Tasty Tuesday: County Smoak brings BBQ back home to its roots

Ken and Jessica Hess take their culinary training and apply it to a southern staple - BBQ!

LYNCHBURG, Va. – Ken and Jessica Hess are classically-trained chefs with a love for BBQ that dates back to the early 2000s.

They started out hot, claiming awards right out the gates.

“First BBQ contest was in Lynchburg. I never thought I’d come back to live here, but that’s just one of life’s ways of laughing at you and how things happen.”

And so the husband-wife duo brought BBQ back to its roots. Co-owner, Ken, tells us, “Virginia is where BBQ started, and people don’t seem to believe that anymore.”

(Hess cites this book about Virginia BBQ.)

County Smoak opened in May of 2020, bringing BBQ back to its original roots.

Hess gave 10 News a little history lesson. He tells us ‘smoak’ is how the Olde English word was spelled in the 1600s, when pork BBQ was first documented. A lady at the time wrote about it to her brother in England. That lady was from right here in Virginia. How cool!

As for this County Smoak house, everything is made at home over charcoal and wood. The type of meat you’re using dictates how long things stay in the smoker.

Hess teaches us that pork butts and briskets “...can take anywhere between 8 and 15 hours. The ribs take 4 to 6 hours. Turkeys take maybe 3 to 4, and our chickens take about 4 hours. The fastest thing that we have is the smoked sausages, and they take 30 minutes.”

While brisket and pork are the things most BBQ enthusiasts gravitate toward, he tells us the turkey is their sleeper meat - meaning people are sleeping on how good it is.

The key difference is the moisture it holds, contrary to some of the dry turkey you may have been forced to eat at Thanksgiving dinner.

At one point, the Hess family lived in Decatur, Alabama. So, they make an Alabama smoked chicken.

“Dip this hickory-smoked chicken with this beautiful coat right here in this Alabama white BBQ sauce.”

Pair that with any of their other fixins, and you’re on a one-way ticket to the comfort zone.

As much as this chef loves BBQ, he says he loves the connection to a community that’s given so much to him and his family.

“Being a part of these family’s stories and them being involved in ours is what makes us love our community.”

County Smoak is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. It’s open 11a to 7p Sunday and Wednesday and 11a to 8p Friday and Saturday. If they sell out, they close up shop for the day.

About the Author:

Meteorologist Chris Michaels is an American Meteorological Society (AMS) Certified Broadcaster, forecasting weather conditions in southwest Virginia on WSLS 10 News from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays on Virginia Today.