Dine: Smoking out Pittsburgh barbecues

Pittsburghers want smoked meat, and the city has been attracting people from elsewhere, who bring their specific styles of 'cue

People embrace their barbecue like a city cheers on its sports teams.

There's the eastern-Carolina style, whole-hog barbecue. With a pepper vinegar sauce, it's served as pulled pork with crispy bits and mayo-based slaw on a bun. Their Piedmont counterparts add some ketchup to that sauce, mix the slaw with it and there's its rival.

Head to the low country from South Carolina to Georgia and pork is dressed with a mustard-infused sauce that deeply offends North Carolinians. Or go west to Memphis where spicy wet or dry ribs are the specialty -- and there's a heated rivalry between them.

In Central Texas, where a wet sauce is unheard of, barbecue is as legendary as (and perhaps better than) Carolina barbecue. Smoked 12 to 24 hours, brisket is merely dressed with a rub: maybe it's just salt and pepper or more elaborate, with coffee and brown sugar.

And the list goes on. Pittsburgh may have its sports teams but barbecue is another story. It's just beginning to cheer for meat that's cooked low and slow. One reason is because there's more to choose from, as enterprising natives realize that enough Pittsburghers want smoked meat. Another reason we're seeing more 'cue is because the city has been attracting people from elsewhere, who associate barbecue with where they grew up.

Richard Coursey is one of those people. At Yinzburgh BBQ (4903 Baum Blvd., Oakland; 412-621-9469, yinzburghbbq.com) it smells like cayenne and hickory and the savoriness of rendered fat. In the kitchen, a stand-up metal box that looks like a coffin displays shelves for meat above a stand for wood. Mr. Coursey's employee, Rich Fleming, cleans out the smoker the same way one would clean a cast-iron skillet. Don't use soap. Gently scrape out the burnt pieces and wipe it out.

Mr. Coursey, who grew up in Georgia, is relatively new to the barbecue business. An engineer by trade, he's lived all over, from Massachusetts, to New Jersey, to North Carolina to Georgia. A job brought him to Pittsburgh, but barbecue has kept him here. In search of a taste of home, he began to smoke meats and has become one of the city's barbecue evangelists.

Over hickory, apple and cherry wood, Mr. Coursey smokes brisket, pork shoulder, chicken, kielbasa, wings and, yes, tofu, between 100 to 300 degrees. His best-selling pork smokes at 225. "Until it's done," is how long it takes. (One could guess it's somewhere between 12 and 16 hours.)

Mr. Coursey makes several kinds of rubs, none of which contain sugar, to accommodate his friends with health issues. A poultry rub is earthy and mellow, while a meat rub with paprika has some kick. Mr. Coursey also makes sauces a la the South, in vinegar, tomato-vinegar and honey gold, a nod to where he's from. They're all served on the side.

His brisket is sliced thin and drips with juice, whether it's the flat or the point. And the pork shoulder is pulled to order so the meat stays moist, he says, as he prepares an order for a regular. She asks for hers with honey gold sauce and a side of hoppin' john.

Over in the North Side, there are plenty of regulars at Wilson's BBQ (700 N. Taylor St., North Side; 412-322-7427), a Pittsburgh institution for more than 50 years. Before he opened his shop, George Wilson, now 85, smoked ribs and chicken every Sunday to what became an ever-increasing crowd at his home.

"We couldn't hold everyone coming over every weekend," said his son, George Wilson Jr. "So he opened a shop."

Though Mr. Wilson's family smoked with mesquite wood in Oklahoma, he uses a trio of woods in the shop's built-in smoker. Smoke stains the brick wall from decades of use.

Mr. Wilson reaches in with tongs for a slab of ribs, which he dresses with a spicy sauce with just enough heat, served with a slice of white bread for sopping.

Then there are the meat men who are building a following, such as Andy Wincko, who sells out of the Italian American Citizens Club under the name The Pittsburgh Smokehouse (1130 Rodi Road, Wilkins; no phone; pittsburghsmokehouse.com). On Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights at 5 p.m., the place is open to the public. Customers can try sliced brisket sandwiches, pork, ribs, lamb and even smoked burgers.

"It's my own style," says Mr. Wincko, of his vinegar and tomato sauce with some kick. He has developed it over the past 12 years, when he started with a little smoker and has grown to serve at fairs, parties and the club. He spends hours tending to his Southern Pride smoker, which he has named Dorothy after the Homestead blast furnace.

The duo behind Allegheny City Smokehouse (2462 Colorado St., Marshall-Shadeland; 1-828-231-9864, alleghenycitysmokehouse.com) is gaining momentum, too. Jared Lordon and Kelly Patton, both chefs, met while working at Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C. Their memory of Carolina barbecue led to an appetite that has transferred to Pittsburgh, where they set up the business this winter, selling meat on Sunday mornings a few yards from a smokehouse they lucked upon in the backyard of a rental property.

With 11 spits and a motor in the smokehouse, the two spend Saturday nights smoking everything from pork shoulder to sausages, bacon, fish and butter. Allegheny City Smokehouse is close to sealing a deal for a brick and mortar space in Homestead.

In Banksville, Pittsburgh Barbecue Co. (1000 Banksville Ave.; 412-563-1005, pghbbq.com) decided on re-creating a North Carolina barbecue style in 2005.

"It took two to three years of research," said Arthur Cohen, a partner who tried barbecue around the country before settling on a style for the Banksville shop. The company is an offshoot of All The Best Catering, which will serve barbecue at 30 weddings this year, up from 10 to 15 in years past.

In the shop, Mr. Cohen smokes pork on hickory, maple and cherry woods for 12 hours, brisket for 20. Brisket in Carolina 'cue? They couldn't resist.

He then cited a menu of six main dishes, a choice of pulled pork, ribs, chicken or brisket.

"No wings or nachos here," he said. "We're all about the meat."

Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart.


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