There's little in this world more comforting than a heaping plate of properly smoked barbecue. Whether your jam is pulled pork, links, or brisket, meat fired slow and low is undeniably delectable.
Sure, Seattle has its fair share of barbecue joints, but few compare to the Central Texas-style succulence prepared at Jack's BBQ in SoDo. Equipped with two massive smokers measuring over 25 feet long, the restaurant serves some of the sweetest, smokiest ‘cue in the county. Eater had the opportunity to talk meat proprietor and pitmaster Jack Timmons — often referred to as Seattle's "King of Brisket" — who explained how he got into the game, what separates Central Texas from other popular regions, and how Seattle's barbecue is even better than Texas'.
Where does your passion for barbecue come from?
Well, I come from a family of people who are service oriented. My parent's house is one of those places where you can't walk in the door without being offered something to eat and drink.
Since I'm from Texas I've always had a little smoker in my back yard. I mean, the food and people from Texas are outgoing and rambunctious. I started playing with barbecue and I discovered famed and self-proclaimed barbecue snob Daniel Vaughan who, at the time, had already visited over 500 restaurants (and just surpassed his 1000th in less than eight years).
Daniel was just at your restaurant in Seattle. Where did you guys eat?
We went over to Bourbon and Bones in Ballard and then on to Campfire BBQ — which is a food truck, and it was good. They had an offset smoker and the pitmaster is from San Antonio — he does Texas style.
We also went to the place next to Il Corvo called Hole in the Wall and then on to my place, all in the same day. And Daniel ate every single meal.
So how did you get into the business?
First I went to Barbecue Summer Camp (yes, this is a real thing) at the Meat Sciences Department of Texas A&M. It's sponsored by a historic food society called Foodways Texas which I'm a member of.
When I looked at it, I felt that there's two ways to get into it. One is to do food trucks and the other is to do events. I hate sitting in food trucks handing out food to customers through a square hole, so I did events. I talked to a guy in NY named Daniel Delaney, who had gone to Texas and had the same experience I did — he had a "wow moment." He bought a smoker and a truckload of post oak and went back to Brooklyn to get to work.
Sounds like you were both very motivated to get your smoke on.
Well, he created a website to have a series of events for $25 a ticket. It went viral and he had like 4000 people sign up. He ended up selling over 2500 tickets in about 2 weeks and made 65 grand before he even started.
You have to create a buzz, get a following and have a series of events. He did it weekly and I did it monthly at what I called the "Seattle Brisket Experience." I liked the festival experience, talking to people, being on stage to cut meat. I'd go to breweries, hire a band and bring a bunch of people to drink beer and eat meat.
What is the essence of Texas BBQ?
Well, you know, I grew up in Dallas, and the barbecue there wasn't that great by today's standards. East Texas is really no different than Louisiana barbecue. Lots of sauce, use of pig, and fried stuff. In West Texas you cook over a coal fire. And in South Texas you bury stuff in the ground — it's called "Barbacoa."
Now in Central Texas you cook in an offset smoker with a clean wood fire. A lot of flavor comes from that. And they don't have corn there so they eat barbecue with white bread. We get a lot of requests for cornbread here but don't have it. But we do have hush puppies that are insanely delicious.
I think barbecue is better here in Seattle than in Texas due to raising the beef in a more moderate climate.
What's the historical significance of Central Texas barbecue?
It was all started by German and Czech immigrants. There was a big migration of people in the mid-1800s, and they opened up butcher shops and they would smoke meats that didn't sell well.
It's also interesting to note that people of color would go to these places in the late 1800s, as then they weren't allowed to go to restaurants due to the Jim Crow laws. A restaurant was defined as any place with plates, cutlery, etcetera. So people would go to BBQ places where they'd have the knives chained to the walls and you could use them but not take them with you.
The old BBQ joints were like the first integrated restaurants because at their core they were butcher shops — you buy barbecued meat by the pound, they chop it up and hand it to you in wax paper.
Where do you get your beef?
We get our meat from St. Helens Beef and Double R Ranch in Eastern Washington. It's grass-fed and corn-finished. I like the-corn finished: fat is soft and spongy on the meat. A student at A&M discovered that it's good fat, monounsaturated fat. So barbecue isn't unhealthy after all!
I think barbecue is better here in Seattle than in Texas due to raising the beef in a more moderate climate. You don't have to cross-breed and harden your stock to survive a hotter summer or colder winter. The air here is better — super fresh, super moist. It is one of the unique experiences of Seattle. Now Jeff Savell at the Meat Science department at A&M called bullshit on this. But I don't know about that (smiling).
What is your favorite cut of meat?
The beef rib and then the moist, point of the brisket. I also love the cheddar jalapeño sausage we make here — I could eat it every day.
It seems like you have a pretty loyal following. How are you engaged with your community?
Well, we just started a philanthropic program this week called "Make a Chili Wish." Every Monday we're going to give out a giant hotel pan of chili that will feed up to 50 people. We'll ask the dining community to make recommendations for who to give it to each week. We also deliver to Police Stations and places like that.
What's your karaoke song?
It's Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash — of course! There's a very small audio spectrum required. Plus, it's pretty appropriate for a barbecue guy.