Heat Level Index:
***** Bruce Lee’s One Inch Punch
**** Joe Pesci Smashing Your Head With A Phone
*** Jean-Claude Van Damme After Four Day Coke Bender
** A-Rod Grinning From The Broadcast Booth
* David Carradine
REVIEW #1: Duke’s “Tall Boy” Hot & Spicy Smoked Shorty Sausages
Purchased: Stewart’s Convenience Store, Keene, NY January 12, 2021
$2.99, 1.25 oz.
Heat Level: **1/2 (two and a half stars)
When I was a kid, Christmas always generated a high level of fear-based excitement. Would it be a year of presents bright and overflowing to the couch, or would it be the year I flip out and toss my older brother Brian onto his new Planet of the Apes treehouse in a fit of jealous rage? Would we enjoy a Christmas dinner punctuated by woodsmoke and familial pleasantries, or would dad work another shift down at the goddamn radio station? Though most everything about that day was frighteningly uncertain, the one constant that never disappointed was our stocking.
Brian and I would creep downstairs around 3:30 in the morning and find them nailed to the mantle like murdered pythons. Retreating to our room for quiet digging yielded such treasures as Bicycle playing cards, tropical fruit Lifesavers, a firing squad of green plastic soldiers, Mexican jumping beans, wind-up chattering teeth, and my favorite of all: Slim Jim meat snacks.
This was before wrestler/professional lunatic Randy Savage gurgled-hissed the words “Snap Into A Slim Jim!” whilst smashing two by fours over his head. Slim Jims are greasy pencil-shaped tubes of meat of dubious quality that offer maximum flavor and an exuberant, peppery kick. I could easily hammer back five of them as Brian and I waited for the sun to climb out of its frigid grave and announce the holiday morning, come good news or bad.
Meat snacks have come a long way since then, (that seems such an odd thing to write) to the point where words like “artisanal” and “organic” are now cliched. But Boulder, Colorado’s Duke’s carry on the tradition that Slim Jim started. Their “Tall Boys” are hearty, robust even, and the Hot & Spicy smoked stick is a blend of natural, humanely raised pork with fresh red and green serrano chilis. And they don’t drown flavor in some liquid smoke bullshit. These babies are the real deal. They’ve become my go-to when in need of a quick bite.
So after getting gas at Stewart’s, I decided to snag one for the ride home. I noticed the large sign taped to the store window: “No Mask/No Service”. Fair enough, I was appropriately attired. But after I jingled the bell and slid in, I immediately encountered a dimwitted 20-something cradling a 6 pack of mango hard seltzer standing in line. Defiantly mask-free, she wore the singular expression of I dare you to step to me, muthafucka. No one, it was clear, was going to take her up on that offer.
And as she was blocking my access to the sausage, I chose to just reach around her and grab a Duke’s instead of making a Youtube-worthy confrontation. Besides, I believe in karma. And I figured the lukewarm buffalo chicken pizza slice wilting in her other hand was probably bursting with enough Petri-rich bacteria to allow nature to do the heavy lifting for us.
I strolled back to my car and decided to eat my snack under the homogenized glow of the gas pump lights: it was delicious—both the sausage and the moment.
What struck me about Duke’s Hot & Spicy Smoked Shorty is that it tastes real; there isn’t that mass-produced filmy and extended shelf-life kind of flavor to it. It’s meaty, old fashioned, and the salt content is thankfully balanced to let the meat, chilis, and fat harmonize instead of trying to individually out-scream one another. It was sweet, smoky, and balanced. Well done.
But then there’s the heat content: the fact that Duke’s incorporate fresh serranoes really had my hopes up. But unfortunately, the heat level musters a **1/2. At best. Granted, my heat tolerance is probably a smidge higher than most, but even when I take the average civilian palette into consideration, there is definite room to build more heat. This is their only slip-up. Come on, Duke: crank it up a bit. We can take it.
As I drove away, the maskless coed was outside the store screaming at a thin man in an Adidas track suit. She looked insane. The tracksuit guy wore a surgical mask and his arms were crossed. His tracksuit was all magenta and, I think, velour. Flicking my blinker and turning onto the main road, I wondered if the outfit was a Christmas gift; I wondered if it was something he desired above all things.
Christopher Locke is a James Beard nominated sommelier currently running the wine program at The Tides Inn on the Chesapeake in Virginia. His essays + food writing have appeared in such magazines as Gastronomica, The North American Review, Alimentum, The Sun, Poets & Writers, The Rumpus, Slice, Atticus Review, etc. He won the 2018 Black River Chapbook Award (Black Lawrence Press) for his collection of short stories 25 Trumbulls Road, and his latest book of poems, Music for Ghosts, (NYQ Books) and memoir Without Saints (Black Lawrence Press) are both forthcoming in 2022.