Thursday, September 7, 2017

Traveling Cowboys: Lingering for a Slice of Brisket at the Best Smokehouse in Lethbridge, Alberta

Lingering Smoke


There is such a thing in BBQ as "too much smoke." Just because you can keep a piece of protein in a smoker for up to 13 hours, doesn't mean you should.

Smoke plays two prominent roles in cooking. Firstly it provides a distinctive flavor. Secondly, it helps to preserve. When you grill, there is smokiness. When you BBQ then smoke is a key flavor ingredient that contributes materially to the taste profile of what is cooked. The risk is that introducing the "seasoning" of smoke can jeopardize other flavors if it becomes too overbearing. Contrary to popular belief, smoke doesn't cook the protein. Temperature does the job.


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On our trip to Lethbridge earlier this summer, we were on the hunt for our favorites. Beer, Ice Cream, and BBQ. We asked the locals about their favorite local BBQ spots and couldn't get a straight answer. It seemed that Lethbridgians haven't discovered much beyond the standard pile of nationally branded franchise outlets when it comes to dining out preferences in the town. Or, we've not asked the right people. Before giving up, we consulted the universal "know-it-all" - our friends at Google - which suggested the Smokehouse BBQ & Bar.

We stepped in early to find Michael Wilson opening for the day's business. The Smokehouse BBQ & Bar is a southern style smokehouse where they smoke everything from brisket to chicken to ribs and seafood. It is a southern tradition right here in Southern Alberta. Two "Souths" cannot be wrong.

Michael, the owner, and executive chef was born and raised on a farm in Southern Saskatchewan. He has an impressive CV. Not the kind of schooling you find in most Smokehouses. He began cooking at the age of 8 years. He moved to Lethbridge in 1995, at the age of 26, to start cooking professionally. He attended Lethbridge Community College thus beginning his goal to become a Red Seal Chef. In 1996, he received a Certificate in Commercial Cooking. In 1997, he was awarded the Apprentice of the Year Award in his second year of apprenticeship. In 1998, he received his Journeyman Certificate as a Red Seal Chef. He has worked with many excellent restaurants as Executive Chef, such as Streetside, Brewster’s Brewing Company, Ric’s Grill and Firestone Restaurant.

Observations


Smokehouse BBQ & Bar is as unassuming as it comes. It is all about the food like it should be in such a fine establishment owned and operated by a seasoned chef. Michael serves all the trusted smokehouse favorites with an ample array of home-made sauces.

Something is different here, though. There seems to be a more refined touch. A sense of balance.

Usually, we reek of smoke for days after visiting a BBQ or smokehouse. You can get it out of your clothes when you take a shower. What we struggle to do, is get it out of your palates and olfactories. Maybe, BBQ pitmasters get so used to the smoke that they don't realize how overbearing it becomes. It shows in their food.

Instead, we found that the dishes at the Smokehouse BBQ & Bar was done with just the right amount of smoke. It had the full melt-in-your-mouth texture experience with a broad repertoire of traditional and new flavors. The smoke complemented it. It was almost as if a qualified Chef was involved in the preparation.

We may get into trouble for the following two statements. Firstly, of all the BBQ we've had since the Two Cowboys hit the road (including at competitions), this visit stands out. It is a definite must-do!

Secondly, if we can ask for one thing from Michael (not that we want to mess up a new friendship), it is that he should please serve some local Alberta beer. Eating at the Smokehouse BBQ & Bar was like a symphony with one out of tune (beer) violin. A local Alberta brew will perfect the performance.

We will be back.

Hendrik van Wyk
Old(er) Cowboy

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