What is “Real” Barbecue?

People have been after me to do an update on the story of Fat Rascal’s Barbecue, which closed in March due to overdue taxes. The community stepped up to help owners Ben and Phyllis Howlett, but the restaurant remained closed. Donors are jaded.

Later today we’ll post a story at kitsapsun.com with the sequel. The news hook, as we say, is that a new family – also planning to serve barbecue — is getting ready to take chance on the waterfront location on Highway 166 that has seen number of restaurants come and go over the past couple of decades.

Gary Hobbs, the primary owner of Smokey’s BBQ & Steakhouse, said he’s not too concerned, even with the economy reaching new lows. Hobbs has been selling his hickory smoked meats from a mobile barbecue at festivals around the region, and his loyal following has been after him to open in a place they can find him throughout the year.

Hobbs says, when it comes to barbecue – make that “real” barbecue – the Northwest is the new South.  According to Hobbs, barbecue joints are the fastest growing segment of the Northwest restaurant scene.

“I think the public is becoming more educated about what real barbecue is,” Hobbs said.

“Real” barbecue is a whole ‘nother animal from the turn-and-burn school of cooking, said Hobbs. The meat is slow-cooked in savory sauces for the better part of a day, to the point it pulls apart in moist shreds that seem to melt in your mouth.

We may be getting educated, but I don’t think it takes a PhD to be a barbecue connoisseur. I had no trouble translating the sensory intent of the barbecue chicken sandwich I had at Grillside Mobile Barbecue at the Port Orchard Farmer’s Market several weeks ago. But I’m a newbie to the world of real barbecue. Maybe there are rules about methods and seasoning, subtleties of flavors, rituals of cooks of which I’m unaware.

Incidentally, Hobbs, who has met Phyllis Howlett, said he sympathizes with the couple. “Making barbecue”  – the term Ben Howlett used to describe his craft, much the way people talk about making love –  requires hours of slow cooking each day. It is indeed a grueling labor of love, Hobbs said. “People in the business know how hard it is.”
Hobbs, a Gig Harbor resident, said the fact that Fat Rascal’s parking lot was usually full whenever he drove by bodes well for his business prospects. From what he’s heard, Hobbs said, the Howletts were good folks who fell on hard times.
“They were wonderful people,” he said. “They had a great little business. They were running that thing seven days a week, and it’s hard to do.”

One thought on “What is “Real” Barbecue?

  1. Mmmm.. Real BBQ is the kind we get when we visit family in Southern Georgia. It is in a very small town (only 1 stop light) the place is a remodeled old shack. Most of the tables are in a screened in porch area. They are only open Thursday through Saturday. The food is prepared by a family that has been running the business for 4 generations. You have your choice of meat and the sides are slaw and corn on the cob served on a paper plate. Yes, they have real sweet tea. Certain times of the year when it is seasonal you can get sweet tea with fresh tree ripened Georgia peach juice squeezed in as well. That’s the best.

    What makes the experience of it so good is the live jazz band playing out back while you eat your slow cooked BBQ on a warm southern night with the flowers blooming and the crickets chirping. Fortunately we are only a month away from heading down there this year for vacation. I can almost taste it now. BBQ’s up here don’t even come close.

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