The Smoke Shop BBQ - Kendall Square, Cambridge MA

We made it to The Smoke Shop the other night, just a few short days after opening. At 6p the bar was already packed with the after work hipster crowd and the dining room was filling up. As expected service has a few kinks to get worked out going from 0-100 with really no soft opening. However Pit Master Husbands has certainly been perfecting his que behind the scenes. Every meat we had was perfectly prepared, and had excellent smoke flavor. We tried:

  • Brisket - Outstanding. Nice bark, thoroughly moist and unctuous without being overly fatty. I generally don’t order brisket as it is eather bone dry or all fat. Smoke Shop will be the only place I order brisket in the area other than BTs.
  • Burnt Ends - This was my favorite meat. Best burnt ends since the original East Coast Grill.
  • Ribs - Cooked to perfection. My little ones devoured them and we had to get another order. The second earlier was a bit heavier on their dust/rub which is a bit sweet for my taste. Served with pickles, pickled beets & onions, and watermelon slices
  • Chicken Thigh - Moist, but not overly fatty. I could have done without the glaze.
  • Cornbread - On the sweet side, but moist and tasty
  • Beans – Nicely al dente and not drenched in bbq sauce. With pork, onions, and peppers mixed in.
  • Mac & Cheese – the pimento mac & cheese was a bit spicy for my kids liking. I recommend they offer a more plain version of this side.
  • Bread & Butter pickles: my daughter ate en entire bowl of these

The prices are more Sweet Cheeks than BTs, however unlike Sweet Cheeks the BBQ is excellent at The Smoke Shop and actually worth the prices given the location. All in all we are looking forward to our next visit, we are bringing a large party of our visiting family in next weekend.

A few musings:

  • The meat is cooked so perfectly that I hope they start offering dry rubbed only versions of the ribs and chicken. I don’t always need my meat sauced prior to serving. The bbq is a definitely sweet overall.
  • I also hope they offer the meats a la carte, and not only in platters. For take out, please have a bulk a la carte option.
  • They need to get some SEO help. While a great name for other purposes, the Smoke Shop is a bit general on the web and neither their website nor a Yelp link are on the front page when Googling. There are many smoke shops of other kinds in Cambridge.
  • Kendall square is absolutely bananas. We drove over rather than biking or taking a long walk as we had our children with us. It was grid locked and bikes and cars were not playing nice (with the bikes as to blame as cars). The change from when I worked in this area 10 years ago is just mind boggling. They better get some traffic and parking plans worked out quickly, as with each new building that opens it is going to get worse. Also, when the Longfellow reopens, while getting to Kendall will be easier from Boston, overall traffic in the square will be worse.
  • While the food was worth the prices, the bourbon/alcohol list looked to be a bit of a gouge. I wasn’t drinking as I was driving my kids so I didn’t get to see the pour sizes. They will make bank on their bar business with the after work crowd, but the alcohol prices definitely seem a bit steep. We will be drinking on our next visit, so I will revisit my value assessment. The cost of living in greater Boston seems to be spiraling with all the development that is going on. Good for my real estate value though.
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Really ? I just started working this week at Kendall Square and I am still surprised how little traffic there is during the day and in the evening and how friendly everybody is driving.

Really. It used to be a ghost town over there, the quietest part of Cambridge where they were practically giving office space away. Where many of the new biotech developments are now were parking lots where you could stick your car for free indefinitely. You could drive from 1st street to the B-Side in 2 minutes max and be assured of parking right in front.

It was grid locked the other night which tends to bring out the worst in people, but glad you have had better luck. Hopefully that continues when you’ve been working there more than a few weeks. However traffic in that area is only going to get worse over time as more square footage of office space comes online, and eventually when the Longfellow reopens. It took me over 30 minutes to get from Mid Cambridge to the One Kendall garage. I could have waked faster.

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Over on the other site someone reported that the pork ribs were “VERY” lean. How can any respectable person eat that? I will plan to continue to eat at B.T.'s, which has done consistently good work over many visits, as good as any i can get in the midwest or south. And the pig cheeks are astonishingly delicious, when you can get them.

Thank you KWagle, I thought I might be the only one.

About a year ago, I ate at with a friend at Faison’s Sweet Cheeks. Two Big cheeks trays, extra coleslaw, and two beers set us back just short of 100 usd with tip. Plenty of food , and quite good, but 100 bucks for BBQ?

Though I have not been, Im imagining the price point at The Smoke Shop, to be similiar. Cooking from Wcked Good Barbeque, I have found Husbands prep overly complex, and he LOVES sugar.

A week later on our way to Vermont, stopped at B.T. Smokehouse, and after paying online and setting a specific time to pick up, we got a Whole Hog Platter , pint of pork, pint of brisket, whole rack of spares, wings , two pints of slaw, a pint of beans, corn bread and a sausage .
With the two four packs of Bengali Tigers at Yankee Spirits, next door, , the whole mess cost just short of 100 usd and fed multiple people over the weekend.
The whole detour took about 30 minutes and we were back on the Pike, and I didnt have to park downtown.

Do I wish their pork was better? Sure, but it still beats what Blue Ribbon has become. ( and I live a half mile from the West Newton storefront). The pork I make out back is as good, if not better.

If you eat BBQ 15 times a year and you want it close by I guess you make that decision to pay 40+ dollars a visit, but for my age group and cholesterol considerations the twice a year 50 minute drive to B.T. is well worth it.

They wouldnt think twice about that drive in Texas

I work in Kendall Square, and your experience is indeed unique. I have been here 10 years, and it has changed horribly for the worse - the density is already beyond capacity (roadwise). Sometimes it takes me over 5 minutes just to pull out of my parking lot. Then there is the 20+ minute crawl down Third Street (1/2 mile). You take your life in your hands crossing Broadway (despite walk signals). Drivers are brutal at the Marriott Broadway crosswalk. Your experience does not match the regular traffic reality, sadly.

I thought that as well about traffic when I started working in the Harvard Medical Area in July. It changes real fast once the students come back and schools everywhere start again.

Maybe try a place before belly aching about it?

The ribs were not overly fatty, but they were delicious. So what? They should be fatty for the sake of being fatty? Isn’t it the flavor and texture that matters the most in the end? The brisket was also moist and delicious without being extremely fatty. Perhaps my taste isn’t respectable in your book but then again while poking around Chowhound as you suggested, I came across this http://www.chowhound.com/post/solid-barbecue-needham-midtown-smokehouse-grill-813158?commentId=6905530. If you think ribs are supposed to be fall off the bone, we have different perceptions of good bbq to begin with.

I really like BT’s as well and often stop or pick it up if driving back from NYC or Hartford. Am I driving an hour to get there if not passing through? No. Also, the reason I am willing to go out of my way to stop at BT’s is the brisket. I have only had it once, but The Smoke Shop’s brisket is definitely the best I have had in the area other than BT’s. Flavor, bark, smoke ring, texture, moist. It’s all there. Those two are head and shoulders above the rest as far as brisket is concerned.

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Went again last night, and had another excellent meal. The brisket and burnt ends have been fantastic on both visits. Half the table ordered ribs and there wasn’t one left over to nibble. My son actually calls it the Rib Store. Thumbs up from young and old all around. Good thing the rain held off this morning so I could repent with a long run around the river.

Yes, exactly. They should be fatty for the sake of flavor and texture.

Fat provides much of the luscious mouthfeel (the rest coming from collagen breakdown, but fat is more important in ribs) and captures the flavor of the smoke. If you want lean pork there’s no need to smoke it. That’s what makes the fat matter most in the end.

“I continue to be boggled at what passes for knowledge about barbecue in the Northeast.”

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Seriously… the meat should be smoked at a low enough temperature for enough hours to render most of the fat. My very Southern, and very deep South at that, husband feels that if the ribs still have a bunch of fat pockets when served, somewhere, someone cut corners with the time in preparation. Ribs do not have to be fatty when served. They need fat when the dry aging begins.

We went to the Smoke Shop last night after the game to try this place out for the first time.

At last!!! Brisket that reminds me of my years living in Texas. Damn good stuff! Only two of us and we both wanted to try the brisket. I got a sandwich with cole slaw; he got the plate with beans and collard greens. The cole slaw is the chopped version with a buttermilk-based dressing. It was fine. The beans had way too much green pepper. In my world, any amount of green pepper in a bean is too much. The other side with the platter was the collard greens. These are certainly not served Southern style. They still had some crunch and color! He wasn’t sure if he liked them this way but was willing to concede that years of being served collards cooked to death might have colored his expectation/response. For me the sandwich was plenty of meat. The bun had no redeeming features. They do rub it with some melted butter with herbs which didn’t add any flavor. I chose not to eat then, and instead concentrate on the 6 or 7 slices of meat! Missing? The pickles! What is a BBQ sandwich without a pickle? And the platter had pickled jalepenos instead of pickles as well.

For dessert we split the lemon cake which isn’t a cake. It is a small square of shortbread with a lemon curd layer. I really liked this, and this tiny, and fairly priced $2 dessert, was perfect for us. We aren’t big dessert folks.

Cocktails are not a good value at $12 for a slender glass, filled with ice, and perhaps 4oz of liquid. I will skip that next time.

I am very interested to try some of his non-traditional offerings next time. Just wish we enjoyed the sides more.

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As a native of NC, I agree that the fat needs to be cooked down. The current fashion for pork belly, large fat mouth feel, bone marrow, has nothing to do with traditional barbecue from my experience. I too do not understand beans with green pepper. I have never heard of or experienced a bun with BBQ that is rubbed with butter and herbs? OK, do your own kind of BBQ, most people do. The sweetness at the Smoke Shop I’ve read about in several places does not appeal to me at all. I’ll try the brisket, but not the pulled pork (which is my favorite BBQ). So thanks for this report. Pickles at least on the side are very important to me as well. Each to their own…

Their pulled pork is most definitely not NC-style - no trace of vinegar in it, and no vinegar BBQ sauce squeezer in sight - so if that’s your thing in pig shreds, stay away from that menu option. (I too would have preferred NC-style and won’t be excited to order their pulled pork again.)

As for pickles, my platter came with pickled onion slices (yay!) and B&B slices (which I usually am not a fan of, and these were no exception). You can also order a side of a couple half sour spears; they were fine but no NY deli will be sweating that competition.

The BBQ sauces on the side may be overly sweet, but I used little of them and the rubs are only very mildly sugared. I’m not a fan of sweet Q (still have minor seizures when remembering my one trip to Uncle Pete’s BBQ) and what I tried was for me in the acceptable range: ribs just barely so, though with enough other interesting flavors in the rub to compensate; brisket and hot links well in range. Have the meat as it is prepared without slathering it in sauce and you needn’t fear the fructose. (Note I intentionally ordered from the savory side of the menu, and haven’t yet tried burnt ends, which will often use extra sugar to get the caramelized “burn”; or the “glazed” chicken, which conjures a Krispy Kreme; or their few Asian-inspired offerings, which is sometimes a code word for “extra heat and extra sweet”.)

Overall I found the ribs cooked well and seasoned well - as mentioned above, there was a lot more going on in the spices than your usual salt/sugar/pepper dry rub. The seasoning in the hot links was similarly notable, with plenty of fresh herbs in good balance. And I agree with the consensus here that the brisket was a stand-out, tender and tasty. BT’s still has a clear lead, but this is a nice addition to the neighborhood in the Pricey Urban BBQ category.

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Love it, trademark that phrase.

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