Karen and Debs set up Inkie’s Smokehouse BBQ in September 2014 and, with the imminent launch of their new sauces, are going from strength to strength. Having tried their delicious American style street food I was keen to learn about the smoking process and how they produce such succulent meat.
Karen’s background is in gardening (growing eucalyptus for the supermarket industry) and Debs has 24 years of experience in the hotel and tourism industry. Karen took over the kitchen in Debs’ pub in February 2012, introducing an American style menu where her low ‘n’ slow smoked meats went down a storm. They left the pub in December 2013 due to the rise in beer costs and overheads, and the overall decline in people visiting pubs, and needed a new project.
I caught up with Karen to find out more….
American style street food seems to be continually growing in popularity in the UK. Do you think the trend is here to stay?
Yes, I believe it is. If BBQ is done properly it’s like nothing you have ever eaten before outside America. Our aim is to feed and educate people on the differences. In the UK we think of BBQ as burgers and sausages cooked over flaming charcoal, where in the States they call that grilling. BBQ in the States is the low ‘n’ slow cooking method we in the UK know as smoking.
Could you explain how your smoking process works?
We smoke the old fashioned way using charcoal and hard woods as our heat source. Our aim is to take lesser cuts of meat, which are usually tough to begin with and loaded with collagen, and transform them into mouth watering juicy goodness.
Cooking real BBQ meat takes a long time and patience. We get our smokers to a temperature of between 225°F and 250°F which, in cooking terms, is very low. We add our wood of choice (for us it’s either cherry, hickory or maple) then add the water pan which stabilises the internal cooking temperature. This means you’re cooking on an indirect heat which gives you the term “low ‘n’ slow”. The cuts of meat are dry rubbed 24 hours beforehand so the spices amalgamate with the meat and then we put it into the smoker where it will then cook for approximately 18-20 hours. An old saying among BBQ cooks is “when it’s done it’s done”. You can’t rush proper BBQ and to become a good BBQ cook you need to accept that!
Can people achieve the same effect at home?
Yes, I believe they can, however I’ve perfected my way of smoking over many years, as do the best pit-masters. There is an art to smoking. If you want to start home smoking, I would suggest they buy a Pro Q smoker from Mac’s BBQ in Bodmin. They are the font of all knowledge when it comes to smoking. We only use Pro Q smokers as we think they are the best in Europe and give the best results.
Where did your lovely trailer come from and did you refurbish it yourselves?
When we left the pub we took with us a long commercial fridge just in case we needed it as we were still looking for a restaurant or café. A friend of mine wanted to borrow the fridge with the idea of buying it. He had an old battered horse trailer sat in his yard. I had spied this and started having all these mad ideas of transforming it into a mobile smokehouse BBQ joint. We were haggling on the value of the fridge so, when push came to shove, I said to him “You want the fridge, I want the trailer, so how about a straight swap?” He agreed and we towed her away that day.
We gave ourselves three weeks to refurbish our old girl and, with financial help from parents and the offset smoker from Ian at Macs BBQ, we were able to strip her down then repaint, put in a new floor and get her ready for the road.
What sets you apart from your competitors?
Apart from our passion for BBQ and good food, it’s the love of feeding people and all our meats are cooked with love. Our unique rubs and smoking process mean you get the traditional flavour and the smoke ring only forms when the art is perfected. This is a thick pinky red ring which develops along the outside of the meat and around the bones in our products. It is a chemical reaction between the meat and the wood smoke and has taken me time to perfect and is the traditional sign of authentic BBQ. You won’t get the same taste, flavour, juicy goodness or smoke ring in a commercial electric smoker or if you cut corners and try to use an oven. There are many people churning out mediocre BBQ cooked in electric smokers or bypassing the smoke process and adding an artificial smoke flavour. We cook traditionally and slowly so this is what cuts us from the rest.
Where do you buy your meat and what are your favourite cuts?
We get all of our meat from Long Rock Farm in Roche, where I have been buying from for years.
For pulled pork we like to use middle white and the Boston butt cut (which is the whole shoulder). For the beef we use full briskets, for the chicken we use Cornish hen thighs and for the ribs we use a full set of meaty spare ribs.
Tell us about your homemade sauces…
We wanted authentic sauces to go with our BBQ. We decided on a rich BBQ sauce deep and vibrant which you can have with any of the smoked meats, then we went with a smoky chilli hot sauce which is packed with flavour but doesn’t blow your head off, which is good with chicken or pork.
After the two traditional sauces we decided to think outside the box and made the Dr Pepper sauce, which is a sweet and peppery dipping sauce which goes well with all the meats. My favourite is the Carolina Vinegar – a sweet and sour sauce with a kick of chilli. Traditionally it is served with pork but I like it with anything! We are also planning some seasonal sauces.
All our sauces are homemade using locally grown ingredients (when we have enough they will be from our own garden) and then made in small unique batches. We are launching our sauce range soon and you will be able to buy the Epic BBQ, Smoky Hot sauce and the Carolina Vinegar along with a range of chilli mashes.
What accompaniments do you serve?
We make all of our sides – corn bread (pictured below), slaws and potato salad – again using local produce. If not Cornish we sometimes have to venture to Devon. The only thing we buy in is the brioche roll for the baps, which we get from Da Bara Bakery (who by the way make the most amazing breads!).
Where are your regular pitches?
We have two regular pitches at the moment. We’re in Bodmin (outside Topps Tiles) on a Wednesday night from 5-9pm and in Liskeard by the Premier Inn roundabout on Thursday nights from 5-9pm. We are on a constant look out for more pitches and pop-up ideas.
Do you cater for weddings?
Yes, we are now taking bookings for 2015/16 and we can cater for any occasion be it weddings, parties or just a get together. We can put together an individual menu to suit and we can also cater for vegetarians with our home grown smoked squash.
We’ve heard you’ll be part of Grillstock this year. What will that involve?
A LOT of planning! The Grillstock weekends are the biggest events in the UK BBQ scene and are being held in Manchester, Bristol and East London. We are going to be trading at all three events this year. This is where you can show off your style of BBQ and the sauces you provide and get to meet some of the world’s BBQ greats. We are not going to compete in the BBQ competitions this year but will certainly go in for them in 2016.
And we’ve heard there’s a collaboration with James Strawbridge on the cards?
Yes, we are thrilled to be teaming up with James and the Posh Pasty Co. for a street food stall at this year’s Port Eliot Festival. We’ve been experimenting with some exciting surf ‘n’ turf and seafood combinations as well as seaweed and samphire. (Pictured below are smoked clams with smoked butter, chilli and cilantro dressing.)
It is clear to see that Karen and Debs’ food is created with genuine skill and passion for their craft. They manage to cram a huge amount of flavour into their juicy cuts of meat, and when combined with their freshly made sauces and accompaniments, really pack a punch. Above all, they put their customers’ enjoyment first, and this really shines through when you meet them.
Karen says “The best part of cooking for people is hearing their mmms, oohs and aahs when they first taste what we have produced. We never tire of that and it keeps us motivated to the next creation.”