Sunday, March 2, 2008

Mingua Brothers: The Pinnacle of Beef Jerky

This is it, folks.  This is the zenith, the ultimate pinnacle of commercially available beef jerky.  I'm sure your uncle has some better jerky he makes in his shed, etc., but for jerky that you can purchase from a store, this is the best I've ever had.  I discovered the great brothers Mingua while living in Louisville, Kentucky last year.  Louisville was an incredibly fun place to live, but I am too much of a real Yankee to ever settle down somewhere where 'R's are pronounced.  Tried California, tried Kentucky, but I always wind up back here, for good or ill.  (Ill this time of year, and I don't mean in the rap sense of the word.)  My exodus from Kentucky had nothing to do with the Bluegrass state's finest products: Whiskey and beef jerky.  The KY is home to the best American whisky I've ever had, and also the finest beef jerky.  
Mingua Brothers, a family owned company, is located in Paris, Kentucky.  If you don't believe me, check out their website:
The other Paris, not the dumb rich blonde one, but the one with the berets and pretty ladies, apparently has the best food in the world, but I doubt you'd find better beef jerky there than the stuff that's made in its southern namesake.  
From the first time I ever cracked a bag of Mingua, I knew I was in for a treat.  The stuff smells awesome, looks awesome, and of course, tastes incredible.  Just salty enough, just tangy enough, just spicy enough.  Huge pieces of thin sliced beef, seasoned and dried into a truly delectable snack.  One of my favorite workday meals in my Kentucky days was a bag of Mingua, a piece or two of string cheese, a bag of chips and a V8.  Funny that I gained over 20 pounds while living down there.  
I was jonesing really bad for some Mingua when I started this blog, so in the spirit of excellent web food journalism, I ordered two half pound bags from their website.  The goods were on my doorstep within 3 days.  It was an extreme challenge not to just eat a whole bag at once, especially after having a few libations.  I managed to make both bags last about a week, which is impressive when you considering how mouth watering this stuff is.  Now its all gone, and all I can do is reminisce.  I think back to those times when everything was right in Louisville.  I'd have gone for a hike somewhere in the boonies, I'd be watching the sunset over Bardstown Road in the Highlands, some good country music playing on my boombox, sitting on my porch, sipping some of Kentucky's finest bourbon (Buffalo Trace).  Dinner cooking in the kitchen, but a few pieces of Mingua in my hand for a little snack.  Jay Koning, Jon Dennis and Bobby Falk hanging out, a big stack of hilarious DVDs rented from Wild n Wooly Video waiting to be watched.  Things could be real good down there.  Sweet and sublime like some Mingua Brothers Jerky.  

Taste: 10/10
Smell: 10/10
Consistency: 10/10
Total: 10/10

Monday, February 18, 2008

Wild Bill's Hickory Smoked

Wild Bill's Hickory Smoked
$3.29 1.75 Oz. Bag
Purchased at Christy's Orleans
(The Old SOGS)

Again, sorry for the lo rez pic, but I'm phoning these pics in until I repair my super awesome Digi Cam or get a new one.  Its February on Cape Cod, so I don't see buying a new one happening any time soon.  Maybe I'll try to fix it myself with rocks and sticks.  Anyways, here's a bittersweet review for you.  
I discovered the Wild Bill's brand back in my glory days at Umass Amherst, where the excellent liquor store Spirithaus had a big jar of 99 cent pieces.  I fell in love immediately.  The strips of beef jerky had a great, chewy consistency and loads of pepper/soy sauce flavor.  I used to buy like 5 strips at a time.  I saved money on hooch, because I predominately drank Golden Anniversary beer back then (2 bucks a sixer) and Old Crow bourbon (7.99 a fifth).  With savings like that, I could splurge on some of the best jerky I'd had at that point.  The strips, it turns out, are still the way to go.  Seems that in the past five years, they've expanded their operation and are now widely available all across Massachusetts, including Cape Cod, which seems to be the last place alot of foodstuffs visit.  It is a giant arm of sand far away from civilization, after all.  
Anyways, since Wild Bill's has expanded, the quality of their product has gone down, at least in the bagged jerky department.  The 99 cent strips in the jar by the register are as great as ever, but the bags are a whole nother story.  
I noticed that the larger, $5.99 bags of jerky had a noticeable nosedive in quality awhile ago.  The little bags were still good though.  Basically, here's what's up with jerky.  The smaller producers like Allagash Black (see my last review) use whole pieces of beef.  The texture and consistency of this kind of jerky is leagues above alot of the cheaper, more widely available stuff.  Here's why, alot of the huge beef jerky producers use a meat past that is formed to look like honest beef jerky, dried and flavored.  Most of the $3.99 bags available at super markets are this faux jerky.  Its sad to see a once incredible jerky maker sink to this level, but Wild Bill's uses this cheapo formula for their bagged jerky.  
In the little bags, you used to get mostly honest to goodness solid pieces of beef, with a little bit of the cheap filler crap mixed in, but now, the tables have seemed to turn.  My bag was 70% faux jerky and 30% the real deal stuff.  The big bags aren't even worth buying, as the nasty, chewy, gummy meat paste pieces are huge and unpleasant to gum through.  
But, lets get down to the nitty gritty.  Upon opening my bag of Wild Bill's, that good old peppery, soy sauce nose leapt out at me just like in the old days.  But, as of fishing my first piece out of the bag, I knew the good old days of this brand had truly passed.  Just by looking at it, I could see that it was that preformed meat paste junk.  The flavor is still great, but the consistency leaves much to be desired.  To add insult to injury, there's a piece of the real deal, solid strips of beef here and there, as if to remind you of how good this brand used to be.  
And, they had to include this on the back of the bag, which seems to tell the sad story of their faltering quality:  
"From the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country comes the finest in beef jerky and other meat snacks.  Wild Bill's Foods started as a local butcher shop in 1955 serving the local farm folks.  Today, the same quality and care goes into every product we make, whether it's for local folks or jerky lovers around the world.  
Wild Bill's snacks continue to have the highest quality and finest taste appeal available on the market.  You won't find meat by-products added to our jerky.  Our standards of quality and our continuous research and development have positioned us at the top of the specialty meat snack market."  
In other words, what was once a great local delicacy has turned into a giant company that is more interested in making tons of money than it is with making excellent jerky.   
Let me stress again that their single 99 strips still are excellent, but their bagged product has taken a huge nosedive in quality since they have been "at the top of the specialty meat snack market."  

Smell: 10/10
Taste: 8/10
Consistency: 3/10 
Total : 5/10

Sunday, February 17, 2008

First Review! Allagash Black

Allagash Black Beef Jerky
2 oz. bag
Purchased at Christy's in Orleans (the old SOGGS)

Sorry for the low-res pic, but my super nice old digital camera is kind of busted right now, so I gotta use my phone's camera.  And no, that handsome gentleman eyeing that bag of Allagash Black Beef Jerky isn't me, its the great Charles Flohe, star of screen and "Rappin'", possibly the best movie ever made.  

Anyway, we're not here to talk about Charles Flohe (peep my other blog for that:, we are here to talk about beef jerky.  

Allagash Black was truly a dark horse in my purchasing decision process today at Christy's.  I had made a special trip to Christy's to pick up a bag of Wild Bill's Beef Jerky (More on that brand in a future blog) after making a pointless trip to Hyannis to buy one CD.  (Frayser Boy's "Me Being Me" which is a solid addition to the enormous Hypnotized Minds Camp library.)
I had picked out my bag of Wild Bill's and was making my way towards the drinks when something caught my eye.  Maybe it was the guy in red plaid canoeing bundles of beef jerky down a northern river that riled a little of my Acadian blood, or maybe it was the succulent slices of dried and seasoned beef, or maybe it was the name....Allagash Black... but I literally threw my bag of Wild Bill on the ground and snatched up the Allagash Black.  Its exciting, when you are truly a beef jerky addict, to find a brand you've never seen before in one of your fave convenience stores in your home town.  
As I got back into my car and cranked the volume on one of Frayser Boy's many dissertations on the life of a hard gangster in Memphis, drawing scowls from senior citizens pumping gas, I hurriedly ripped open the package of Allagash Black.  I immediately knew I was in for a treat.  The smell was tantalizing and the texture of the jerky was perfect.  Not too moist, not too dry, not too hard, not too soft.  The jerky was packed in the bag in the vacuum locked way, where the plastic clings tight around the beef.  I like this packaging, because the jerky doesn't just jump out at you, you gotta pick each piece out.  This leads to a slower eating process that lets you enjoy each little morsel a little bit longer.  
I was immediately impressed with this jerky.  Huge amounts of zesty spices filled my mouth as I chewed.  This is seriously zesty jerky, and lemony spice abounds, something I've never tasted in a jerky before.  I actually took a look at the ingredients (while driving) to see what the heck was in this stuff, as I've never tasted a jerky that tastes like it.  Beef, water, LEMON JUICE!  Ah, that would explain the lemon zest.  Its not like some lemon flavored jerky, though, its like a crazy whirlpool of deliciousness, and a further look at the ingredients describes its one of a kind flavor better than I could.  I'm a manly man, thus my love of beef jerky and lack of fancy foodie terms.  

As I peeled back the price tag to read the ingredients I got a whiff from the bag and my mouth started watering.  This is some serious jerky folks.  
Selected ingredients:  
cayenne pepper
chili pepper extract
vegetable oil
lemon oil

This is some funky, delicious jerky, with big flavor, decent spice and that bizarre list of ingredients adds up to a flavor that makes it truly one of a kind jerky.  My only complaint would be that the slight sour taste of the lemon undertones inhibits you from eating it as fast as you can jam it in your mouth!  But, I suppose that is a plus as well, as jerky this good is meant to be savored.  
Taste: 9/10
Smell: 10/10
Total Score: 9.5/10
ALSO!  This jerky is from Scarborough Maine, which is where my aunt Jeanne lives.  First jerky I've seen available from Maine.  


I've been a devout beef jerky eater for 20 plus years.  It started with that gas station staple, the Slim Jim brand.  I was a skinny kid who constantly ate chips, Slim Jims and drank soda, my friends thought it was amazing that I wasn't fat.  I weighed 150 pounds until I turned 21, when I promptly grew three inches and gained about 30 pounds.  I now weigh around 200 pounds, and I eat beef jerky constantly.  Is beef jerky the reason for my manly physique?  I don't know, but its the most delicious dried meat food stuff available for purchase, widely sold throughout the land.  I've done alot of traveling around this great nation in my life, and everywhere I've gone, I've tried the different beef jerky brands available in each region.  Some are great, some are okay, some actually suck.  Its that one magical bag that you get in a gas station in some backwater town in Idaho or South Dakota or New Mexico that keeps you searching.  Its an adventure in flavor taste and fun, so join me.  
I will review different brands, from the big uns to the lil 'uns, and try to keep abreast of beef jerky in the news, and news about beef jerky.  So stay tuned and strap in, because this party is in the house!