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Smokehouse Pit BBQ

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Back in the mid-90’s I was working with a documentary crew recording a Sacred Harp performance in the capital building.  That experience was unique in itself, hearing religious music sung in a huge, open rotunda.  It was a fascinating exhibition by a group of talented singers that were also very welcoming and open with our crew.  Their courtesy extended to sharing a meal with them, a catered barbecue lunch from a place called Smokehouse.

The main thing I remember from that lunch was the feeling of awe I had at the first bite of pork.  I was floored at how good it was.  Back then, my experience with barbecue was far more limited than it is now.  I didn’t have a lot of experiences to compare it against, but the quality and uniqueness of the meat and the trimmings made an impact on me.  So much so that when we moved to Shelby County, my wife and I took a date night to Smokehouse and she immediately fell in love with them.  It became a regular for us and the place we took a friend of mine from Utah on his maiden visit to Alabama.  We knew it would give him a taste of southern cuisine and character.  It was my favorite barbecue joint in Alabama, and then…

Sometime over the next few years there was a fire that damaged the restaurant to the point they had to close.  I couldn’t believe it.  I even called Millbrook City Hall to find out the story, only to learn that Smokehouse probably wouldn’t rebuild because of the cost to meet the updated fire code.  Still, I checked back periodically to see if anything had changed.  Then, after 10+ years it finally happened.  Smokehouse was reborn with a new, creative floorplan and the unforgettable barbecue spread I had been longing for.

Returning to Smokehouse was like reuniting with a long, lost friend.  While the layout is different and open, the décor is the same.  It’s a blend of rustic textures dominated by wood, metal, and concrete.  Everything in sight screams classic barbecue joint!  Then the food arrives.  The barbecue beans are the best in Alabama!  They’re thick and meaty in a rich sauce that brings just the right amount of heat.  They’re almost like a stew, served hot and loaded with flavor.  The trip to Millbrook is worth it just for the beans.

The pulled pork was as I remembered.  It had a heavy smoke flavor but didn’t have very much crust.  There was just enough bark to vary the texture and a consistent, smoky color all the way through.  Every bite was juicy and had a wonderful chew, with no fat anywhere in the pile.  Just beautiful!

Perhaps the most fun part of the meal was the four different sauces on the table.  I love trying sauces and having this many on hand is just a good time.  “The Smokehouse” was their basic sauce.  It’s a tomato base, thick, with just a little beat of heat and great spice.  It was sweet, very flavorful, and something most any barbecue fan would enjoy.

“Hot & Bothered” is their spin on a spicy sauce, and it punches you right away.  I find that most spicy sauces are made hot just for the sake of being hot.  They bring the burn but not much flavor.  This delivers on both cases but does have a lot of heat.  It’s probably not for the casual fan but those that like a hot sauce will love this.

The last one I tried was “South Carolina Gold,” a mustard based sauce sweetened with honey, but very different from a traditional honey-mustard dipping sauce.  This has a good tang from the mustard that was accompanied with some acid.  It’s very smooth with a complex balance of flavors.  It was an unusual take on barbecue sauce that I’ve only had at one other restaurant in Alabama.

This was a really great lunch, mostly for the food, which left a slight burn on my tongue.  That’s proof that Smokehouse knows how to season food and they’re bold about doing it.  Part of the fun was because my old friend is back in business.  I left very nostalgic and anxious to bring my wife back for date night.  Who am I kidding, I can’t wait to go back, period.

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