Back Bay Barbecue
Real estate developers Len and John Dagit didn’t expect to get into the barbecue business, but when a pitmaster squatting at one of the brothers’ undeveloped properties on Great Egg Harbor Bay couldn’t keep up with demand, they decided to supplant his pop-up operation with their own. They hired a ’cue pro to teach them, thinking they’d dabble, but five years later their 100-seat restaurant is one of the busiest barbecue stops on the Shore. “It’s a hobby that got out of control,” admits Len. Back Bay operates from late May to early Fall, open only Wednesday through Sunday from 11 am to sunset. In season, customers sit under the patio’s blue-and-white-striped awning, enjoying baby-backs ($25 a rack), pulled pork sandwiches ($7), smoked and grilled wings (with one of six house-made sauces), grilled shrimp or scallops, and even an out-of-left-field option, house-made pastrami served with pineapple sauce.—DH
135 Somers Point-Longport Boulevard, 609-788-4853.
Brian Pollock left a career as a headhunter in 2006 to devote himself to barbecue. Brother Bear’s, being outdoor-only, operates 10 months a year. Influenced by Amish and Southern cooking, Pollock says he follows a “fusion of styles.” He buys meat from a local Amish market and claims that nothing on his menu is made with chemicals or preservatives (except hot dogs). But he gladly admits, “we do believe in fat.” He makes his own rubs and sauces, and his custom-made smokers burn only wood (no propane). Picnic tables and a military truck are set up for more of a camp feel. A majority of customers take out—many at least honk and wave as they drive by. While Pollock says his favorite item is the pulled brisket, he can’t deny that pulled pork is the best seller.—MR
53 North White Horse Pike 856-628-1888.
In some quarters, Dave Anderson, who is of Choctaw and Ojibwa heritage, is more famous for serving as assistant secretary of Indian affairs for a year under George W. Bush than for founding this chain in 1995. He has now expanded it to 180 locations, with six in New Jersey. David Marks, owner of the Cherry Hill franchise, is a two-time New Jersey Iron Chef BBQ champion. He’s especially proud of the chain’s brisket, for which he, other FD chefs and Anderson devised a new seasoning in 2013. The spectacle, though, is the All-American Feast: whole rack of spareribs, whole roast chicken, brisket or chopped pork, fries, slaw, beans, corn and cornbread ($62.99). It’s served as Anderson first did years ago—on an upturned trash-can lid.—LB
104 Route 70 East, 856-857-1520. (also Brick, Mays Landing, Metuchen, Mountainside and New Brunswick)
Henri’s Hotts Barbecue
Before he taught himself Texas-style barbecue, Douglas Henri was an Army medic and then a Florida corrections officer. When he retired from those duties, he continued to nurse and keep an eye on things, but switched his attention to meats in smokers. His output of smoked brisket, chicken, sauce-slathered baby-back ribs and jerk chicken have attracted a dedicated clientele. On weekends, the 50-seat dining room and porch of the whitewashed roadhouse overflow with patrons taking advantage of the $14.50 all-you-can-eat buffet. “I’ve never done advertising,” Henri, 60, says with pride. The buffet includes corn pudding thick with kernels, marshmallow-topped candied yams, spicy macaroni salad and house-baked peach cobbler.—DH
1003 Black Horse Pike, 609-270-7268.
Husband-and-wife team Mike and Maureen Cassidy have been cooking barbecue for eight years at this Shore restaurant, serving their Carolina pulled pork and Memphis dry rub baby-back ribs. The ribs and meats ($10.99–$19.99) are slow-smoked over hickory, mesquite and applewood. Hickory Hog is in the same building as a liquor store, but the atmosphere is family friendly and full of pig art. Mike, the head chef, has been grilling and smoking for more than 25 years, working at nearby barbecue spots before opening Hickory Hog. The Cassidys pride themselves on making everything in house, from the corn fritters and popcorn shrimp to Texas red chili and the Hickory Hog fries smothered in melted cheddar, smoked bacon and chives.—MR
2310 Bridge Ave, 732-714-7427.
Cookstown, Neptune City
Ask Steve Raab, co-owner and co-pitmaster of Local Smoke, what a newbie should sample first at his small but dizzyingly fragrant Neptune City restaurant.
“You need the brisket, some pulled pork, ribs and jalapeño poppers,” he says, seated at one of the six tables in what used to be a Carvel. Some might say the best place to sit is the counter on one of the six stools—especially the last few on the right, which face the restaurant’s massive Southern Pride smoker (“the Cadillac of smokers,” Raab calls it).
No one style of barbecue sums up Local Smoke. “We do Texas-style brisket, North Carolina-style pulled pork and Kansas City-style ribs,” Raab says.
Cooking these classic forms on the competition barbecue circuit—where Raab and co-owner and co-pitmaster Eric Keating have been jousting against the best since 2007—Local Smoke has bagged a host of awards, including four New Jersey State Championships and a first place in ribs at the 2009 American Royal World Series of BBQ, in Kansas City. Raab’s wife, Loren, the logistical master of the team, also designed the logo and several of the popular sides.
Local Smoke uses only Certified Angus Beef brisket and high quality pork butt (which is actually shoulder). “Some people buy whatever brand is cheapest that week,” Raab says, “but I feel that affects the end product.”
Local Smoke’s signature rub is sweet, with heat on the back end. Ingredients include turbinado sugar, brownulated sugar and kosher salt, as well as pepper, garlic-and-onion powder, chili powder, paprika and cayenne.
“You have to smoke the meat over the right kind of wood,” which for Local Smoke is cherry and sugar maple—cherry for color and flavor, sugar maple for its sweet smoke.
Last comes a slathering of what Raab calls “the proper sauce.” Local Smoke’s Piedmont Carolina sauce for the pulled pork is inspired by that region of North Carolina: tomato based but sharpened with vinegar and red pepper flakes. Ribs and chicken get Kansas City-style sweet sauce.
Ribs and chicken are sauced toward the end of cooking. Pork and brisket are anointed when they emerge from the smoker.
Pork ($12) and brisket ($13) are smoked overnight, generally 12 to 14 hours. Ribs ($13, half rack, $23 whole) go in first thing in the morning and take four to six hours. Chicken ($11.50) smokes two to three hours. Customers waiting for takeout find that jalapeño poppers (five for $7) fend off hunger pangs nicely.
The poppers add creativity to the lineup. The jalapeños are halved, hollowed and stuffed with a mixture of cream cheese, pulled pork, barbecue sauce and dry rub. Wrapped in raw bacon, they’re covered with dry rub and smoked for up to 2½ hours.
You dip them in cool, creamy barbecue ranch sauce.
“Everybody loves them,” says Raab, in an understatement.—TLG
719 Route 35, Neptune City, 732-455-8888; 19 Wrightstown-Cookstown Road, Cookstown, 609-286-2298.
Red Hot & Blue
This blues-themed chain with 25 locations was launched in Virginia, in 1988 by a group of Southern politicians (including Republican strategist Lee Atwater). At the sole Jersey outpost, signature St. Louis-cut ribs ($14.99 half rack, $22.99 whole) get no spice rub before smoking over hickory and oak, the better to spotlight your choice of 13 different sauces or a Memphis-style dry rub. Sides include “Grandma’s Famous” potato salad, the recipe of Ruth Hutchinson, the 98-year-old granny of Chip and Jeff Edwards, who owned one of the original franchises.—DH
2175 Route 70, 856-665-7427.