Depending on who you ask, there are two ways to pronounce San Angelo – “suh nangelo” or san (rhymes with man) angelo. Beginning this weekend, there’ll be just one joint serving the town’s best barbecue – Southern Smoke.
Proprietors Blake Woodson and Ben Wolf became best buddies in the second grade at Moss Haven Elementary, and their friendship strengthened through their days playing baseball at Lake Highlands High School. After graduating in 2011, Wolf went off to the University of Virginia to study nanomedicine, then got a master’s at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Woodson played baseball at Paris Junior College, then began working full time. His mom bought him a meat smoker for Christmas in 2013, and he realized he’d found his passion.
Over the next few years, Woodson invited friends over on weekends to watch sports, hang out and sample his smoked meat creations. What began as a hobby became a barbecue lab, and friends gave him honest feedback so he could tweak his recipes and expand his repertoire.
Wolf followed jobs to New York City and San Francisco, but one evening after moving back to Dallas, he went for a drink with Woodson and caught up on old times. Woodson had purchased rights to the Southern Smoke BBQ name and was ready to turn cooking into a career. Wolf had ideas about making the venture a financial success, and a partnership was formed.
“That night we hit the ground running and it’s been nonstop ever since,” says Woodson. “Before we went home, we had flushed out the beginnings of a business plan and just needed to find the right opportunity to make it a reality.”
Woodson contacted a group of guys starting Plateau Brewing Company in a historic building in downtown San Angelo. They had spent two years renovating kitchen space in the facility and were looking for the right restaurant to pair with their beer selections.
“After they tried my barbecue, they were in,” recalls Woodson. “Next, I spent a month at Brick Vault Brewery and BBQ in Marathon, Texas, learning from their expert pit masters before moving to San Angelo full time in May.”
In Lake Highlands and throughout big-city Dallas, enthusiasm about a new restaurant spreads fast. That’s just as true in the Concho Valley of West Texas.
“There’s a lot of excitement brewing about our grand opening this Saturday,” says Wolf. “The community can’t wait to see that beautiful old building filled again.”
“We’re not even open and already I’ve been asked to judge a local brisket contest,” agrees Woodson. “It feels like we’re already ingrained here in San Angelo.”
The opening was initially scheduled for May, but a variety of minor glitches put the date off a few months. Wolf says the delay was a blessing in disguise.
“We had to get super-creative in our problem-solving, but we learned so much during that bridge period.” Southern Smoke BBQ spent the time introducing their wares and perfecting their methods at pop-ups and festivals in the region.
“We can’t wait to officially open our doors on September 18th and begin serving the people of San Angelo and West Texas,” says Woodson. “We have a stage for live music, and we are currently open until 10 most nights, with plans to stay open later select nights. Our menu is traditional with a Southern Smoke flare. Think pork belly biscuits with homemade honey butter, Birria tacos, cheesy jalapeno sausage, blueberry bread pudding, and a late-night menu to soup-up how you like – messy fries, nachos, quesadillas and more. Y’all come on!”
You may view the full menu here.
Woodson and Wolf say seeing their ideas come to fruition is a dream come true. Teaming up with Plateau Brewing, with whom they share space, is key to their plan.
“We’re going to collaborate everywhere we can,” says Woodson, “from going to festivals together to using Blonde Ale in a sauce to helping customers pair this beer with that brisket. We want to grow and expand with them.”
“We are two sides of the same coin,” agrees Wolf. “We believe the crossover benefits will be incredible.”
If you can’t make it to Southern Smoke BBQ for the grand opening, Woodson has suggestions for your backyard barbecue creations.
“The best tip I have for you is this: be patient. Smoking is an art, something you can’t rush. From whatever cut of meat you’re smoking to whatever rub or sauce you’re using – make it your own. I personally use only salt and pepper on my briskets, with a 2 to 1 ratio of salt to 16 mesh pepper. If you don’t like the outcome, try and try again until you get it right.”
San Angelo is 4.5 hours southwest of Lake Highlands, but it’s worth the drive. The first ever Texas Travel Awards named the 100,000-resident town Destination of the Year and nearby Fort Concho Historic Site of the Year.
Southern Smoke BBQ is at 214 S. Chadbourne Street, San Angelo. The fun begins Saturday at noon.