Scott Smith may be a barbecue pit master, but he's no barbecuing fool. Before starting Big Bad Wolf's House of Barbeque in Hamilton with his brother Richard in 2004, he trained and managed the floor for three of chef Cindy Wolf and Tony Foreman's restaurants: Savannah (now closed), Charleston, and Petit Louis. And the training shows at his barbecue joint, where the sauces are as nuanced and flavorful as a French chef's signature port reduction.
"It goes back to that sense of quality," Smith says. "Every day you do it as well as you did it the [day] before."
Smith's journey to barbecue was circuitous. As a teen growing up in Ocean City, he worked as a prep cook at several grill-heavy lunch counters. The experience spurred a love of cooking, but after he finished school Smith became an accountant, not a chef. Nearly 10 years ago, he quit his job to follow his culinary dream, landing a job at Savannah.
Working with Wolf taught him many important lessons. He learned discipline and high standards and the importance of fresh ingredients. He also learned about the importance of speed in the kitchen, but that efficiency shouldn't get in the way of well-thought-out food.
"There's sometimes a point to having a sense of urgency about things, but you can't rush good food," Smith says. "Barbecue is all about long slow heat." Smith roasts the pork shoulders he uses at Big Bad Wolf for 15 and a half hours before pulling it.
Gourmet cooking "was one part of my life, but barbecue was what I did with my time off. It was what I loved," he says. So six years ago he left the Wolf-Foreman empire and soon after opened Big Bad Wolf. At the Hamilton spot, Smith is terse but friendly, serving up mammoth Big Bad Wolf sandwiches of pulled pork, brisket, and bacon, with a selection of sauces, which range from delicate and sweet to a slow-building picante to a Southwestern-style that almost tastes like salsa.
There's something populist about the place, despite the care and technique that goes into tweaking the subtlety of the sauces and ensuring that meat falls off bone without too much effort. It says that even your average Joe with sticky fingers and stains on his T-shirt can appreciate the tonal differences between sauces like Kansas City Spicy and XXX (a slow-hitting hot sauce that Smith's brother invented), or Kansas City Sweet and Texas Pit.
"Most people can't do things at a high level [of quality]," Smith says. "They don't have that quality hard-wired in their brains. . . . But one time a guy wrote us this six-page letter about how he didn't like our barbecue and he was sticking with [Cockeysville barbecue restaurant] Andy Nelson's. And actually, it made me happy. I'm just happy to see people supporting barbecue."