Through a billow of pecan wood smoke, Orlando King turns over pulled pork with several twists of a tong, “to get the juices spread evenly throughout the meat and make it glisten,” he says. King has been setting up his smoker — usually on the corner of Routh and Cedar Springs, behind Kung Fu Saloon — for about two years. “They kept running me off, I’d keep coming back. Permits are in the process and as long as that’s going, the city is fine,” he says with a smile as tears well up in his eyes from the sting of smoke.
King is one of several late-night purveyors of smoked meat who have popped up in Uptown. The grassroots meat movement now involves up to six smokers on any given weekend — Routh Street often has at least three. Occasionally others set up on Laclede, Howell and Howland streets, all arriving early for prime real estate near bars to catch foot traffic stumbling out of the doors throughout the night and early morning.
“I’m bringing street barbecue to the community and the thing is, you have to go where there are people, and this is where they are," King says.
Out of the three smokers stationed within 40 yards of each other, King has the most robust assortment of food choices: sandwiches like the single hotlink for $5 and chopped brisket for $8, and, for $10, a loaded baked potato, barbecue nachos or smoked salmon. His dirty rice, seasoned with parsley, cilantro and other herbs, is excellent with pulled pork and smoked ranch—style beans. It's good food for sobering up — and King knows that.
"Hey, I see myself as a soberizer," he said with a laugh. "I’m out here feeding drunks and saving lives.”
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Tim Ford and his Blue Smoke catering rig set up at at Routh and Howell. Ford is no stranger to meat — he previously worked at Shed 2 at the Farmer’s Market under the late Al Capua at the Old World Sausage Company, next to a little barbecue joint known as Pecan Lodge. Old World Sausage Company served Chicago-style dogs and roast beef sandwiches back when they weren't so easy to find in Dallas. Now, Ford is a newcomer on the block. His method for cooking is more unorthodox than what you’ll find elsewhere. Loaded with pecan wood, he yields to using rubs, including basic salt and pepper for his brisket, and for pork butt, no brine or seasoning either.
“Brining to me is like beginning to cook the meat before I do,” he says. “Just straight pork and smoke flavors is what I want.”
Understanding the majority of his customer base fall anywhere in the range between tipsy and Johnny Manziel, he serves up plates that include potato salad, beans and corn, and the rib plate will run you $12. The sausage plate is $7 but the brisket and boudin tap in at $10. Ford's boudin is made locally and no one will ever come close to guessing from where, but its flavor is authentic and the boudin is dense with texture much like what you’d find in Louisiana. After soaking up his granddad's sweet and vinegary barbecue sauce with a slice of white bread, he offered sage advice.
“It took a long time to get where I am, and if you do the right thing, you get more out of life," he says. "You don’t have the stress keeping you up at night, so I put out a quality product no matter what and if I don’t, I can’t pay my bills.”