They started out with a cooler by the side of the road and a trailer bought on eBay. But it didn’t take long for the buzz to start about the cooler’s contents: succulent ribs, crisp coleslaw, perfect fluffy cornbread. Word soon spread beyond the Valley, and business partners Linda Vaughan, her husband, Ron Hammond, and Bill Villetto knew they were on to something when the CEO of Blue Smoke in Chicago paid a roadside visit — and inquired just how they got their ribs to taste so good.
“We were just tailgating on weekends,” recalls Vaughan, a native Texan and former special-education administrator who moved with Hammond to Cold Spring from New York City six years ago in search of a calmer lifestyle. Hammond’s work as an international producer for public television had taken the couple on trips around the world, and Vaughan was homesick for a taste of Texas — and determined to start her own business. A little bird told her that barbecue might just fly in Cold Spring. As their cooler business prospered, customers begged the trio not to close for winter, so they set up a pup tent outfitted with fake palm trees and a heater, later moving into one of the buildings on the site, a former hardware store. “Every year, we’ve grown exponentially bigger and bigger,” says Vaughan. “We need to hire 20 more people right now.”
The barbecue here is not about the sauce. Indeed, they don’t use any to prepare the meat, though, if you want some, help yourself to the extensive condiment offerings. In the cozy dining room packed with picnic tables, walls are painted the color of Texas bluebonnets. Customers order through a window that aligns with a super-duper kitchen trailer tricked out in University of Texas colors (Vaughan’s alma mater). In warmer months, more picnic tables appear outdoors under tents, seating 100. Wednesday nights are karaoke nights and draw a big crowd, including the family dog.
Brisket is the cornerstone of the menu, created in a multi-step process that involves rubbing, wrapping, marinating, then smoking hulking slabs of beef for 18.5 hours. The result is meat so moist and tender you barely have to cut it. “It’s smoked with all that fat to make it juicy. We cut it off afterward,” says pitmaster Villetto.
Brisket, ribs, and sausage (or chicken) comprise the popular three-meat combo, accompanied by three sides. The ribs are simply spiced with a slightly kicky rub that’s top secret. “Never ask a pitmaster for his rub recipe,” cautions Villetto.
In addition to cole slaw and corn bread, chili, made with house-smoked sausage and brisket, crowned with mac and cheese. Says Vaughn: “People say it’s the best chili they’ve ever eaten!”