Food Insider makes the rounds at some of Austin’s best barbecue spots before declaring a winner.
Description: Austin is one of the best places in the country to get barbecue, especially if you’re looking for Central Texas-style. These are the best places to get brisket, ribs, and sausage from the most popular spots to the hidden gems. 1:20: Louie Mueller Barbecue 4:25: Micklethwait Craft Meats 7:35: Franklin Barbecue 10:14: LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue 13:25: The winner
Monk: For this Pitmaster Profile, we are branching out of Charlotte and spotlighting a pitmaster in Western North Carolina. Spencer Purcell is the pitmaster/fire tender/”BBQ guy” at Hubba Hubba Smokehouse in Flat Rock, who we recently reviewed. Thanks to Spencer for his time in answering my questions and I hope you enjoy hearing from a new and different voice in North Carolina barbecue.
If you know of a pitmaster who we should feature next, let us know!
How long have you lived in the Flat Rock area and how did you get there?
The Hendersonville/Flat Rock area became my new home in 2017, after living in Chicago for roughly 13 years. For four summers prior to moving here, I worked at a summer camp down the street from Hubba that specialized in giving kids with Autism and/or ADHD an option to enjoy the beautiful western Carolina area. I fell in love with the mountains and vibrant culture of Asheville pretty quickly and made it a mission to make it here.
How did you become a pitmaster?
We are using a live and at-times large fire at Hubba. At least for our sake, if you think you’ve mastered fire or the ten foot brick mason pit (Starla), you are probably about to burn something important. I tend the fire and am known as the “BBQ guy” at our window. I had worked in BBQ in Chicago for a few years while in school but really didn’t fall in love with BBQ until moving here. The owner of Hubba, Starr Teel, convinced me that this is something that I would be good at and now I just try to learn more everyday.
What is your favorite meat to smoke? What type of wood do you prefer?
I’m originally from, and have most of my family in, the very cow-centric state of Wisconsin. Briskets, burgers – anything beef typically – will come first for me on an order. Brisket took a frustrating amount of time to understand, but now is something I enjoy cooking greatly. Red and white oak as a base and hickory to flavor have worked well for us at Hubba.
What are your barbecue influences?
Elliot Moss [of Buxton Hall Barbecue] is one of the most laid-back, creative, unique, can-cook-some-serious-BBQ dudes that I am inspired by. Billy Durney’s style [at Hometown Barbecue] of ethnic fusion into classic BBQ dishes is pretty awesome as well.
The biggest influence on me would have to be the five or six bad ass moms that we have working at Hubba. BBQ is a war of attrition that they put in place day in and day out.
What is your favorite barbecue joint or style?
One of the first meals I had when I moved to the area was a fried chicken sandwich and about 5 bourbon slushies from Buxton Hall. Since then I’ve gone back countless times and really value their kind of whole picture approach. Their burgers are unreal.
What is your earliest memory of barbecue?
While I was growing up in Chicago there wasn’t a ton of great BBQ (much different now) so I rarely had a memorable moment. Maybe 2009 on spring break, my mom took me and a friend to Southern Soul BBQ on St. Simon’s in Georgia and I had a damn near spiritual bite of brisket.
What is the best thing about barbecue in western North Carolina?
BBQ and the food scene are both transforming pretty much in parallel with the new influx of people coming to the area. This Asheville-Hendo-Greenville (SC) corridor is blossoming with new diverse families that are bringing their unique traditions and dishes. These are then meshing with the tradition that Carolina style BBQ is steeped in.
What is a weakness or opportunity of barbecue in western North Carolina?
WNC is at a sort of crossroads that has begun a fusion between the traditional style of Carolina BBQ and other regional specialties. You can go to Noble Smoke and get Texas Style brisket. Elliot Moss does oysters and other oddities that you wouldn’t see on a BBQ menu typically. At Hubba Hubba, one of our most popular items are the burnt ends, which aren’t common to the area at all. Its a very exciting area to cook in right now.
Anything else you’d like everyone to know?
Since Hubba is an outdoor patio/garden of a restaurant, when the temps drop we close up for the season. We will be reopening mid-March 2020. In the mean time we are focusing on opening a new pub and grill down the street from Hubba called Campfire. It will not be a BBQ joint but will have many smoked items on the menu that you can enjoy with a tall draft, inside from the cold. Opening Mid December.
Some of the founders and mainstays of my favorite barbecue restaurants and comfort food eateries died recently. So I have to insert “the late” beside their names when I describe their lifetimes’ great accomplishments, the eateries they made into an icons.
Say it ain’t so, Subway (it is so)
Fox Bros BBQ is finally opening a second location in Atlanta
James Beard Award-winning author Adrian Miller is in Cleveland for his forthcoming book “Black Smoke” if you can help with his research:
More on Miller and his forthcoming book
Add this to your DVR…err, Hulu Watch List
Charlotte’s Midwood Smokehouse got inspired by Valentina’s Tex Mex on a recent research and development trip to Texas; here’s hoping this becomes a more regular thing
Name: Farmhouse BBQ Order: Combo plate with brisket and pork with 4 cheese mac, sweet potato crisp, vegan collard greens, and cheddar brioche rolls (link to menu) Pricing: $$
Monk: Farmhouse BBQ owners and pitmasters Lindsay Williamson and Vance Lin first met in the Hamptons of New York working for Argentine celebrity chef and restaurateur Francis Mallman. From working under Mallman, they caught the live fire cooking bug and a few years after moving to NC they started Farmhouse BBQ in 2014. Williamson and Lin are big believers in grass-fed brisket, pasture-raised pork, and not using any GMO’s, MSG, or high fructose corn syrup in their food. This belief in quality food that is is even expressed in their website URL: goodforyoubbq.com. Explains Williamson: “Animals nourished on grass yield beneficial nutrients that come only from photosynthesis: Vitamin D and high in Omega-3s, both of which are difficult to come by. You truly are what you eat, and if you start from a good place, if you begin with something healthy and top-notch, you don’t have to do much to let it speak and shine for itself. That’s something that Francis Mallman taught me with the food that he created.”
Farmhouse has been making stops at breweries in Charlotte the past few years, and I was finally able to catch them on a Sunday at Birdsong Brewing for their “End of Summer BBQ,” where they set up their 500 gallon offset smoker and serving tent in front of the patio on a still-steamy last day of summer.
Farmhouse touts their use of grass-fed briskets, which are more expensive than normal briskets but are also less fatty and require less trimming. Truthfully, I am not versed enough in the meat science of brisket to understand the nuances between the brisket I had that day and say, USDA Prime briskets from other barbecue restaurants. But I did quite like what I had – a moist, smokey brisket with a nice bark even if it was sliced a little thinner than I prefer.
Similar to their grass-fed briskets, Farmhouse uses pasture-raised, heritage-breed pork for their barbecue. They don’t appear to be trying to do either Lexington-style or eastern NC style but what they do serve had nice flavor and smoke, if not being a tad bit on the greasy side on this day.
The scratch-made sides also shine at Farmhouse: the mac and cheese is creamy, the collards are nice and vinegar-laden, the sweet potato crisp reminds me of one of my favorite sides from Thanksgiving, and I could have eaten at least a half dozen of those cheddar brioche rolls. A solid meal all around.
Farmhouse BBQ is a less well-known barbecue option in the Charlotte area but perhaps they shouldn’t be. Their approach to barbecue helps them stand out among other barbecue food truck and catering options and is to be applauded.
Despite the incendiary words against Lexington-style barbecue (as well as a few mis-truths about beef and mustard), “More Than a Flavor” is well-produced 25-minute documentary that details the history of eastern NC barbecue (from the Wayne County Government nonetheless!). It even has a nice breakdown of the barbecue family tree for eastern style starting with Arnold Sasser, something which I hadn’t personally seen detailed out before – unlike the Lexington-style tree starting from Sid Weaver and Jess Swicegood I’m so familiar with.
The documentary also details the pork industry that is so big in Wayne County, and which nicely lends to the barbecue history in the area.
Description: Learn about the history of BBQ in Wayne County and across Eastern North Carolina in this documentary, More Than A Flavor!
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.
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.
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.