In recent years, barbecue has become more and more popular in the Northeast, thanks to shows like BBQ Pitmasters and Man Fire Food, chefs like Tootsie Tomanetz, Aaron Franklin and Daniel Vaughn, and even local Connecticut establishments like Jamie MacDonald’s (Trinity alum!!) Bear’s Smokehouse Barbecue in Hartford and Windsor. While barbecue flourishes in southern states like Texas and the Carolinas the way Dunkin Donuts does on every city block in New England, some chefs are trying to bring that Texas twist to Connecticut. Meet The Firehouse Smoker.
George DeVita, Pitmaster of food truck The Firehouse Smoker, is adapting that quintessential “low and slow” style of Central Texas barbecue to his own offerings. In addition to the low and slow cooking method, DeVita notes that Central Texas style is also known for its “minimal usage of sauces, really allowing the meat to speak for itself.” DeVita said there was no specific motivation to use this type of style other than the fact that he doesn’t “like sauce on my barbecue or overpowering rubs…I just like good quality meats and flavors.” Devita explains exactly what allows The Firehouse Smoker to carve their own place in the barbecue scene— “Our ribs are dry rub—we don’t put any sauce on them and people love them. They think it’s a change from that oversauced, sweet grocery store sauce that everyone puts on their ribs and pulled pork because that’s what they think you have to do.”
On the menu? Brisket, ribs, and pulled pork are the most popular. DeVita also offers side options including pickled red onions, pickles, cilantro jalapeno slaw, and macaroni and cheese which is made from a homemade, smoked cheese sauce with lots of cracked black pepper and, if you’re lucky, some brisket bits. “It just adds another dimension to our mac and cheese and it keeps guests saying ‘that’s a lot different than that one I had that was Velveeta.’ You can tell when someone really puts something into a dish versus when it’s just been made quickly.”
Like nearly all chefs, DeVita says his appreciation for quality food, the farm-to-table movement, and sustainable practices has been shaped by his business. While some chefs may cut corners in order to produce large quantities of food for customers, DeVita sees the value in “taking the actual raw product and transforming it really simply and showing people what it is. It’s given me a different appreciation of flavors, sustainability, farming practices, what these people do to animals…I will go and seek out local farmers that are farming responsibly even when I’m cooking at home rather than buying something mass produced and sold at a grocery store.” DeVita even has a chicken coop in his backyard so his kids can learn where their eggs come from. “Even if you harvest the chicken at the end of its life, you know it was raised in a proper manner and you’re not supporting this mass-produced industry.”
DeVita notes that even though barbecue is not as popular in Conneticut as it is in Texas, he sees The Firehouse Smoker building momentum. “I think with what Bear’s [Smokehouse Barbecue] has done is a testament to showing that people are interested in barbecue. What we’re doing is so unique and different with our simple rubs and quality meats and taking the trucks on the road. I think people are getting it.”
Like many food truck owners, DeVita enjoys the mobility that the truck offers— “The restaurant business is one of the hardest businesses to break into and in this realm, we’re able to build a following. We’re able to travel to different areas and get people to try our food as a way of marketing.” DeVita, who worked in Austin, Texas alongside Bill Kerlin of Kerlin BBQ, says that food trucks are “everywhere. All of the coffee roasters or tacos are all trucks. In a parking lot you’ll find a barbecue truck and then next to him you’ll find like Sally’s Coffee Roasters. People seek it out and it’s fun.” As The Firehouse Smoker continues to gain a following, DeVita says him and his partners are trying to continue to build the business— “How can we serve so many places with one trailer, one smoker, one guy that knows how to cook it, one guy and one woman who does Front of House? The next phase of this is being able to figure out how to grow with what we’re doing and maintain that quality.”