Back before the rise of urban barbecue, the hardcore meatheads among us had to pile into a car and drive for miles to sample brisket, ribs and pork smoked exclusively with smoldering woods. It was out in the boondocks where pitmasters could burn their logs, free from the regulations and insurance policies that often dog their peers in the city.
With real smokehouses now located in countless cities — whether Franklin Barbecue in Austin or Myron Mixon’s Pitmaster Barbeque in Alexandria — such wanderings have become a thing of the past, as obsolete as a dial tone.
But if cassette tapes can make a comeback, why not the barbecue road trip? This Memorial Day weekend, put that smartphone to good use: Plug in the coordinates for these three smokehouses, each worth a trip from the city.
Vanish Farmwoods Brewery: You won't find Bryan Voltaggio standing next to the smoker, beer in hand, personally tending the two wood-burning pits at this farmhouse brewery in Lucketts, Va. But the native son of Frederick — a chef who needs no introduction — still has a hand in Vanish's barbecue, which is available on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only. His Family Meal restaurant in Frederick still prepares the sides and sauces, while Daniel West watches over the smokers back on the farm. West has expanded the original menu to include barbecue chicken and bar snacks such as chopped pork nachos.
The drive to Vanish, located among the rolling farmlands of Loudoun County, is half the fun. The other half is finding a beer, among 15-plus brewed on site, that pairs well with the barbecue. The brewery is family-friendly, and you can even bring your pooch, though all canines must be leashed. All canines must also stay away from my barbecue.
42264 Leelynn Farm Ln., Lucketts, Va. 703-779-7407. vanishbeer.com.
Smokehouse Live: This barbecue joint doubles as a live music venue, with a robust lineup of local and touring acts. Dedicated barbecue hounds may have a sense of deja vu when they enter this Leesburg establishment: It features a meat-slicing counter, similar to the one at Hill Country in Penn Quarter, itself patterned after the meat markets of Central Texas. No surprise that Smokehouse Live co-owner Jim Foss is the former chef de cuisine and director of D.C. operations for Hill Country.
The barbecue options run deep here. You can order brisket, short ribs, chicken, pulled pork, pork belly, spare ribs, baby back ribs and even prime ribs. At its best, Smokehouse Live's meats rival the finest you'll find in the area, worth every second of the trip (and every toll you'll pay) to Leesburg.
1602 Village Market Blvd. SE, Suite 120, Leesburg. 571-447-5483. smokehouse-live.com.
Texas 202 Barbeque of Maryland: Walk around to the back of this modest storefront, and you'll discover the secret to its success: a large, well-used portable smoker slowly burning its way through seasoned oak logs, the wood perfuming the air all around the shop. The owners are from — you guessed it — Texas, and they take an appropriately lean approach to their barbecue. You'll find little need to reach for sauce here.
As solid as the barbecue is — don't miss the brisket and the big, meaty spare ribs — there's a potential drawback for Memorial Day road trippers: Texas 202 doesn't serve alcohol. You're not even allowed to bring your own. It may be for the best, of course. Depending on where in the DMV you're coming from, Texas 202 could require an hour or more on the road. Better to have a belly full of brisket, than a brain woozy from beer.
14123 Brandywine Rd., Brandywine, Md. 240-681-3957. texas202barbeque.com.