For the last two years, I’ve been teased with tastes of It’s Just Barbecue and the restaurant’s signature sauces.
We’ve sampled their pulled pork at Iron Chef competitions at Wilson and Hamburg (including the 2015 event where pit master Jeff Stumpf competed in the live cook-off). Every time, we say that we need to try it.
So finally, on an unseasonably warm Saturday, we decided to make the drive north on Route 61, a few miles over the county line to Deer Lake for the full experience.
There’s nothing fancy about the place. If not for the bright pink pig-shaped smoker out front, the restaurant is nearly invisible, set on the back side of the building facing away from traffic.
The pig is so recognizable that most people know the restaurant as the Pink Pig.
Inside, it’s much of the same. Pigs of varying shapes and sizes can be found wherever there is a ledge. Trophies from their barbecue competitions and the Hamburg Iron Chef fill in the bare spots.
After ordering at the counter, most people take their meals to go because the dining room consists of just six wooden picnic tables.
While a steady stream of customers poured in while we were there, we were the first (and for a long time, only) ones to grab a table and enjoy our meal in the restaurant.
The menu doesn’t offer much in the way of variety — it fits on a tri-folded sheet of ordinary paper — but what It’s Just Barbecue lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality.
What I really wanted to try was their ribs, but they were already sold out for the day (like any great barbecue restaurant, the meats are slow-cooked for hours in the smoker so when an item is gone, it’s gone).
Thankfully everything else was still available so I went with a beef brisket platter with baked beans and cinnamon apples on the side.
The brisket is simply outstanding. Though it was pulled apart, you could still see the distinct pink smoke rings, a sign of well-prepared barbecue. And from the first time my fork touched it, the meat fell apart.
Even without the sauce, the meat was juicy and flavorful. The tables all had a bottle of the original house barbecue sauce (which I found to be too sweet for my tastes), I doused my brisket in a full cup of hot and sweet sauce that had just the right amount of after-burn.
The baked beans, like those at any good barbecue joint, are cooked with a little bit of leftover meat. There was just a little bit of pulled pork in mine, and I found myself wanting a little bit more.
The cinnamon apples were also very good, so much so that I was scraping the bottom for the extra syrup that remained when the apples were gone.
Julie’s meal was a little bit lighter than my own. She went with a smoked chicken breast sandwich and a side order of chili.
The chicken, like the brisket, was delicious on its own. It really captured the flavor from the smoker. After pouring on some honey barbecue sauce and closing the bun, it made for an excellent sandwich.
Her chili was a little lacking so she added some of that same honey barbecue sauce to it to give it a little more flavor. I would have probably done the same thing with the hot and sweet sauce if I had ordered the chili; it just needed a little something more.
But it’s hard to complain when the barbecue was as perfect as you will find. The price was great too, with our two meals (plus a couple bottles of iced tea) coming in at just over $25.
It’s Just Barbecue is worth the drive for any lover of smoked meats.
It’s a restaurant that truly lives up to its name.