I could already smell the smoke as I parked my car at Sparks and Smoke BBQ Takeout. For some, wood smoke may evoke warnings of wildfire or structures in peril, but my brain leaps to thoughts of meaty goodness cooked “low and slow.” I was almost drooling with anticipation when I collected my order, and the drive home was torturous.
I firmly believe you can’t go wrong if you stick with your strengths, and this family-operated business is doing exactly that. The available meats include pulled pork and beef brisket—available as sandwiches, plates or by the pound—as well as St. Louis-style ribs. I hear they occasionally have beef ribs, so call ahead. Sweet Hawaiian-style rolls are used for sandwiches, but I was focused on getting a mess o’ meat and a couple of sides.
There are many good ways to do ribs. I don’t ascribe to a be-all-end-all method. I personally prefer them tender but still hanging onto the bone—just enough that I have to give a little tug with each bite. But for folks who love ’em best when they’re completely falling off the bone, Sparks and Smoke is your huckleberry. I actually held a rib by one end, gave it a little shake, and the meat fell easily onto the plate. The rub had good flavor on its own, but the addition of housemade sauces turned good into great ($25, full rack).
Three housemade sauces are available, “White Collar,” “Blue Collar” and “Mop Sauce.” The first is sweet without any spice to speak of. The second has similar sweetness but with more vinegar and black pepper. The last sauce has just enough kick to make my palate sing. Sauce is included with every order, or you can buy a 16-ounce squeeze bottle ($8.50) to take home.
Having home-smoked my share of ’que, I can attest to the skill required to get beef brisket just right. Attention to temperature and smoke is crucial. Otherwise, the meat’s tough and nearly inedible. Too much time or temp, and it’s best used for stew. This beef brisket ($18 per pound) is right in the Goldilocks zone—tender, smoky and moist—served with fat trimmed to a minimum. The smoke is perfect, the bark terrific. Slather on some sauce, and you’ve got heaven on a plate.
The pulled pork ($16 per pound)—tender and moist, with nice bark and plenty of smoke—was just a tad overshadowed by the other meats. It paired very well with the coleslaw ($4 per pound), a beguilingly subtle combination of cabbage, carrot, green apple, vinegar, mustard and black pepper that was neither soupy nor overly sweet. I added a couple shakes of salt and gobbled it down with the pork.
A side of iron pot beans ($4.50 per pound) turned out to be a mix of pinto and Great Northern beans, cooked until creamy in texture, with a chunk of brisket for flavor. They were a nice change from the more typical sweet baked beans and ranch-style chili beans usually served with barbecue, though—as with the slaw—I added a dash of salt.
My wife is a big fan of cornbread. Though I appreciate it, I let her be the judge of what is and isn’t good. Her verdict on this example ($4): good corn flavor, not too dry and the right balance of sweetness.