“I’ll have some time before I pick up the baby Bearded One.”
That was Chris D’Addario, pitmaster of the Middletown-based Bearded One BBQ, scheduling our phone call. Since he founded Bearded One BBQ in 2014, he’s had to make room in his life—for smoke, meat and as of three months ago, a baby.
I met D’Addario a few days prior in the sunbaked Garden State Mall parking lot. The Paramus Food Truck Festival was in full swing, but D’Addario was unfazed, happily prepping a foursome of the Instagram-famous brisket grilled cheese sandwich in the 20-foot Bearded One trailer.
It’s good he’s comfortable—Bearded One is booked almost every weekend of 2018. In warmer months, you’ll find the trailer at outdoor festivals. Come winter, you’ll find him, his wife Jessica, and the Bearded One crew at various indoor events and beer festivals. There’s a month off around December, “for recharging.” Otherwise, 2018 is booked. “I turned down the Deputy Mayor of New Rochelle the other day,” D’Addario tells me.
D’Addario’s come a long way since 2011, when he smoked his first pork butt on a small, backyard Weber grill at his parents’ house in Rahway when Hurricane Irene hit and took out the power. “There was nothing else to do,” he says, as if experimenting with any quantity of raw meat is a normal response to boredom. “That was the first time I cooked a pork butt. It was awful.”
He didn’t let it stop him. D’Addario fell in love with the finicky, nuanced magic of indirect heat and kept cooking, first for friends, then in competitions beginning in 2014. It was another rough start. The first competition was at the New York City BBQ Cook-Off. “We got our butts kicked,” D’Addario recalls. But as Bearded One’s roster of awards attests, they’ve come far: first place standings in ribs and brisket, multiple “Best BBQ” wins, and a 10th place finish—out of 2,245 competitors—in the Kansas City BBQ Society’s 2017 “Team of the Year Standings.” D’Addario even went back to that first competition three years later and won. And he still holds down his 9-to-5, doing project analysis for a construction company.
At the Paramus Food Truck Festival, my lunch consisted of paper baskets piled high with pork spare ribs, brisket and a pulled pork sandwich. The ribs were capped with dark, spice-rubbed skin that crunched into fatty, rosy pork. The brisket was rich and moist and the pulled pork was tender, mingling smoke and spice.
The barbecue scene is strong in New Jersey—and growing. Bearded One is one of a contingent of serious Garden State barbecuers. D’Addario mentions places such as Korean-inflected Kimchi Smoke in Westwood, Dr. Pearl’s Medicinal Smoke BBQ Team in Rutherford, and Local Smoke, with spots in Neptune, Cookstown and Red Bank.
Like most of his BBQ peers, D’Addario only started participating in festivals to pay for competition. But whether it’s for a festival or a judge, D’Addario cooks the same menu—the same rub, the same meat, the same low-and-slow 255˚F cherry wood smoke bath.
The Baby Bearded One has halted the competition streak. “This year’s really about growing our business,” D’Addario says, maybe upgrading the trailer and investing in a larger smoker. If you saw News 12 NJ’s latest Food Truck Friday segment, you know that includes something called “Pork Belly Burnt Ends.”
This summer, you can find Bearded One at festivals like the Bound Brook Food Truck Festival on July 14 and the Just Jersey Fest in Rockaway on August 4, or their last competition of 2018, the 10th Annual Que-by-the-Sea in Seaside Heights on September 23.Click here to leave a comment