Friday Find: Jim Noble Q&A from Cheshire Pork

In the video above, we also get to meet head pitmaster of Noble Smoke, Kelly O’Bryan. He’s a new face (for me at least) for Noble Smoke that I haven’t gotten a chance to meet yet but I hope to soon.

In addition to the video above, a separate Q&A with Noble is at the following link, which contains a tidbit about Noble Smoke starting to use skin-on pork butts from Cheshire Pork because “[t]he skin helps retain moisture and the size of them allows us to provide an even, smoky flavor.”

Description: We’re pretty excited about this Q&A blog post with none-other than Jim Noble of Noble Smoke in Charlotte, NC. Noble Smoke proudly serves #CheshirePork and as their Head Pitmaster, Kelly O’Bryan, says in the video below, “Cheshire Pork is the Rolls Royce of pork.“ Check out the video our team captured of what distinguishes Noble Smoke from other barbecue restaurants in the South East and then read about Jim’s barbecue style and why he chooses Cheshire Pork in the Q&A below.

Stamey’s Barbecue of Tyro – Lexington, NC

Name: Stamey’s Barbecue of Tyro
Location: 4524 NC-150, Lexington, NC 27295
Order: Regular chopped tray with “extra brown” and red slaw (link to menu)
Pricing: $

While my first two stops on the “Highway 150 Barbecue Corridor” were a bit mixed, my last stop unfortunately ended the mini-tour on a down note. I recall that Stamey’s Barbecue of Tyro was at some point on the NC Historic BBQ Trail (which is how I became aware that there was another joint named Stamey’s) but that is no longer the case. Unfortunately, the Stamey’s in Tyro doesn’t compare in the least to the Stamey’s in Greensboro.

As a quick aside, while longtime owner Dan Stamey has been involved in a lawsuit due to similar naming, it apparently hasn’t been because of the Greensboro restaurant. In 1992, one of Dan’s other restaurants was Stamey’s Hog Rock Cafe and featured “pig-faced likenesses of Elvis, Tina Turner and The Rolling Stones” on the wall. Apparently, the name was too similar for the Hard Rock Cafe’s liking, and they sued owner Dan Stamey and forced him to change the name of the restaurant which resulted in a cost of $10,000. It was then changed to “Hog City.”

As for the barbecue, it was my least favorite of the afternoon. The extra brown on the barbecue was rather chewy and the barbecue was heavy on the dip. Curiously, no ramekin of dip was provided (the only one of the three that didn’t provide), but I wouldn’t have used it anyway.

Similarly, the hush puppies were not as successful as the previous two restaurants. I will note that this was the third different shape of hush puppy that day, with small orbs compared with the long cylinders of Arcadia Q and the more typical hush puppy shape at Tarheel Q.

One thing I’ve neglected on the past few reviews is the history and intertwining of these restaurants with other Lexington barbecue restaurants. This is worth pausing on for a bit. Dan Stamey’s father was Herman “Smiley” Stamey and the original owner of Smiley’s Barbecue on Highway 8 (which unfortunately will soon be closed due to highway expansion). The father of Roger Lohr, the former owner of Speedy Lohr’s BBQ of Arcadia (now Arcadia Q), was Herman “Speedy” Lohr and trained under the legendary Warner Stamey at Stamey’s Drive-In in Lexington and Old Hickory Barbecue, also in Lexington. Speaking of Warner Stamey, there is no direct relation between him and Smiley and Dan Stamey, but there is a belief that they are distant relatives.

Stamey’s BBQ of Tyro has been in business since 1973 and was not thought to last very long in that small unincorporated area west of Lexington which for a while didn’t even have a stoplight. While I wasn’t the biggest fan that day, they have served their community for over 46 years and it doesn’t seem like that will stop anytime soon.

Final Highway 150 Barbecue Corridor Rankings

Barbecue
1 – Tarheel Q
2 – Arcadia Q
3 – Stamey’s Barbecue of Tyro

Hush Puppies
1 – Arcadia Q
2 – Tarheel Q
3 – Stamey’s Barbecue of Tyro

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Sides – 2 hogs
Overall – 2 hogs

Stamey's Barbecue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Johnny Roger’s BBQ & Burgers – Concord, NC

Name: Johnny Roger’s BBQ & Burgers
Location: 3709 Concord Parkway South, Concord, NC 28027
Order: Small BBQ Sandwich with red slaw and fries (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: Johnny Rogers BBQ & Burgers opened in May 2018 in a Concord strip mall a few miles north of the speedway. Their menu does a little bit of everything from barbecue to hot dogs to fried chicken sandwiches to burgers to salads. So while “BBQ” is in the name, it seems far from being the sole focus.

…And my barbecue sandwich would indicate as much. I didn’t get any smoke on the coarsely chopped pork, which may have well been from a crock pot. The red slaw topping was fine, but the sandwich absolutely cried out for their Eastern NC barbecue sauce in order to get any semblance of taste.

Johnny Rogers advertises that they are a scratch kitchen and perhaps that’s the case for their bbq beans or mac and cheese or onion rings but if my fries weren’t frozen, I’d be very surprised.

For folks in the area just north of the Concord Motor Speedway, at Johnny Rogers BBQ & Burgers I’d go with the burgers or one of the many other items on the menu.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Sides – 2 hogs
Overall – 2 hogs

Farmhouse BBQ (food truck)

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 BBQ’s 500 gallon offset smoker

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.

Vance Lin, co-founder and pitmaster

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.

Ratings:
Brisket – 4 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Sides– 4 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Hubba Hubba Smokehouse – Flat Rock, NC

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

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 3.5 hogs
Ribs – 4.5 hogs
Burnt Ends – 4 hogs
Chicken – 3 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Hubba Hubba Smokehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Jon G’s Barbecue (Speedy’s take)

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.

Ratings:
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Sausage – 4 hogs
Overall – 4.5 Hogs

Skull Camp Smokehouse, Brewery & Wine Loft – Elkin, NC

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.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Brisket – 1.5 hogs
Wings – 2.5 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 2 hogs

Revenge BBQ – Irvington, NY

Name: Revenge BBQ
Date: 9/19/19
Address: 48 Main St, Irvington, NY 10533
Order: Lone Star Sampler (1 lb brisket/pork/ribs, mac and cheese, custard corncake), jalapeno cheddar sausage (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: While the Hudson Valley barbecue scene is apparently burgeoning, it’s still a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to quality according to Eater food critic Robert Sietsema. One hidden gem he found a few years back was Revenge BBQ in the town of Irvington, and having the occasion to pass through the Hudson Valley last week, it was the obvious target for me.

Revenge BBQ is a Texas-focused barbecue joint a few blocks from the Hudson River in downtown Irvington that’s been in operation since 2017. They import sausages from Kreuz Market in Lockhart, they smoke dinosaur beef ribs on the weekend, and feature both a “Lonestar Sampler” platter for 1-2 people as well as an even bigger “Texas Trinity Feast.” So yes, Texas is the main concern at Revenge. Co-owner Jacob Styburski (a former senior director of design at PayPal and one half of the husband and wife owner duo along with his wife Catherine) has even done his time in Texas, both at Texas A&M’s Camp Brisket as well as interning under Russell Roegels of Roegel’s Barbecue in Houston.

That work and research shows through in the meats I tried that day, all of which are smoked in an onsite Ole Hickory smoker. The brisket (both lean and fatty) had a proper peppery bark, with both cuts of meat maintaining their moisture. The pork ribs were nice and peppery and adhering to Texas tradition thankfully avoided being sauced.

As I mentioned above, Revenge BBQ imports their sausages from Kreuz and the jalapeno cheddar ring sausage was properly spicy and one of the best I’ve had. Keeping with Texas tradition, the pulled pork was perhaps a bit of an afterthought and thus the least successful of the meats. Not bad, but nothing comparable to NC barbecue (which would be a tall task).

The creamy mac and cheese was good but the real star of the show was the custard corncake, a new and different version of cornmeal from the hush puppies, cornbread, or cornsticks found in NC. I won’t stay that it topped hush puppies for me, but it came pretty close. I loved the sweet and creamy custard texture and will be thinking of that side for a while.

Revenge BBQ (named after their son’s middle name) is located on Main Street on an idyllic town on the Hudson River and is well worth the detour if you are looking for above average Texas barbecue.

For more, check out:
Pig Trip
Westchester Magazine

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

Noble Smoke – Charlotte, NC

Name: Noble Smoke
Date: 8/24/19
Address: 2216 Freedom Dr, Charlotte, NC 28208
Order: The Miss Mary Platter (1 lb brisket, 1 lb pork, 1 rack ribs, 1 lb turkey, red slaw, coleslaw, pickled veggies), 12 wings, hush puppies (link to menu)
Pricing: $$$ 

Monk: In 1919, the first Lexington-style barbecue stand was set up across the street from the courthouse in Lexington, NC by Sid Weaver. Shortly after, Jess Swicegood set up his own stand and both businesses thrived to the point of building permanent restaurants. Eventually, they would go on to train Warner Stamey in the ways of Lexington-style barbecue, and he continued to spread that gospel all over the Piedmont of North Carolina to owners who would go on to open such famed joints as Bridges Barbecue Lodge, Alston Bridges Barbecue, Lexington Barbecue, and Stamey’s own namesake restaurant, Stamey’s Barbecue

Exactly 100 years later and 60 miles to the south in Charlotte, Chef Jim Noble has finally opened up his passion project restaurant in the form of Noble Smoke, continuing the Lexington-style barbecue tradition (though he does offer a variety of smoke meats). Everyone knows Noble as the chef and restaurateur behind higher-end restaurants like Noble Grill, Rooster’s, and King’s Kitchen, but a Lexington-style barbecue restaurant has been 25 years in the making.

Speedy: Monk and I got to spend a couple hours with Noble before the restaurant opened and, though we didn’t get a chance to sample anything, I left that meeting confident that the man knew his ‘cue and had a true passion for it, so I was more than excited to sample the goods. The space Noble built is fantastic – rustic but refined, with ample seating, a large bar, a nice outdoor space, and a brewery joining next door. 

Monk: For our group of 5, the Miss Mary Platter was the perfect order as it gave us a chance to try just about all of the meats and in the right quantity. At the time of our visit, Noble Smoke still hadn’t fired up the brick masonry pits that were styled after Lexington Barbecue, so our pork was smoked in one of the six large offset smokers occupying the smoke room. As he is doing across the board, Noble is using high-quality ingredients (which you pay for, as the platter was $88) and in this case its Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork. On this day, the pork wasn’t quite the crowd favorite while still being very good. I can’t wait to try them now that they’ve fired up those brick pits.

Speedy: Noble clearly studied up on the Texas brisket he was trying to emulate. And I’ll say, he did a nice job. The prime brisket was moist, peppery, and flavorful. I had previously sworn off ordering brisket in the Carolinas, but Noble Smoke is joining Lewis Barbecue on the exception list. I rank it just a tad behind Lewis, but still a top ten brisket I’ve had in my life. I think any Texan would be impressed.

Monk: I couldn’t agree more, and also think that any Texan would also be impressed with the ribs that Noble Smoke is slinging. Rubbed generously with salt and pepper, I was relieved that Noble avoided the temptation to offer a saucy, sweet rib and instead something far more nuanced. North Carolina isn’t known for ribs and they can often be an afterthought, but these were more Texas Trinity than KC Masterpiece. By far, these were the favorite meats on the table in our group that day.

Speedy: I’m on record saying I don’t know why anyone would order smoked turkey at a barbecue restaurant given the choice of other delectable meats from our hooved friends. Well, I’m man enough to admit it – I was wrong. The turkey at Noble Smoke was probably the best I’ve had. Like the brisket, it was seasoned with just salt and (plenty of) pepper, but that was enough to tease out an incredible amount of flavor, all while retaining moisture. This is a hard thing to do with turkey, so hats off to Jim Noble for this. I wouldn’t say it was my favorite thing I had that day (that goes to the ribs), but it was the biggest surprise for me.

Monk: Like everything else, the wings from were delicious and well smoked, even if they were a bit on the small side. Noble gets his heritage chicken from Winston-Salem-based Joyce Farms, which is nice to see them source from a North Carolina operation. 

We ordered a side of the hush puppies made with Anson Mills heirloom grain corn (again, note the high quality ingredients) and the table gobbled them up pretty quickly. The Miss Mary’s Platter came with small sides of both eastern and western (red) slaw as well as pickled veggies in the form of onions, pickles, and beets. The beets were definitely different.

Speedy: Sometimes new restaurants take a few months to get up to speed and everything rolling, but Chef Jim Noble is clearly a pro and the meal we had at Noble Smoke was one of my top barbecue meals all year. Noble Smoke was designed to be a destination barbecue joint, and I think it will be just that. I’m certainly adding it to the list for every time I visit Charlotte. 

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 5 hogs
Wings – 4 hogs
Turkey – 4.5 hogs 
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Owlbear Barbecue – Denver, CO

Name: Owlbear Barbecue
Date: 8/2/19
Address: 2826 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205
Order: 1¼ lbs brisket, 1 lb ribs, ½ lb pork, ½ lb pork belly, medium coleslaw, small pinto beans, small cucumber salad, 3 bags Frito Lays
Pricing: $$

Monk: Last time our heroes found themselves in Denver looking for barbecue, they were a bit underwhelmed despite the above average rating we gave to Boney’s Smokehouse. Has barbecue in Denver drastically changed for the better in the past six years, or should we expect more of the same? Fortunately, a week before mine and Speedy’s sojourn to Red Rocks for a My Morning Jacket show (alongside friends of the blog Boomsauce and Leor), Daniel Vaughn the BBQ Snob himself was in Denver for a speaking event with James Beard award-winning author Adrian Miller and did the legwork for us in terms of scouting out the current Denver barbecue scene. From the looks of it, Denver had a lot more legit barbecue joints than they used to but the one that stood out to him was Owlbear Barbecue in the RiNo (River North) neighborhood of Denver, whose pitmaster Karl Fallenius previously worked at Franklin Barbecue. With that, our Friday afternoon late lunch before the first night at Red Rocks was planned.

Speedy: Admittedly, one does not think of barbecue when travelling to Denver, but the photos of Owlbear had my mouth watering. Owlbear is in the corner of a small shopping center next to Our Mutual Friend Brewing, and is a small joint with two large offset smokers outside and limited seating – just the kind of no frills joint that I like. Our order was easy – a bit of everything, including brisket, pork belly, ribs and pulled pork.

Monk: I’ll start with the weakest of the meats, which was the pulled pork. I was actually a little higher on this than Speedy as it somewhat reminded me of eastern NC barbecue with red pepper flakes in the pork even though it was pulled instead of a finely chopped. It was plenty smoky and moist, but still, was the weakest of the smoked meats on this day.

Speedy: While the pork was just above average, the brisket was phenomenal. Peppery goodness abound, with lots of bark and tender, juicy meat, it hit the spot. We ordered a mix of the lean and fatty, and both were incredible. This ranks with Lewis Barbecue as the best brisket I’ve ever tasted outside the state of Texas (and frankly, there’s not been a whole lot that’s been that close). I don’t quite put it in my top 4 (Franklin, La Barbecue, Pecan Lodge, Killen’s), but it’s right on the edge. 

Monk: The pork belly was something special. If I’m not mistaken, it had the same peppery rub as the brisket (which includes coffee grounds). Was it perhaps the best smoked pork belly I’ve ever tried? No perhaps about it – it absolutely was. 

Speedy: The ribs were also quite good. The rub was different than the brisket – I could taste paprika and maybe some cumin – which complimented the pork nicely. They were cooked nicely, allowing for a nice, clean bite, and no sauce was necessary. Overall, a fine showing and worth ordering.

Monk: I made a mistake in ordering as many sides as I did, and perhaps in ordering any sides at all; perhaps I should have gone full Texas and gone just with a tray of meat. I did not care for the asian slaw and felt like it didn’t go with the meats, though I do wonder how it would work topping a pulled pork sandwich. The cucumber salad was a basic side which I’m guessing was an easy way to get them something green on the menu with little fuss, but it didn’t particularly strike me as a successful barbecue side. The pinto beans were the best of the group we ordered, but were not essential. Mac and cheese and potato salad were both 86’d by the time we got there, and of those two, I’d be curious how the mac and cheese was. Regardless, just meats may be the way to go.

Speedy: The other thing worth mentioning is that though the meats did not need any sauces, it was provided. I ended up tasting it, but not using it as I didn’t particularly care for it. It tasted like mediocre steak sauce to me, so the meats are better off without it.

That said, I’m not sure I could have been more pleased overall. Owlbear Barbecue is proof that great ‘cue can be found anywhere – even in Denver. 

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Pork Belly – 5 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs