Done to a turn


On summer Saturdays, Eastern Market seems to be bursting at every seam. Stalls and sheds overflow with colorful produce as merchants set up shop along Russell Street.

The crowd at Bert’s Marketplace (2727 Russell St. at Division, 313-567-2030) spills out onto the sidewalk and into the street. The club has live reggae, outdoor tables and possibly the biggest barbecue grills you’ve ever seen.

"All week long people are calling me up," says owner Bert Dearing, "wanting to know if I’ve got ribs, wanting to know will I hold them some."

Slab after slab is grilled to perfection, as are Bert’s chicken and "Oh My God" hamburgers ($5). The 1-pound burgers are named after the expression everyone says when they pick one up and try to eat it. A rib sampler is $5, great for eating on the run, but you’d better plan to sit down and enjoy if you order Bones for Two ($20).

By the cash registers there are three humongous trophies, topped with glittering gold pigs, from Detroit’s Rib and Soul Cook-Off. Bert’s ribs won first place in 1997, second place in 1998 and first place again in 1999.

Bert says he’s there in name only, as his son Jai-Lee Dearing is in charge. Dressed in a black T-shirt that says "Eat Out More Often" and a black cowboy hat, Jai-Lee was shucking corn on a recent weekend, engaging in friendly banter with customers as they wait patiently in line.

Jai-Lee buys his meat at Kap’s on the other side of the market. The sauce is the creation of Anthony McGee, who can be found at the grill. It is sold for $8 for a half-gallon jug under the label "Tony’s That’s It BBQ Sauce."

I knew better than to press for the recipe, but Bert did share a few tips for grilling ribs. The ribs are cleaned and seasoned two days in advance. No precooking. Bert scoffs at people who boil their ribs first.

"The key to it is turning them," he says. "Turn, turn, turn."

A lot of people, Bert elaborated, douse flames with water or vinegar, which toughens the meat. If you turn often enough, you won’t get flare-ups.

Turning is McGee’s job. On the huge outdoor grills, the ribs are actually piled on top of one another. With an industrial-sized pair of tongs, he endlessly rotates the slabs over hot coals. It takes about an hour and half, and then they go into a smoker, awaiting their final destination in your carryout carton.

As the slabs are fished out of the smoker, Jai-Lee is likely to cry out, "Uh-oh, these ribs are falling off the bone!" It lets customers know the product is perfect. I nibbled a rib sampler as I made a pass around the market. First prize all the way.


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Elissa Karg writes about food for the Metro Times. Got a food tip? Tell us about