John Lewis is cued up to be the next big thing. He is a champion pitmaster with eccentric tastes, but not when it comes to meat. What he does to meat starts out with science and ends with transcendence.
Magic happens in the crust of brisket that is smoky and tender, where the fat has been melted off during a long cook over ashy wood coals and heat is blasted at the end to create the caramelized crunchy surface that will blow your Southern-food loving mind. You can’t come back from that.
John’s culinary career has seen distinct shifts as he masters the things that pique his interest. First it was a decade of artisan baking, then the barbecue competitions. “I get into one thing and keep honing in on that one thing,” he says.
Lewis knows the power of what he does. Investors sought him out when word got around he wanted to open up a place in Charleston. Four 22-foot custom smokers that he welded (“It’s not all that hard,” he says) sit in wait for Lewis Barbecue’s opening. After conceiving of the ideal smoke environment and devoting himself to perfecting his meatcraft, he reached cult status in Texas, but the Lowcountry won him over.
We can thank the Charleston Wine + Food Festival for introducing him to our charms, but it was the scarcity of great ‘cue here that started his entrepreneurial wheels turning.
Lewis will soon roll out something else pretty radical for the peninsula: Chickenshit Bingo, a betting game in the courtyard with a coop and "celebrity" chickens roaming around on top of a giant bingo card. Craft beer lovers can toast him with his own signature beer, Leanorfat? (an English Bitter session beer developed and brewed by Revelry), while listening to honky tonk warbling on the stereo and watching heady aromatic smoke spirals dissipate into the salty breeze.
It is hard to conceive of a Keep Charleston Weird slogan, but Lewis is going to roll us, stuffed, in that direction.
Words by Dee Dee Arthur
Photo by Andrew Cebulka