Of the transplants flocking to Washington, roughly one in six arrive from the South. Slow-smoked meat is a comfort-food antidote for those homesick southerly expats, pure pleasure pursuit for the rest of us. Now, more than ever, Seattle has a rib rack–size void to fill.
“People have this memory of how they used to get it from their favorite barbecue restaurant in the South,” opines Kyle Brierley of Brileys BBQ in Lake Forest Park. But he would know; Brierley grew up in Georgia. A walkup counter since 2015 that recently debuted a legitimate dining room space, Brileys BBQ isn’t loyal to any one regional style. Brierley and co-owner Skyler Riley take their favorite techniques and patchwork the menu together: The brisket “is more Central Texas,” says Brierley. “Then our ribs are more like Kansas City or Memphis.” But it’s all fired over cherrywood from Eastern Washington (and served alongside gumbo and Georgia-style Brunswick stew).
Brierley opened this place after an eight-year stint as the manager and wine director at Cafe Juanita, so he makes it a point to augment beer and cider offerings with carefully chosen Northwest wines; there’s even a wine retail corner in the works. Beer and barbecue is a no-brainer, but “I’m going to slowly start trying to get people to drink more wine with barbecue.”
Brileys’ owners aren’t the only ones forging local barbecue customs, albeit incrementally.
“I don’t think there’s really any such thing as Seattle barbecue,” muses Jason Jacobs, “but there’s some good barbecue now.” He presides over the smoker at Barbecue Smith, the joint he opened with local beer sage Chuck Shin in Roosevelt last year. Four years ago the plumber-turned-pitmaster picked up a smoker at a garage sale, but it wasn’t until he listened to brisket guru Jack Timmons of Jack’s BBQ in Georgetown preach about beef that he got serious. “I went and fired up the smoker the following weekend,” he says. At Barbecue Smith, Jacobs adheres to the Central Texas style a la Timmons with a simple salt-and-pepper rub and sauce on the side. Tender meat easily slides off pork ribs, brisket is rightly smoky, and pulled pork rests, majestically, in a pile atop a sheet of red-and-white-checkered paper.
Meanwhile, Shin, of eponymous beer havens Chuck’s Hop Shop in Greenwood and the Central District, curates about 20 lagers, saisons, IPAs, and other meat-friendly brews—nothing too overpowering. He also injects a little Korean flavor into Barbecue Smith’s offering, fitting for a city with strong ties to Asia. “Whenever we have a lot of meat, in my culture, we eat kimchi,” he explains. Shin’s own mom, Ok Soon, comes to the restaurant and makes kimchi with the staff. Moon, as everyone calls her, rolls up her sleeves, pulls on white latex gloves, and massages deep-red chili paste into napa cabbage or diced radish or another seasonal vegetable; big batches ferment for at least seven days. The kimchi, eaten as you would any other side dish, is a bright, acidic necessity between bites of smoked meat.
It’s this slight deviation from tradition that gives barbecue a Pacific Northwest bent. You surely don’t have to be from the South to enjoy it, but transplants are starting to get their taste of home—just with a side of kimchi or a nice Washington red.