Smokey Hollow BBQ Co. has a homey name that belies its industrial-chic storefront in a new shopping plaza just off Route 29 in southern Howard County. There's no screen door or pile of wood out front, and not even a strong smoky smell.
It might not look like an old-fashioned Southern barbecue joint, but it tastes like one. Those stainless steel smokers have a heart of wood, and the pulled pork sandwich can do battle with just about any other in the Washington area -- all that from a place run by a network television cameraman and his political operative wife.
Dave and Pam Vukmer opened Smokey Hollow in the Montpelier Center, near Johns Hopkins Road, in September, less than two years after they started a home-based barbecue catering operation born of Dave Vukmer's growing fascination with traditional barbecue methods.
"He started with a little smoker and then got a bigger one and then an even bigger one," Pam Vukmer said of her husband. They live in Highland.
He worked out his technique, first through trial and error and later in a pit master course with barbecue guru Paul Kirk. After that, Dave Vukmer decided he was ready to open his own place. A loan from the Columbia-based Jim Rouse Entrepreneurial Fund this year helped make that a reality.
Smokey Hollow has several types of barbecue: beef brisket, a Texas favorite; St. Louis-style pork ribs; and Carolina pulled pork and chicken. The chicken is served whole or pulled in a sandwich. Each comes with a choice of sauce: gorilla, basically a deep brown Texas-style brisket sauce; mustard, a musky yellow concoction of South Carolina Low Country origin; and pig, a western North Carolina vinegar-and-tomato sauce.
There are a few side dishes -- coleslaw made with the pig sauce, barbecue beans, french fries and daily specials, such as macaroni and cheese -- and soups, the specialty of kitchen manager Jeff Dudley. The menu also includes garden salad, Caesar salad, corn fritters, hush puppies and a couple of desserts.
The location is geared to carryout, with just a trio of tall tables and a few stools.
All the meats are cooked for several hours over low temperatures in the wood-fired smokers. The Boston butts (actually the hog shoulder) and briskets spend about eight hours in the smoker; chicken is smoked for about two hours, and the ribs just a little longer.
"We take the low and slow approach," Pam Vukmer said.
That's also the traditional way, and the meats are a testament to the care lavished on them. The pulled pork combines long strands of juicy meat with deep brown, crusty bits -- the mark of the best barbecue. The smoky taste doesn't overwhelm the meat's sweetness.
The pulled pork is the most successful of Smokey Hollow's offerings, though the pulled chicken is a close second. The ribs look great, but they were overcooked. The meat fell from the bone, instead of retaining just a bit of resilience. Two brisket sandwiches were tasty but a little dry, though a dousing of gorilla sauce went a long way toward correcting that.
The coleslaw -- fine shreds of cabbage and carrots in a pig sauce-laced mayonnaise dressing -- is a perfect complement to the pulled pork sandwich. Order the sandwich "sloppy," and you'll get the coleslaw right on the bun, the way it's served in North Carolina.
The barbecue beans were also a winner, made with small pea beans in a smoky and not-too-sweet sauce.
Although the barbecue is the main reason to go to Smokey Hollow, don't leave without at least one order of hush puppies and corn fritters, maybe more. In a tasting of most of the items Smokey Hollow offers, the corn fritters -- basically hush puppies with corn -- disappeared the fastest. These light, almost greaseless morsels were the taste of summer on a cold, blustery day. Eat the fritters for dessert and skip the too-runny banana pudding.
Smokey Hollow BBQ Co. 7500 Montpelier Rd., North Laurel, 301-617-4227. Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; www.smokeyhollowbbq.com. Sandwiches, $5-$6; meals and combination plates, $8-$13; Texas brisket, $13 a pound; Carolina pulled pork, $11 a pound. Accessible to people with disabilities.
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