It’s time to “meat” County Smoak
“There’s a man on the phone who ordered some barbecue earlier today”, a County Smoak employee told the owners Ken and Jess Hess. “He just wanted to let you all know that this was the best barbecue he’s ever had, and he can’t wait to come back for some more.”
“Meat” the owners
County Smoak owners Ken and Jess Hess, who are both classically trained chefs, began their barbecue journey in 2002 in Lynchburg while competing in their first barbecue competition. That competition ignited a passion for barbeque for which Ken and Jess would spend the next 15 years traveling the United States, learning different barbeque techniques, working alongside some of the country’s top pit masters and competing in barbecue competitions. Finally ready to settle down, Ken and Jess decided to move back to where it all began and create a barbecue destination inspired by their culinary adventures, and incorporating Virginia-sourced products—creating their own unique Central Virginia BBQ style.
The couple started gaining a hungry audience by hosting pop-up events and catering for school and corporate events. They began to scope out possible locations and envision what their dream barbecue style restaurant would look like. And then COVID-19 hit. The Hess’s witnessed the restaurant industry pivot from indoor seating to outdoor seating and to take-out and delivery options. Instead of their classic restaurant dream, ‘The Beast’ was born. The Beast is the name of the outdoor barbecue shack that Ken lovingly named. Ken reflected that even though it wasn’t the original restaurant they had planned, The Beast was a nod to the original history of how barbecue was prepared, from a shack outside.
The County Style
The inspiration behind their business name, County Smoak, reflects the old style barbecue; it takes time, it builds community, and it creates lots and lots of smoke. On their website, Jess describes that in Virginia during the 1800’s, each town would have a “county smoakhouse”, where residents would bring whole cows and pigs from their farms to butcher and smoke. The act of smoking would preserve the meat that the families could eat on all winter.
“Barbecue has always been centered around people, it creates community and fellowship. In naming our own venture ‘County Smoak’, we give a nod to the history of Virginia Barbecue and its traditions, while forging ahead for our own community here in Lynchburg and Central Virginia,” Jess described.
Behind The Beast is an outdoor seating area with picnic tables, heat lamps, and even a fenced in play area for dogs, which makes the restaurant dog friendly. “We always have a leftover bone to give to the dogs,” Ken joked.
The barbecue, rubbed in their own original spices, includes brisket, pork butt, ribs, chicken, turkey and sausage, smoked all day in a wood fired smoker. Even though the focus of County Smoak may be the barbecue, you don’t want to miss out on their legendary sides which include their blue cheese and bacon coleslaw, mac & cheese, pit smoked baked beans with bits of pork, and their Fire & Ice Pickles. The sauces represent their travels and appreciation for different styles of barbecue, including the South Carolina Liquid Gold Mustard Sauce, The Don Alabama White Sauce, The Boss’s Sauce, a version of a Kansas City Sauce and Qu-Tang, a Spicy Western North Carolina sauce. With such a variety of choices, County Smoak is doing quite well, serving over 400 pounds of barbecue and 12 to 18 gallons of mac & cheese each day.
Though County Smoak is so popular they often sell out, they always save an extra meal to donate to a person in need. Seasoned restaurant workers themselves, The Hess’s saw how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the restaurant industry and wanted to support the workers who had lost their job or had been financially impacted by COVID-19. Even though it takes place every day, the Hess’s created a giving program called “Thankful Thursday”, where they give a meal to a person in need. “We have a commitment as a business to have a code of ethics,” Jess said. “We are committed to being a part of this community. We pay our employees fairly; we donate our leftovers to public safety workers, food banks, and hospital workers.”
Experience the Smoak for Yourself
Located at 7423 Timberlake Road in Lynchburg, they offer online ordering, catering, and sell their original rubs and spices online so you can gift or bring the flavor wherever you go.