What my Grand Rapids BBQ restaurant would look like…

Wood burning pit barbecue

I stumbled across this great blog; Full Custom Gospel BBQ.  The blogger is a Texas-based gentleman. Pretty good ‘que in Texas and he knows his stuff.

Barbecue Blog

Authentic BBQ Advice

The specific post that caught my attention was about the types of smokers used in barbecue restaurants.

I had earlier posted a question on  the BBQ Forum, asking what BBQ joints still serve “authentic barbecue”?

I had a variety of answers, but the debate veered to “what is authentic barbecue”?

Well, in my humble opinion, this blog did the best job of answering the question.

Authentic barbecue needs to be wood fired…no gas or electric assist.  Period.

The debate wasn’t cut and dry though.  It was pointed out that good BBQ is good BBQ…it doesn’t matter how it is cooked.  OK…I buy that.  But in my opinion, it is not authentic.

My follow up question was, what types of pits do most BBQ joints use? Southern Pride and Ole Hickory were mentioned several times.  Rightfully so.  Very well made, efficient and modern.  Both use wood, with either gas or electric.  In the case of Southern Pride, their smokers are used in many of the top BBQ chains in the country (someone told me Slows BBQ in Detroit is Southern Pride-powered, but I can’t confirm).

However, as the Gospel BBQ blog points out, that is probably a good reason to avoid those units!  Why be like everyone else?

In the end, the recommended smoker, that is wood only is The Oyler Pit. Made in Texas.

The Oyler Pit

Authentic Pit BBQ

With the recent emergence of a hot BBQ scene in Detroit, led by Slows, I’ve been daydreaming about the possibilities of someone opening a BBQ joint in downtown Grand Rapids.   What would this look like?

Well here you go:

  • Authentic pit barbecue. Wood-fired, no gas or electric assist. Probably the Oyler Pit.  Maybe use apple or other local fruit woods.

  • Standard BBQ fare: pulled pork, beef brisket, St. Louis-style ribs, chicken, hot-links and probably turkey, maybe some lamb and/or salmon. When feasible, meat would be sourced locally.

  • Side dishes.  All made from scratch. NO food service product.  Cole slaw, beans, mac and cheese, cornbread, fries.  Probably have jars of small-batch pickles and peppers on each table.

  • Sauce: On the side.  House recipe, a few styles: mustard based, thick and sweet, and thin and peppery.

  • Dessert: Homemade pies, crisps,  homemade ice cream (bought locally)

  • Beverage: Michigan’s finest microbrews, rootbeer, lemonade,  ice tea.

  • Simple setting. Unpretentious.

  • Lunch: $5.95 – $9.95

  • Dinner: $9.95 – $14. 95

So, what do you think?  Boom or bust?

Disclosure.  Although I know, love and am obsessed by BBQ, I have absolutely no experience in the restaurant industry…so it remains a dream.

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About the author
I've had a misspent adulthood. Too much time grilling and barbecuing.

9 Replies to What my Grand Rapids BBQ restaurant would look like…

  1. Joel Leo says:

    I think it would work, if it served drinks, had a hip atmosphere, catered a bit to the country music fans, or atleast southern rock. These days you need more than just good food. It needs good marketing and good events that pull the public in. Integration with current events like BBQ competitions.

  2. Ted Vecchio says:

    meet for coffee?

    I live SE and my office is NW. What works for you.


  3. Mark says:


    Beer, and music should be after thoughts. Since your authentic style BBQ is unique to and first in the area, then that alone should keep your establishment in the forefront (as long as the food is good).

    So I would focus on the food solely. Being the only one in West Michigan should be a huge draw. Plus with your marketing and writing background, I don’t doubt your ability to get the word out to the press, and the community.

    If you focus on the food, which by what I gather is not available anywhere else in the West Michigan area, then you have a winner.

    Also I read this article trying to answer the same question of what is authentic BBQ – http://www.economist.com/node/17722664 . I had no idea there were so many unique styles and I need to travel more to try then all out.

    So let me know when you open, because I am hungry.

  4. kevin says:

    Hi JR:

    I’m from SE Mich originally but have lived in AZ for the last six years. It’s surprising to me that there are real southern bbq places opening up in my home state, and that’s a good thing. Despite the trend I think a big challenge to opening up any real bbq joint in Mich is going to be cultural – there really is no tradition of true bbq in mich. I suspect, if you asked, nine out of ten michiganders would define barbecue as anything with bbq sauce. Wrong!

    If I was going to open a bbq joint in mich I would make a real close study of the other places, like slows, etc… and figure out what they’re doing right and wrong. How their location affects their business, and what kind of customers they’re bringing in.

    I’ve thought for a while now that pairing up a brewpub with real bbq is a natural match, but I haven’t come across one yet in all my travels in Texas. Usually lucky to get a shiner. The good thing about a brewpub, is that michiganders know what a brewpub is (and support them), even if they don’t know what the big deal about southern bbq is. Gives people a second reason to try the place. Of course even a modest brewing operation is going to require a lot of capital so there’s that.

    Re: the smoker – besides the obvious that it ought to smoke meat well I would say it’s real important that you can SMELL the meaty smoky goodness right when you enter the place. All the good bbq places I know smell good.

    The ideas about food sound real good. The main thing is to keep it real simple and not try to please everybody, esp. vegetarians. In Texas, places like Kreuz Market (my favorite) are stupid simple, and that’s one of the reasons they’re so good.

    Re: sauces – Mike Mills mentioned in his Peace, Love, and Barbecue book how he only serves one type of sauce. He does this because (I’m paraphrasing) if he offered multiple sauces this just leads to people comparing the sauces, judging, and generally being a pain in the ass. So he says he provides only one, the best sauce for the food he serves. Sounds like good advice to me.

    Good Luck,

  5. John Rumery says:

    Thanks Kevin—MI folks certainly understand beer. In GR there have been several brewpubs/microbreweries that opened in past year. My thinking now is a summer gig….BBQ food truck/mobile unit….not interested in carnie-style vending, but more mobile, Not sure how I will pull this off….

  6. rob says:

    well my friend, I do own and operate an authentic bbq joint, it’s called Real BarBQ we have 1 location in lincoln park, one Downtown at the harbortwon development and one in caton(by ikea) We are actually looking in grand rapids right now. So we will be in your niehborhood soon, Your idea of a bbq is a good one, your menu would especially your dessert menu, you are over reaching, its hard enough to do great bbq in a high volume setting, you think you will have time to make ice cream? Are you a bbq or a coldstone? Anyways if you need a job and love to bbq please do not hesitate to contact me at rob@realbarbq.com your dream place will cost you around $240,000 to $300,000 to open. I am always looking for great employees that love bbq

  7. John Rumery says:

    Thanks Rob. Sounds like you are moving doing it the right way. Curious on what type of smoker you are using? When you are in GR, send me a note and we can get together. I can share w/you what I know about the BBQ culture here…we don’t need another Famous Dave’s but could use a local/independent BBQ establishment.

  8. Marnie Thompson says:

    I was going through some old school emails and found some from you and decided to check out your blog. Hope you remember me–ENT 150 class, Food Truck idea…
    Anyways, I was just reading this and it completely got my attention. I love it! I’m in Chicago right now working at Four Seasons Hotel, but my dreams of restaurant ownership and BBQ have never left me. Keep on writing some updates about this GR BBQ restaurant…I definitely think it’s realistic, especially if you were to move into a building that was once a restaurant (with some equipment still there) and just making some modifications; wouldn’t be nearly as pricey as starting from the bottom up.

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