Illustration by Lars Leetaru
If the magazine smells like smoke this month, blame our taste buds. This is the first time we’ve devoted this many pages to the cult of ’cue. The main reason for this is that, despite its convenient location (a Northern city looking South across the old Mason-Dixon Line), its undeniably soulful DNA (birthplace of King Records, funk music, and Bootsy Collins), and the fact that so many inhabitants openly practice the dark arts of grilling, Cincinnati does not have a reputation as a barbecue mecca. People like their barbecue, that’s for sure, but as a region we haven’t evolved our own inimitable cooking style. The barbecue we make is received wisdom—brisket à la Texan or dry-rubbed Memphis-style ribs, for instance. And that’s fine. You have to start somewhere. Why not soak up tips and methods from the best?
As a strategy for spreading the gospel of smoked meat, it’s not half-bad. It may not put us on the map just yet, but if the package that starts on page 68 is any indication, we’ve established a minor foothold. A devoted cadre of enthusiasts are plying their craft all over the city and up into the hills. Some, like Montgomery Inn, have been doing it for decades; others, like the Butt Shack in Greenhills, have only just begun. Elias Leisring started out low and slow, appropriately, three years ago, selling pulled pork sandwiches at a stand on Fountain Square. “People said, ‘Wow, this is good,’ ” he recalls. “ ‘Where’s your restaurant?’ ” Lucky for us, he opened one in early 2012. A couple hundred yards from the river in the East End, Eli’s has attracted the ’cue cognoscenti. Now he goes through about 65 pork shoulders a day. (And yes, that’s his pulled pork on the cover. Is your mouth watering yet?)
So, indisputably, we’ve got some dedicated smokehounds around here who are keeping the home fires burning and turning out some laudable barbecue. Will their efforts turn this city into a mecca anytime soon? It’s doubtful. But that’s OK. I’m not sure this country needs another mecca of any sort. And anyway, that means more for us.
Originally published in the July 2014 issue.