Barbecue all year
Speedway fave Smoke Shack opens inside the mall
By Linda A. Thompson-Odum firstname.lastname@example.org
Barbecue fans and shoppers who are tired of the typical mall chain food can now enjoy true smoky goodness at the new Smoke Shack location in the Mall of New Hampshire. Perhaps best know as the purveyor of delicious barbecue at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, plus locations in Boscawen and Weirs Beach, owner Josh Davis saw this retail spot as a way to extend the barbecue season year-round.
Davis’s Weirs Beach location is only open during the summer, and the Boscawen restaurant is in a small town where business drops off after Columbus Day weekend. With a restaurant in a mall, he hopes to balance out the colder months.
“I want to convince people you can eat barbecue in the winter,” Davis said. “It’s comfort food — great fall and winter food.”
The mall Smoke Shack keeps the focus strictly on barbecue and the traditional sides. Davis didn’t want to compete with the other food court restaurants by serving burgers and subs as he does at his other locations. Here the menu is all about his smoky creations — pulled pork, beef brisket, baby back ribs and chicken.
Davis started in the restaurant business the way many chefs do, as a dishwasher when he was 14 years old. He worked his way up the line through a series of jobs at resorts, restaurants and country clubs. Eventually he became executive chef for Compaq. In his time off he would experiment with barbecue. He also traveled a lot to the South (he has family in the Carolinas), where he learned even more about the “low and slow” method.
When Davis was laid off after Compaq was bought by Hewlett-Packard in 2001, he decided to go into the barbecue business. He began with catering and mobile concessions. His big break came when he was discovered by the NASCAR world at NHMS, and he traveled around to many of the circuit’s racetracks. He also took his barbecue to a number of fairs throughout the region, including the Deerfield Fair and the Gunstock Ribfest. A few years ago he opened the more permanent location in Boscawen. Davis now plans to move away from all of the NASCAR traveling and focus on his retail locations.
The Smoke Shack is best known for its pulled pork. When asked how much pork is smoked each year, Davis gives what he calls a conservative guess of about 50,000 pounds. The pork for all the locations is done in Boscawen to keep it consistent, but the chicken, ribs and brisket are smoked at the mall location in a special indoor smoker. Davis noted that some of the early-morning mall employees know he’s around because of the smoky smell in the air before all the other restaurants fire up their huge exhaust fans.
Davis uses a 60/40 blend of hickory and apple wood to give the meats their smoky goodness. All the seasonings and sauces are his creations, including the Smoke Shack hot sauce. The rub for the ribs alone took more than a year and a half to create.
“A lot of people think that barbecue is spicy, but ours isn’t unless you make it spicy with one of our sauces,” Davis said.
The mall Smoke Shack offers a selection of barbecue dinners with a choice of two sides (cole slaw, potato salad, barbecue baked beans, macaroni and cheese, French fries, sweet potato fries and Cajun fries.) Or choose the BBQ Sundae with layers of pork, beans, and coleslaw with two ribs on top. Also available are pulled pork, chicken and beef brisket sandwiches, as well as starters like fried pickles and beer-battered onion rings. Or customers can order the meats by the pound to take home.
The restaurant is also taking orders for smoked turkey, ham, roast beef and beef jerky for the holidays, which will be available between mid-November to Christmas Eve. Davis recommends customers order ahead to guarantee availability.
Davis has plans to do sampling events at some of the mall’s other retailers, and customers are welcome to ask for a sample to try before they order: “I’m confident that once I get them in there to try our place, they’ll come back.”