People in South Carolina have a simple yardstick for measuring whether or not to visit a BBQ joint. A BBQ joint is either "100-mile BBQ" or it's not. 100-mile BBQ is food so good you would be willing to drive a hundred miles for it. On a crisp autumn Saturday I told the wife and kid we were going pumpkin picking. The wife was enthusiasitc about hitting the countryside to one of New York State's many pumpkin patches. Hayrides, freshly baked pies, kodak family moments. Her enthusiasm stock price took a slight dive when I told her I picked the one pumpkin patch 70 miles away just so we can try Big W's Roadside BBQ.
Ever hear of a BBQ Widow? It's kinda like being a golf widow except more annoying because you have to clean up.
Big W's has all the makings of a great romantic movie. Warren Norstein was not just a trained chef. He was THE trained chef, having cut his teeth at big money places like Chanterelle and Bouley. When we met I told him we're fellow alumni as I too had trained at those places. Mine was a short dabble, his was full commitment no holds barred. He eventually became the executive chef at the Chez Louis reopening. That was about the time I ended my culinary career. For those in the business, these are serious street cred. So what makes a man who possessed a Harvard level resume leave the life of extreme fine dining to smoke ribs in the middle of no where?
Relatively speaking, being a high caliber chef doesn't pay very much. You essentially work investment banking hours while at the same time likely making less than a Jr Analyst. And while bankers can somehow placate their families with the spoils of the almighty dollar, bit harder to explain to your kids that you're killing yourself to serve the perfect duck breast. It's an add insult to injury life in New York City where many top kitchen managers would not ever be able to afford to live in Manhattan proper. Anthony Bourdain, the now television star, was an executive chef at Les Halles and lived in absolute poverty. After leaving that life Warren found that finally his kids " didn’t hate me for working all the time."
So while living up in the middle of nowhere and living off his wife's salary, he decided he was going to smoke some ribs. Like any person bored out his skull, he found a trailer on Ebay and without any BBQ experience decided to set up by the roadside sell ribs. Who knew it would actually take off? After 2 years of that he opened a permenant brick and mortar place. I guess makes it a little nicer to not have to smoke meat in the rain.
Anyway on to the food. You can find the food porn HERE.
His ribs are justifiably well smoked. He does it pretty interesting in that he smokes the entire slab and then separates the St Louis cuts and the rib tips for you when you order. The brisket was very tender but not my favorite. The burnt ends were a bit overdone. The chicken was definitely a star. Now I normally don't order chicken at a BBQ joint but my kid basically lives off chicken and goldfish crackers. It was deeply flavored and moist, of course one shouldn't be too surprised as Chez Louis' goose fat roasted chicken was their signature dish. The side dishes were just outstanding. We got the mash protatoes, Mac & cheese and roasted cabbage. The execution on these were extraordinary.
I'm definitely putting Big W's as 100 mile BBQ. Get the classic Chicken & ribs combo. Finish off with some pie and hit the pumpkin patch!
As an added bonus Warren was kind enough to show me his smokers where are situated in a little barn next to the restaurant. He has two Lang 108 smokers - the largest that Lang smokers makes. I love reverse flow offsets and to see the Langs in person was a real treat. The biggest I've seen of the langs were the 84s which are huge. It's so great to see that there's people still cooking with all wood for BBQ without the aid of gas and electric. The 108 can cook up to 80 eight pound pork butts at a shot. That's 640 lbs of meat! So at any given time there's over 1,200lbs of meat smoking over at his little barn.