If you’ve been to Fair Isle Brewing in Ballard on a recent Friday, you might’ve come across a brand-new pop-up that’s putting a unique spin on a Southern classic. It’s called Outsider BBQ, and it’s Onur Gulbay’s mix of Central Texas-style barbecue with sides inspired by the flavors of his home country, Turkey.
The idea springs from Gulbay’s post-Istanbul, pre-Seattle stint in Austin, where he landed with his wife in early 2017 and fell in love again — this time with the region’s tradition of meats cooked low and slow over an offset smoker, famously seasoned with nothing more than salt and pepper. From his first taste of legendary Franklin Barbecue, a backyard hobby was born, but it didn’t become a barbecue business until Gulbay — a former tech salesperson and management consulting entrepreneur — and his wife moved to Seattle and he decided to pursue his passion.
Brisket, pork spare ribs, sausage, and pulled pork comprise Outsider’s current mains, all tender and juicy thanks to Gulbay’s dedication to long, careful, indirect cooking, sometimes requiring 14 hours of tending the fire. To be clear, this is not Turkish-style barbecue. “I like to keep the traditional methods of Central Texas-style barbecue such as using oak for smoking and not shadowing the taste of meat with mixed seasonings or sauces,” says Gulbay. In any case, he adds, Turkey doesn’t have the same equipment or traditions — people are more likely to eat lamb cooked directly on a grill, or to dig a pit for slow-smoking meat. “I’ll try that stuff in the future if I manage to get a brick and mortar. It’s really hard to do while you’re doing pop-ups,” he says.
While Gulbay is determined to offer straightforward Texas-style barbecue for now, his sides are anything but expected, hence what he calls “outsider touches” like black-eyed peas flavored in the manner of the Aegean rather than the American South. “I grew up on the west coast of Turkey, where vegetable and legume-based salads are very common with every meal,” Gulbay says. “One of my favorite ones is my mom’s black-eyed peas salad, which is loaded with lots of fresh herbs. I find it very refreshing and nutritious, and wanted to bring that into my menu as well.”
Other sides also get a lift from Turkish seasonings. The coleslaw includes lemon and poppyseeds, while Turkish-style pickles lend sweet-tart notes to potato salad. In terms of texture and flavor, Gulbay says his corn casserole falls somewhere between the common Texas sides of cornbread and cream corn, not as firm as the former nor as creamy as the latter. “I use spices such as sumac and poppyseeds and lighten up traditionally heavy sides with citrus to make them more refreshing,” says Gulbay. “Use of citrus and spices like sumac in side dishes is very common in Turkish cuisine as they help to digest the meat better.”
Gulbay sources his ingredients, including the meat, from local farms and producers — “The beef, the Angus, is great in Texas, but in this area’s it’s also great,” he says — and intends to change his menu seasonally. He makes everything but the bread from scratch, including pickled cucumbers, jalapenos, and red onions, which not only provide refreshing acidity but also beautiful color contrast. “One thing I really pay attention to is the look of the tray,” he says. “You eat with your eyes first. So I pay attention to how things are arranged on the tray — where the meat goes, where the pickles go, where the sides and sauces go, and how sides are served.”
For now, Outsider operates with a 100-gallon offset smoker, but Gulbay says he’s ordered a 500-gallon “beast” slated to arrive in December and drastically increase his capacity. Look out for additional meats like beef ribs and cheeks joining the lineup at some point, though they might be monthly specials due to the ever-increasing price of meat.
Check Instagram to keep track of Outsider BBQ’s schedule, which includes Fridays at Fair Isle Brewing right now, although that may shift to Sundays soon. Outsider has been making appearances at Obec Brewing and Reuben’s Brews, also in Ballard, and should be adding Ravenna Brewing to the rotation soon. Gulbay’s already doing catering and private events, as well.
And while he’s still quite new to the food business, he’s been blown away by the positive response. “The feedback has been amazing and I feel very lucky for all the love we received,” Gulbay says. “My dream is to open up my own place, where the community gathers to enjoy good food and times together.”