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: 9/19/19

Bryan Furman’s next step is a stall inside a Kroger grocery store in Atlanta until he is able to rebuild his restaurant in Atlanta’s westside

John Lewis’s next step is a New Mexican place in Charleston

A murderer’s row of barbecue pitmasters will be in St. Simon’s Island in early October. Participants will include: 17th Street BBQ, The BBQ Ninja, B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque, Blackjack BBQ, Buxton Hall Barbecue, Certified Burgers and Beverage, Chef Kenny Gilbert, DL3 BBQ, Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q, Frosty’s Griddle & Shake, Holy City Hogs, Home Team BBQ, Mama Jean’s Barbecue, Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, Peg Leg Porker, Pig Beach, Southern Soul Barbeque, Sugarfire Smoke House, Swig & Swine, Taqueria del Sol, Tuffy Stone and Cool Smoke, Woodstack BBQ Tavern, Red Gum BBQ, Pelican Oyster Company, Piedmont Brewing & Kitchen, Poteet Seafood, Potlikker Peanut Company, Sea Island Forge, The Southern Fork Podcast, The Local Palate, Author and Southern Living BBQ Editor Robert Moss, Smokelore Author Jim Auchmutey and Sam Jones Hologram Tour.

The final TerraVita Food and Drink Festival has a good lineup of its own pitmasters the following week in Carrboro: Sam Jones, Matthew Register, and CHristopher Prieto

Food & Wine profiles the next generation of Texas pitmasters

ZOMG

Linkdown: 8/28/19

Robert Moss’s annual top 50 barbecue list for Southern Living is always worth a read, and this year is no different because of Moss’ inclusion of “not the usual” suspects

Coverage of the list: a SC restaurant topped the list, 8 total SC restaurants (and 3 Midlands) made the list. two Houston restaurants, only one Dallas restaurant

If Moss wasn’t busy enough, he’s got 3 recent barbecue books worth checking out from Sam Jones, Matthew Register, and Jim Auchmutey

More new Charlotte barbecue incoming:

Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint’s Charleston location (its 10th) has hit the ground running according to the Charleston City Paper

It’s official: Matt Horn is opening a brick and mortar in the bay area

A “Black Tie BBQ” event is a more budget-friendly barbecue event worth checking out at next year’s Charleston Wine and Food Festival with Rodney Scott, John Lewis, Aaron Siegel, Taylor Garrigan, and Anthony DiBernardo, as well as out-of-towners Amy Mills and Matthew Register

A short article on Lexington Barbecue from the local Fox affiliate

There’s a new brisket option in the lowcountry of SC in Malone Barbecue

Rodney Scott is officially coming to Atlanta

Linkdown: 8/21/19

Sweet Lew’s Barbeque, Buxton Hall Barbecue, Lexington Barbecue, Grady’s BBQ, and Skylight Inn BBQ all represent NC on this Thrillist list

Is the North Carolina Department of Transportation Anti-Barbecue? John Tanner things maybe perhaps so.

NC DOT, careless of the thousands of victims of The Great Wilber’s Debacle, now turns its guns on Lexington.  NC Dot has determined that the Smiley’s-Speedy’s section of Winston Road apparently gets a fair amount of traffic.  Of course it does.  It contains two barbecue places.   

Robert Moss reflects on Charleston’s dining scene so far, including the barbecue scene which went from “minor outpost to [an] acclaimed destination”

USA Today advocates for Clyde Cooper’s BBQ in Raleigh, saying its “a key stop on any tour of America’s pantheon of BBQ joints”

Bryan Furman will be at this November’s Savannah Food & Wine Festival

Can any city rival Austin’s BBQ? Austin-based food writer Rob Balon says no.

The 36th Barbecue Festival will take place October 26th in Lexington

Monk’s 5 Favorite Barbecue Meals of the first half of 2019

Monk: It’s been a pretty darn good year in terms of new-to-me barbecue joints. Here’s my five favorite in no particular order…

Brisket, pork belly, ribs, and pulled pork from Owlbear Barbecue (review)

More to come soon on this recent visit by Speedy and me, but Owlbear Barbecue in Denver had perhaps the best brisket I’ve had outside of Texas (yes, that includes Lewis Barbecue). The pork belly was not far behind.

Lexington-style barbecue and brisket from Noble Smoke (preview)

Finally, Charlotte has some legitimate Lexington-style barbecue in the form of Noble Smoke from Chef Jim Noble. Noble is a lifelong fan of Lexington Barbecue (the restaurant) and has even styled his brick pits after the famed Lexington Barbecue smokestacks (with the Monk family’s permission, of course). This barbecue restaurant is decades in the making, and Jim Noble is certainly doing it right.

Pork, ribs, and brisket from Apple City BBQ (review)

While Apple City BBQ had been on my list, my stop there was completely unplanned. But afterwards, I felt fortunate that my route to the foothills took me right by the joint as all three meats I tried that day were ridiculously good. As I stated in my review, Apple City BBQ is a must-stop for any serious North Carolina barbecue fan.

Whole hog barbecue sandwich and hash and rice from Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que (review)

Sweatman’s Bar-b-que made me a believer in South Carolina whole hog that happens to be drenched with that mustard stuff. It’s legitimately that good. The hash and rice is otherworldly, too.

Chopped sandwich with hush puppies and Cheerwine from Mr. Barbecue (review)

Let’s hope that Mr. Barbecue can rebuild quickly from its smokehouse fire back in the spring, because its an unheralded barbecue joint in Winston-Salem that deserves more attention. Legit Lexington-style barbecue from a classic NC joint in one of the larger cities in the state.

Linkdown: 8/7/19

A “Carolina Mustard” colorway Saucony Jazz from Sneaker Charleston

I’ve got a few quibbles with Charlotte Agenda’s 5 best barbecue spots in Charlotte; specifically 6 of the 10 barbecue spots mentioned between the top 5 and the honorable mentions

Here’s what’s next for the “Noble Smoke Campus”

Another article on Jones Bar-B-Que in Marianna, AR, which has been open since 1910

Delta Blues BBQ is a new Memphis-style barbecue truck in Oakboro that will soon open a store at an old 1930’s service station

LeAnn Mueller and Ali Clem of la Barbecue get profiled in Austin Monthly

Speaking of Austin, Southside Market & BBQ of Elgin is opening a location in the capital

Some scenes from last weekend’s Pig & Pedals Barbecue Festival in Asheboro

Details on the Blue Ridge BBQ and Brew Festival, which will determine the NC state champion in West Jefferson later this month

A summer NC barbecue bracket pitting western/Lexington-style versus eastern; you can place your votes over at the Carolina Hurricanes blog Canes Country

This isn’t barbecue related (despite the photo below), but is highly recommended 8 minute read, particularly if you have lived in Charlotte in the past 20 years

Linkdown: 7/31/19

The Free Times profiles three Columbia-area pitmasters who are doing different styles of barbecue

The Smoke Pit will open it’s fourth location in Gastonia later this year. Its original location is in Concord with two more stores in Salisbury and Monroe.

NC Tripping with a primer on NC barbecue plus their list of the best in the state

The Editor in Chief of Garden and Gun fondly remembers barbecue meals over the years

An American living in Canada takes a 10-day southern barbecue odyssey through Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri

Reposting this fantastic article on the history of ribs from barbecue historian Robert Moss just because:

The Redneck BBQ Lab, a barbecue restaurant attached to a gas station in in Benson, gets profiled by news channel WTVD 11

Plan accordingly:

Instapot ribs:The meat was tender and juicy, albeit a pallid gray color. Never mind, slap some sauce on those ribs and throw them in the hot oven until the sugars caramelize. They turned gloriously glossy with meat you could slurp off like a cartoon dog eating a chicken leg.

Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint – Charleston, SC

Name: Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint
Date: 5/28/19
Address: 1622 Highland Ave, Charleston, SC 29412
Order: Whole hog barbecue sandwich with hoecake (link to menu)
Pricing: $

Monk: My Memorial Day weekend in the Charleston area began and ended with two great whole hog barbecue sandwiches. At the end of a weekend of drinking and eating junk food at the beach, both myself and Mrs. Monk were no in no mood to share a huge platter of meat. For a review of nearly the full menu at the Martin’s in downtown Nashville, check out our extremely positive review from last summer.

On the Monk family’s drive from the Mount Pleasant Pier to James Island, I texted Speedy to get recommendations on what to get from Nashville (something I didn’t do for Central BBQ in downtown Memphis), and he said I really couldn’t go wrong with anything. Again, seeing as how I wasn’t going to order several meats, I went with the whole hog sandwich with a hoecake as my side and a glass bottle of Cheerwine (no beer for me after the long weekend).

This was a pretty dang good sandwich that came topped with white slaw. I added a splash of vinegar sauce and Texas Pete and while this wasn’t quite on the level of the sandwich from Sweatman’s, it was still very good. Not too bad for a joint open for just a few weeks, even if it is from the well-oiled barbecue machine that is Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joints. Based on this sandwich, I can only assume that the rest of the menu would be of similar quality and thus on par with what Speedy regularly gets in Nashville.

I ordered the hoecake as my side and looking back, a cornbread pancake probably wasn’t the smartest side to order if I was trying to eat lighter. And it turns out that I had forgotten that I had actually tried one in Nashville as part of our Big Poppa Sampler platter. In our review, I did note that I would definitely get them again so thankfully, I did not regret my decision.

This Charleston location had only opened a few weeks prior to our visit but has already become a local favorite. And for good reason, as all indications point to it already being on par with other Martin’s locations due to its great food as well as its fun-looking beer garden outdoor bar area. Charlestonians should count themselves very lucky to have yet another option for whole hog barbecue (in addition to Rodney Scott and Swig & Swine in Summerville) in Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que – Holly Hill, SC

Name: Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que
Address: 1427 Eutaw Rd, Holly Hill, SC 29059
Order: Barbecue sandwich with hash and rice and banana puddin’ (link to menu)
Pricing: $

Monk: Holy crap, you guys. I mean, holy crap. Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que has been on my list for a few years now, considering how I tend to get to Charleston a couple times a year and Holly Hill is not super out of the way if you are willing to take the scenic route off I-26 just east of Columbia around Orangeburg. Based on my visit, its a detour well worth taking.

Sweatman’s has been around since 1977 and according to Grant’s story over at Marie, Let’s Eat! in 2016, the current owners Mark and Lynn Behr bought the restaurant from their friends and original owners Bub and Margie Sweatman in 2011. Thankfully, it appears they have continued the practice of cooking whole hogs over coals for 12-14 hours.

As this was going to be a late afternoon snack, I did not opt for the full buffet line, instead ordering a a sandwich with a side of hash and rice. The waitress obviously sensed a weakness for ‘naner pudding in me by suggesting I also get it, but it wasn’t too much of a stretch considering its only $1.50 with tax.

The main building of Sweatman’s appears to have had a larger dining room added onto it at some point over the years, and that thing was like stepping back into the 80’s in the south but in the best way.

I bit into my barbecue sandwich and darnit if it wasn’t a near transcendent bite of barbecue. The wood smoke shone through each bite and was accentuated by the sweet and tangy mustard barbecue sauce. This was different than almost every other midlands South Carolina mustard-based barbecue sandwich I’ve had where the shredded pork is drowning in the sauce. The sauce here still let the wood smoke be the star and was content to act as a supporting actor.

The hash and rice was the co-star, if my forced metaphor hasn’t begun to completely break down yet. I’ve only had one other “200 mile” hash and rice before and that was at True BBQ in West Columbia. This was on par with that. I still don’t have the vocabulary to properly describe hash and rice, but this savory-gravy-over-rice-dish is a must-order at Sweatman’s.

Briefly about that banana pudding – it was quite simply one of the best naner puddings I’ve had ever. I wish I had gotten at least 2 more for the rest of the weekend (slash the rest of my meal). What a capper to the meal.

Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que is absolutely worth the detour but be aware that its only open two days a week on Fridays and Saturdays. So be sure to plan your pilgrimage accordingly.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 5 hogs
Sides – 5 hogs
Overall – 5 hogs

For other reviews of Sweatman’s, check out
Marie, Let’s Eat!
Destination BBQ

Sweatman's BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday Find: Jimmy Courtney’s BBQ Process

Jimmy Courtney of Courtney’s BBQ in Clover, SC made this YouTube video explaining his barbecue process. You can read more about Courtney’s BBQ, a Lexington-style barbecue joint which has been open since 1999, in this month’s Charlotte Magazine Barbecue Issue. Hat tip to reader Robert Evans for this video.

Description:

We have had a few people ask us how we cook our bbq, so we wanted to take just a few minutes and walk you through each and every step of our process!

If you have any questions, please feel free to message us or leave them in the comments and we will answer them as quickly as possible!