Getting Dirty at Smoke Barbecue Leeds

March 16, 2016

Last month, a very exciting invitation with an intriguing subject landed in my inbox. Its subject was titled "Ellie - Do you want to get dirty?" Don't I ever. The invite was from Smoke Barbecue Leeds, who invited me and a plus one to sample authentic, open pit American barbecue food and beer with them at their exclusive blogger event. Well, you didn't need to ask me twice! Two of my favourite things combined into one evening was simply too good to pass up. I had heard of Smoke Barbecue before but had never visited, probably because it is tucked away behind the Merrion shopping centre in Leeds. Call it a hidden gem if you will, because this restaurant quite frankly knocks other barbecue restaurants out of the water - yes, I'm saying that it's even better than Red's, and I really do love that place! A bold claim? Perhaps, but with good reason; let me tell you why.

Smoke Barbecue Leeds review
Exterior of Smoke Barbecue Leeds

But, before I do, a little bit of background story. Smoke Barbecue started in December 2013 in the fellow Yorkshire city of Sheffield, after a visit two years before to the home of barbecue; Austin, Texas. Following its success, Smoke Barbecue Leeds opened in October 2015. With the tagline "Put the fork down... It's time to get dirty!", their aim is simple; deliver the best quality, authentic wood smoked meat in true American style, using a unique smoke and secret spices on their open pit barbecue. No gas here! Having tried a wide variety of dishes from various barbecue restaurants over the last couple of years, I like to think that I'm pretty well informed when it comes to telling the good from the bad. Leeds in particular is not at all short on the barbecue restaurant front, and as such Smoke Barbecue has a lot of stiff competition. I've had some real disappointments in the past, but on the flipside some excellent dishes too. So, I went in with an open mind - and a very hungry tummy!

Interior of Smoke Barbecue Leeds
Open kitchen at Smoke Barbecue Leeds

When we arrived, I was immediately impressed with the decor. I love all manner of mismatched items, and this place does it like no other. Washing machine drums for light fittings, wooden pallet benches and tables, logs of wood in the ceiling - this place had it all. It had a very industrial feel and I really liked it, and it was very fitting for the theme of the restaurant. However, our table did have quite the wobble on it, which became slightly problematic throughout our meal! Pride of place along the right hand wall is the bold, spray painted tagline and the bar, where you could wait with a drink if your table wasn't ready. However, the star of the show was tucked away down the back of the restaurant; the open kitchen, where if you so chose you could sit and watch your food being made in front of you. I did spot that there was no microwaves (at least as far as I could see), which was a good sign - this meant that everything coming out the kitchen would be fresh. The smell coming from it was incredible, and certainly made us hungry. We were sat a little further up but still had a pretty good view of the action, and seeing the big pile of meat that you can spot in the picture above only whet our appetite further!

Bottles of Camden Hells Lager at Smoke Barbecue LeedsSmoke Barbecue Sauce at Smoke Barbecue Leeds
Smoke Barbecue Leeds menu

There was a plan of action for the evening, and it wasn't long before one of the owners, Duka, came over and introduced herself. It's rare that we get to meet the owners of the restaurants face to face, so this was a touch that was very much appreciated - it helped as well that she was so friendly and clearly has such a passion for the food. She got us sorted with our drinks too, as a beer was included with our food. The beer selection was bad at all, but a little lacking for a restaurant that advertises its beer with its food; three draughts, and six bottles/cans to choose from. Me and Martin both went for a bottle of Camden Hells Lager, one that we have had before and therefore a safe choice for us. There was also more beers to come, but I will tell you about those a little later. Duka then told us what we would be trying between us; the Smoke Sharer Plate, usually £30. Looking at it written there innocently on the menu, we thought that sounded good, but pretty standard... until it arrived.

Smoke Sharer Platter at Smoke Barbecue Leeds
Smoke Sharer Platter at Smoke Barbecue Leeds

There is no other way to describe the size of this platter other than effin' huge! The plate was nearly as big as my forearm is long, if that helps you with the sense of scale at all. I had to stand up to take a picture of the whole thing, as there was no way it was all getting in the frame. Making up this monstrous plate of meat was pulled pork, baby back ribs, chicken thighs, house hot link sausage and a barbecue turkey leg, which was quite frankly the biggest piece of meat I've ever seen. As if all that wasn't enough, served along with this was a portion of twice cooked chips, pickled 'slaw and a jalapeno corn bread muffin, just to round the whole thing off. I don't think I've ever seen Martin stunned into silence before - well done Smoke! It was difficult to know where to start so we just got stuck right in, and got well and truly dirty. As a whole, it was absolutely incredible and there wasn't a bad item throughout. The hot link sausages were my personal favourite, which was hot as the name suggests but not overly so, and you can tell that the quality of the meat used is superb. The chicken thighs were succulent and moist, with wonderfully charred skin and delicious smokey flavour. I think that the ribs were Martin's favourites, with their evident smoke ring and the meat just fell off the bone, with very little effort required - a big thumbs up from us. The pulled pork bun was to be honest a little lost amongst the rest of the food, but it had a good sweetness and wasn't dry at all. However, the turkey leg is what defeated us in the end, as it was just so monstrous that it was impossible to eat it all - talk about getting your money's worth! Martin ended up taking it home and getting two more meals out of it, so he was thrilled with that. The meat again was cooked well and smoked beautifully, and much like the ribs actually took very little work to get off the bone.

Twice cooked chips at Smoke Barbecue Leeds
Samples of beers at Smoke Barbecue Leeds

I would not have chosen the jalapeno corn bred muffin as a side for myself as I thought that I didn't like corn bread, but I was wrong. Corn bread that I've had in the past from another restaurant has been dry, and way too stodgy to go with such a filling meal. However, this muffin was served warm and with added butter, it was like heaven on earth. Sweet, light and fluffy, it was punctuated with little kicks of the pepper throughout and I was well and truly converted. If I can find one that beats that, I will be amazed! The chips was also pretty good, but by the time I got around to them they had gone a bit soggy - which is a shame, but they tasted fantastic all the same. I washed them down with generous helpings of the house Smoke Barbecue Sauce, which is one of the best barbecue sauces I've ever had. The description "Sweet with a bit of heat!" sums it perfectly, and it was right up my street. I was absolutely beside myself with delight when I realised that I was taking one home with me in the goody bag! Finally, the 'slaw was good in my eyes, but Martin wasn't so keen. To be fair to Smoke, Martin is a difficult man to please when it comes to the slaw because he's not usually a fan of it, but I quite enjoyed it. Nothing groundbreaking, but a lot nicer than another restaurant's that I had tried recently. Along with our meal we also had a taster flight of their three draught beers; Freedom Organic, an English lager; Smoke American Red, a red lager and American Savior, a pale ale. Out of these three, there was an easy winner with the Smoke American Red with its distinct smoked flavour, which I've only ever tasted a few times before.

Desserts at at Smoke Barbecue Leeds

When we had finally thrown in the towel and admitted defeat, we sat there and congratulated ourselves on a job well done on tackling all of that food. But, what was that making its way out of the kitchen...? Puddings?! Somebody help us. On our plate was a selection of the various puddings that they offer, which included Peanut Butter Cheesecake, Chocolate Brownie, S'mores and Rocky Road Ice Cream. Neither us like peanut butter so I'm afraid that one was out (apart from me tasting a little of the chocolate off the top), but I particularly enjoyed the S'mores, which admittedly I had never had before and was a whole new concept to me. It was hard work getting the marshmallow off the spoon though, I can tell you! The chocolate brownie was was gooey and rich as you would expect, and we both really enjoyed the ice cream, although it had melted into a big, sticky mess by the time we got around to it. With places like this it is rare that we give the desserts a try, so it was nice to get a sample of everything to see what we would like best. The cheesecake did look fantastic even though we didn't like the flavour, but this changes regularly so I would love to go back and try a flavour I would like one day.

Interior of Smoke Barbecue Leeds

I think it's safe to say that our exit from the restaurant was not graceful; by this I mean that we waddled out of there, knowing that the food baby was imminent! We really enjoyed our time at Smoke Barbecue, and had a fantastic evening trying the best of what they had to offer. The Smoke Sharer Platter that we had would have been easily enough for three or maybe even four people, but even between two it is a reasonable price of £15 per head. Me and Martin have both paid more for food that hasn't been anywhere near as good, and we have never left feeling so full! If you're looking for a true taste of the American barbecue brought to your doorstep, this is it - and I don't think it could really get any better than this. On my next visit (I will definitely be going again!), I really want to try a different dish, such as one of the burgers or even their chilli, to see how the quality compares to the barbecued meat. Smoke Barbecue is a little out of the way if you're heading into the main city centre, but it is well and truly worth the trip and also perfectly placed for the First Direct Arena that is across the road. In either case, I highly recommend that you give this newest barbecue joint in Leeds a go!

Disclaimer: Our meal was complimentary, but this does not affect my opinion in any way.

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