Friday Find: How Pitmaster John Lewis Brought Texas Barbecue to South Carolina

John Lewis gives some insight into his process for his brand that he’s brought to the lowcountry of South Carolina. From his famous hot guts smoked in a vertical smoker to his pastrami brisket, ribeyes, and oxtails smoked in his custom offset. He then uses those meats in inventive sandwiches like their version of an Arby’s beef and cheddar or a pastrami brisket reuben as well as his smoked prime rib special and a Tex-mex inspired oxtail dish. Lewis even gets into his love of hatch green chiles and how they are incorporated into a lot of his dishes as well as how makes his own tortillas because there are not tortillerias in SC that meet his standards. Recently, Lewis announced that his Juan Luis concept is taking over the entire food hall space formerly occupied by Workshop.

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Description: Pitmaster John Lewis is known not only for his mouthwatering South Carolina brisket, sausages, and ribs, but also for his dedication to “perfecting” the art of barbecue by customizing his own smokers. He’s also known for getting creative with brining, rubbing, and smoking techniques.

Pinehurst Brewing Company – Pinehurst, NC

Name: Pinehurst Brewing Company & Smokehouse
Address: 300 Magnolia Road, Pinehurst, NC 28374
Order: Smokehouse sampler with hush puppies, mac and cheese, and collards (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

In 2019 as part of Pinehurst’s efforts to maintain and improve upon their courses and resort offerings, Pinehurst Brewing Company opened in the brick building that housed the town’s former steam plant that had powered the resort since 1895. On the beer side, they recruited the head brewer Eric Mitchell from the well-regarded Heist Brewing in Charlotte. As for food, smoked meats plays a huge part in the menu and head smoker Chris Dowd also originally came from the Queen City (though he moved to Laurinburg in 1989). He quit his office job about 20 years ago for barbecue and eventually made his way to Pinehurst Brewing when they opened in 2019.

Inside the historic brick building, they have certainly played up the heritage of the old plant. Weathered photos cover the walls, In the sunroom where we were seated, all tables were made from a single tree that was on the property including the two large high top tables that each can seat 10-12. Underneath the naturally-edged table, the legs are comprised of old pipes, valves, tanks, dials and fittings.

The menu states that the meats from the smokehouse are smoked on “high quality local oak and hickory woods” and while I wasn’t able to lay eyes on the smoker itself, this interview with Dowd claims they are using a stick burner.

As is standard, I went with the sampler to try a bit of everything on the menu. The chopped pork was a large large portion that had some rub sprinkled on top but unfortunately I didn’t get a lot of smoke and found it to be just average. There are four sauces to choose from including an eastern NC vinegar sauce, which gave the barbecue the tang I was looking for.

Brisket came in just one thin slide and had good bark and flavor. The sausage was a bit overdone; charred on the outside, but paired well with the IPA beer mustard sauce. The smoked chicken was well smoked and they managed to make the skin crispy, not rubbery

The sides were strong at Pinehurst Brewing. The sampler comes with two sides and we added another; we went with mac and cheese, collards, and hush puppies. All were well executed and Mrs. Monk gave the collards praise, which isn’t always a given considering how seriously she takes her collards.

Pinehurst Brewing Company will be part of the recently announced Pinehurst Barbecue Festival in September, and they have a good thing going in less than two years up and running. On a warmer day, they have a great beer garden and outdoor bar which would be a nice way to enjoy a beer after a round of golf or after a meal.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Sausage – 3 hogs
Chicken – 3 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

The Smoke Pit – Gastonia, NC

Name: The Smoke Pit
Address: 421 Cox Rd, Gastonia, NC 28054
Order: Tres Amigos combo (brisket, pork, and ribs) with turkey, sausage, hush puppies, fried okra (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: Since the last time Speedy and I visited The Smoke Pit’s original location in Concord four years ago, they’ve steadily expanded into other cities across the Piedmont of NC. I visited the downtown Salisbury location in early 2017 and they’ve since opened up in Monroe and more recently Gastonia about a year ago. I’ve always enjoyed my visits to The Smoke Pit but for whatever reason tend to forget about them a little bit. However, with BIll Spoon’s closing in September and Speedy in Charlotte for the day, it was time to figure out if The Smoke Pit was worthy of a top 5 spot on our Charlotte Big Board.

Speedy: Well if we must eat more delicious barbecue, Monk, then we must. We pulled up to The Smoke Pit Gastonia, which was a stand-alone building in a larger shopping center. Barbecue in commercial shopping centers always worries me, and this was a pretty ugly building, so the real question was whether this incarnation of The Smoke Pit could overcome these challenges. So Monk and I entered, waited in line for a few minutes, and placed our order to find out.

Let’s start with the star of the show: the St. Louis-style ribs. When tasting ribs, you always hope and pray, but rarely receive, the perfect bite. Tender meat that is easy to bite through but doesn’t fall off the bone. That’s what we got at The Smoke Pit. Monk and I ordered the dry ribs, which were meaty, well seasoned, and flavorful. A truly outstanding effort.

Monk: Definitely glad we went for dry over sauced. One of the better pork ribs I’ve had recently, and agree that it did have that perfect bite. 

The brisket came out a little on the dry side and was mostly lean even though we asked for a mix of both lean and fatty. Still, it had a nice bark and a good taste. The sausage at The Smoke Pit appears to rotate regularly and on this day they had a solid jalapeno cheddar version, which Speedy sadly couldn’t partake in. All in all, I think what he did miss out on was a solid but unspectacular sausage.

Speedy: The chopped pork was cooked well and had a bit of smoke flavor, but was a little dry. Adding some Lexington style sauce quickly remedied this, but I would have liked a little more bark chopped in. Still, the pork was quite good and worth ordering. Not to jump the gun on the sides, but Smoke Pit also has a good red slaw, so the pork sammie would make for a strong order.

On the drive over to The Smoke Pit, Monk and I had a conversation about how smoked turkey tends to be a little underrated at the best ‘cue joints, and can be incredibly flavorful. So we decided that if Smoke Pit had turkey, we’d order it, and sure enough, it was listed as a new menu item. It was worth it. You always worry about turkey being dry, but that was not the case at Smoke Pit. Their turkey is cajun seasoned, which is a nice touch. My one complaint is that I wish the seasoning penetrated the meat a bit further, as there were some bites where I wasn’t able to taste the seasoning. 

Monk: Speedy already touched on the red slaw, which complimented the slightly dry pork perfectly. We also got hush puppies (of course) and fried okra, which was a bit of a last minute audible. Both were above average, though I was unable to tell if they were scratch-made or not.

Speedy: The meal at The Smoke Pit’s Gastonia location was solid all-around. There wasn’t a single item that I wouldn’t order again, and we had a standout meat in the ribs. For my money, it’s worthy of the big board.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Ribs – 4.5 hogs
Sausage – 3 hogs
Turkey – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Black Powder Smokehouse – Jamestown, NC

Name: Black Powder Smokehouse
Address: 302 E. Main St., Jamestown, NC 27282
Order: Three meat plate (brisket, pork, and sausage) with mac and cheese and collards (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: A little over a year ago, Jamestown got a wood-fired barbecue joint of its own in Black Powder Smokehouse. Jamestown is the small town between the Barbecue Bros’ hometown of High Point and the larger city of Greensboro, and also where the Monks-in-Law (Monk In-Laws?) happen to live. Black Powder Smokehouse took over an old service station on Main Street and they’ve incorporated the service station details into their decor.

As is the case with a lot of new barbecue restaurants these days, it serves a little bit of everything but definitely has a Texas lean to it. While I wasn’t able to put my eyes on the smoker they use, I did visually confirm there was wood used in the smoking process. Now whether that was in a gas assisted or a full stick burner is to be confirmed at a later time. However, what they are putting out is pretty legit as evidenced by the above nice little platter shared by Mrs. Monk and me.

I forgot to ask for the pork chopped at the register so it came pulled instead. Not a big deal – and it was still smoky and had nice chunks of a peppery bark mixed in. Certainly not a NC-style pork (either region) but they of course do have a variety of sauces on the side to approximate it.

On this day, unfortunately the brisket was a bit overdone and also sliced a little too thin. This gave it a texture of roast beef but I will note that my mother-in-law stated that its been better on previous visits. Based on these brisket slices, I would definitely come back to give them another shot.

The jalapeno sausage had good taste and wasn’t too spicy. Not the standout of the meal, but solid. I’d love to come back and try the ribs. Both of our scratch-made sides of collards and mac and cheese passed muster.

Black Powder Smokehouse one-ups Sweet Old Bill’s in nearby High Point, which opened about a year before, in just about every way for best new-school barbecue. For barbecue in the greater High Point area, they are more than worth seeking out if you don’t want to make the trek to Stamey’s in Greensboro.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Sausage – 3 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs