Whether slow smoke, open grill, charcoal, or wood, NEPA can lay claim to a mouth-watering selection of summer barbecue to suit every taste. American barbecue today is no longer just hamburgers and hot dogs on the backyard grill, and, with the advent of popular television shows like BBQ Pit Masters and Best in Smoke, millions have caught“ barbecue fever” right here in the Pocono Northeast.
Uncle Buck’s BBQ
361 West Main Street, Plymouth
“My philosophy has always been low and slow,” said Brian Gardner, owner and pit-master of Uncle Buck’s BBQ. “The name shouldn’t be Uncle Buck’s BBQ, but Uncle Buck’s Smokehouse.”
Gardner dry rubs various meats with a specially prepared recipe, then slow smokes fresh-trimmed cuts of brisket, pulled-pork shoulder, and ribs over cherry and hickory woods for 10-14 hours until they’re fall-off-the-bone tender.
“No temperature ever gets above 200 degrees in my process,” he said. “The slower the cooking, the deeper and richer the wood-smoke flavor.”
Like many in the burgeoning barbecue business, Gardner got his start in middle-management corporate America.
“I always loved to barbecue,” he smiled. “So, when my employer offered me a severance package, I decided to go to work for myself and turn my pastime into a business.” He opened Uncle Buck’s BBQ in 2010 with his wife, Donna.
Uncle Buck, as he is known to friends and family, developed a love for barbecue and meat smoking at an early age from his father in their backyard smokehouse.
“Like a lot of people in the area, we made smoked kielbasa,” he said. “I remember tinkering with hundreds of different kielbasa recipes over the years. I’m still perfecting it.”
Notably, his smoked kielbasa placed second at the annual Plymouth Kielbasa Festival in 2011.
Uncle Buck said that a large part of his interaction with customers is educating them on what authentic wood-smoke barbecue is all about.
“This is more than just sliced pork with relish on a roll,” he smiled. “Once people try my barbecue, they catch on pretty quickly.”
Uncle Buck’s is open year-round for dine in, take-out, and catering.
Randy’s BBQ & Burger Joint
303 North Keyser Avenue, Scranton
Randy Ayers traveled all across the South as the owner of a mid-sized marketing company, stopping along the way at every little barbecue shack and roadhouse he came across to sample the hundreds of regional variations of sauce, rub, and meats, so common throughout that part of the country.
“My travels really informed my opinions about real wood-smoked barbecue,”Ayers said. “If you travel 100 miles in any direction in North Carolina, for example, the barbecue styles will most likely be completely different. The sauce in eastern North Carolina is vinegar based, and the farther west you travel, the sweeter the sauce.”
With his inspirations in place, Ayers opened his first barbecue business in 2004, called Randy’s Back Yard Party Solutions, which specialized in catered family gatherings, corporate events, and fundraisers.
“I knew I wanted to be in the food industry, but I didn’t want to be just another place offering the same old, tired sausage and peppers and
meatballs in sauce,” he said.
“At backyard parties, I was always the guy who got stuck behind the grill the whole time, so the barbecue decision was really a no-brainer,” he added.
Ayers invested thousands of dollars on state-of-the-art barbecue and grilling equipment and quickly made a name for himself in the local catering market.
His original dine-in location on River Road, in Plains, was destroyed as a result of the 2011 flooding. As soon as a the water receded, he began making plans to reopen the business in another location, but this time “on higher ground.”
“Luckily, we were able to get all our equipment out in time,” he said. “The building was completely under water and everything we did leave behind was destroyed.”
Ayers slow-smokes his ribs, brisket, and pork over locally trimmed apple wood logs, lending a distinct, sweet, fruity flavor to his barbecue, which is dry rubbed and served with a selection of homemade sauces reminiscent of his southern influences – various blends of savory, sweet, and even a Georgia-inspired mustard-based.
“I learned from the best pit masters,” said Ayers, who competes at barbecue competitions with his award-winning Hog Feathers barbecue team. “Low and slow is how we go.”
He spent considerable time honing his craft from nationally known pit masters like “Memphis in May” Grand Champion Myron Mixon at his Georgia headquarters.
“I make a habit of hitting the road every year to recharge my engines and eat great food,” he said. “And, barbecue folks are the best people in the world.”
Ayers’s new location is open year-round for dine in, take-out, and event catering services.
Kundla’s Western Beef Company
Route 509 at Hamlin Corners, Hamlin
Ed Kundla opened his open-pit barbecue business in Hamlin 29 years ago, along with his wife and business partner, Josephine, as a means to satisfy his friends’ desire for his delicious backyard barbecue.
“Everyone loved my ribs and kept asking me to make them,” he laughed. “So, we decided to give the barbecue business a try.”
Over the years, Kundla’s has served charcoal-grilled ribs, chicken, and homemade sides to thousands of satisfied customers.
“We have people come from New York, New Jersey, and as far away as Delaware and Virginia to eat here. Sometimes the line is an hour long,” he said. “I have a small trucking company, so we buy most of our meat directly from the Midwest stockyards and bring it here to our storage facility for refrigerated storage and trimming. It takes three full-time men and an entire week to prep all the meat for our weekend openings.”
Kundla’s open-pit barbecues were actually designed by a local metal fabricator in Scranton and are continually modified over the years.
“There are so many variables,” he said. “From the type of charcoal and wood we use to the distance from the grate to the charcoal bed; it all makes a difference.”
Kundla’s uses a specially blended wet-baste sauce for its meat products, along with a savory dry rub and a secret finishing sauce atop its mouth-watering ribs and chicken.
Kundla obtains his fresh corn on the cob from a farm in Delaware that blended a special hybrid for him.
“We sell an awful lot of corn throughout the summer,” he explained. “It was necessary for us to have some control over our supply and quality.”
Kundla thinks it may be time to step back a bit and enjoy his classic car collection.
“I consider myself semi-retired,” mused the 73-year-old. “But, I honestly don’t know what I’d do with myself if I retired.”
Kundla’s Western Meat Company is open seasonally from Friday to Sunday, from Mother’s Day through Columbus Day weekend, including seasonal holidays.