Pitmaster Profiles: Spencer Purcell of Hubba Hubba Smokehouse

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.

For more about Hubba Hubba Smokehouse, check out their website, Instagram, Facebook page, or Spencer’s Instagram.

If you know of a pitmaster who we should feature next, let us know!

Courtesy of Spencer Purcell

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.

Courtesy of Spencer Purcell

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.

Courtesy of Spencer Purcell

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.

Thanks again to Spencer for his time!

Linkdown: 11/14/18

– Bill Addison’s fifth annual list for Eater is now out and includes 2 barbecue restaurants: 2M Smokehouse in San Antonio and Franklin Barbecue in Austin; Franklin is one of only five restaurants (barbecue or otherwise) that have made his list all five years

– Whole hog barbecue is making its way to Texas

Carolina-style whole-hog barbecue is also making inroads in the self-proclaimed capital of Texas barbecue, Austin. Chef Evan LeRoy of LeRoy & Lewis Barbecue uses a trailer-mounted, whole-hog pit to offer pulled pork on his regular menu.

In perhaps the most ambitious implementation of Carolina-style whole-hog barbecue in Texas, chef Ted Prater of Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden in Austin is building a self-contained smokehouse with custom-built pits dedicated to cooking whole hogs. It’ll be ready in December.

– The owners behind Sauceman’s in Charlotte have sold the lot their restaurant sits on and are looking to relocate in Southend

– A short photo post on B’s Barbecue in Greenville

– From this month’s Garden and Gun, former Charlotte Magazine editor Michael Graff recalls the ribs he grew up on in Charles County, Maryland

– Dr. Howard Conyers spoke at his undergrad alma mater, NC A&T, yesterday on how science influenced his love of barbecue

– The more you know

– Damon Stainbrook, a former French Laundry sous chef, has opened his second Pig in a Pickle barbecue restaurant location in the SF area and is smoking onsite over California white oak

– I continue to love how Dave Grohl’s fallback profession is seemingly “Carolina pitmaster”

– Update: no longer a fallback profession:

Linkdown: 8/15/18

– A feature on Sauceman’s brazilian pitmaster Edgar Simoes (though whats with the question about sauces?)

– Former Red Bridges pitmaster Phil Schenk passed away earlier this month at the age of 74

– Later this month, Big Tiny’s BBQ in Mooresville celebrates two years of being open

– With its 5 locations, Midwood Smokehouse is on this list of chain restaurants that started in Charlotte

– A writeup on Rashad Lee, barbecue tv personality and owner of Big Lee’s BBQ truck in Ocala, FL

– A roundup of barbecue books released so far this year

– The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot food writer Matthew Korfhage waxes poetic on the “some of the best pulled pork in the known universe” two hours away from him in eastern NC – B’s Barbecue and Skylight Inn

Sure, there are other famous eastern-style whole-hog barbecue spots – most notably Wilber’s in neighboring Wayne County, where presidents have dined and owner Wilber Shirley still presides over his restaurant, as he has for more than 50 years.

But a morning drive down winding, wooded roads to B’s and Skylight – hitting both stops along the way – is one of life’s most unmitigated pleasures, one I’ve only just discovered and will repeat many times before I’m through.

– Speaking of The Virginian-Pilot, good find from Robert Moss from that paper from 1935

 

Linkdown: 7/25/18

– The food writing world lost a titan last week. RIP Jonathan Gold.

– Rudy Cobb of the famed Jack Cobb BBQ and Son in Farmville is retiring next month and closing the restaurant

– Food and Wine has a list of best barbecue joints in each state (plus a few runner-ups)

– Art’s BBQ and Deli and Bar-B-Q King are on this list of classic Charlotte restaurants you must try

– The #1 barbecue sauce on Amazon is based out of Charlotte, and they are making a hot version of it

– The NC BBQ Society website has been redesigned

– Barbecue is a sport

– A Brooklyn man with Greenville, NC connections is selling eastern Carolina-influenced ribs and chicken at the corner of Albany Avenue and Pacific Street in Crown Heights

– The last remaining smokehouse (for smoked hams) in Smithfield, VA has closed

– An oldie but goodie

Linkdown: 6/13/18

– I think this is a pretty big deal. I may be mistaken, but I can’t recall in my 6 years of paying attention Stamey’s advertising their longtime Degar (from central Vietnam) pitmaster Chhanuon Ponn so prominently (though I know they have his photo up in the restaurant).

– Bob Garner’s latest is on Skylight Inn, Bum’s Restaurant, Sam Jones BBQ, and six generations of barbecue in Pitt County:

The owners of The Skylight Inn, Bum’s Restaurant and Sam Jones BBQ all trace their beginnings to common ancestor Skilten Dennis, who began selling barbecue to camp meeting groups around Ayden from the back of a covered wagon sometime in the mid-1800s.

– Huckberry has a short profile on Rodney Scott as well as his banana pudding recipe in their latest catalog

– Garden & Gun writes up Texas A&M’s Barbecue University but they gotta give NC State’s BBQ Camp some love!

– Food writer Peter Meehan (recently of “Ugly Delicious” fame): “Entering a National Barbecue Competition Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time”

I became a guy who was “into barbecue,” which, for as true as it is, is still somewhat painful to type. Talking Heads had told us that day was coming, when you wake up and ask yourself, Well, how did I get here?

(It me)

– Food & Wine on how Jess Pryles became a hardcore carnivore

– Food & Wine also features several other women of barbecue in their latest issue: Pat Mares of Ruby’s BBQ in Austin and Laura Loomis of Two Bros BBQ in San Antonio

– Food Republic: “Do yourself a favor this summer and learn to properly barbecue tofu”
Me: “I’m good”

– Daniel Vaughn remembers Anthony Bourdain

Linkdown: 1/17/18

– As good as the man’s barbecue is, at some point you have to wonder if Ed Mitchell’s business sense doesn’t match up; his Raleigh restaurant and food truck are both currently on hold and don’t look to be moving forward anytime soon

– Due to the fire at the old Lexington Home Brands Plant No. 1 and the expected clean-up time, Uptown Lexington has decided to cancel the annual BBQ Capital Cook-off in April

– A new all wood barbecue joint named Meating Street BBQ has opened in Roswell, GA; it was opened by a SC native

– The team behind General Muir in Atlanta are opening a wood-fired barbecue joint called Wood’s Chapel in the Summerhill neighborhood that will smoke whole hog among other meats

– An eastern NC native is now smoking whole hogs in central Virginia as part of a Carolina Q Pig Pickers catering operation

– The Smoking Ho starts 2018 off with a review:

– Fuller’s Old Fashioned Bar-B-Que gets a mention on this post on where to eat in Fayetteville, NC

– In another travel guide (this time from the Chicago Tribune via The Washington Post), both Henry’s Smokehouse and Bucky’s BBQ are mentioned as “100-mile barbeque”

– When there’s a threat of 1-3″ in the forecast in NC:

 

Linkdown: 12/6/17

– A review of Sam Jones BBQ from The Daily Reflector

– J.C. Reid’s latest barbecue article reflects on pork belly

– A Minnesota Chef thinks he’s figured out the secret to perfect barbecue…and it’s resting?!?!

The restaurant pays special attention to one crucial aspect of preparing barbeque—the resting process—which he also thinks is the secret to making truly epic barbecue.

To achieve that level of pure deliciousness,  “We use a customized cabinet that specifies the humidity and holding temperature,” the chef says. “It’s insane.”

– Apparently Sarasota’s got a “smokin’ hot” barbecue scene

– Saucy:

Rodney Scott on passing of pitmaster Douglas Oliver: It’s like a legend left us

– Texas politics don’t mess around when it comes to barbecue

 
– Great use of video in this tweet right here:

Linkdown: 11/15/17

– A promising new barbecue joint has opened up in Manteo on the Outer Banks, Carolina Bar-B-Que Company

Behind the smokehouse, owner Mike Weaver raises an axe in an arc over his shoulders. The blade comes down sure and fast and cleaves a broad section of pecan trunk in two. This is barbecue at its most basic level, starting with the wood. Weaver is in his element, living his dream, but it was a long time in the making.

– Virginia is still at it:

– The story of how a Benson, NC man went from a NC State Barbecue Camp to a state whole hog champion in about 18 months

– The Greenville-Pitt Community Visitor’s Bureau continues to advertise the Pitt County Brew and ‘Cue Trail

– Wisconsin-style barbecue? Really?

“It’s going to be tangy with a little bit of sweet, but not mustard tangy, not Carolina barbecue,” Stahl said. “I focus on my rub. I use European spices that reflect my Czech and eastern European heritage. I personally don’t like sauce on my barbecue. I put a lot of work into the smoke and rub, so I don’t think it needs that much sauce.”

– Franklin Barbecue remains in Bill Addison’s 38 Essential Restaurants in America

– Great story on Stan Hays, the man behind Operation BBQ Relief

– Good use of Twitter’s new 280 character limit or great use?

 

Friday Find: The Charlotte Podcast Explores “Is Charlotte a BBQ Town?”

Monk: Our State Magazine senior editor, podcaster, and writer (and former Charlottean) Jeremy Markovich joins Miller of The Charlotte Podcast to discuss NC barbecue in general before discussing specifically whether Charlotte is a barbecue town.

After a short intro, the barbecue talk starts at 5:17 with some open-ended questions about NC barbecue. Before shifting the conversation to Charlotte later in the episode, the conversation is a little unfocused (admittedly, Miller says he didn’t prep Jeremy for these questions) but covers the difference between east and west and what Jeremy’s idea of barbecue and a barbecue restaurant is.

Here’s a link to Jeremy’s fantastic story in Our State on spending 17 hours (he had planned to be there 24) at B’s Barbecue in Greenville that he begins mentioning at 14:15 when he starts discussing his top 5 barbecue places in NC; Red Bridges in Shelby, 12 Bones in Asheville (I do disagree with this pick), Skylight Inn, and Lexington Barbecue (aka the Honeymonk) all make his list as well.

While mentioning Skylight Inn (16:34), Miller discusses the idea of “porky goodness”. While I’m familiar with (and have tasted) their technique of chopping the crispy skin back into the pork, I must admit that I have never heard this term before. Granted, I have spent only a little time out east so I’m not discounting that it’s a real thing. Only that I’ve yet to come across it in my travels.

Kyle Fletcher’s in Gastonia gets a mention at 18:34. This place deserves a second chance for me, but I was somewhat unimpressed when I went a few years ago.

The Charlotte conversation begins at 21:25. I do disagree with Miller’s assertion that Midwood Smokehouse is a solid B in everything though (21:39) because I think their brisket and burnt ends are A’s and their pork and sausage is at least a B+ (I still need to try the whole hog on the new smoker at Park Road). So I think he may be undervaluing them just a little bit.

Miller brings up the idea of Charlotte as a “barbecue hub” as opposed to a “barbecue city” (22:36) due to its proximity to good barbecue in Lexington (agree), Shelby (agree), and Gastonia (huh?).  Jeremy comes back to Midwood Smokehouse at 25:26 (here’s the article he wrote for Our State) and how restaurateur Frank Scibelli has a habit of introducing foods to Charlotte. First with Mama Ricotta’s and authentic italian (including fresh mozzarella) in the early 2000’s and then Midwood Smokehouse and barbecue other than pork more recently in 2012.

While I couldn’t agree more with Jeremy’s assertion that you need to spell out “barbecue” (as opposed to say, “bbq” like they do in the podcast title) at 28:51, I can’t help but think naming a theoretical barbecue restaurant “Barbecue” is either insanely brilliant or just plain lazy. I still can’t decide.

Overall, I agree with both Jeremy and Miller that no, Charlotte is not a barbecue town but that you can find good barbecue here (I’ve certainly tried to do my homework). When I think on the question of whether Charlotte is a barbecue town, I inevitably go to a quote from Tom Hanchett, the former historian at Charlotte’s Levine Museum of the New South:

Charlotte is not really in either part of North Carolina, it’s a city of newcomers and we have other people’s barbecue.

Until Charlotte is no longer a city of “other people’s barbecue”, in my opinion it will never truly be a barbecue town.