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Located right on route 125 in Brentwood, NH, Goody Cole’s Smokehouse looks like it was dropped in from Texas. A giant "BBQ" sign from the fenced-in picnic area pulls you closer, and then the sweet aroma of smoking meats seals the deal. Inside, the joint is fairly small, with counter service and a half dozen tables with red checkered tablecloths. Décor is Texas themed, with tin signs, license plates and a poster of the legendary Texas BBQ joints like Kreuz Market, Salt Lick, Cooper’s, Black’s and Southside Market. Behind the counter, you can see the smoker with meats at various stages of completion on the racks. If you like peanuts, you can help yourself to a bucket of them while waiting to order. There isn't a bar, but beer is served.
In the warmer months, outdoor seating is an option on picnic tables accessed through the restaurant.
As for the name, Goody Cole's is named after Eunice Cole, the only woman convicted of witchcraft in New Hampshire in the 1600s.
The menu is fairly simple: one kind of rib (small spares), one kind of chicken (smoked), brisket (sliced or chopped), pulled pork, kielbasa and turkey. Barbecue salads are available with brisket, pulled pork or turkey.
The ribs can be had as half or full racks with or without sides and on 2- and 3-meat combos.
Pulled pork, brisket, smoked turkey and smoked kielbasa sandwiches are offered in two sizes (quarter or half pound of meat).
Meats are also available by the pound.
Sides are equally divided among hot and cold items.
Chili is the only full-time appetizer, with seasonal specials like soups, wings and quesadillas making an occasional appearance.
I first visited Goody Cole's at their original Exeter location for lunches on holiday weekends. Since then, I've hit Goody Cole's there and at the current Brentwood location on weeknights and weekends, both for lunches and dinners. I usually visit with my young bride to get the full complement of meats on dual 3-meat platters, but I live close enough now that it's also an easy unplanned solo mission.
Peanuts: Salted peanuts in the shell are a complimentary snack available in a big bucket by the door.
Chili: Made with Goody Cole's brisket, this chili ($3.99 for 8 ounces) is off to a good start, but the inclusion of so much tomato as well makes it more like a spaghetti sauce for me. It's a nice, beefy, tomatoey stew with some smoky essence, and I'm glad there are no beans, but I just don't think of it as chili. I'm not saying it's not chili, because chili can have many different styles and permutations, and this is as valid as any. You can get it topped with cheese and/or onions, and you can even get it as one of your sides when you order a platter.
Pulled pork Quesadillas: This is a nice little recurring appetizer special that's great for sharing when you're with a group and trying to figure out what to order. Think of it as a pulled pork sandwich stuffed into a different kind of housing, and one that's thin enough to let the pork truly shine. The wrapper is flaky, toasty and as much a flavor contributor as utilitarian device. I shared this with a group in 2010 on the day I first noticed that the pulled pork had made an astonishing improvement from limp and light-flavored to pink, barky, bold, smoky, juicy and delicious (well, at least most of these, most of the time). If you see it, give it a try.
Wings: Since they were a seasonal special only, I only had these once at Goody Cole's, but I'd have them again and again if I had the chance. Barbecue flavor from rub and smoke, with no dependence on sauce, made these plump, juicy wings a winner if a distant memory. But a good memory.
Ribs: I fell hard for Goody Cole's ribs in the beginning, noting their
smokiness, freshness, juiciness, perfect doneness and haunting flavor that was the perfect mix of sweet and spicy via rub alone. And haunt me they did. I still point to the
ribs from my second visit to Goody Coles back in 2006 as being some of
the best I've ever had. Since then, they've almost always been good and sometimes very good, but they've only flirted with that legendary batch from 2006. Is that a criticism? Hardly, as few ribs reach those heights.
The first thing you'll notice when receiving an order of Goody Cole's ribs is how small they are, but they're spares, not babybacks. So they carry a little more fat, and therefore more inherent flavor, and their diminutivity also presents more rub and smoke per bite than most ribs. Crusts are always pronounced. Flavor is satisfyingly intense and balanced, though the spiciness hasn't quite kept pace with the sweet on recent visits. Moisture is a given. So what's the downside? Despite the near guarantee of moist ribs, it's rare that you'll get full-on gushingly juicy. And they're often a little overcooked, but one man's too tender is another man's perfectly tender. I like mine just a bit firmer than what I sometimes receive here, but they're still usually within my desired window. Overall, I'd call Goody Cole's ribs guaranteed good and occasionally excellent, with the best few examples world class.
Brisket: More than any other joint in the early days of this site, Goody Cole's
Smokehouse got me to believe that there's such a thing as good brisket. My standard move everywhere that offered it was a ribs and pulled pork combo, never even considering brisket because nobody seemed to do it well. But after a few meals at Goody Cole's, brisket became the meat I sought most there, whether by sandwich ($7.95 with one side) or 3-meat platter ($14.75 with two sides and cornbread), ironically without pork, since the chicken has been a greater strength. Goody Cole's brisket isn't much to look at—typically cut extra thick, extra brown with barely a smoke ring, and edges that are black—but it usually comes through on texture and always comes through on flavor. What I love most is that the fat is completely rendered, usually infusing the meat with enough liquid fat to keep it moist if not downright juicy. That moistness is not as reliable (maybe a 70% success rate) as it should be, but on many of the successful days it's stellar, with a buttery tenderness and a succulence that lasts the entire meal. Flavor reliability is over 90%, with the salty, smoky edges giving way to inner meat that carries enough smoke and rub to keep the taste buds enthralled. Based on the frequency of the highs and just how high some of those high are, I rank Goody Cole's brisket in my top 10 within the PigTrip directory.
Pulled Pork: The "most improved" award here goes to the pork, which I once described after my earliest visits years ago as having a pre-chewed texture. For the past few years, it's had a bettwer texture, usually presenting tenderness and just the right resistance in the same bite. Sometimes there's steaminess and one time it was flaky dry, but most of the time that moisture content is there and coming from natural pork juices. Color, bark levels, smokiness and overall flavor took a quantum leap as well and have all brought this pork up to where I'd put it in my top two or three for New Hampshire. I'd still like more consistency to the consistency and flavor, which can both do a very impressive impression of pulled chicken about a third of the time, but I'll take it over most of the competition's.
Pulled Pork Sandwich: I tried the pulled pork sandwich recently, opting for the larger 8-ounce version ($7.95 with one side). On that day the pork was moist.
Chicken: At most barbecue joints, chicken is an afterthought—both by
the pitmaster and the customer—but here it's well worth a look, and
it's an item I order about every other visit. I love that when you
include chicken on a 3-meat combo, you get a half bird. The skin is
almost always dark and crisp, and the insides are always moist and
sometimes free-flowing juicy. Flavor can vary: in the early days, strong
smoke was guaranteed (as was the free-flowing juiciness); nowadays it's more fleeting. There's enough residual
flavor accomplished through slow smoking and enough rub on the surface
to keep it in my top ten for chicken, but at one point it was probably
in my top three.
Sausage: Almost always kielbasa cut into 2-inch sections, this item typically arrives with a slightly crispy casing, a little snap left, a lot of red tint to the cross section and some good moistness with juices on slow trickle. There's a bit of spice in the mix, but sometimes they go with a hot link that has more red to the cross section and many more bits of crushed red pepper. Except for one sample where the sausage was pale gray and steamy, this has been a solid entry every time.
Turkey: I readily admit, this isn't a choice I make unless I'm splitting
combos with a group—it's sixth on the depth chart behind the more
obvious ribs/pork/brisket, with chicken and kielbasa off the bench—but
when I've had it, it's been good. Flavor delivers smokiness and poultry
intensity every time; moistness comes through on about about two out of every
three. This is probably best ordered on a 3-meat combo, so the other two meats
are a hedge and the turkey can be brought home and put into a mayo-lubed
turkey sandwich the next day.
There may be more sauces here than any barbecue joint in New England not named Blue Ribbon. There's a dark, thick "Sweet" sauce (Sweet Baby Ray's, rumor has it), three heat level variations on a sweet-spicy-tangy sauce (predictable and redundant but decent), a mustard sauce (thick, too yellow) and North Carolina style peppered vinegar sauce a (thin, lightly spicy, faint hint of sweet, not too tart). Most are good but none really steps it up enough to be memorable. For flavor, the meats have enough going on that they almost never need the sauce, but for moisture they sometimes do.
Potato salad: I've always liked it for its cooling effect, but a recent batch really upped the flavor ante with large cool potato chunks, sizable onion slices, bits of hard boiled egg and no shortage of spices. If I lived closer I would have taken some home. The most recent batch duplicated the onion and egg but did have a shortage of spices. Still a good complement to barbecue.
Baked beans: Just a guess, but I'm guessing these are canned and slightly doctored. Sometimes they're firm enough to keep me guessing.
Cole slaw: Crisp and refreshing version with just enough seeds and overall oomph to be flavorful, but this satisfying slaw works best as a cooling foil for the smoky fare.
Cucumber salad: Thin sliced, slightly tart, slightly sweet and often really herby, these addictive discs are an even better coolant. Probably my favorite side before the recent potato salad epiphany.
Mac and cheese: A creamy rendition varies in the looseness/tightness spectrum but is reliably moist, mild and old school.
Macaroni salad: Elbows lose the cheese and the heat, instead supplying a cool respite from the smoke. Mayo and vinegar both represent in this homestyle version.
Smoked sweet potato: The standard preparation gets a cinnamon butter glaze that I've skipped, but I can vouch for the au naturale version. The skin-on slices are firm and fully tender at the same time, also doing a similar balancing act with recognizable smoke and the pure sweet potato essence. You can keep your sweet potato fries; I'll stick with this.
Chili: I'm on record as not being a big fan of Goody Cole's chili (too much tomato, not enough chile in the chili), but I do really like that you can get it as a side.
Value here is off the charts. The 3-meat combo pricing ($14.75) is as low as it gets, and the portions are so huge that it sometimes requires multiple plates and often requires taking much of it home. If you get chicken on a combo, it's a half chicken, not a quarter, and ribs are close to half a rack.
The bathroom is not going to win any awards from Better Homes and Gardens, but it's not the horror show sometimes portrayed on Yelp.
Warning: your clothes will have the evidence of being in a smokehouse when you leave, so keep that in mind if you need to return to work or lie to your wife about having only eaten a salad.
Comparisons with KC's Rib Shack are inevitable. Both are longstanding representatives of New Hampshire barbecue that have held my top two slots for almost the entire time I've known them. Both offer great value. KC's has better atmosphere and better appetizers. Goody's has better sides. Ribs are a wash, and both are very good, though for most people it would depend on personal preference. KC's are bigger and juicier; Goody's are smaller, smokier and rubbier. Brisket varies at both, but I give the nod to Goody's for more intense flavor and the succulent deckle that often dazzles. Pulled pork goes to Goody's in a slight edge. Chicken goes to Goody's in the most decisive showdown.
The Bottom Line
It's obvious that Goody Cole's is one of the good ones, but it's still a hard barbecue joint to peg. I've never had a bad meal there and have never had anything close. Quite the opposite: I've had some fantastic expressions of ribs, brisket and chicken, and all of them have come multiple times, with some among the best in category, and the pulled pork is solid too. It's just that the flavor and texture of each of them varies enough from visit to visit—and sides too—that I never know whether I'm going to get decent (occasional), good (the majority) or great (often) when I walk in the door. But with lows that are never low and highs that are quite high and repeatable to an extent, Goody Cole's is good enough to be my favorite barbecue joint in New Hampshire and one of the best in New England.
The Bottom Line
Yelp reviews of Goody Cole's Smokehouse
Urbanspoon reviews of Goody Cole's Smokehouse