It’s also indicative of the sense of humor—often self-deprecating—that owners “Kinda-Famous Dan” and “Not-So-Famous Jeff” Ray are equipped with. For example, the guys “welcome your comments, even if you’re just having ‘one of those days.’” And the menu warns, “Not only are the prices and the menu items subject to change without notice, but so is everything else about this joint.” In other words, they don’t take themselves too seriously.
What a delicious surprise then, that Holy Smoke offers up serious barbecue. Located on Layton’s restaurant row (Corbin’s, MacCool’s, Rooster’s, Guadalajara’s Mexican Grill) near the Hilton and Davis Conference Center, Holy Smoke BBQ & Grill is decorated to the nines with Western paraphernalia: saddles, cowboy boots, Rifleman-style rifles, branding irons and a nice collection of arrowheads. But somehow, the décor comes across not as kitschy, but as honoring cowboys, ranch hands and the like. It’s small and crowded on weekends, with walk-up counter service and food delivered to tables by whomever is available. This is definitely an all-hands-on-deck place where co-owner Jeff Ray (sporting chili-pepper boxers worn outside his jeans) frequently takes breaks from his kitchen duties to deliver orders to customers and chat with them about their favorite sauce, style of barbecue or, for that matter, chili con carne. Ray was an ICS (International Chili Society) champion before he turned to barbecue. In summary: Holy Smoke is a very friendly place with a busy, hardworking, top-notch staff.
The menu consists of barbecue highlights from around the country: St. Louis pork spare ribs, Carolina-style pulled pork, beef brisket with a nod to Texas, and barbecued chicken that might have come from Memphis. The barbecue at Holy Smoke is smoked for as long as 16 hours over fruit woods, mostly apple wood. I tried the pulled-pork sandwich ($7.69) at Holy Smoke for lunch—not expecting all that much, frankly—and was dumbstruck by how tender and tasty it was, served on a “soft and squishy” bun, as the Holy Smoke guys call them, with freshly sliced dill pickles alongside, a choice of side dish and a serving of green Jell-O. In fact, green Jell-O comes with every Holy Smoke order. I told you these guys had a wicked sense of humor.
Having so much enjoyed my pulled-pork sandwich (they also serve pulled chicken) and my wife’s crispy cornmeal-crusted catfish (with yummy home-style tartar sauce and lemon cream), I decided to drop in for dinner and avail myself of the Round-up Sampler Platter ($17.95). This combo has mojo: It’s a very generous (easily shared by two) order of pulled pork, plus a quarter barbecued chicken, chopped beef brisket, two St. Louis pork ribs, a choice of three side dishes, cornbread muffin and, of course, green Jell-O. There’s also a selection of five home-style barbecue sauces to choose from, as well as an “all-purpose” white sauce. The vinegar-based dressing called Magic Pig Juice is perfect for pulled pork, and I loved the Sweeter Than Your First Kiss sauce on the tender, juicy chicken. My favorite Holy Smoke BBQ sauce overall is called Mango Mango: a medium-spicy sauce with a black pepper backbone. It works very well with the beef brisket, although the brisket was so flavorful on its own that it really didn’t need any sauce. Other sassy sauces include a hot Chipotle barbecue sauce and medium-spiced Chili Berry, which works nicely with the meaty pork ribs.
OK, so Holy Smoke BBQ & Grill delivers the barbecue, no doubt about that. This is good stuff. But what really turned me into a Holy Smoke fan and repeat customer were the side dishes. Let’s face it: In most barbecue joints, side dishes are little more than an afterthought, a necessity to help fill up the plate. At Holy Smoke, side dishes can easily upstage the ’cue, they’re so good. Everything is home-style, from the sweet and spicy Blaine’s beans and Aunt Mona’s cut corn (made with fresh cream, butter and corn) to Circleville mac ’n’ cheese (creamy and cooked perfectly al dente) and hush puppies (the best I’ve tasted outside of Q4U). Potato salad, coleslaw, fried okra and even the applesauce (spiked with fresh pear pieces and lemon) are all of exceptional quality and flavor. They might be served in Styrofoam containers, but this is anything but fast food.
On the grill side, you can order the half-pound hamburger ($6.99) made with Certified Angus Beef, Ruth’s meatloaf burger ($7.99), a kid-friendly all-beef hot dog ($2.99) or a chili dog ($3.49) topped with meaty chili and—this is important to Ray—no beans.
Portions at Holy Smoke BBQ & Grill are generous, to say the least, while prices are refreshingly fair. Chances are slim that you’ll be hungry after your order of ’cue, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still order dessert, since Holy Smoke features Spotted Dog Creamery Ice Cream ($3.75 per cup), hands-down Utah’s best ice cream. In fact, the only thing keeping Holy Smoke BBQ & Grill from being a perfect bulls-eye is a lack of beer. But then, if they served beer at Holy Smoke, I might just never leave.
HOLY SMOKE BBQ & GRILL 855 Heritage Park Blvd., Layton, 801-614-5011, HolySmokeBBQ-Grill.com, Lunch & Dinner, Monday-Saturday