Smokin’ Star BBQ’s new Provo storefront brings competition-quality meats to the mall
For the last couple years, one of my weekly responsibilities as part of the Daily Herald’s Features team is to go from food truck Facebook page to food truck Instagram page and beyond, carefully pulling weekly schedules for a vast collection of local trucks.
It’s not always the most fun task, and sometimes the schedules are frustratingly absent or incomplete, but it really has been fascinating to see the wide array of top-notch culinary offerings being carted around Utah Valley through a fantastic variety of food trucks.
As weeks, months and even years have passed, I’ve seen some trucks move away, some shutter their windows permanently, and others grow and expand to a fleet of trucks or even storefronts. Those success stories are the ones I love to follow most, watching some of my favorite trucks put down roots, making it even easier to catch a bite of their signature offerings.
Another thing I’ve learned through my regular dips into food truck scheduling is that the trucks spanning Utah Valley are not only diverse, but come from some pretty rich backgrounds and offer up great quality food on the go.
A couple trucks I’ve been watching with interest especially over the past few months are Smokin’ Star BBQ and Spuds: two of my favorites that were both moving into storefronts at the Provo Towne Centre Mall’s food court.
Smokin’ Star hosted its Grand Opening event Nov. 4 along with Steve’s Killer Dogs, while Spuds held its opening celebration Dec. 15-16, marking a new era, in my opinion, in food court fare. I’ve always been impressed with the quality of food offered by Utah County’s food trucks, and the fun culture they bring to the culinary scene. Watching them put down roots somewhere communal, like a mall, seems like the only fitting way for them to continue their foray into the brick-and-mortar business — maintaining, in a way, the unique style of eating that food trucks offer.
We headed to Smokin’ Star’s new storefront at the mall on a Thursday just before Christmas, with a full understanding that we’d be joining in the pre-holiday shopping hullaballoo. We were lucky to find a decent spot right outside the mall’s anchor restaurants before heading in and up the escalator to the more exciting, at least for us, culinary fare. It was fun to see as we reached the upper level Spuds and Smokin’ Star side by side, and to take note of the recent changes in food court offerings in general. With restaurants in flux, it felt like there was a little more variety and a lot more quality than is usually offered in a mall setting.
Speaking of variety in specific relation to Smokin’ Star BBQ, I was beyond impressed by the ample offerings listed on their food court menu, and not even just in the BBQ department, though that one’s probably most important.
I actually just had to take a break from writing this review to quest to my refrigerator and snag some leftovers of Smokin’ Star BBQ’s “Eat Me Raw” Cookie Doux. Priced from $1.50 for a kids size to $4.50 for a large (which was more than enough to share across our entire party with leftovers), I was impressed not just by the quantity per price, but also by the flavor. I’ve sampled other local edible cookie doughs, and Smokin’ Star’s chocolate chip-punctuated variety has me sold as by far the best. The only catch is the flavor changes every day, so brace yourself for multiple trips if you want to sample all the goodness. From the one I’ve had, I definitely think it’s worth it.
Aside from BBQ, the storefront also sells an impressive variety of flavored sodas with base drinks priced at $1.60 for 16 ounces and $1.80 for 32 ounces. Add 28 cents per flavor shot and 58 cents for cream, whipped cream, fruit puree and fresh fruit, and you still have a ridiculously affordable flavored drink, especially considering it’s only 20 cents more for double the beverage and syrup by upgrading to 32 ounces. Topped with a free refill of the base soda (flavors not included in refill), and I seriously felt like I was getting my money’s worth with our “Happy as a Junebug” (Sprite, strawberry, coconut, and cream shot) and custom Red Cream Soda with cream and raspberry. As a bonus, they even let us pick a different soda flavor for the refill.
But on to the reason you go to a BBQ joint: the meats. Every day, Smokin’ Star BBQ features Pulled Pork, Chopped or Sliced Brisket, Sliced Turkey, Smoked Sausage — including Jalapeno and Cheddar Sausage, and Cracked Pepper Sausage — and Chicken Quarter. Meats can be purchased by the pound, in sandwiches, on sliders, as part of meat plates or in bowls stacked with some of the restaurant’s signature sides. The restaurant also offers Ribs, a Smoked Chicken Salad and Tri-Tip, though only on Friday and Saturday each week.
That last meat is the only reason I regret going to Smokin’ Star the day I did — as great as all the other meats we sampled were, I’m certain I would have LOVED the Tri-Tip as well . I guess that’s another solid reason to go back this weekend!
Our order included a Pulled Pork Sandwich, the Texas Brisket Bowl (chopped brisket over Jasmine Rice with Loaded Baked Beans), and a three-meat plate with the Brisket, Pulled Pork and Chicken Quarter.
Usually I’m not a fan of meat on the bone, but when it’s so moist and tender that it practically falls off by itself, that’s a different story. The helpful people dishing up our delicious meal let us know that the trio of meats was by far the most popular, and that the chicken was especially great for little kids, which we had two of in our company. They really did dig right in to every morsel we offered them, and everyone appreciated the perfectly executed flavors that allowed the quality of the meat to speak for itself.
Despite the perfection of the chicken, our favorite meat of the night was definitely the brisket in all its forms. When Smokin’ Star BBQ advertises that it “has perfected the art of slow-cooked meats” it’s not lying. Other descriptors used on the company’s site are equally apt: “crispy, perfectly seasoned,” “meaty, juicy, perfectly textured, bite clean off the bone,” “attention to detail,” “most flavorful, aromatic” … and the list goes on.
Before Smokin’ Star became a food truck, it was actually a competition barbecue team featuring the flavorful creations of Aaron and Star Quayle. Demand led to catering, a food truck and now a storefront for the mesmerizing meats, all of which are excellently flavored and slow cooked, leaving just the right amount of juice to tempt the taste buds.
More than just the flavor and texture of the meat, I appreciated the lack of burn – sometimes barbecue comes with a steady burn that can cheapen the flavor. Smokin’ Star offers a couple varieties of sauces, the first and main one of which just provides excellent flavor highlights that accent the already tasty, natural flavors of the meat. We weren’t quite as keen on the also popular, slightly more spicy flavor, but when it comes to BBQ, to each his own.
Mac ‘N Cheese is a classic BBQ side, and Smokin’ Star’s did not fail to satisfy even the most picky of eaters in our group. It was thick, creamy and ridiculously cheesy, and tasted even better when mixed with the brisket. The Loaded Baked Beans were also excellent and packed with some great flavors, as were other favorites including the Country Corn and Jasmine Rice, the latter of which offered the perfect amount of dryness to soak up and accent the meats it was served with. We’d recommend the Jasmine Rice in a bowl, rather than just as a side to a sandwich though.
I’ve mentioned my Idaho roots many times in these reviews, especially in relation to my love for potatoes, so I was a little disappointed in the Smoked Mashed Potatoes on the sides menu. At first I thought it was because I’m just not a huge fan of that smoked flavor, but after having everyone else in the party sample them, we realized the distaste was pretty universal, at least in our group. We discovered the potatoes tasted best paired in ample quantity with the great barbecued meats, but it’s hard to imagine anything tasting too bad with that kind of pairing.
As to breads, we loved the buns on the sandwiches but weren’t quite as big of fans of the dry rolls, and would suggest sampling the cornbread instead if your meal includes a bread.
Overall, it was great to spend an evening basking in a meat mecca, right in the middle of a mall food court. I can’t say enough good things about the quality of meats, and loved the concept of meshing sides with the main dish in the barbecue bowls — I know it’s not novel, but it’s certainly not a concept I’ve seen applied to barbecue as frequently as, say, Asian cuisine.
Carnivores and BBQ buffs take note, this little food court treasure is well worth a trip to the mall, all by itself.