As far as barbecue joints go, 12 Bones Smokehouse’s menu casts a wide net.
True, the Asheville restaurant’s signature sauce has its foundation in Western North Carolina’s tomato-based tradition, but the restaurant also offers beef brisket, pulled chicken, and a monstrous bacon, bratwurst, and pulled pork sandwich named Hogzilla. As Asheville Citizen-Times food writer Mackensy Lunsford writes in the restaurant’s new cookbook (which she co-wrote), “12 Bones makes no apologies and declares no major allegiances.”
Yet the contents of “12 Bones Smokehouse: A Mountain BBQ Cookbook” are steeped in tradition – not just North Carolina’s, but everyone’s. There are recipes for barbecue and marinated portobello mushrooms, Korean kimchi and North Carolina livermush. The idea behind 12 Bones, it seems, isn’t to challenge regional barbecue traditions, but to include several of them under the same roof – tradition, yes, but not with a narrow focus.
Some of its offerings, for example, run deep in chef Shane Heavner’s mountain family.
“A lot of recipes died with my great-grandmother and my great aunt and my grandmother,” says the native of Valdese, a town of three stoplights about an hour east of Asheville. Many of those recipes had been passed down through the generations, and he doesn’t want the recipes he knows to suffer the same fate, so they’re in the cookbook. All of 12 Bones’ signature flavors – their tomato “Q” sauce, for instance, or their chicken and pork rubs – are included. Heavner wants these recipes to survive, first and foremost, so he keeps no secrets.
Almost as a rule, too, the recipes hinge on everyday ingredients. The last thing Heavner wants is for people to get frustrated and put the book down, so most of the recipes are purposefully simple.
“That’s the way soul food should be,” he says. “You shouldn’t have to order your ingredients online.”
Like Heavner, co-owner Bryan King was also raised in the mountains – first in rural Spruce Pine and then in Asheville – but worked for 11 years in Silicon Valley before returning to North Carolina in 2011. That year he bought 12 Bones from founders and original owners, Tom Montgomery and Sabra Kelley, who initially opened the restaurant in 2005. Like King, they had lived all over as well.
With that experience, King thinks it’s ridiculous to say that one style of barbecue is king and equally as ridiculous to only serve one type. Patrons in a restaurant that only served mustard-based barbecue, he says, would be out of luck if they don’t care for it. So he goes for variety.
“I’ve been to Texas and loved that style, I’ve been to Kansas City and Memphis,” he says. “I think you can find really good barbecue in a lot of different regions.” The approach has worked – the restaurant has thrived in the decade since its opening, with President Obama among its faithful customers. The president has eaten at 12 Bones three times, and reportedly prefers the brown sugar baby back ribs. The restaurant has expanded, too, opening a second location just south of Asheville in 2008.
Yet franchising outward doesn’t appeal to King.
“It’s special to me that you can only get 12 Bones in Asheville,” he says. “For me, it’s never been a goal to have eight or 10 locations.” Despite the threat of an upcoming traffic circle that may impact 12 Bones’ original location, the restaurant’s home is very much Asheville’s River Arts district, King says, and it’s where they’ll stay.
“It feels like that’s our home,” he says.
12 Bones Smoked Beef Brisket
The rub makes more than you need for this recipe, but you can reserve the rest for another use, such as chicken and shrimp. From “12 Bones Smokehouse: A Mountain BBQ Cookbook,” by Bryan and Angela King and Shane Heavner and Mackensy Lunsford (Voyageur Press, 2015).
1/2 cup paprika
1/2 cup granulated garlic
1/4 cup granulated onion
1/2 cup fine-ground black pepper
1 tablespoon cayenne
4 teaspoons whole dry basil
1 tablespoon cumin
4 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1/4 cup Old Bay seasoning
4 teaspoons dried sage
1/4 cup English mustard
1/2 cup iodized salt
8 teaspoons chili powder
1 flat cut brisket (6-7 pounds average)
1/2 cup 12 Bones Tomato “Q” sauce (see recipe below)
1/2 cup chicken stock
Combine paprika, granulated garlic, granulated onion, black pepper, cayenne, basil, cumin, brown sugar, Old Bay seasoning, sage, mustard, salt and chili powder in a small bowl. Mix well.
Massage 2/3 cup spice rub thoroughly into the brisket, covering all crevices and surfaces. Reserve the remaining spice rub for another use. Chill brisket, uncovered, for about 30 minutes to an hour. Meanwhile, soak the wood chips and prepare the grill or smoker for indirect heat at 225 degrees to 235 degrees.
Place brisket on the unfired side, and then close the lid. The temperature of the smoker should not go below 220 degrees or exceed 240 degrees during the cooking time adding more wood and coals as needed. Combine 1/2 cup tomato “Q” sauce and chicken stock to make mop sauce. Baste the brisket with the mop sauce and flip it over, then baste the other side and close the lid. Baste and flip the brisket every hour or so, until the brisket reaches an internal temperature between 195 degrees and 205 degrees. This should take about 6 hours.
Once cooked, remove brisket and allow it to rest at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Slice meat against the grain in thin slices and only slice what you are planning to serve. Wrap leftover brisket and store it in the refrigerator. Reheat mop sauce, use leftovers to make Brunswick stew or pile it on bread to make a sandwich.
Yield: 6-8 servings.
12 Bones Tomato “Q” Sauce
From “12 Bones Smokehouse: A Mountain BBQ Cookbook,” by Bryan and Angela King and Shane Heavner and Mackensy Lunsford (Voyageur Press, 2015).
3 cups ketchup
2/3 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
6 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
6 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon dry English mustard
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients in a medium-size saucepan and simmer on low heat until all the dry ingredients have dissolved, stirring occasionally with a whisk. Note: Mustard powder can be a bit hard to dissolve.
Yield: 4 cups.