Spotless black and white checkerboard tiles, racing paraphernalia and toy cars exude a NASCAR theme that's cute and all, but what I like about this tiny 1-room joint is that there's a real pit at this Pit Stop. The large, rusty oil drum style smoker to the side of the building created an aroma so intense that I could smell it before I even got out of the car.
Barbecue items on the Pit Stop Smokehouse menu include jumbo smoked wings, St Louis cut pork spare ribs, smoked half chickens, pulled pork and pulled chicken. Sliced brisket is a weekend special, at least on my visit. Beyond barbecue, the diverse menu offers jalapeno poppers, loaded potato skins and fries, mozzarella sticks, bread sticks with or without cheese stuffing, pizzas, pastas, burgers and dogs, deli sandwiches and six different salads.
The menu itself doesn't offer any 2- or 3-meat combo plates, but blackboard specials pick up the slack. "The Tailgate" ($12) includes wings, ribs and a choice of brisket or pork; "The Intimidator" ($22) includes a half rack of ribs, pulled pork, pulled chicken and two sides. The amiable staff is more than accommodating, so any permutation not put in writing can probably be arranged. We added a side of brisket to one of these for a ridiculously low $3.29.
Two barbecue buds joined me for a Saturday barbecue lunch that kicked off a New Hampshire BBQ mini crawl. Within minutes of opening, the place was packed, with a line to get in.
Wings: Large, plump, tight-skinned wings ($8.99 for 12 pieces) brought a very crisp exterior that housed inner meat falling short of moist but hardly dry. A bold (but not bitter) smoky flavor was appealing with or without sauce, which was served on the side. Rub wasn't so noticeable, but the flavor as a whole grabbed me instantly. If they were a little juicier, there's no question I'd add these wings to my favorites wings list. Even as constituted, they were still tender enough and good enough to have a decent shot at the tail end. And they were at least good enough that my table ordered a second round of them as a finale on my first visit.
Fried pickles: Long spears with a thin beer batter had a nice crunchiness and tartness. They were fully competent all the way around but didn't bring anything new to the equation. The not-so-spicy spicy aioli was also pretty standard.
Chili: A mere inquiry as to the composition resulted in a near-immediate sample plunked down upon the table. At first, the beefy, beany mix came across as a canned version, but each successive spoonful brought gradually increasing heat and flavor that eventually won me over. It's one of those chilis that offers nothing special in the way of barbecue meats, but the smooth ground beef and overall flavor made it a solid everyday chili that's at least above average.
Ribs: Lightly glazed with a sweet sauce that may or may not have been one of the house sauces available for request, the long St Louis cut ribs had better-than-typical size, good bone retraction, recognizable smoke, sturdy bark and great tenderness. The doneness may have been just a tad past ideal, but still in the sweet spot and much closer to ideal than falling off the bone (which isn't ideal). As with the wings, there wasn't a strong rub presence, but the smokiness made up for it and the contrast of the sweet sauce with intensely fragrant smoke made for a compelling partnership. And though the ribs fell short of juicy, they were plenty moist. Overall, these were very enjoyable.
Pulled pork and chicken: I'm lumping these two categories together because the chicken and pulled pork on the combo were lumped together and virtually indistinguishable. Both were presented as mid-sized chunks (about the diameter of a nickel) and lightly glazed with sauce. Smokiness was nowhere near as impressive as on the ribs and wings. Moistness came mostly from the saucing. Overall, these were okay but didn't strike me as being smoked that same day.
Brisket: Thin slices had slightly crisp edges and dry inner meat. Flavor had some smoke, but the prevailing player was an additive that gave the meat an Italian feel. I couldn't stop thinking of meatballs on a pizza as I tasted each bite of this brisket. After the typical "How's the brisket?" was met with an atypically honest reply of "Kinda dry," the eager staff at Pit Stop Smokehouse offered not only profuse and sincere apologies, but a near immediate replacement batch. This next batch had a brothy tenderness to the meat, a lightly smoky flavor and the same Italian characteristic. And the soft texture the second time around was even more similar to an Italian meatball. I liked the effort, but all things considered, the brisket was about average.
All three of the sauces I tried were pretty good. The sweet was pretty standard, but competent. The chipotle was the most interesting of the group, mixing some very light heat with some fruitiness and a salsa-like texture.
Sides are a mixed bag here, with very few of them homemade. We skipped the fries and onion rings. Cornbread was warm and soft and very much like what you get out of a Jiffy mix. Cole slaw was crisp and creamy with a celery flavor. Baked beans seemed canned but at least kicked up with some spicy ingredients.
The Bottom Line
It would be easy for the Pit Stop Smokehouse to get by with mediocre 'cue simply by being the only game in town, but there's passion involved in their meats and in the front of the house hospitality. The sides are forgettable and the boneless meats are still in play, but their wings and ribs are meaty, smoky hunks of delight. I'll be back.
Yelp reviews of Pit Stop Smokehouse
Urbanspoon reviews of Pit Stop Smokehouse