Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Jeff Hanna starts his days early. Really early. He loads gnarly split oak logs into the firebox of his homemade smoker — a discarded diesel tanker outfitted with a woodstove up front — and lights them ablaze. When the smoke starts rolling, it’s time to add the brisket, ribs, pork shoulder and chicken. It’ll be hours before the sun comes up in St. Malo at Triple J’s BBQ.
Hanna is one of only a handful of restaurateurs who have brought the dream and deliciousness of true barbecue to Manitoba’s culinary landscape.
So what is true barbecue? It’s typically a method of cooking tough cuts low and slow over a wood fire with smoke swirled in to add flavour and tenderize the meat. Confusion abounds mostly because of the term barbecue itself. What most people in these parts call barbecue is actually grilling, when we can have steaks or burgers ready in cooking times measured in minutes, not hours.
Hanna has always loved cooking over an open fire and it was 18 years ago that he got his introduction to smoking.
"My father-in-law bought a smoker in the U.S. and couldn’t get the thing to work, so I went over to have a look," he said. "As it turns out, I was pretty good at it!"
In 2012, Hanna and his wife Lisa began a catering business focusing on barbecue. In 2018, when a space became available on the main drag of St. Malo, they decided to make the leap from bus drivers to restaurant owners. Along the way, they’ve listened to their customers, adding a Sunday morning breakfast and pizza to the menu of the 22-seat restaurant (pre-COVID). The Meat Lovers weighs in at a whopping 1.8 kilograms, loaded with all the good things that come out of that homemade smoker.
The Hannas could easily invest in a commercial cooker, one fired with gas or electricity and supplemented with wood, to make the cooking go a little faster and easier. But Jeff will have none of it.
"The food just doesn’t taste the same. And I love food. I do this because it make sense to me." And with that, he rolls up his right sleeve and displays a tattoo with a slogan emblazoned below it — fire, family, friends.
Things are hopping at Bigg Smoak BBQ Smokehouse & Grill in Steinbach, where owners Rob and Brigette Turner made a big move only a year ago.
They first opened their restaurant in Grunthal in 2017 and after two years, moved the operation to Steinbach, into a space that seats more than 300 people (pre-COVID). The pair admits they’ve come a long way from the day when a friend from Alberta posted a photo of what they thought was burnt meat. He explained they were looking at smoked meat, so they decided to pick up a Weber kettle smoker and give it a try.
"In less than a year, I entered my first competition and did really well," Rob said. "I was hooked." The former truck driver said he would routinely haul hundreds of briskets to the southern states but had never tasted barbecue. Things started to change rapidly with the purchase of a food truck in 2016 and catering gigs.
Brisket, ribs, chicken, pork shoulder and sausages are prepared in two massive commercial cookers holding hundreds of pounds each, a necessity to fill the plates of hungry Steinbach diners.
After a year at the new location, the Turners say it’s time to revamp the menu a bit and permanently add a few test recipes that have proven to be winners.
"We took our burned ends, did a chicken fried coating on them with a deep fry as a garnish for our Burger Week entry," Rob said. "That will be going on the menu as a permanent appetizer."
Jason Dornbush holds the rare distinction of being a chef among Manitoba’s barbecue restaurateurs. He operated the Fort Bistro at Lower Fort Garry for five years before turning his attention to smoking in 2012 with Blue Haze Barbecue, a catering business based in Beausejour.
"It’s a great little growing hub on the way to the north and Eastman areas," he said. "We’ve come to love our community and the people in it."
The idea of opening a restaurant started brewing after Dornbush started offering Friday rib nights to the community out of the catering kitchen. The restaurant opened in 2018; last year, he added a food truck to bring his signature barbecue to events.
Barbecue in a bun along with creative sandwiches — The El Cuban and Hot Russian — are offered daily at the bright eatery on Fourth Street North. Daily barbecue specials include chicken on Tuesday, wings on Wednesday, brisket Thursday and smoked burgers on Friday. Evening specials include brisket on Thursday, ribs on Friday and the Pitmaster Platter on Saturday.
There’s also a deli counter at the restaurant, so diners in a rush can take away a selection of smoked meats, along with Dornbush’s signature sauces and rubs. And don’t leave without sampling a slice of the Mile High Banana Cream Pie.
While there’s no physical restaurant, Danny’s Whole Hog Barbeque & Smokehouse has been delivering the southern flavour for 19 years through endless catered functions.
Danny Kleinsasser’s unbridled love of feeding people starts at his Stonewall area smokehouse where pulled beef, pork and turkey rate among the favourites. Pick up meals for smaller groups have become wildly popular along with his line of frozen products available at major grocery stores across the province. And no Danny’s meal is complete without one of his signature sauces bearing his likeness on the label — Apple Butter remains a top seller.
Triple J’s BBQ
The Un Peu de Everything Platter includes all four meats and two sides with sauces and is an absolute steal at $15.
While it’s nearly impossible to pick a favourite among the offerings, the pulled pork, lightly drizzled with housemade sauce is truly finger licking good.
Tuesday 11 am to 7 pm, Friday and Saturday, 11 am to 9 pm, Sunday 9 am to 6 pm. 131 Rue St. Malo, St. Malo.
Bigg Smoak BBQ Smokehouse & Grill
The Burned Ends here are like no other. Long smoked brisket gets cut into cubes and then flash fried in a hot pan for a caramelized coating. $19.35 for the pound.
The Bigg Texas Jalapeno Cheddar Beef Link makes sausage lovers instantly fall in love.
Tuesday to Saturday, 7 am to 10 pm, Sunday, 7 am to 9 pm. 375 A N Front Drive, Steinbach.
Blue Haze Barbecue
Over 16 hours and love and care goes into the Texas beef brisket here at Blue Haze. And you can taste it in every bite. The gentle flavours of the rub let that beefy, fatty goodness shine.
And while meat is king here, Dornbush has created some irresistible winners with his Tangy Apple Cider Slaw and Apple Cinnamon Beans sides.
Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 am to 6 pm, Thursday to Saturday, 11 am to 8 pm. 318 Fourth Street North, Beausejour.
Danny’s Whole Hog
Pick up a package of Danny’s frozen pulled beef and endless dinner options await. The boil-in-a-bag method makes heating it up a snap.
From there, pile it high on fresh brioche buns with tangy slaw for a southern flavour. Or layer it on a tortilla with freshly chopped cilantro and white onions for a Mexican vibe.
Monday to Friday, 8 am to 5 pm. Saturday, 8 am to 3 pm. 12045, PTH 67, Stonewall.
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