Host (and from the looks of in, relative newcomer to barbecue) Frank Pinello spends a Friday night at Snow’s BBQ with the legendary Miss Tootsie, pitmaster Clay Cowgill, and owner Kerry Bexley. From basting pork steaks, chicken, and ribs to picking out the done briskets to taking orders in line, he tries just about every task at Snow’s, even if very briefly. He even gets scolded by Miss Tootsie for slamming the smoker door too heavily.
Description: Frank Pinello is back in Texas with another episode of A Frank Experience. This time, he’s in Lexington, TX and is learning what it takes to make world-class barbecue for the masses at the legendary Snow’s BBQ.
Famous for their dry rub and onion-based mop, Snow’s specializes in barbecue brisket, but also makes world-famous ribs, jalapeño cheddar sausage links, chicken and pork steak. Frank works the pit all night, trying to keep up with 84 year-old pit master Tootsie Tomanetz, who’s been making barbecued meats for the people of Lexington for over 50 years. After mopping the meat, Frank tries his hand working the counter (and an electric carving knife) with the Snow’s staff to serve the lengthy line of customers who start queuing up at 8am for proper Texas BBQ.
Monk: I never got those “best of the year” lists that publish in early December, whether it’s barbecue, music, or film (yes, I understand deadlines but stay with me here). What, do they think they aren’t going to potentially eat a great barbecue meal (or discover a new album or film) sometime in the last three weeks of the year? Not me; I’m always going to give myself every opportunity to eat a meal which could possibly make the list. And then I’m going to post that list in January.
That being said, with no signs of the barbecue boom slowing down any time soon, some of the best meals I’ve had yet in the history of this blog happened in 2019. Here were the best of those, and here’s hoping 2020 is full of even more great barbecue.
Honorable Mentions: Brisket and pork from Farmhouse BBQ (review), Whole hog sandwich from Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint (review)
10 (tie). Chopped sandwich with hush puppies and Cheerwine from Mr. Barbecue (review)
Sadly, shortly after my visit in March Mr. Barbecue experienced a fire in their stick burning brick pits that has temporarily closed the restaurant but hopefully they will reopen soon and continue slinging their Lexington-style barbecue to the lucky citizens of Winston-Salem.
Hubba Hubba Smokehouse has been quietly churning out great barbecue from their massive brick pits in the mountains of NC since the early 2000s. They had been on my list for years and I finally got a chance to check them out this year and also spend a little time with pitmaster Spencer Purcell. They are closed for the winter but any serious barbecue fan should check them out once they reopen in the Spring.
9. Bryan Furman’s whole hog and brisket at Sweet Lew’s BBQ (post)
Revenge BBQ is one of two places on this list from an unexpected barbecue location, with Revenge being in the scenic Hudson Valley town of Irvington, about 45 minutes north of New York City. And as is the case with just about any restaurant in an unexpected location, they adhere to the Texas tradition pretty closely and with good results. The brisket shone that day and the Kreuz Market-imported sausages were properly smoked, proving that disciples of Texas barbecue are continuing to spread the message far and wide.
This meal from late December is exactly why I waited to publish my list until January. My previous stop at BBQ King was nearly 3 years before this visit but this simple tray of fresh barbecue on a Friday at 3pm on December 27 reminded me that I need to make it a point to stop by there more often. As should all barbecue fans in western NC.
6. Pork, ribs, and brisket from Apple City BBQ (review)
While Apple City BBQ had been on my radar for some time, my visit this year was completely unplanned and only happened as a result of several detours on the way from Charlotte to the Wilkesboro area for a weekend getaway with the oldest Monkette. As soon as I passed Apple City in Taylorsville right at dinner time on that Friday, I turned the car around and made the stop. Thankfully I did, as it was a fantastic meal of pork, ribs, and brisket. Plus, those deep fried corn nuggets were a unique and noteworthy side.
While the brisket, pulled pork, and ribs were on point each and every time I had Jon G’s Barbecue this year, the Cheerwine hot link represented a cool and exciting development for owners Garren and Kelly. From what I am hearing, 2020 is going to be a big year for them and I can’t wait for more folks in the Charlotte area to be able to try their barbecue. It is our #1 on the Charlotte Big Board, after all.
4. Brisket, pork belly, ribs, and pulled pork from Owlbear Barbecue (review)
I certainly didn’t expect one of the best barbecue meals I had in 2019 to be in Denver, CO. While in the past I would have considered Denver to be a bit of a barbecue wasteland (from a local circa 2013: “Head to Texas if you want good barbecue”), that appears to be changing as part of the nationwide barbecue boom. Owlbear Barbecue owner and pitmaster Karl Fallenius is originally from Texas and previously worked at Franklin Barbecue and has brought that approach to Denver. The brisket rivaled some of the best I’ve had in or out of Texas and the pork belly was the best meat on the platter that day and one of the best meats I tasted in 2019.
3. Whole hog barbecue sandwich and hash and rice from Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que (review)
The simplicity of the whole hog sandwich from Sweatman’s reminded me that, when done right, mustard-based barbecue isn’t some unholy union of sauce and pork. Plus, that hash and rice was life-changingly good.
2. The Miss Mary Platter (Lexington-style barbecue, brisket, turkey, ribs plus eastern and red slaw) and smoked wings from Noble Smoke (review)
In July, Noble Smoke gave Charlotte a true destination barbecue joint and based on several recent visits, locals and out-of-towners alike have shown up for it. I can only hope that with the recent additions of Noble Smoke and Sweet Lew’s BBQ, both in our top 3, Charlotte’s barbecue scene continues the momentum into 2020.
2019 certainly was the year of whole hog barbecue, and that looks to be continuing into 2020 (Particularly in Raleigh, who is getting no less than 4 whole hog joints – Sam Jones BBQ, Wyatt’s Barbecue, Ed Mitchell’s new place The Preserve, and Lawrence BBQ). 2019 was also the year that I finally achieved what I had been hoping to do for several years – smoke a whole hog on a cinder block pit in my backyard. Speedy made the trip into town and the two of us took shifts manning the pit overnight. I was extremely pleased with how (relatively) easy it was and how good the barbecue turned out. For my first whole hog, I couldn’t have been happier (or more tired).
So that’s it. What were some of your favorite barbecue meals this year?
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 Purcell.
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.