Smoke Shack BBQ in Boscawen NH is the kind of joint that gets the adrenaline flowing as soon as you pull up. It's a big red farmhouse of a building with a working smoker outside, plenty of firewood in sight and the smell of that wood and slow cooking meats permeating the country air. Inside, there's a counter where you place and pick up your order, and a separate dining room with two rows of spacious booths. Smoke Shack has a country store feel, with open bottles of hot sauces on a shelf for sampling and sealed bottles available for purchase, along with other foodstuffs and assorted country magazines.
Smoke Shack BBQ offers breakfast on weekends that doesn't lean too haevily toward barbecue but does include the porkcentric trio of ham, bacon and smoked sausage, along with corn beef hash. The lunch and dinner menu includes the usual assortment of pork ribs (babybacks), pulled pork, brisket, smoked chicken and pulled chicken, plus burgers, dogs, Cajun sausage and barbecue steak. The menu is very versatile, with choice of one or two sides on barbecue plates; the core barbecue meats are all available by the pound. Smoke Shack also features homemade premium ice cream.
My wife and I joined another couple who are regulars on the Northeast competition circuit for a Saturday afternoon New Hampshire mini-crawl. We hit Smoke Shack BBQ as our second stop around 3:00PM, finding ourselves the only ones in the place.
Jalapeno poppers were fairly ordinary and confirmed as frozen. Sweet potato fries were crisp on the outside, chewy inside and delivered strong flavor. Hush puppies were thick, sturdy refugees from the fryolator that were almost as large as golf balls. Beneath the outer crust was what seemed more like actual cornbread than the airy cornmeal batter that usually goes into hushpuppies. A sweetened butter accompaniment was decent.
We were in the mood for ribs and also wanted to try a unique appetizer, so the guys opted for the BBQ Sundae that includes cole slaw, beans, pulled pork, ribs and a corn muffin on top. I'm not sure why, but we were expecting more of a layered parfait than a pile of food we could have just as easily ordered individually, but it worked.
The pork in the Sundae lacked moisture, bark and flavor.
The ribs in the Sundae had a pink smoke ring and a light bark, and were overcooked to the point that simply lifting one off the plate separated the meat from the bone. Moisture was lacking, flavor was muted and there was nothing about them that compelled us stick to our original plan of ordering more ribs in the next round.
The underwhelming ribs on the BBQ Sundae led us to order conservatively the rest of the way. We opted for a half pound of brisket and two chicken thighs.
Smoke Shack's brisket was among the least appetizing plates of meat ever laid out before me, with the pale pink color of undercooked roast beef. I know that smoked foods appear pink for a reason even when they're fully cooked and safe to eat, but this batch of brisket had several spots (check out the close-up views) that were raw. We ate a few pieces very gingerly. The meat was neither moist nor dry; it was tender enough but lacked flavor, even of the slices that had some bark. The tandem of house-made hot sauce and hot mustard sauce went a long way toward salvaging the brisket.
Chicken thighs initially seemed to be more flabby skin than meat, but once we got past the skin the meat was okay. There was no smoke flavor, but the chicken was attractively pink, reasonably moist and so tender that it shredded naturally on contact.
I can't remember anything about barbecue sauce on the tables, but I do know this: the two Smoke Shack house made hot sauces (one a pepper sauce, the other a mustard sauce) were easily among the best condiments I have ever paired with meat. They not only rescued the bland and nearly inedible brisket but were the highlight of an otherwise disappointing visit. It's a discovery that will continue to pay dividends, as I purchased a bottle of each and plan to buy more when they run out.
Cole slaw tasted like the kind you get at a supermarket. Beans were understated. The corn muffin was average.
The bottom line: I can't wait to return to Smoke Shack BBQ for more of their outstanding hot sauces. But unless I hear a positive report on them from a trusted source, I'll probably save those sauces for use on somebody else's barbecue and try their homemade ice cream instead.
Yelp reviews of Smoke Shack
Urban Spoon reviews of Smoke Shack