I've posted about my love for the old smokehouse in previous posts, so while I was upset to see it demolished I was happy to hear from longtime pitmaster Damon Briggs who told me it is being rebuilt following a major fire.
Before the fire I'd taken a lot of photos inside the smokehouse and interviewed Briggs for my recently-completed book Memphis Barbecue: A Succulent History of Smoke, Sauce and Soul, which will be coming out June 24 from the History Press. The book uses barbecue to tell the story of the Memphis area and is packed with photos and interviews. It isn't just a rehashing of material from the blog, it is almost all new material combined with historic photos.
Briggs at his new temporary work station.
Briggs has worked for A&R for 30 years, since he was a teenage student at nearby Hamilton High School. He was out of town recently when another employee "decided to teach himself to cook" in the smokehouse, he said. The results underlined one of the major advantages of a detached smokehouse. The restaurant was unharmed. Briggs is currently cooking out of several large barrel cookers while the smokehouse is rebuilt.
I went inside the restaurant to try the ribs he was creating on the temporary set up. They were still pink to the bone with a great flavor, but they did have some unrendered fat and tough spots. A lot of people obsess over wanting fancy, high-priced gear for producing barbecue so let that be a lesson. The custom smokehouse makes noticeably better ribs than the barrel cookers in the right hands. But a talented pitmaster with three decades of experience can still wing it with a newly-improvised cooking rig and turn out pretty good ribs. On the other hand, a novice working with a well-seasoned, custom-built smokehouse can literally burn everything to the ground.