The Best in the Business Share Their Stories
Tis the season for all things barbecue! And to get you into the grilling spirit, we caught up with a few of Central Virginia’s pros.
So pour yourself a cold drink and fire up the grill, as you read about how these guys got started and how they create such great tasting ’cue.
Benjamin’s Great Cows & Crabs
Benjamin McGehee, a Forest native, has been the proud owner of Benjamin’s Great Cows & Crabs in Forest for almost 15 years.
Ben is a self-taught pitmaster—he learned through a lot of experimenting, research, tasting, and trial and error. For his family, preparing high-quality barbecue starts at home.
“We raise purebred Berkshire hogs on our farm in Goode. We use the meat for sausage, country ham and barbecue,” he says. “It is important to me to know where the animals come from and what they’ve been fed their entire lives. This ensures ‘clean’ quality pork.”
Ben has smoked many proteins and vegetables over the years—everything from seafood to wild game. But he personally prefers to barbecue the “tougher” cuts because “it takes an art and science to achieve an enjoyable outcome.”
“I think barbecue has been around since people introduced food to fire. The game constantly is changing as people introduce new flavors and techniques every day,” he explained.
Ben says nowadays people are also using smoked meats and vegetables in every application from tacos and salads to sandwiches and even desserts. And while he has seen a lot of Middle Eastern and Asian flavors introduced recently, Ben says he has also noticed people going back to their roots and keeping things simple.
“Simplicity in preparation techniques, using local ingredients, and not over complicating the process. Low and slow works,” he says.
On The Menu
The menu at Benjamin’s is exciting to peruse each time I visit and it never disappoints. The smoked pork shoulder, smoked angus beef eye of round that is thinly sliced for the French Dip, the Country Ham and the Pork Chops are all popular choices.
If your mouth isn’t already watering, go ahead and dig into one of the many homemade sides. Pick your poison from Cowboy beans, Southern-style creamed corn, smoked greens, coleslaw, house made chips, or smoked Gouda mac-n-cheese.
If you can, and I recommend you do, save room for dessert made fresh daily and from scratch by Ben’s mom, “Mama Sue.” His favorites include the banana pudding, cobblers, pies and homemade ice cream.
Did You Know?
Ben is having another smoker custom made that will allow three times the production to help keep up with the growing demand for BBQ.
RUFUS RUCKER & Josh Read
Fifth & Federal Station
Fifth & Federal Station is the newest barbecue joint in town and is already making a name for itself by offering delicious food, creative cocktails, and a unique atmosphere.
One of the restaurant’s four partners, Josh Read, says he was first introduced to good, slow smoked barbecue about 15 years ago by Rufus Rucker in Amherst.
“I had tried barbecue in the past but none left an impression on me quite like his,” Josh explained.
Rufus is now the restaurant’s head chef and carries out Josh and the other owners’ culinary vision. At their restaurant, barbecue is a form of artistic expression.
“A properly slow smoked piece of meat fresh off the cooker is impossible to replicate in any other culinary form. Good, moist barbecue is an art form that can stand alone without the need to cover its rich slow smoked flavors with toppings and bread,” Josh says.
“It’s authentic—slow cooked, slow smoked. Great barbecue can’t be rushed,” Rufus explains. “A blend of unique spices gives my barbecue a one-of-a-kind flavor and sets it apart from all the others.”
They smoke pork, beef, wings…even their own aged White Vermont cheddar that comes on a Charcuterie Tray. All of their meats smoke anywhere from eight to 15 hours.
“We source our hickory wood locally and are looking into a few local providers for meat,” Josh says.
For those looking to improve their barbecue game, Josh says keep an eye on technology. “There are a lot of new inexpensive smokers and wireless tools that allow temperature controls and other gadgets that send data to your cell phone. They sort of fool proof the barbecue process so that you can turn it on and get a consistent result without watching it constantly,” he explained.
“There are a lot of new injectable flavor enhancing items that come out every year as well.”
On The Menu
The ribs and pulled pork are their most popular items, but the slow cooked beef brisket is starting to catch up. The Combo Platter is Josh’s favorite because it allows you to enjoy all of their meats.
On two recent visits, I had the pulled pork with a side of coleslaw, green beans and hush puppies. The pulled pork was second to none—served with the sauce on the side (AMEN!). The pork was juicy but then had bites of crispy, bacon-like textures throughout. The green beans had a little bit of a kick and the coleslaw was traditional and a nice cool accompaniment to the meal. Not usually a hush puppy kind of girl, I had no problem eating both of the two, dripping with honey, which came with my meal.
For your sweet tooth, the Bourbon Street Beignets with bourbon sauce and house smoked crumbled bacon on top is completely irresistible.
Did You Know?
Fifth & Federal is working on plans to build a stage for live music on their front yard.
Since 2011 owner Bill Dawson has been tucked into the Boonsboro Shopping Center serving Texas-style ’cue to guests at the bar, tables, and an outdoor patio.
Bill got his start in the barbecue world about 15 years ago creating all of his own recipes through a lot of trial and error. Then six years ago, he bought the restaurant from a man who trained him in Texas-style barbecue techniques. Since then Bill says he has “never looked back!” And business has been steady, if not booming.
“Barbecue definitely has a growing following of barbecue lovers!” he says.
For those who don’t know the difference, a Texas-style sauce is more tomato based than vinegar based, like you would see in North Carolina, and not as sweet as sauces from Tennessee or Kansas City. Bill says they smoke their meats, particularly beef brisket, which is a Texas favorite, using sweet hickory wood for up to 16 hours.
“What sets us apart is our attention to detail and staying true to our Texas barbecue roots, even though I do make a North Carolina sauce for those in the area that prefer the vinegar-based sauce,” Bill says.
His passion for his final product is evident as he kindly boasts, “We strive to simply have the best hickory smoked meats in Lynchburg. I feel that turning out great smoked meats is an art form and every step of the process affects the taste.”
On The Menu
My first experience eating at Pok-E-Joe’s was the night before Thanksgiving a few years ago. It was an odd night to go out to dinner and nosh on smoked meat, mac and cheese, and hush puppies but it was flavorful and memorable!
They smoke everything—from beef brisket to ribs and occasionally chicken (upon request).
“My favorite at the moment would be our burnt ends. They are smoked brisket, the point removed (it is marbled like a ribeye steak), seasoned once more and smoked for 3 more hours!” Bill explained.
Currently customers are ordering the brisket and pork most regularly. They are also delving deep into the macaroni and cheese, fresh hand cut flat fries, house made coleslaw, and hushpuppies.
When you finish up your sweet tea and brisket, the homemade banana pudding is the perfect finish to the meal.
Did You Know?
Pok-E-Joe’s has a food truck that can be found at Food Truck Thursdays and other local events around town.
One on One with Tuffy Stone
Let me introduce you to our favorite Lynchburg-bred BBQ celebrity in one sentence, straight from his website: “Tuffy Stone is a classically-trained French chef, television personality, and accomplished pitmaster who can be considered the most successful guy on the competitive barbecue circuit over the last few years.” He even has a new book coming out next spring.
Wow! Not to mention, he is incredibly nice and took the time to answer a few burning questions I had about cooking on the grill.
Rachel Dalton: First things first, do we need to have an expensive grill?
Tuffy Stone: It is not necessary to have an expensive grill to cook great food, because there are some well-made grills that do not cost a lot of money.
RD: So what does matter when buying a grill?
TS: What does matter is that you learn how to cook on your grill or cooker. If buying a gas grill, I recommend choosing one that has more than one burner and more than one gas control knob, so that you can cook using the two-zone method. This is where you have a hot zone and a cooler zone. This is great method for cooking meats that require a long time to cook to tender, such as a brisket or ribs. You can place the meat on the hot zone to sear or brown, and then move to the cooler side and continue to cook until tender with less worry of scorching. This is done on a gas grill by turning one burner on and cutting off the other. On a charcoal grill, you set it up two-zone by placing hot coals on half of the bottom and no coals on the other half.
When deciding on which grill or cooker to buy, you should take into consideration how much meat you will want to cook and pick one that has the capacity to handle that quantity.
RD: But what is your preference?
TS: I prefer to cook with charcoal and wood, not only because of the flavors I get but also because I enjoy the process. If you don’t want to tend a fire with your grill or cooker, then a gas grill or a pellet cooker might be a better choice for you and may cost a bit more.
My daily grill at home is the Primo Ceramic Grill and is very versatile, so I can grill and cook low and slow.
RD: Do you have any go-to marinades we can make at home for specific proteins?
TS: Marinades, mops, brines, and sprays are all great ways to add both flavor and moisture to meats when cooking on a grill or cooker. I really like to add moisture to meats like ribs, brisket or pork shoulder because they take so many hours to cook and applying a mop or spray helps the texture of the outside of the meat. A high-quality apple juice is what I often spray on my meats while they are cooking. Brines are a great way to bring flavor deep inside the meat and are flavored liquids that you soak your meat in. Brines contain salt so it is important to understand how long to soak your meat and how your other seasonings will work with your brine, so that you don’t create a product that is too salty.
RD: What do we need to remember with marinades?
TS: Many contain some type of oil like olive oil and some type of acid like red wine vinegar or lemon juice. Herbs and spices will also be a part of a marinade and with these mixed together provide a nice complementary flavor to meats, seafood and vegetables when marinated for a period of time and grilled. I am a big fan of soy sauce-based marinades, but watch carefully on the grill because they can burn if they are too hot for too long. One of my favorites is equal parts of soy sauce and Mirin (Sweet Rice Wine) with lots of chopped fresh garlic and black peppercorns.
RD: Oh! Thank you for sharing that! What about a dry rub?
TS: Dry rubs are pretty common for barbecue recipes and I often put dry rubs on pork shoulders, pork ribs, briskets and chicken. A key consideration for using rubs on meat is how long in advance of cooking do we apply [them]. Most rubs contain salt and given enough time, salt will cure meat. I want a rub to be on a meat long enough to develop a good flavor without curing the meat. Typically I let a rub sit on ribs for one hour before cooking and with big cuts of meat like a brisket or a pork shoulder, I season the night before cooking or seven to eight hours.
RD: Got it. When would you use a marinade versus a dry rub?
TS: I usually only marinate meats that don’t take a lot of time to cook on the grill. So steaks, chops, fish and chicken are great choices for a marinade.
RD: What are some things we can barbecue at home that aren’t “conventional”?
TS: I just finished a cookbook, which comes out next spring, and it includes grilled vegetables, seafood, game, pork, beef and poultry. I have a great grilled corn recipe and the char from the fire adds a nice touch. The most interesting thing we grilled for the book was probably grapes as part of a salad. They taste really good!
RD: Grilled grapes! They sound amazing! Can you share with us any other tricks of the trade?
TS: The “Texas Crutch” is a huge trick to making better barbecue. Once a meat like a brisket has cooked long enough to have a beautiful mahogany brown color with great smoke flavor, but is still not tender, you wrap the meat in aluminum foil or butcher paper and then return to the cooker, and continue to cook until done.
I usually cook a brisket or a pork shoulder for 4 hours on my cooker at 275 degrees and then wrap and cook until tender. This technique will help prevent over smoking and help produce a more moist product. This is great for better ribs as well. Two hours unwrapped at 275 degrees and two hours wrapped for large spare ribs.
RD: I am definitely trying this! Is there anything else you want our home BBQers to know about you or barbecue in general?
TS: I really could go on for days!