Name: Hubba Hubba Smokehouse Location: 2724 Greenville Hwy, Flat Rock, NC 28731 Order: Indecision Plate (pulled pork, sliced brisket, pulled chicken) with vinegar slaw and tangy baked beans; half rack ribs plus burnt ends special and apple crisp (link to menu) Pricing: $$
Monk: Hubba Hubba Smokehouse is a wood-smoking hidden gem barbecue restaurant in western NC that has been around for well over a decade. It is open from March to October and appears to do steady business from tourists coming through Flat Rock (home to the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site), particularly during apple picking season after families have finished up at one of the many orchards in the Hendersonville area.
Pitmaster Spencer Purcell is a Chicago transplant who has the enormous responsible of smoking all of the meat served at Hubba Hubba on a huge brick masonry pit (not too dissimilar from something you might find in Lexington, NC) originally built by owner Star Teel about 15 years ago. Spencer has been at Hubba Hubba for a little over a year after getting a call from Teel, who took him under his wing. While he had spent some time in school working for a barbecue joint up in Chicago, it wasn’t until Hubba Hubba Smokehouse that Spencer began to take barbecue seriously as a craft. He toured barbecue restaurants in North Carolina and Chicago last off season and even spent a week training at the famed Southern Soul Barbecue in Saint Simon’s Island, GA to continue to learn and hone his craft.
At Hubba Hubba, Spencer learned from the classically trained Teel not only the smoking of the meats but also the science and art of fire control. He smokes with all native hardwoods in the form of hickory and both red and white oak. And he churns out some damn fine barbecue
The burnt ends were on special the Saturday I was there and was my favorite of all the meats I tried. I was fortunate enough to get them pretty fresh off the smoker but I liked that they weren’t overly sauced like Kansas City-style burnt ends tend to be. The meaty ribs sprinkled with a savory/sweet finishing dust were a close second. Turns out both of these are Spencer’s favorites at the restaurant, and for good reason.
The “Indecision Plate” is their sampler of pulled pork, sliced brisket, and pulled chicken. The meats aren’t pre-sauced, which I appreciate, and a sauce station more than has you covered with a variety of traditional and non-traditional barbecue sauces. The pulled pork was decently smokey and moist but still benefited from the tang of the eastern NC vinegar sauce. The brisket wouldn’t be considered a central Texas brisket but still had a nice if not overly peppery bark. The pulled chicken was a tad on the dry side and lacking discernible smoke on that day, but I am not normally a huge fan of smoked chicken anyways.
I enjoyed my sides of vinegar slaw and tangy baked beans, but I especially enjoyed the sweet cornbread that come with every plate. The warm small apple crisp dessert was a nice way to finish the meal.
If you are reading this before October 26th, 2019 and are near anywhere near Asheville or Hendersonville in NC or Greenville, SC, do yourself a favor and head to Hubba Hubba Smokehouse before they close for the season until March. This year, they are closing a little earlier than normal for owner Starr Teel to open a small plate/barbecue spot down the street called Campfire. That restaurant has apparently even built a small brick pit and will be utilizing a Santa Maria-style grill from J&R Manufacturing (the folks behind Oyler) at that establishment, which definitely sounds worthy of a visit once they open in the December time frame.
For a wood-smoked barbecue joint in a very scenic part of North Carolina, more people should know about Hubba Hubba Smokehouse, and not just as a lunch stop after apple picking at one of the many nearby apple orchards. Head there to check out the old style brick masonry pit and the cool courtyard which sometimes have chickens roaming free (thankfully not the case on this day for the sake of Mrs. Monk), but mainly to check out the impressive array of smoked meats from Spencer P
Jim Noble sits down with Kevin Kelly to discuss his NC upbringing, his history as a restaurateur, and the path that led the opening of Noble Smoke earlier this year. As Speedy and I noted in our chat with him earlier this year, his passion for barbecue is evident and I think that come through in this conversation. Funny aside, Kevin is originally from California but used to travel to Jim’s hometown of High Point (our hometown as well) twice a year for the Furniture Market. It wasn’t until this conversation that he realized he had previously eaten at his first restaurant, Noble’s.
Description: In this episode I chat with Chef Jim Noble from Noble Smoke: Heartfelt Southern Barbecue in Charlotte, North Carolina. We discuss his upbringing, culinary experience, his first restaurant in High Point, Roosters (which he has 3 locations, but is expanding), and finally Noble Smoke, which is a project he has wanted to take on for a long time. He is extremely passionate about barbecue, the history of barbecue in the region (which we go into deeply), and about putting out incredible [product]. We also discuss his 6 1,000 gallon offset smokers along with Lexington style brick pits that he has in his pit room. It’s a large restaurant which you will want to visit when you come to Charlotte.
Name: Schwartz’s Deli Date: 9/20/19 Location: 3895 Saint-Laurent Boulevard, Montreal, Quebec Order: 3 large smoked meat plates, slaw, fries, pou (link to menu) Pricing: $$
Monk: For this year’s edition of our annual guys trip, the guys and Speedy and I headed to Montreal to get our fill of jet boating and poutine (well, not so much Speedy on the poutine). Speedy used to spend a decent amount of time in Montreal for work and had a pretty good meal here. Seven years later, Schwartz’s was a must-stop for our group that weekend per Speedy.
Speedy: Smoked meat is a staple of Montreal cuisine – it’s served almost everywhere. And there’s no smoked meat joint more famous than Schwartz’s. Our group was lucky enough to get seated immediately upon arriving on a Friday just before 11:30 (the line was out the door when we left), and our waiter told us stories of all the famous people he’d served (which was a pretty extensive list including several celebrities).
Monk: Montreal smoked meat is actually a brisket that is pickle juice-brined for 10 days before being smoked for 8 hours. It’s similar to pastrami except that the mix of seasonings it’s cured in contains less (or almost no) sugar and more savory seasonings like cracked peppercorns, coriander, garlic, and mustard seeds. Fun fact: Montreal steak seasoning was modeled on the spice mixture used for Schwartz’s smoked meat. The briskets are kept whole and sliced to order when large groups such as ours order such outrageous quantities of meat…
Speedy: Which we did. Based on the advice of our waiter, we ordered 3 large plates, and (spoiler alert) had enough leftovers for late night snacks (and add-ons to our Montreal bagels next morning).
Monk: Ah, Montreal-style bagels – man, those were good. Back to the meal…
I threw together my first sandwich with the seedless rye slices plus the mustard and slaw, and it was fantastic. More jewish deli than barbecue, but there’s a reason why Schwartz’s is a Montreal institution that was purchased by Celine Dion for $10 million so that it wouldn’t be torn down. I ended up making two more sandwiches of the delicious smoked meat.
Speedy: Agree, Monk. The meat is tender and flavorful, and really makes a great sandwich. It’s an absolute must in Montreal. And bonus – the slaw is vinegar based! The slaw was crunchy and tangy and was a perfect complement – either on the sandwich or a side.
Monk: I was excited to try all of the poutine during our stay in Montreal that weekend. For the uninitiated, poutine is Montreal’s signature dish that is comprised of fries topped with cheese curds and a meat gravy containing bits of the smoked meat from the slicing block. Schwartz’s was the first of 4 poutine orders I had that weekend, and it was very solid.
Speedy: Overall, there’s a reason Schwartz’s Deli is a staple, and it’s a must-eat in Montreal. On this trip, this was the only smoked meat our group had, but after this meal, no other was really needed.
The Honey Hog in Fallston, NC (about 12 miles north of Shelby) released a documentary film about the origins of the restaurant on their Facebook page a few weeks ago. Tyler “Bones” Jones is the farmer and Johnny Ray is the pitmaster, and this short documentary shows how they got their starts individually before their partnership started at The Honey Hog.
The second half of the short film features two of their local suppliers in Guernsey Girl Creamery and Honey Tree Farm. Ashley from Guernsey Girl Creamery in nearby Shelby is a 4th generation dairy farmer who provides the cheese curds for The Honey Hog’s best selling appetizer, fried cheese curds. Casey from Honey Tree Farms in Conover provides them with their greens and vegetables through their organic “market gardening” processes.
“The Honey Hog” is a 27 minute short film available only on Facebook.
Description: When a community chooses to represent their local farmers, we all eat better. A food revolution has started in Western, North Carolina. Where in the middle of no where, folks have chosen to come from everywhere. This is The Honey Hog.
Name: Jon G’s Barbecue (Speedy’s Take) Date: 9/26/19 Order: ½ lb brisket, ½ lb pork, 1 Cheerwine sausage link Pricing: $$
Speedy: For a couple years now, Monk has been raving about (and rubbing in) his times eating Jon G’s Barbecue. So when I was in Charlotte on an evening when Jon G was parked outside The Chamber by Wooden Robot in NoDa, I knew I had to go. Hat tip to Monk for the heads up.
Monk: While Jon G’s has been making inroads into Charlotte more and more, a mid-week pop-up was a rare occurrence. With Speedy in town for a wedding, luckily the timing worked out nicely.
Speedy: I arrived a little late to the party, and Monk had already left, but fortunately for me, he had let pitmaster Garren know I was coming. I learned very quickly the Garren is a smart man, as he offered me a bite of brisket before I ordered. Like I had done at La Barbecue and Franklin before that, I graciously accepted the bite and was immediately in heaven. It didn’t change my order, but it did let me know I was in for a treat. Knowing I had to try everything, I ordered a half pound of brisket, the same amount of pork, and 1 (the last!) Cheerwine hot link. Slap on a side of baked beans and we were ready to roll.
My name was called a few minutes later and it was go time. We have to start with the brisket. I later told Garren that I had previously refused to order brisket in the Carolinas, but John Lewis and Jim Noble changed that for me. And I think Jon G’s one upped both of them. The peppery moist goodness of the brisket (I ordered a mix of the fatty and lean) was top notch. This brisket was 99% as good as what I’d had at the top Texas joints, and on a good day could equal that. Garren had given me a sample of all of their sauces to try, but I didn’t dare use any on this brisket, because there was no improvement needed.
Monk: I haven’t been as fortunate as Speedy when it comes to trying brisket at the top places in Texas, so while I was high on Garren’s brisket I simply had no true baseline. I do know that Garren has traveled to Texas a lot for research, so its nice to get some agreement from Speedy here.
Speedy: The pork was next on the list, and, while it made me happy, it took a back seat to the brisket. I found it to have a nice smoky flavor, but I did need to add a bit of the vinegar sauce to get the full effect.
Monk: Pork can be a bit of an afterthought in Texas, but that’s certainly not the case here. I always get the pork and do agree that a bit of the vinegar sauce sets it off. Maybe we can get some big Texas Pete bottles in the future, Garren?!?
Speedy: Huge applause to Garren and team for making their own sausage – a Cheerwine hot link (which eventually ran out during service due to popularity). The link had great flavor and consistency and I definitely recommend it. It stayed together unlike some scratch made sausages I’ve had. My only complaint (with the whole meal) is that I’d like a little more snap when biting in, but it’s hard to find anything else that can be improved.
Monk: I was waiting to order until Speedy got there so when he was held up and then I had to leave before he got there, so sadly I still have not tasted the magical, mysterious Cheerwine hot link. Per Garren, it seems as if this sausage may lead to some partnering opportunities with Cheerwine in the future, so it sounds as if its here to stay. I can’t wait to eventually try it.
Speedy: With all that meat, I was only able to eat a couple bites of baked beans, which we good, but very sweet. I’m more a savory guy, so I found myself focusing my attention back to the brisket.
Monk has labelled Jon G’s Barbecue the best in Charlotte, and I’m here to confirm that he’s right. Everything about this platter was perfect, and I can’t wait to see Garren and team again.
Monk: Bryan Furman, pitmaster of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque and a 2019 Food & Wine Best New Chef, was back in Charlotte last weekend though it was not to continue scouting Charlotte for locations for expansion as far as I’m aware (unfortunately). It was, however, for a “BBQ Takeover” at Sweet Lew’s BBQ – think a tap takeover at a bar, but for barbecue. That Sunday, DJ Smitty was providing tunes on the patio, Birdsong Brewing was serving beer outside, smoked oysters were a special on the menu, and the line may have been slightly longer than normal but other than that it was more or less business as usual, just with Furman’s very good barbecue instead of Sweet Lew’s also very good barbecue.
The real boon for Charlotte’s burgeoning barbecue community didn’t take place that day but instead the night before, and I was sad to be out of town and unable to experience first hand. There, in the parking lot of Sweet Lew’s, some of Charlotte’s best pitmasters hung out, sampled each other’s barbecue, and assisted Furman in the smoking of several whole hogs. Garren Kirkman from Jon G’s Barbecue brought his brisket and Cheerwine hot links, Michael Wagner and Matthew Berry from Midwood Smokehouse brought their mobile BQ smoker to help smoke hogs, and of course Lewis Donald was there as the gracious host.
I have spoken separately with Midwood Smokehouse’s Wagner and Berry and Garren from Jon G’s about the lack of a cohesive Charlotte barbecue community, and this is certainly a step in the right direction to say the least. FS Food Group (the parent company of Midwood Smokehouse) Brand Director Rémy Thurston has recently mentioned to me that they want to be on the forefront of making Charlotte a true barbecue city, and some things may be in the works to bring these pitmasters (and perhaps more) back together sooner rather than later. All of this makes me hopeful that Charlotte barbecue is on the upswing and I truly believe that the best things are yet to come. World, you are on notice.
Name: Skull Camp Brewing Date: 9/27/19 Address: 2000 N. Bridge Street, Elkin, NC 28621 Order: Brisket platter with collards and cole slaw plus side of pulled pork and smoked wings (link to menu) Pricing: $$
Monk: A few years ago when Mrs. Monk and I took a short self-guided winery tour of the Yadkin Valley wine region of NC, I encountered Skull Camp Brewing beers (and in particular, one named “Mahgeetah” after the My Morning Jacket song) at Round Peak Winery and learned that at that point they were in the process of opening a taproom and smokehouse in the small town of Elkin (pop. 4001). My interest has remained piqued over the years, and on the way to another Y Guides Longhouse weekend with the elder Monkette in the mountains of NC I finally got a chance 6 years later to try.
Unfortunately, what I did try was a bit lackluster when it comes to the smoked meats. The smoked wings were flavorful but lacked a lot of smoke. This would be a sign of things to come, unfortunately.
The pork and chopped brisket were both dry and fairly flavorless, with the main difference being that the brisket was covered in a thick, sweet barbecue sauce. The menu states that the meats are smoked using “local hard woods” but again, I didn’t detect even the faintest of smoke in either meat. Come to mention it, I didn’t see any stacks of wood or chimneys, which would lead me to believe that at best, they were using a gasser that possibly had some wood fed.
I did get to try a rib from a fellow dad at my table, and it was obviously hiding its lacks of smoke by being slathered in a thick, sweet sauce.
The sides were a mixed bag, with the mayo-drenched cole slaw being my least favorite. The collards were topped with bits of bacon but lacked vinegar. A pleasant surprise was the hard biscuit that came with each platter, a passable starch.
Skull Camp Smokehouse, Brewery & Wine Loft has a great setting with its multiple patios and outdoor fire pit and cornhole space out back. Unfortunately when it comes to barbecue, it has plenty of other foods on the menu that you should check out instead.