Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Adventures in Tampa BBQ with Bucs' Center Ryan Jensen

What do you get when you cross an NFL center, who moonlights as a self-taught barbecue grill master, with three Tampa BBQ restaurants? The meat sweats, apparently. This is the story of our BBQ tour of Tampa as part of The Bay series on Buccaneers.com.

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A certified BBQ aficionado, Bucs' center Ryan Jensen knows his way around a barbecue. He first picked up the hobby from his mom and the Food Network. Over the years, he's perfected it in various ways ranging from firsthand tutoring by true grill masters and the good old 'trial-and-error' method.

Since Ryan is new to Tampa after the Bucs signed him this past offseason from Baltimore, we thought it'd be fun to go on a little BBQ tour of the area. Ryan put the word out on Twitter and Bucs fans were quick to make suggestions on where the offensive lineman should eat. We whittled the surprisingly extensive list down to three places and after hoisting myself into Ryan's gigantic lifted pickup truck, we were on our way to see if each place could live up to the hype.

Ryan drives a giant, lifted pickup truck with a train horn. And no, that's not a metaphor for a really loud horn - his truck actually has a train horn.
Ryan drives a giant, lifted pickup truck with a train horn. And no, that's not a metaphor for a really loud horn - his truck actually has a train horn.

Joint #1: Jazzy's BBQ

True to its name, jazzy music plays in the background as we walk in to the small BBQ place in north Tampa. There's a mountain of chopped wood, oak as Ryan would identify for me, piled up out back with billows of smoke coming out of the roof. It's off a major roadway and doesn't look like much, but more often than not, the best ones don't.

A wood pile sits behind Jazzy's restaurant just waiting to go into the fire. It's oak wood. Ryan told me and Ryan would know.
A wood pile sits behind Jazzy's restaurant just waiting to go into the fire. It's oak wood. Ryan told me and Ryan would know.

Ryan gets up to the counter to take a look at the menu and sets the precedent for the day: a four-meat combo. Nothing like a little variety. We sit down and the food comes out shortly after. Ryan's thoughts on each are below.

Sausage: "The sausage is pretty dang good. I'd give it an eight out of 10. Let me go in for another bite real quick. Solid eight. It's got a good spice, little bit of heat but not overpowering, good flavorful heat. I could eat that all day. Actually, I'm going to bump it up to a nine."

Pulled pork: "It's your standard pulled pork. Let me get a little bit of the sauce and it's good. It's moist. I give it a seven, needs a little more salt but still good, though."

Ribs: "Ribs look good. Nice little smoke ring in there. With a smoke ring, when they're smoking the ribs, or like on a brisket, it's got like a pink ring that really locks in the moisture and flavor. The bark gives it a nice little texture and adds a little bit that charred flavor to it. These ribs are incredible. I'd give those a solid nine or 9.5. They're good. I haven't had good ribs like that in a while. The smokiness in these is really good."

Jazzy's incredible sausage is hiding underneath the massive ribs. Highly recommend. It was the first four-meat combo of the day and it wouldn't be the last.
Jazzy's incredible sausage is hiding underneath the massive ribs. Highly recommend. It was the first four-meat combo of the day and it wouldn't be the last.

Chicken: "Right off the bone here. It's good, moist. Not a lot of huge flavor profiles to it but you know, chicken is kind of like that sometimes. Needs a little more salt and seasoning but I'm a salt guy, so I like salt. Other than that, good. It hit the spot. Dark meat is really good. Little juicier, little more flavor. Solid seven."

Brisket: "Moment of truth right here. It's pretty good. Seasoned well. I'm a fatty brisket guy and this is probably off the flat so there's a little less fat in it but it's still really moist and has good seasoning. I'll give that an eight. I just cook it a little different.

[This is when Johnny Ray Smith comes over to talk shop with Ryan. Johnny Ray is the owner of Jazzy's and was a defensive back for the Buccaneers in the 1980s who played with Lee Roy Selmon. He was full of advice for the sixth-year player and the two went back and forth sharing their experiences. Johnny urged Ryan to enjoy his time playing and told him that once it stops – time flies. He started Jazzy's BBQ, named for his daughter, after he was done playing. He grew up running to BBQ stands in Texas whenever he got a little money, so having his own BBQ restaurant has been his dream. He used to feed the entire team out of his house during his playing years. Ryan proceeds to tell Johnny his love for BBQ and how much he's enjoying Jazzy's ribs.]

"Where were we?" Ryan asks as Johnny takes his leave. "Oh yeah, my brisket," he says with a laugh.

"I don't chop it. I'm a slice guy. I slice. There are different ways. Usually if you want chopped brisket you cook it a little bit longer. So like, for me, my buddy kind of taught me this, just kind of messing around with it. Chopped brisket you cook it a little bit longer to about 215 degrees internal temperature. Where, if you want more sliced, you go 195-200 range and it won't break down as much. It'll still have some of that shape to it. Sliced is a full bite. A little better texture."

Mac 'n cheese: "You can tell they use the real cheese in here. None of that Velveeta. This is good. Your standard BBQ place mac 'n cheese."

The Verdict: "For chopped brisket it's good. Their ribs are off the chart. Above average, I like it. The sausage was really good and the ribs, I definitely recommend."

Overall Rating: 8/10

Joint #2: Konan's BBQ

Following Apple Maps to Konan's, I was sure Siri was taking us on another one of her wild good chases. We were in a residential area of West Tampa not too far from International Plaza. We turned a corner and lo and behold there it was: Konan's BBQ. If Jazzy's didn't look like much, this looked like less. It was a flat-roofed converted ranch-style home with a grass and gravel parking lot in front. Ryan has an affinity for hole-in-the-wall places and I couldn't help but think Bucs fans on Twitter nailed it with this one.

We walked in and not only is it a BBQ place, it's a bakery, too. Desserts lined the counter, all made fresh that day. Ryan went up to order a four-meat combo, but was sure to throw in a bread pudding and their infamous pineapple sweet tea with the order.

He's taking this seriously, clearly. I think the hardest part was really choosing which dessert to get.
He's taking this seriously, clearly. I think the hardest part was really choosing which dessert to get.

As we were waiting, the grill master himself came around and asked if we'd like to go out back to check out the grills. Again, with an accompanying pile of chopped wood, two giant black cylindrical barbecue grills were out back. Ryan dove in to ask a bunch of questions. Mike, a fit man in probably his mid-60's, made sure to tell him nothing gets inside that doesn't pass his test. His test is all based on years and years of experience. It's a perfectly imperfect science of sights, sounds and smells that lets Mike know when everything is ready. He then went on to say that they start fresh every day at Konan's. If there are leftovers at the end of the day, all the food goes to the homeless.

This is Mike. Mike grills the food. Everything that makes it to the customer goes through Mike first. Be like Mike.
This is Mike. Mike grills the food. Everything that makes it to the customer goes through Mike first. Be like Mike.

Needless to say, Ryan couldn't wait to get down to business.

Ribs: "They've got good flavor. Good smoky flavor. The sauce is good, too. Especially for a mustard BBQ sauce. These are a little bit leaner. I actually like the thinner cut a little bit more. The problem I've always found with the bigger ones is that in order to get the ring in all the way you have to overcook, so they can be dry. These ones with the sauce on it, let me take another bite. These ones have the true BBQ flavor and they're seasoned really well. I actually really like this sauce, which is surprising because I'm not a mustard sauce guy. I'll give these an eight."

Sausage: "This is good but I think I have to give the sausage to Jazzy's, they just had a little bit bolder of a flavor with a kind of kick at the end. This is still really good, though. Again, more smoky and that true BBQ. 7.5 out of 10."

Pulled Pork: "Here we go, this is what I'm looking forward to. Looks moist. That sauce – knocks it out of the park. So moist. I could eat that all day. Let me take another bite out of that. I give it a nine. Yeah, that is delicious."

Chicken: "That smokiness just amplifies that flavor profile. So good. I give it an 8.5 here. It's good. [came as a recommendation from the guy behind the counter. It did not disappoint]. Usually the white meat is a little less flavorful so at home, whenever I make chicken or like chicken tacos I always use chicken thighs. Has a little bit more flavor, little bit more fat in it. But this is great."

Mac 'n Cheese: "Oh, that's real cheese [as he pulls up his fork to get that melty cheese trail for the camera]. That is good. That's like a nine. So good. There is a ton of butter in that. Butter makes everything better. Unreal."

Pure joy. Mac 'n cheese that tastes like it's a made of mostly butter will do that to you.
Pure joy. Mac 'n cheese that tastes like it's a made of mostly butter will do that to you.

The Verdict: "Ribs are good. That pork is incredible. Overall? Nine. The chicken is really good too, though. That mac 'n cheese elevated it. Now I know why everybody on Twitter is talking about this place. And the sauce, too. I'm not a sauce guy at all and the sauce is kickin'."

*Special appearance by the bread pudding: "Yeah, wow, that's good. The only way this would be better is if it was hot with ice cream on top. My God. That's a winner. That bumps this place up to a 9.25 because that bread pudding is a 10."

Overall Rating: 9.25/10

\*Insert drool emoji here\*
\*Insert drool emoji here\*

Joint #3: Al's Finger Lickin' Good BBQ

Al's was also a converted house, with hand-painted lettering that spelled out 'Al's Finger-Lickin' Good BBQ' on the porch. Add in the rooster crows and chickens walking the streets and Ryan got a pretty good feel for Ybor on his first trip.

Again with the wood piles, too. We both remarked that we had never seen piles of chopped wood for grilling use outside of a BBQ restaurant until that day. And all three places had it. It should be noted that Ryan walked into Al's infinitely more full than he had been for the other two places. As a result, his answers were shorter and his bites were smaller. He also had 'the meat sweats' as he called them. But hey, I guess even an offensive lineman gets full sometimes. He was losing steam, but like a true competitor, he powered through.

Last stop. Meat sweats have set in. Morale is fading but Ryan was determined to
Last stop. Meat sweats have set in. Morale is fading but Ryan was determined to

Chicken: "Pretty good, good smoky flavor. The chicken is good. Average smokehouse chicken. 6.5-7."

Sausage: "The crispy skin is good. Not as bold, no real spice kick-back. I like sausage to have a little spice to it. This one is has a little milder taste to it, still is really good though. It's very fatty and moist. I'm going to give a 6.5 out of 10. It was good, I would just like a little more heat in it."

Ryan then proceeded to put the spicy BBQ sauce sitting on the table on the sausage to add some spice.

"The sauce bumps it up. The sauce makes it about a 7.5. That sauce is really good."

Pulled Pork: "All right, let's get in this. It's good. Pretty average pulled pork. Average smokehouse pulled pork. I'd give it a 7-7.5. It's definitely above average flavoring."

As Ryan found out: there is always room for Al's ribs.
As Ryan found out: there is always room for Al's ribs.

Ribs: "Ribs have a nice smoke ring to them. Nice color. I like it because it's dry. These ones are thicker. These are delicious. Probably the most tender ones so far. Very good. Yeah, these are the best ribs I've had today. These are definitely like a 9-9.5. I'm stuffed and I can keep eating these."

Al's only has mac 'n cheese on Fridays, so no mac 'n cheese test was had. Instead Ryan got the collard greens and chicken and rice. Both were good for sides he said. The last thing to try was dessert - a mini sweet potato pie.

Sweet Potato Pie: Consistency test is good. Let's get that crust. Never used to be a sweet potato guy until I tried in Texas, like down south. This is really good. I'd give that an 8-8.5."

The Verdict: "The ribs were by far the best of the day. Will definitely be back for those."

Overall Rating: 7.5/10

With that, Ryan admitted defeat. Not bad for an offseason afternoon.

The Bay is a social series on Facebook Watch that showcases your favorite players out and about in Tampa Bay. Follow along: @Buccaneers on Twitter or Instagram or @Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Facebook.

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