Children were running around and scampering up trees while their parents and grandparents kept one eye on them and one eye on the band in front of the Tabernacle. There were more than a few feet tapping along to the beat. It was a warm late-July night and the temperature had obligingly dipped below 80°.
As part of this week’s Sunset Concert Series at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs, the Beetlebung Steel Band was performing, and Smoak was dishing out some first-rate barbeque. It’s a minimalistic setup, to the point of almost feeling spontaneous. What was coming out of the smoker, however, was anything but slapdash. Co-owner Tim Laursen had gotten the smoker going in the wee hours of that morning so that there would be enough time for a whole pig to cook for 16 hours. Slow and steady is the name of the game. The resulting offerings were chicken, beef, and pork, all roasted to that pull-apart tenderness. At the concert series, it’s $15 for a plate of food, which includes coleslaw, your choice of barbeque, and a side.
What makes Smoak unique, aside from the fantastic food, is that they have figured out how to bring the smoker to you. Laursen, who is also a welder, has about 10 homemade mobile smokers that take the barbeque out of the restaurant and bring it around the Island.
After six years in the mobile smoking business, Laursen and his partner Ann Khoan have the process down to a science. “I’ve learned a lot of tricks over the years,” said Laursen. “Fire management is very important.” The meat needs to be taken out an hour before it’s time to serve. After resting for 45 minutes, it’s carved and served immediately.
Most of their business comes from catering. However, they do pop-ups at the Sunset Concert Series and a night at Atria in Edgartown in July. “The visuals of it and the process, we put on a show; it’s an important part of what we do,” Laursen said. They park the smoker centrally while the meat finishes its smoking onsite, and Laursen and Khoan are out in front, serving and talking to guests.
It’s an involved process. The fire has to be kept on a slow burn to hit the low 200°. They burn oak wood for flavor.
Smoak sources partly from local farms;, however, their demand outpaces Vineyard production. There’s more of a pure pork or beef flavor from local meat, said Khoan, and grass-fed, free-range beef tends to be leaner than the commercial cows, which exhibit more fat. Locally, their meat comes from the GOOD Farm and the FARM Institute. They also source locally as much as they can for their salads, but again, this depends on demand and ingredients.
For now, it’s Khoan and Laursen as the only full-timers, however, each season they’re looking for ways to expand. “Every year we’re trying to make it better and better,” said Laursen.
For more information, check out Smoak’s website at smoakbbq.com.