Open three years and counting, Chester’s Barbecue is widely regarded as having some of the best BBQ in the Northeast.
The twin restaurants in New London and Groton have been the recipients of several prestigious awards including one of the ten top BBQ spots in New England.
As I entered Chester’s to put its name to the test, I found it hard to believe I was in the Northeast at all, as the sweet aroma of the smoker wafted toward the entryway.
Polished wood booths comprise the seating of Chester’s, which line walls covered in old Americana with a barbecue theme. John Fogerty (of Creedence Clearwater Revival fame) was playing at an optimal dining level for the duration of my stay, completing what I would call an excellent ambiance to chow down on BBQ.
Upon talking to the assistant chef (as Chester himself was gone for the day), I was informed that fruitwood was the wood of choice used for smoking. This small fact highly elevated my anticipation for the meal, as fruitwood is not often used by chefs because of its understated smoky flavor.
While waiting for the food, our generous assistant chef brought out a taste of his smoked corned beef – a rendition of corned beef that I had never seen before. The coloration of the corn beef was incredible, glistening red although fully cooked through, making it a feast for both the eyes and the taste buds. Tender and rich in smoky flavor, the corned beef was an excellent slice of meat. Although it isn’t on the menu, you should definitely ask the chef for a sample.
Smoked over fruitwood for fifteen hours at 180 degrees, the consistency of Chester’s brisket can be described as “melt in your mouth,” and the most tender meat I have had in recent memory.
The flavor produced by fruitwood smoking is much more subtle than that of a hickory smoke or mesquite smoke and those expecting an intense smoky flavor might be underwhelmed by the brisket, which has a light, mellow smoky taste.
This same subtle smoky taste can be found in the baby back ribs. Heavily peppered, the ribs themselves were almost too light in smoky flavor and the crisping that took effect on the skin of the ribs slightly detracted from the moisture stored inside, making the ribs less succulent than I had hoped for.
The pulled pork sandwich was another example of a dish that had a smokiness that was slightly too understated.
Even though the meat undeniably possesses smokiness when taken off the sandwich, the deluge of vinegar, placed on the sandwich to emphasize its Carolina heritage, was overpowering, detracting from the sandwich as a whole by masking all other flavors.
On the other hand, Chester’s two BBQ sauces were exemplary displays of two distinct Carolina regions. The mustard based South Carolina sauce was a joy, enhancing the dynamic of each prepared meat, as was the northern tomato based sauce.
All must try Chester’s Texas Style baked beans. Made from scratch, the perfectly spiced version of a classic BBQ side dish will make you never want lay eye on a can of Bush’s baked beans again.
Chester’s might not be the best BBQ I’ve ever had, but food is of good quality. With an ambiance and general attitude that emphasize sociable Southern hospitality, you won’t walk out of Chester’s disappointed.
Groton Location: 943 Poquonnock Rd. / Open daily 11-9 / 860-449-6868
New London Location: 549 Bank Street / Open Tue-Sat 11-7, Sun 12-6 / 860-447-1406
View their menu here