it is a science, with practitioners being ascribed near mystical qualities and devotees falling into sects that are quasi-religious. Mr. Toney said that he’s been at it only about a year, but combined with two decades of experience at some of Pittsburgh’s top kitchens, he’s a veritable prodigy, because Big Rig’s is immediately in the conversation as being among the best in the region.

Meats are sold in quarter- and half-pound quantities. There’s Texas-Style Prime Brisket, that’s smoked for 14 hours with only a salt-and-pepper rub, resulting in a pillowy meat with fat that nearly liquifies in the mouth ($8/$14). Glazed pork belly burnt ends, a Kansas City delicacy, are hit with a sweet heat rub along with a sweet-and-sour glaze, and are alternatively crispy and fatty ($8/$14).

Baby back ribs ($15 per half rack/$28 full) are smoked over hickory for four hours with a house dry rub. The tender meat has a smoke essence that seems to build with each bite.

The recent no-touching-of-the-face conundrum is put to the test by the intimidatingly delicious Double Pig sandwich ($14), because you are sure to have juices running down your chin courtesy of the snapped casing of jalapeno kielbasa (from Bardine’s Smokehouse in Crabtree, Westmoreland County) which is stacked with succulent pulled pork that has been smoked for 14 hours over hickory and cherry woods and further topped off with a piquant whole-grain mustard slaw and house barbecue sauce on toasted brioche. It is a masterpiece.

Sides include a wonderfully creamy three-cheese mac and cheese and terrific baked beans that rather than being typically cloying are instead nicely smoky and peppery.

Barbecue season is here and, in advice I never ever thought I’d give, I repeat: Go to Monroeville, traffic be damned. Besides, you can snack on your Big Rig’s leftovers while you’re in parkway congestion on the way home. 

Big Rig’s BBQ: 226 Center Rd., Monroeville; 412-646-5250; https://bigrigsbbq.com/

Dan Gigler: dgigler@post-gazette.com; Twitter @gigs412

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