It probably wasn’t long after humans mastered fire that someone discovered what today we call barbecue, and in the eons since then, countless men and women have believed theirs was the best.Grilling is when meat is cooked directly over a flame. Barbecue is when it is cooked indirectly over heat for a long period of time at a low temperature. Today, with new equipment, techniques and recipes, barbecue continues to evolve and regional restaurants are adding their own flair. Inland 360 surveyed chefs at a variety of area barbecue restaurants. All cook their meat in an outdoor smoker for a tender, moist end product that absorbs the flavors of smoke and rubs. All serve their food at restaurants or roadside stands with regular hours. Here’s what they say about their styles and barbecue philosophy.
Hells Canyon Smokehouse, 145 Thain Road, Lewiston, (208) 816-1709
Bestseller: Pulled pork and beef brisket
At Hells Canyon Smokehouse in the Lewiston Orchards, Mike Beale presides over what he believes to be one of the area’s largest smokers. Trailer-sized with a 400-pound door, it’s big enough to smoke whole hogs. He built it in July after buying the plans from a Missourian on the barbecue competition circuit.
“This is a man’s grill,” says Beale, a Lewiston native who sold cars at his family’s business, Orchard’s Auto Sales, before following his passion for cooking.
“Barbecue was my biggest thing. As many guys are, we love to puff up our chest around the grill and think we’re masters of the universe.”
Beale and his wife, Ronauda, opened their restaurant this spring after 15 years of barbecuing for friends and family and a few months running a mobile barbecue business. All their sauces, rubs and sides are homemade.
Of his style Beale says, “I don’t say Texas or Memphis, I tell them it’s Lewiston, Idaho.”
He uses local cherry wood to smoke his meats. Upon retiring, he dreams of taking his smoker on the competition circuit and putting his hometown on the map.
“A lot of folks from the barbecue belt claim we’d give them a real good run for their money,” he says.
CD’s Smoke Pit, 311 E. Veatch St., Moscow; (208) 882-2656
Corina and Dan Ritter thought Moscow needed a place for barbecue and beer when they bought CD’s Smoke Pit in 2010. She’d come from a self-employed background. He’d just graduated with a history degree from University of Idaho. They learned to barbecue on the fly, getting tips from friends from Mississippi and Tennessee.
“We try to be in the middle so we can be a melting pot of barbecue rather than a specific style,” says Corina Ritter.
In the smoker, Dan mixes woods to blend sweet and smoky — for example, combining a fruit wood with a “more savory” birch or black locust, she says.
If people have trouble choosing one meat, the Ritters offer variety in items like the Big Bear, a spicy Cajun link with beef brisket, pulled pork and caramelized onions. They open mornings of UI home games to serve penny pitchers of beer and English muffin sandwiches of maple bacon-wrapped sausage, pulled pork, egg and cheese.
CD’s also offers a 10 percent discount to permitted people who openly carry arms. It started with friends who acted as security guards and then word spread, Ritter says.
“We definitely get daily open carriers. It’s fun. It’s definitely opened some doors to people who aren’t from the area and don’t know the Idaho ways.”
Smitty’s Southern Style Q, 2820 E. Main St., Lewiston; (208) 791-9253
Bestseller: Ribs and pulled pork
The smell of barbecue is strong after midnight on Lewiston’s East Main Street, where John Mitchell Smith Sr., aka “Smitty,” cooks after dark to avoid the summer heat at Smitty’s Southern Style Q drive-through.
“There’s no rushing it. Go get a deck of cards and play cards when you cook. The slower the better,” Smith says.
Smith got into barbecue when his son played professional baseball for the Texas Rangers. Inspired by the Texas barbecues he attended, he started experimenting, drawing from his background. Born and raised in Southern California, he grew up eating Mexican food. His parents came from the South, and he spent summers eating Southern cooking in Alabama.
“Barbecue is like the all-American food. You start out doing it for your family and it gets bigger and bigger. My family talked me into stepping out on a limb,” he says about the business he opened in January.
He uses fruit woods to smoke his meat and makes his own sauces and rubs.
“My motto is ‘simply the best,’ OK? That’s on my business card and my menu. It’s not something I believe; it’s something I know,” Smith says. “My biggest pleasure is watching people eat my food — it is.”
Lunch Box Deli & BBQ, 602 20th St. N., Lewiston; (208) 743-5616
Bestseller: Pork and brisket
Ten years ago, Marie and Pat Hohnstein purchased a former hot dog stand in North Lewiston and turned it into the Lunch Box Deli restaurant. Not long after that, they were visiting their children in Texas, where they sampled barbecue and decided to add “& BBQ” to their title. They had a smoker built in Wisconsin.
Today they make their sauces and rubs from scratch, aiming for a Texas-style barbecue. Flavors range from sweet to spicy to a hot habanero. All the sauces are ketchup based, says Pat Hohnstein, who handles the barbecue side of the business.
It can be hard to come by traditional Texas smoking wood like mesquite and hickory in Idaho, so the Hohnsteins, of Myrtle, use oak, cherry, peach and other woods they come by. Sometimes their customers find it for them, he says.
“Other barbecue places claiming to have the best barbecue in the valley have come and gone. We’ve been here since 2003, and we let our customers be the judge of that,” Hohnstein says.
Big John’s Rib House, 701 Bridge St., Clarkston; (509) 254-3992
Bestseller: Rack of ribs
It’s called Big John’s Rib House because “I’m big and I’m John,” says John E. Flerchinger, who mans a smoker that looks like a train and a drive-through cook shack beside Hay’s Produce and Garden Center in Clarkston.
Flerchinger calls his style “pure Pacific Northwest.” A key element is alder wood.
“That’s very important. On the West Coast, it grows like weeds. The Indians use it to smoke fish, and it’s known for that,” he says.
In his opinion hickory and mesquite overpower other tastes. He calls alder’s smoke “more dainty.”
A Clarkston native, Flerchinger, 70, played football at UI in the late 1960s. Like many barbecue enthusiasts, he started cooking as a hobby. He volunteered to cook at functions and started getting hired. His ribs and sauce have won blue ribbons at the Pacific Northwest BBQ Association contest. Hay’s sells Flerchinger’s “Third Try Sauce,” so named because his wife insisted on finally writing the ingredients down the third time he made it.
Of the competition in the area, he says, “They come and go.” Like himself — he formerly ran Big John’s in the old Smitty’s Barrel building in Clarkston. His health led him to close the restaurant and open the cook shack with a lighter schedule.
“It’s tough to specialize in one particular item in a town of 60,000,” he says. “If you don’t have the passion to cook you’re in the wrong business. I’m too frickin’ old not to have fun.”