The Smoke Pit – Gastonia, NC

Name: The Smoke Pit
Address: 421 Cox Rd, Gastonia, NC 28054
Order: Tres Amigos combo (brisket, pork, and ribs) with turkey, sausage, hush puppies, fried okra (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: Since the last time Speedy and I visited The Smoke Pit’s original location in Concord four years ago, they’ve steadily expanded into other cities across the Piedmont of NC. I visited the downtown Salisbury location in early 2017 and they’ve since opened up in Monroe and more recently Gastonia about a year ago. I’ve always enjoyed my visits to The Smoke Pit but for whatever reason tend to forget about them a little bit. However, with BIll Spoon’s closing in September and Speedy in Charlotte for the day, it was time to figure out if The Smoke Pit was worthy of a top 5 spot on our Charlotte Big Board.

Speedy: Well if we must eat more delicious barbecue, Monk, then we must. We pulled up to The Smoke Pit Gastonia, which was a stand-alone building in a larger shopping center. Barbecue in commercial shopping centers always worries me, and this was a pretty ugly building, so the real question was whether this incarnation of The Smoke Pit could overcome these challenges. So Monk and I entered, waited in line for a few minutes, and placed our order to find out.

Let’s start with the star of the show: the St. Louis-style ribs. When tasting ribs, you always hope and pray, but rarely receive, the perfect bite. Tender meat that is easy to bite through but doesn’t fall off the bone. That’s what we got at The Smoke Pit. Monk and I ordered the dry ribs, which were meaty, well seasoned, and flavorful. A truly outstanding effort.

Monk: Definitely glad we went for dry over sauced. One of the better pork ribs I’ve had recently, and agree that it did have that perfect bite. 

The brisket came out a little on the dry side and was mostly lean even though we asked for a mix of both lean and fatty. Still, it had a nice bark and a good taste. The sausage at The Smoke Pit appears to rotate regularly and on this day they had a solid jalapeno cheddar version, which Speedy sadly couldn’t partake in. All in all, I think what he did miss out on was a solid but unspectacular sausage.

Speedy: The chopped pork was cooked well and had a bit of smoke flavor, but was a little dry. Adding some Lexington style sauce quickly remedied this, but I would have liked a little more bark chopped in. Still, the pork was quite good and worth ordering. Not to jump the gun on the sides, but Smoke Pit also has a good red slaw, so the pork sammie would make for a strong order.

On the drive over to The Smoke Pit, Monk and I had a conversation about how smoked turkey tends to be a little underrated at the best ‘cue joints, and can be incredibly flavorful. So we decided that if Smoke Pit had turkey, we’d order it, and sure enough, it was listed as a new menu item. It was worth it. You always worry about turkey being dry, but that was not the case at Smoke Pit. Their turkey is cajun seasoned, which is a nice touch. My one complaint is that I wish the seasoning penetrated the meat a bit further, as there were some bites where I wasn’t able to taste the seasoning. 

Monk: Speedy already touched on the red slaw, which complimented the slightly dry pork perfectly. We also got hush puppies (of course) and fried okra, which was a bit of a last minute audible. Both were above average, though I was unable to tell if they were scratch-made or not.

Speedy: The meal at The Smoke Pit’s Gastonia location was solid all-around. There wasn’t a single item that I wouldn’t order again, and we had a standout meat in the ribs. For my money, it’s worthy of the big board.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Ribs – 4.5 hogs
Sausage – 3 hogs
Turkey – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Honeyfire BBQ – Nashville, TN

Name: Honeyfire BBQ
Date: 11/13/20
Address: 8127 Sawyer Brown Rd #304, Nashville, TN 37221
Order: Three meat combo – brisket, pork, ribs, baked apples, fries (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Speedy: I recently heard about Honeyfire BBQ when talking to a friend about restaurants with good whiskey selections. Honeyfire sits in the Bellevue neighborhood, which is in the western part of the city. I don’t frequent this part of town too often, but I found myself with a leisurely Friday afternoon and decided to bring back one of my favorite work traditions – long lunch Friday.

Honeyfire sits in a pretty sizable shopping center, which is a bit of a red flag for me from a barbecue perspective (where do they do the smoking???), but seeing a sizable woodpile walking in made me feel better.

Monk: But is the wood pile for show or for realsies? If its all the way in the front of the restaurant then surely its not the wood they are using for smoking. My guess is they are probably using a Southern Pride (or similar gasser) and throwing in a stick or two occasionally from a similar wood stack in the back to get a little wood smoke on the meats.

Speedy: The restaurant is sleek and clean, so I walked up to the counter and placed my order. I was asked wet or dry ribs (dry, duh) and fatty, lean, or mixed brisket (mix), which I also consider to be a good sign. 

The food was brought out quickly and it was time to dig in. I’ll start with the ribs. The three bones that came were St. Louis style cut, dry with visible rub sprinkled on. They were meaty and cooked well (maybe slightly overdone), but the rub was a little challenging to me. This will be a theme of the review, but the rub was just very sweet. It seemed to be brown sugar based and mixed decently with the flavor of the ribs, but the sweetness was just too much to handle. The pulled pork was a similar story, as it was finished with a dusting of the same rub. The pork was tender, had some good bark mixed in, but was just too sweet for my liking. There was a sauce provided on the side, so I thought maybe some good vinegar sauce would offset the sweetness. Well one taste and I learned this was no vinegar sauce – it was actually a honey barbecue sauce. So what started as a little too sweet became way too sweet. 

Monk: Wonder if the folks behind Honeyfire have a competition background, where the winning flavor profile tends to be on the sweeter side. Sounds like they could stand to add a vinegar sauce alternative.

Speedy: The brisket was a different story. Rubbed with just salt and peppery, there was (thankfully) no sweetness. The bark on the brisket was tasty and the overall flavor was good. The brisket, like the ribs, was slightly overcooked, so just a touch dry, but overall, it was a pretty nice effort.

As far as sides go, mine were fine. However, one reason I like to get baked apples with barbecue meals is to have a little sweetness to go along with savory meat. In this instance, the meat gave me all the sweetness I could handle, so the apples remained unfinished.

Overall, Honeyfire BBQ is a tough one to rate. I think they actually do a pretty good job hitting the flavor profile that they want to – it’s just not the right profile for me. However, if you’ve got a sweet tooth, I’d definitely recommend checking it out.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Pork – 2.5 hogs (.5 point deduction for the sauce)
Ribs – 3 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

Rudy’s Smokehouse – Springfield, OH

Name: Rudy’s Smokehouse
Date: 10/3/20
Address: 2222 S Limestone St, Springfield, OH 45505
Order: Monk: 3-meat combo with pork, ribs, and brisket; hush puppies, mac and cheese, and fries; Speedy: 3-meat combo with pork, ribs, and brisket; hush puppies, collards, and fries; Rudy: 2-meat combo with brisket and pork (link to menu)
Pricing: $

Speedy: After our terrible experience at Ray Ray’s Hog Pit, all it took was a billboard advertising “award-winning BBQ” for us to give Ohio one more chance. So in the town of Springfield, we found Rudy’s Smokehouse (unrelated to the Texas Rudy’s). Rudy’s looks very much like a small town restaurant – think a Shoney’s or Cracker Barrel (minus the country store), which did not leave me with high hopes. Still, we marched up to the counter to place our order.

Monk: What Speedy has yet to mention is the reason we were in the Springfield area: I dragged the other bros (plus friend of the blog Boomsauce) an hour west of Columbus in the middle of western Ohio to hike and check out the town of Yellow Springs. I was actually very much against going to Rudy’s and wanted to check out Yellow Springs although I didn’t voice my opinion in time so before I knew it we were headed to Rudy’s. 

Nevertheless, getting out of the car I did smell some smoke from the parking lot at least, which was a promising sign. The interior reeked of kitschy barbecue restaurant decor but the prices weren’t bad and we went into barbecue review mode, each ordering multiple meat combo platters. 

Turns out, the pork was much better here than at Ray Ray’s while not being amazing. “Not being amazing” is probably as good as you’re going to find in Ohio based on this trip.

Rudy: The pulled pork was pretty plain and needed a decent amount of sweet sauce to make it something to eat. But it was not dry, so just because it wasn’t the pulled pork that we are used to in North Carolina, doesn’t mean it was bad, it was just ok.

Speedy: After our rib experience yesterday, I was nervous. Rudy’s ribs certainly exceeded the low bar previously set. While they were way overdone, they had a nice flavor and smoke taste, and were sauced nicely. Were they the world’s best ribs? No – far from it, but they were passable. The sides were fine as well, rounding out a perfectly average meal. 

Rudy: I agree, I thought the ribs were pretty good, but that may have been because of the jerky that I had experienced the day before.  We were given an order of the turkey due to them adding it in the order by mistake.  I tend to stay clear of turkey at barbecue restaurants because at best they can be ok, at worst they can be dry.  Rudy’s was very good, probably as good as you can do with turkey, moist and flavorful, but still just turkey.  

Speedy: The brisket was another meat that exceeded the extremely low bar from the previous day, but wasn’t really that good. So while I have repealed my “never order brisket outside of Texas” rule, on this weekend, a new rule was born: “Never order brisket in Ohio!”

Monk: I always love new rules from Speedy. We didn’t expect a ton out of our Ohio barbecue experiences, but Rudy’s Smokehouse partially made up for our poor experience the day before at Ray Ray’s Hog Pit. Though I would still like to know what award it won…perhaps this is a Pabst Blue Ribbon-type situation. 

Oh, and here’s proof we actually did that aforementioned hike.

(L-R) Monk, Speedy, Rudy, Boomsauce

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 2.5 hogs
Pork – 2.5 hogs
Ribs – 2.5 hogs
Brisket – 1.5 hogs
Turkey – 3 hogs 
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 2.5 hogs

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

Ray Ray’s Hog Pit – Columbus, OH

Name: Ray Ray’s Hog Pit (food truck)
Date: 10/2/20
Address: 424 W Town St, Columbus, OH 43215 (at Land Grant Brewing)
Order: Meatsweats (Smoked brisket, pulled pork, jerk chicken, dry rubbed ribs, Ray Ray’s hot link, with pickles and sauce) (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: So for the first time in almost exactly 5 years, all three Barbecue Bros were going to be in the same city with a chance to eat barbecue together. Now, due to COVID reasons and the need to have a drivable and centrally located city we ended up having our annual guy’s trip in the lovely climes of…Columbus, OH. Not ideal for barbecue, but a little research yielded a potentially promising prospect in Ray Ray’s Hog Pit BBQ. It kept popping up on “best of” lists, the website was well done, and the Franklinton location at Land Grant Brewing was extremely convenient to where we were staying for the weekend. 

Rudy: The euphoria of having the band back together, combined with the positive previews of Ray Ray’s would basically guarantee that we would have a great barbecue experience, right? Land Grant had a great set up with lots of outdoor seating, a stage for music (although not on the night we were there), and had Ray Ray’s attached. After looking at the menu online with all of the great pictures, we decided to get their Meatsweats box (sampler of most of the menu) and since we couldn’t decide which meats to get extra, we figured we would order more after trying them all.  This restraint proved to be a good idea.  To start with, the brisket was bland, had almost no taste of seasoning or smoke.

Speedy: The pulled pork was … not great. There was very little smoke on it, and it was dry. That said, the pork was far superior to the ribs. The ribs were dry, barely seasoned, and basically were pork jerky. 

Monk: I’m not sure if the overall quality of the barbecue had to do with the later hour we were at Land Grant Brewing eating Ray Ray’s, but yea, dry dry dry.

On the other hand, the jerk chicken was miraculously moist and flavorful. Not sure how this was so fresh while the other meats were dried out but it was passable.

Rudy: The two areas that I thought were decent were the sausage, which had cheese in it (even though that was not advertised) and some texture to it, so it did not seem completely generic. We also ordered the collard greens, which were very good and probably the best part of the meal. While the greens (and the pickled onions on the side) were very good, when that is your highlight, it is not a good thing.

Speedy: All three Barbecue Bbros get together about as often as we can see Haley’s Comet, so when we do, (begin sarcasm italics) we only eat the best

Monk: Hey there was that one time at Lexington Barbecue!

Speedy: In all seriousness, despite the 5 hog company (and decent beer!), the barbecue at Ray Ray’s Hog Pit was as bad as I’ve had in a long time. Ohio – am I right???

Ratings: 
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 1 hog
Ribs – 1 hog
Brisket – 1 hog
Chicken – 2 hog
Hot Link – 2.5 hog
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 1 hog

Ray Ray's Hog Pit Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato