Will Prime BBQ Make Knightdale a Barbecue Destination?

Monk: Christopher Prieto and Prime BBQ will be joining a Raleigh barbecue scene very different from when they announced their intentions to open a restaurant 4 years ago. In 2020 alone, the scene will be joined by heavy hitters like Sam Jones of Sam Jones BBQ, Ed Mitchell of The Preserve, Wyatt Dickson of Wyatt’s Barbecue, and Jake Wood of Lawrence Barbecue (plus several more). The difference with Prime BBQ is that it won’t actually be in the city limits of Raleigh. Instead, it will be 13 miles to the east in the suddenly booming town of Knightdale.

Knightdale Station Park is a new planned community that has a 76 acre park, 2 miles of paved trails, a splash pad, a farmer’s market, soccer fields, an amphitheater, a veteran’s memorial, and probably even more amenities built just in the past week. And it just so happens to be on the doorstep of Prime BBQ, though that was not the case when Christopher Prieto and team broke ground nearly 2 years ago.

On a sunny but chilly Saturday in February, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a hardhat tour hosted by owner and firemaker Christopher Prieto as well as a lunch catered by the Prime BBQ team.

During the hour-plus long tour of the still unfinished restaurant, Prieto wove into the tour his story of how he was called to barbecue after visiting a meat market with a barbecue stand out back at a very young age while living in College Station, TX and getting that first taste of Texas barbecue. His path eventually led to competing (and winning) on the KCBS barbecue competition circuit as a teenager before getting into the restaurant industry in his 20’s (though in a different cuisine). As he tells it, his life was turned around when he began hosting cooking classes with the Wounded Warrior Project for veterans. This led him down the path of honoring veterans that will continue in a few different ways with Prime BBQ.

The tour started on the patio before being led to the main dining area where Christopher explained the flow of customers that he and his designer designed from years of barbecue research. The space itself is full of beautiful touches, and if you make it to Prime BBQ be sure to look up at the custom wood ceiling and chandeliers reminiscent of a church or cathedral.

Prime BBQ is large at over 8,000 square feet but it also has one of the largest kitchens and dry storage rooms you will ever see in a restaurant. From there, we got to the main attraction – for me, at least – in the smoke room that houses three J&R Manufacturing Oyler smokers (with room to add more if needed) and will have two BQ whole hog smokers. Prieto will be smoking using a “cocktail” of wood (as he puts it) that will include local oak (not imported post oak), pecan, cherry, sugar, or maple depending on the protein.

Also forthcoming in the pit room will be a “chef’s table” of sorts for private tastings exclusively for veterans. A very cool idea that continues his practice of honoring veterans.

After the tour wound down, it was lunch time. Fittingly, Prieto and team served us the Texas trinity as well as a beef chuck rib and three of their sides – Big Boss beans, smoked sweet potato salad, and a slaw made with vinegar and honey mustard.

The brisket served honored the central Texas version of the meat, and was made with Creekside Farms beef from Missouri. Prime BBQ will be smoking in Oylers from J&R Manufacturing out of Mesquite, Texas and Prieto is very familiar with them, having owned one of their first manufactured smokers with a serial number in the single digits. As you would expect from a joint owned by the Texas-raised Prieto, the brisket will be a big focus at Prime.

Prime BBQ will be making their sausage in-house with a specific blend of pork and beef and spices that Prieto has honed over the years. For me, the sausage was a little on the dry side that day but I have no doubts that they will get it right once the restaurant is up and running.

The star of the show for me was the pork spare rib, which was perfectly smoked with a simple rub and finished with a glaze of a sweet barbecue sauce.

They had a limited number of chuck beef ribs and having already been stuffed, I grabbed one on the smaller side and shared with my neighbor. I’ve not had a chuck rib before but it had the powerful, peppery bark of the larger plate ribs I’ve tried and tasted great.

The sides were variations on traditional barbecue sides. Prieto said he hates potato salad, so his version smokes sweet potatoes and adds tons of bacon and pimento cheese. Works for me. The slaw is made with vinegar and honey mustard instead of mayo, yellow mustard, or ketchup. It wasn’t overly sweet, but I found myself wishing it was more traditional. The big boss beans were not made with beer from Big Boss Brewing (as I suspected based on the name) but were an above average barbecue side.

Even though he is lactose intolerant, Christopher Prieto has a Blue Bell Ice Cream tattoo on his calf. He loves it that much. This being my first time trying any Blue Bell, I gotta say I see where he is coming from. The capper to the meal was a small tub of vanilla Blue Bell with some peach cobbler. It only served to remind me that I don’t eat deserts at barbecue restaurants enough.

The one thing that we didn’t get to try that day that intrigued me the most was the whole hog lechon that Prime BBQ will serve. Rather than directly competing with the eastern NC whole hog pitmasters that will be coming to Raleigh, Prieto will honor his Puerto Rican heritage with a different spin on whole hog. I can’t wait to eventually try it.

Also of note is that Prime BBQ will be a BYOB establishment (like famed Texas establishments such as Louie Mueller Barbecue) which runs contrary to the trend of full service barbecue restaurants.

Christopher Prieto and the rest of the Prime BBQ team are building something special in Knightdale. Their opening date is currently slated for April 18, and in the crowded Raleigh barbecue scene of 2020 I predict that they will do quite well.

Friday Find: “The 84 Year Old BBQ Legend of Texas – A Frank Experience”

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’s Favorite Barbecue Meals of 2019

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.

10 (tie). Pork, brisket, ribs, burnt ends, chicken from Hubba Hubba Smokehouse (review)

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)

In September, Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque in Atlanta and Savannah did a “pit takeover” of Sweet Lew’s and brought together several of Charlotte’s pitmasters for his overnight cook. He also brought his whole hog barbecue and brisket to Charlotte, and here’s hoping it was a trial run for a future restaurant in Charlotte.

8. Brisket, pork, ribs from Revenge BBQ (review)

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.

7. Chopped barbecue tray with onion rings from BBQ King (review from 2017)

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.

5. Cheerwine hot link from Jon G’s Barbecue (Speedy’s take)

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.

1. Mine and Speedy’s own whole hog (post)

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?

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 Purcell.

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