Restaurant Review: Red’s True Barbecue, Leeds

North Carolina Pulled Pork and Slaw
North Carolina Pulled Pork and Slaw
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Meat Sweats – not the most attractive name for a restaurant but it’s one that the owners of a new southern USA-style barbecue joint in Leeds considered before settling on their less-vivid moniker, Red’s True Barbecue. It would have been an accurate description, though, of the self-inflicted malady most of Red’s punters find themselves struck down with shortly after they tuck in.

Red’s serves meat. Lots and lots of meat. Big piles of pork, plump chickens, chunky burgers, fat sausages and insanely huge racks of ribs. All cooked on a fearsome flaming barbecue constantly churning away within eyebrow-singeing distance of the seemingly endless stream of happily chomping punters. If you like your
food meaty, manly and mountainous, then Red’s will be right up your artery-clogging alley. I’m a huge fan. Please don’t tell my doctor.

Stand in front of the Leeds Corn Exchange, look to the right, there’s Red’s. It used to be one of those chain photographic studios but has now been converted – by neophyte restaurateurs James Douglas and Scott Munroe – into a bare-bones, down-home Louisiana rib shack. There are plain wooden tables, basic chairs and the food is served prison-style in metal dishes on trays. It’s like Cool Hand Luke escaped and opened a café.

I visited with two pals and the place was stacked out and buzzing. Despite this, the staff dealt with us swiftly, with humour and great knowledge. They knew exactly how the food was prepped and cooked and could even tell us its provenance. One of the best things about Red’s is that all of the meat is sourced from Yorkshire butchers and a section of the menu is dedicated to stating exactly which. Great to see. It’s impossible to tell you about all of the food we ate as we ordered some sharing starters and each main meal comes with two sides, but I’ll take you through some of the highlights.

North Carolina pulled pork and slaw is tasty, slow cooked pork (I can’t be doing with this “pulled” label which has sprung up everywhere of late) served with a crunchy coleslaw, apple sauce and cubes of pork scratching. Texas beef brisket is wonderfully tender and sympathetically sauced. Beer can chicken is a whole BBQ’d bird kept moist and flavoured by the can of beer unceremoniously inserted into its cavity so that beer steam infuses it while it cooks. Are you hungry yet?

Sides include the likes of cornbread, BBQ beans, giant onion rings, corn on the cob and fried pickles. They are chunks of gherkin covered in a light batter and deep fried, and they were my favourite. Closely followed by the ribs.

The whole rack of St Louis ribs that landed in front of us would easily feed three of four people. Well, they would if you let them. Most diners were using their forks to fend off fellow table dwellers.

The ribs are wonderfully moist, not too fatty, sauced to perfection and are the prime cause of the aforementioned meat sweats. The sauce was a fine concoction with definite notes of vinegar and molasses discernable under the Cajun spices. I struggled to eat more than a third of them but this may be because I’d already stuffed myself on starters and other sundries. Next time I shall fast for a week before visiting and then sit, happily meat sweating with a huge sauce-slathered grin on my face.

Many of you might be – as I was – worried that the marinades, sauces and sides may be too sickly or sweet but I didn’t eat a single thing that was over-done. The coleslaw wasn’t swimming in mayo, the sauces on the ribs were surprisingly subtle and even the fried offerings are not as heavy as you’d expect.

James and Scott apparently took several trips to the States while researching their menu and this has paid off; rather than the horrible greasy, bilious feeling you often get, here potentially heavy dishes are delivered with a far lighter touch.

The drinks include imported beers; extraordinary cocktails which arrive in vast test tube things and emit BBQ smoke like something out of Carry On Screaming; deliciously sweet-but-light milkshakes and, my favourite, shots of unfamiliar spirits called boilermakers, one of which is served (I kid you not) with an accompanying glass of pickle juice. It tastes freaky but remarkable.

Prices vary wildly from a couple of quid for some starters to £20 for larger mains, but I reckon that if you want to enjoy a seriously filling bellyful and a few drinks you should allow £25-30.

There are desserts, but we were too full to even consider them and somewhere on the menu I think I saw salads, although very few will enter the place with slimming in mind. Red’s isn’t somewhere you go for light snacks or puddings, it exists only to make you sweat meat juices through your skin – a potentially lethal, but hugely satisfying experience.

Red’s has proven immensely popular and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more branches popping up in new locations very soon. It’s a taste of the Deep South, up north and set to take over all points east to west.

Opening times: Mon-Thurs: 12–11pm; Fri-Sat: 12pm–1am; Sun: 12-10pm. Unit 1, Cloth Hall Street, Leeds LS1 2HD. 07921 614476,