T-L Photo/KIM LOCCISANO
Barbecuing ribs and then chicken is the way St. Clairsville business owner Roger Devore of Countryside Meats on Mills Road in St. Clairsville generally starts out his mornings on any given Thursday, Friday or Saturday during late spring, into the summer and then during early fall. Customers can usually expect individual barbecued meats or entire to go meals to be available for sale at around 11:30 a.m. each day he is open for business, and that he will likely sell out of barbecue by about 3:30 p.m.
Any way you spell it, Americans can't seem to get enough of the mouth-watering creations broadly called barbecue - a truth increasingly evident by the growing number of mobile food vendors found along popular roadways and at seasonal fairs and festivals nationwide focusing a large part of their menu on these comfort foods.
At this time of the year, the increased sightings of mobile food vendors with menus built on a solid foundation of barbecue traditions and innovations only add strength to the claim that great barbecue is being made in the Ohio Valley and it is well worth seeking out.
Two local mobile barbecue business owners saw the trend coming several years ago and began directing their energies into businesses based on sharing their personal passions for the unparalleled palate-leasing flavors of barbecue.
The mobile barbecue venture led by Roger Devore, owner of Countryside Meats on Mills Road in St. Clairsville, recently began its fifth year of operating from a highly visible location in a small parking area at the side of National Road, just a short distance west of the entrance to Belmont Hills Country Club.
No sooner does he have slabs of spareribs or chickens on to cook, then customers begin pulling off the road to see how soon the barbecued meats will be ready to sell.
It is a ritual seen every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings from late spring through the arrival of crisp autumn temperatures.
The only real advertising, other than the positive power of satisfied customers is accomplished with a small yellow folding sign topped with a simple checkered flag.
Of course, there is the inviting aroma of smoke rolling from the cooking unit as he carefully manages the wood fueled fire in its core regularly turning the ribs or chicken so the smoke moving from the fire envelopes the meats, sharing subtle notes with the barbecue as though it were a fine wine infused with notes from a select wood.
Even the cord wood he uses to fuel the fire in the cooking unit is selected as though it were an ingredient, not a tool. His favorites include oak, hickory, ash, maple, apple and sassafras. Not surprisingly, he selects, cuts and gathers the wood himself locally.
The heart of Devore's barbecuing business is a custom designed cooker crafted of steel to his exact specifications, and cleanly appointed with a flat black finish.
"I can do 20 racks of spareribs at one time, and then 120 half chickens at one," he offered, taking a meat thermometer in hand and checking the internal temperature of several chicken halves as they cook.
His approach to preparing top quality barbecue on a daily basis is built on a fierce desire to present customers with only the best tasting and looking results. Anything that falls short of meeting his personal standards for quality does not get sold.
His customers seem quite comfortable with this attention to standards.
Customers routinely travel from across the region to connect with Devore's barbecued spareribs, chicken, pulled pork sandwiches and the like.
It is a reputation for quality he refuses to take for granted, giving each item on the cooker his full attention as he works the fine details of his barbecuing craft as the carefully selected meats are gently transformed into culinary works of art.
"One guy came from Canton to pick up an order of more than 500 barbecued half chickens," he recalled.
During Jamboree in the Hills 2011, Devore's business caught the attention of a favorite national country artist there to perform at the annual event, Luke Bryan. Bryan and several of his associates visited the business at its Route 40 location to enjoy the classic fare.
Nationally-known musician Bruce Hornsby has also been counted among the customers who stop at the roadside barbecue business.
No matter how well recognized the customer, once the day's goods are gone, the wait extends to the next time Devore sets up the cooker and gets the all important fire going as he strives to have the unit generate the perfect amount of heat needed.
What happens to the herbs used in dry rubs on the meats which are left behind in the process of moving the finished barbecue from the cooker to carefully maintained warmer trays? The few herbs and seasonings which may have fallen off as the meats get moved to one point in the process to another find they are literally tossed into the fire, adding just that much more to the highly aromatic smoke generated by the combination of the cooker and the unit's fiery heart.
Leftovers are just not one of the things this small business owner has to worry about, as customers frequently start gathering to make a purchase well before the barbecued ribs or chicken are nearing the magical moment when his barbecuing efforts produce meats meant to be enjoyed as the world class comfort foods they are.
Like any successful food vendor, he has a loyal following of regulars, customers whose orders are readied as soon as their car pulls onto the parking lot where the business is generally located on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
It is a labor of love.
His favorite reward from a customer is a simple compliment about the taste and quality of the foods he has prepared for them at that single moment in time.
The same affection for barbecue is held by a local couple who several years ago began planning for the day they could retire from corporate careers and take up a life offering them the chance to blend their love of travel, of people and of preparing great barbecue. In addition to carefully developed rubs and personalized sauces they now use and sell, their business's secret weapon is anything but subtle, as it centers on a massive trailer designed to house a self-contained commercial grade barbecue kitchen and all the extras a chef could possibly want when planning to offer customers top quality barbecue and favorite sides to complete a meal.
Jeanne's Bourbon Street BBQ just days ago successfully launched its inaugural summer season, doing so as a food vendor at activities surrounding the annual Kentucky Derby.
On a more local note, the business was unveiled just a week ago during the recent "Party in the Park" benefit event at Oglebay Park.
The mobile barbecue business is owned and operated by longtime Martins Ferry residents Jeanne and Ken Rose.
They too are centering cooking efforts in a custom designed mobile unit. However, the unit is designed to demand attention from anyone looking for great food and good fun. Their unit is a 50-foot long commercial grade self-contained restaurant lovingly dubbed the "Big Pig Rig."
The wood pellet fired cooker can easily prepare hundreds of pounds of meat simultaneously.
The rig is covered end to end with graphics highlighting their ribs and chicken barbecue, sauces, rubs, pickles and more.
Not so many years ago, "barbecuing" meant firing up an outdoor grill with the help of a couple pieces of heavy duty aluminum foil, a bag of charcoal briquettes doused heavily with liquid lighter fluid and brought to life with the help of an ignition source of one sort or another.
In today's world such a process would likely be tagged as grilling and would focus on main dishes the likes of classic hamburgers, hot dogs, kielbasa, chicken slathered in a sauce while cooking, fish and even vegetables on a stick. Grilling is just that: grilling.
But barbecue. There is nothing the least bit ordinary or average about the experience of sitting down - or standing up - to enjoy a meal of spare ribs or chicken made with an extra touch of pure love only barbecue experts such as these area entrepreneurs can impart to everything going onto and coming off their cookers.
Jeanne's Bourbon Street BBQ can be found on the web at jeannesbourbonstreetbbq.com and on Facebook. Countryside Meats can be reached by calling 740-695-4773 and leaving a message.