Somewhere in the Delta each week, smoke drifts from Pop’s Smokehouse, drawing in lovers of succulent, smoked meats, allured by the prospect of experiencing barbecue nirvana in a bite. Those who have been, know that owner and pit-master Jeff Toney is crafting competition quality barbecue from his little smokehouse on wheels-a claim many make, but not nearly as many achieve. Not every barbecue team successfully transitions into food service. And I’m not just talking about the business side of things. I’m talking about the bbq itself. Ever been to a trophy-filled bbq shop that gloated about all the championships they’d achieved, only to be served up a plate of dry and smokeless barbecue? I have. But Jeff is the kind of pitman who takes pride in his craft and the quality of his smoked meat tells the story.
Of course, it goes without saying, that bbq sold to the general public won’t be quite the same as meat that’s been perfectly timed for a panel of judges. Unless all the stars in the universe align just for you so that you happen to arrive when the meat is just coming off the smoker or from a short resting period, you won’t quite get what bbq judges experience. But when meat is held properly, and pulled to order, it can retain most of its moisture and smoke flavor. So there’s no reason for smokeless ‘que from any place touting championship awards. But enough of my ranting about false bbq advertising to unsuspecting tourists, Jeff and his wife Kim are quite impressively holding up the standard with the Pop’s Smokehouse food truck.
Jeff’s barbecue competition pedigree comes from time spent smokin’ with a world-class championship barbecue team-Boar’s Night Out. In the last few years BNO has been stirring up the bbq competition scene with wins in whole hog competition, ribs, shoulder, even taking home some grand championships. Perhaps their most recent claim to fame are their back to back Memphis BBQ Network Invitational wins for 2014 and 2015. What makes the MBN Invitational so special? Select teams are offered the opportunity to compete by invitation only. That is, the best 50+ teams are handpicked from past winners to compete against each other, making this championship highly coveted. After all, these teams are the cutting edge of bbq sport. Winning two years in a row seems unlikely. But BNO did it. I’ve had the pleasure of judging this top-tier bbq team. And right now, anyone willing to follow Pop’s Smokehouse on Facebook, can experience this world championship quality barbecue as well. Pop’s Smokehouse food truck might be a small smokehouse on wheels, but the word “small” just doesn’t aptly describe his business. Ever heard the expression, “Go big or go home”? Three BIGs come to my mind when I think about my experience with Pop’s Smokehouse BBQ:
The wood-smoke infused pork on my sandwich was perfectly balanced with the addictive sweent-n-tangy sauce and creamy, crunchy slaw. The exterior crusty and savory bark mixed with the tender, smoky meat was every bbq connoisseur’s dream (assuming said connoisseur hadn’t been brainwashed by the white meat only crowd).
Jeff did let one secret slip. He smokes with only wood hearts, since bark and exterior layers of the log can impart some bitterness.
What amazed me the most, was how well he was able to retain the perfect amount of smoke flavor and moisture over such a long period of time. At first, I was a little worried when I noticed that the pink smoke ring had faded a little (see photo of sandwich). That’s usually a sign that the meat is either day-old, or at least end-of-the-day barbecue. That’s not necessarily a problem, but it usually means the bbq will be at least slightly dry and will have lost some smoke flavor. But somehow, my pork from Pop’s Smokehouse still had flavor and texture like meat fresh off of the pit. The smoke flavor was not diminished at all. The meat didn’t have too much or too little smoke. It was just perfectly barbecued pork, smoked with finesse. And the meat was also perfectly moist. Tender, yet not mushy and no sign of dryness. It really did have that fresh off the pit texture and flavor. How he did it is a mystery to me, but I’m hoping that he’ll comment here on the site with a little tip about his process (hint hint).
Big Bang for the Buck
“More Meat Falls Off Our Bun Than Most Places Put On One!” is not just Pop’s slogan. It’s true. Just check out my photos. Even his popular (and healthy I might add) smoked chicken wrap with jalapeño mayo was a meal in itself. It was smoky, creamy, spicy and satisfying. But Jeff and Kim aren’t limited to sandwiches and wraps. Their food truck is also a catering business that offers a variety of artisan foods from their pits, from wood smoked whole hogs to a selection of cold-smoked cheeses.
Pop’s Smokehouse is a Disaster Response Team for Operation BBQ Relief. Not just in word, but in deed. They’ve already been deployed to various natural disasters across the nation, where they provided free hot meals for hungry victims. They’re heroes of the pit, and May God bless them for it.
So now that you can see just how big this little smokehouse on wheels really is, now you know what you’re missing out on. Down through my years of search and discovery for the best bbq I can find, Pop’s Smokehouse was a treasure of barbecue, smoked with finesse and served by down-home good people.
Here are a few notes about the ‘que:
- Shoulder-was perfectly tender and not mushy. It was also juicy and not dry. Savory, crusty bark mixed throughout the succulent, smoky meat made an amazing bbq sandwich.
- Ribs-I hope to get some when they’re available.
- Shoulder-The meat had perfect smoke flavor for my taste-fully developed smoke flavor, without any bitterness or ashy taste.
- Ribs-I hope to get some when they’re available.
Sauce-Was a nice balance of sweet, savory and a little tangy. It wonderfully complimented the pork.
Slaw-Was the kind of creamy, crunchy slaw you’d expect for a good ole’ Memphis-style smoked pork sandwich. It would also make a wonderful stand-alone side dish.