Looks like it is “full smoke ahead” for barbecue junkies with the opening of Cumberland Street Smokehouse in February, Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ coming to 126 William St., and John Lewis, pit master at La Barbeque (Austin, Texas), branching out to the Holy City.
These flame tamers join Black Jack Barbeque at Food for the Southern Soul, Nick’s Bar-B-Q, Queology and Sticky Fingers in producing the primal flavor of smoke-cooked meats that define Southern barbecue in downtown Charleston.
Cumberland Smokehouse operates out of the former Egan and Sons pub. It has retained the footprint of its former occupants as well as its chef, Kyle Yarborough.
The decor has been roughed up with the use of repurposed woods, barn-like siding, and rustic wood framing the perimeter of the flat-screen televisions. A folk art collection of the beasts of barbecue are displayed throughout, but pig dominates the images.
The former Irish pub is now illuminated with a rough-hewn chandelier whose lamps are hanging Mason jars. The dining space has been opened up and furnished with high tops. The booths remain along the street side window wall.
Corrugated sheet metal panels the bar facade, continuing the refrain of rustic and industrial. The sanguine tin ceiling and exposed brick walls complement each other in defining the environment.
Yarborough has certainly reconditioned his menu from the Egan and Sons format but carefully retained his duck-fat-fried potatoes. Now spotted with barbecue rub and cooked to soften the starch of the potato and then again to crisp the potato’s “crust,” Cumberland Smokehouse allows you to top decadence with excess: add pulled chicken or pork, smoked cheddar cheese, bacon, jalapenos and white BBQ sauce, and you have dinner.
The “boards” menu also has been reconfigured. The same thinly sliced Benton’s ham is now partnered with house-made pickles, pimento cheese and crackers. It’s a trifecta of Southern-bred flavors that calls for the Cumberland Street lager or a Westbrook IPA.
The hickory-smoked wings are not to be missed. Trailing faint smoke, they are moist, crisp and permeated with both tang and heat. They provide tooth-tugging tenderness and sticky fingers for licking. An Alabama white sauce accompanies them; more mayonnaise-centric than a sauce, it would benefit from a ramping up of pepper and spice.
The menu offers pulled pork and chicken on a daily basis and then a variety of specials. Weekends will find the Smokehouse serving a greater variety. Call before you go if your hankering is for ribs, or brisket or burnt ends.
Tender chicken and pork bore witness to the submission of smoke and time. The ropey pork strands were upholstered in the bastings of molten fat but had some bitter flavor notes that may have been caused by “hot” smoke. The chicken with its dry-rub of spice fared much better.
Yarborough has cooked up rib-eye, St. Louis style ribs, racks of ribs, catfish, crawfish boil, smoked chicken, sausages and burnt ends. One night’s special morphs into the next day’s lunch and Yarborough demonstrates his skills as a kitchen manager and schooled chef: shaved rib-eye sandwiches; chicken salad; sausage, peppers and onion sandwiches, all re-tooled from the master smoker.
His brisket hash over rice is a different take on this pre-Civil War meat-gravy “mess” served over rice and unique to the Lowcountry where it is made with pork remnants.
Vegetable sides are made without meat or meat stock so collards, okra and tomatoes, mac and cheese, baked beans, creamed corn and rutabagas are not enhanced with bacon, pork fat or fleshy cracklings of smoky bits.
The coleslaw is lackluster in flavor but because it is made from red cabbage, its dressing is a striking violet hue and brightens the brown palette of barbecued meats.
A special crawfish jambalaya served as a side was gluey with no discernible mudbugs in the mix.
Mac and cheese and collards did not disappoint.
An heirloom tomato salad (not tasted) seemed out of season for our market but the side salad was sprightly with mixed greens and crisp vegetable bits.
Sandwiches and platters are served on butcher paper-lined trays. Green Mason jars are kept filled with water and the servers are friendly and accommodating.
There is a smoker on the premises and each table is outfitted with a toolbox of sauces.
Cumberland Street Smokehouse is taking it slow, as is the route to all good barbecue. Patience, the secret ingredient of cooking, will prevail in Yarborough’s kitchen as roadside ideals of bark and smoke rings are embraced in downtown Charleston.