Barbecue is a sacred part of American culinary culture. Although cooking over an open flame is the most ancient method of preparing food in every culture on the planet, the American approach to BBQ differs because from start to finish it is a major production. Seasoning the meat, marinating and flipping it are essential steps, but the dining experience takes it to another level with families and friends gathering to enjoy the food while talking, playing games, dancing and gossiping! Pit masters have earned my respect, especially Mr. Derrick McCray of McCray’s BBQ located at 1521 45th St, West Palm Beach, FL 33407.
I met Derrick five years ago when he brought his 86-year-old family business to Miami as a pop up. Listen, his ribs are some of the best in all South Florida, and the brisket gets an honorable mention! Our followers (make sure you follow us by placing your email at the bottom of this article and on FB or IG @thehungryblackman) know my LOVE of great BBQ that has taken me across the country to some of the greats. There’s Gates BBQ in Kansas City, Rodney Scott in Charleston and Bear Down BBQ in Chicago. Those experiences made me really appreciate McCray’s presence in South Florida.
The expansive menu has lots of seafood options that were complete standouts. Of course, you have pork ribs, chicken, baked beans collard greens, and all the other soul food sides you expect from a Miami Soul Food joint. As far as the style of BBQ, it is high heat, and quintessentially South Floridian. Both the ribs and the chicken embody the languor, flavor, and heartiness found in southern backyards, take-out windows, farmers’ markets, and church parking lots.
Our culinary field trip began with a ginormous sampling platter complete with sides and seafood galore! McCray’s ribs were the show stopper! Flavor is packed to the bone. The first bite will have you appreciating the bark along with a tender and bountiful meaty reception. None of those skinny spare ribs with mostly bone, these babies have MEAT! Your palate will then savor cracked black pepper meshed with hints of vinegary-tomato acidity, giving the protein a beautiful tang.
The sauce takes it to another level. It’s so good, the classic or Carolina gold barbecue sauce can be poured over the ribs, brisket slice, chicken, bread, potato salad, every damn thing. The ribs seemed to get better and better with each bite.
The chicken is delicious. So much so, my 20-year old nephew Jason used it to make a sandwich that looked amazing so I stole it from him. What was he going to do? I know two things about him. He can’t beat me and if I bite his sandwich, he wouldn’t want it, so I bit it. It was worth every nefarious second that I went back for the BBQ chicken to recreate Jason’s sandwich and I must admit, I outdid him…..judge yo momma.
The sides were pretty standard with my favorite being the beans and mac and cheese, but the seafood definitely was not standard! Because West Palm Beach isn’t a destination for conch per se, I was pleasantly surprised that the conch salad was THE BOMB! Derrick’s Bahamian family roots means he inherited the sacred skill of creating conch salad with tender conch balanced with the slight acidity from the liquid ingredients and freshly chopped veggies. If you’re dieting, this would be a great and tasty option.
The other conch creations were the fried conch balls and the cracked conch (fried conch). Both were both delicious. The next seafood standout was the fried snapper. This fish was meaty and boneless with a gentle, yet present flavor from an in-house seasoning that delivered an unexpected flavor punch by accentuating its natural sweet and nutty flavor profile. The fish was lean, moist and with a firm texture, so I did what any self-respecting church kid familiar with outdoor fish fries would do, I added hot sauce, mustard, and ketchup while smashing the filet in the middle of two pieces of white bread.
Doing this caused a cosmic distortion of sorts and patrons ran for cover as a time portal opened in the middle of the dining rooms to transport me back to 1995 at Mt. Shiloh Baptist Church during an outdoor fish fry for the pastor appreciation organized by Usher Board #2 presidents and mother of the church, Mother Geraldine Thompson. I know you know exactly how this fish tasted by this description, so I’ll leave it there. Once I returned to this time and space, I had one of the most AMAZING SWEET POTATO PIES EVER! The bread pudding was running close for number one as well. A BBQ joint with BOMB a$$ desserts? Who knew!
Finally, the shrimp was just as good but for a more complimentary flavor, get the shrimp cocktail sauce for dipping instead of the hot sauce, mustard and ketchup trio I smothered on my fish.
From outstanding brisket and pulled pork to fresh fried seafood options, McCray’s is constantly reminding you why they have been around for almost 100 years! I can’t wait to return to chop up with Derrick while enjoying some of the best BBQ South Florida has to offer. Make sure you give them a call at (561) 425-5739.