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Posted on Sat, Jun 9, 2012 : 8:40 a.m.

Satchel's and Red Rock: A menu of BBQ and entrepreneurship as the search for Michigan's best wraps up

By Kyle Mattson

"I was 46, and the business world was okay, but not as fun," explains Hugh Morgan in a slight southern drawl while standing in the center of the Satchel's BBQ dining room. An unexpected path led this former grade-school teacher from Alabama to the Detroit area, then Ann Arbor, as a business professional, and ultimately the Southern Pride smokers parked along Washtenaw Ave that tempt passing drivers to turn in and get their fill of brisket, cornbread, and slaw.

Less than five miles east on Michigan Avenue in the center of downtown Ypsilanti, Shawn Cool stands outside of his recently opened Red Rock Downtown Barbecue and explains how his restaurant can be traced back to a weekly "Soul Food Sunday" gathering with friends. Inside the building, which was once home to TC's Speakeasy, sits a packed room of patrons getting their fill of dry rub ribs and made-to-order mac and cheese.

Both destinations are uniquely different experiences, but equally appetizing, and were voted by readers as the top barbecue restaurants in Washtenaw County.'s John Gonzales went to take a taste to see how they stacked up against 25 other restaurants as a part of his hunt for the best BBQ in Michigan.

View Melanie Maxwell's video highlights of "Gonzo's" tasting below or read a live-tweet recap of the evening here. And watch for Gonzo's winning choices to be announced on Tuesday.


greg, too

Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 5:07 a.m.

This same dope judged the best coney dog in the well as discussed Angelina Jolies wedding dress. What a true expert on bbq. Next up, he will judge the best glass of water in the state and discuss why the people from reality tv do not stay married for very long. Not the guy I would take bbq advice from. I am happy a local business is doing well, but please, please, do not call this food real bbq. I have yet to try Satchel's, so I will not speak about it, but Red Rock is mediocre food, let alone bbq, at best. Good bar that serves bad food.

greg, too

Mon, Jun 11, 2012 : 8:21 p.m.

Thank you for a post that didn't insinuate that I am an idiot. Genre probably was not the right term to have used. Styles would have been the correct term. And I agree, if it tastes good to you, than that is what truly matters. The problem is, in my two times at Red Rock with 4 other people, the consensus was that the food was not good at all. If they made a pulled pork or brisket that wasn't a traditional style but that tasted great, I would happily chow down on it and come back for more. But this was not the case. And, as one poster stated, maybe this is a regional preference for bbq. If this is true I will make sure to stay away from this new type of bbq and frequent only places that seem to lean towards the classics and leave you all in peace to enjoy this new style. I will have to try the Red Hot and Blue if I am in that area and I still have never made it Satchels. I am interested to see your opinion on Red Rock.

Tom Smith

Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 4:57 p.m.

Haven't yet had Red Rock, although I'm going to this week, just from all the talk about it. I am curious as to what you believe "the genre calls for". I like Satchel's for its pulled pork, brisket, and sides (and the first time I went in, when it opened over a year ago, it was playing bluegrass, not blues, which immediately made it unique); I like Zingerman's Roadhouse for its pulled pork, ribs, and mustard slaw. I've also eaten a fair amount of BBQ outside of Ann Arbor. The Red Hot & Blue chain (still one in Michigan, on Van Dyke just north of 14 Mile) has amazing dry ribs and sweet biscuits; the Sonny's chain, down south, has wonderful shredded beef; The Pit in Raleigh, NC (run by Ed Mitchell) has fantastic pulled pork, brisket, and the best hush puppies I've ever had. Interstate and Neely's in Memphis (both run by branches of the same family) have excellent ribs, though I prefer Interstate's; a little place in a reconverted gas station just at the exit ramp in Texarkana had some wonderful pulled pork; and a small place just on the south side of I-80 as you're a few miles into Iowa had great ribs and customers' signatures in Sharpie all over the walls. I've had BBQ from Texas to Florida to Washington and back to Michigan, and I know two things: it is indeed a "genre", but that genre has a whole lot of different food and experiences; and, if it tastes good, it IS good.

greg, too

Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 3:51 p.m.

I have eaten bqq from Georgia through the Carolinas. I also have almost a decade in the food industry, from garbage fast food all the way to upscale boutique places, from the service side to management and in the kitchen. So sorry, I do actually know what I am talking about. And, just to double check my opinion, I brought an accredited bbq judge with me the last time I went...of course not telling ownership so they wouldn't try and find the greatest cuts to give him and just treat us like normal customers. And, most of my opinions were affirmed and I actually learned some stuff about bbq, what makes good bbq and what makes bad bbq. I am well aware food is subjective, but most food styles do have basic templates to follow. And I love people who go outside of those and make great new food and genres. But Red Rock is trying to be a bbq place and it is not a very good one based on the genre and what the genre calls for. It is a fine local place and a great addition to Ypsi and I hope it thrives. To be honest, I hope it does great and they then bring in experts to have cook offs and other competitions. And if it does well, it may bring in more local businesses, so I hope it does well. I even plan on giving it a couple more shots to see if they fix the service and past errors. Having local pride is a great thing and I do not want to temper it at all in anyone. But the thought that this is epic bbq is patently untrue and I had hoped would have brought in a real judge and not a roving beat writer who covers celebrity fashion and gossip.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 12:03 p.m.

I'm not sure where you eat BBQ...but where ever it is, I would love for you to tell me. Because I have eaten BBQ all over the country. And both Satchel's and Red Rock serve fairly authentic food. Its possible that MS, AL, TN, LA, KS, MO, and the Carolina's are all playing a practical joke on me meta of them.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 11:46 a.m.

People tend to be their own best judges of what they like and don't like. There seem to be an awful lot of people who like the Red Rock. I'm not sure what you believe sets you above John Gonzales or anyone else as an expert on BBQ, but anyone who really knows food knows that tastes are regional. Red Rock appears to address a regional preference.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 3:53 a.m.

Red Rock is great. It is not just the BBQ. Their sides are fantastic!! Great atmosphere. Great family business. Best thing to happen to Ypsilanti in, well, 46 years :). I Love the burnt ends and the brisket is the very lean and flavorful.

Sandy Castle

Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 1:30 a.m.

Ate at Red Rock tonight for dinner. Had lunch at Satchels a few months ago; it's near my office. I enjoyed Red Rock much more. Satchel's pulled pork was okay, but their sauce lacked the sweet and spicy flavor of Red Rock. Now, I had Satchels to go and perhaps that affected the quality of the food. At Red Rock the Mac and cheese was browned on top and not dry at all. Also, the beers thu had on tap ROCKED!

greg, too

Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 5:08 a.m.

They do have a darn good beer menu. I will give them that. I hope they keep them rotating to keep up the variety.


Sat, Jun 9, 2012 : 3:50 p.m.

No offense to satchel...he is a nice guy and the meat is well smoked. But red rock blows satchels out of the water. To be fair they aren't really similarly styled restaraunts. But red rock is a place that shouldn't be missed.


Sat, Jun 9, 2012 : 8:09 p.m.

I agree. I have eaten at both spots, the food and atmosphere is better at Red Rock. Red Rock is the best barbecue in Washtenaw, maybe Michigan...maybe the Universe! Really, I liked it!

Rod Johnson

Sat, Jun 9, 2012 : 5:03 p.m.

Satchel's not a "guy" at all, he's a dog. I think you mean "Hugh."


Sat, Jun 9, 2012 : 4:30 p.m.

Are you referring to the product or the environment? As you say, they aren't similarly styled restaurants, so what specifically are you comparing?