Uncle John's BBQ | Restaurant review
A local barbecue baron is smokin' at a new joint.
I’m convinced that the phrase get your mack on (a.k.a. woo someone) was created with Mack Sevier in mind. Sure, he’s 62 years old, but this passionate pitmaster turns out barbecue good enough to earn my affection, and it was good enough to win his wife’s heart 40 years ago.
“When I met him he was cookin’ and I thought, Oh Lord, I have a man that can cook,” Shirley Sevier tells me via phone from the couple’s latest venture, Uncle John’s. “And I’m not braggin’, but not everybody has that technique with meat where they can work it out to be delicious. Mack does.”
She’s right. For our rib showdown last summer, the slab Mack cooked beat out five other samples from local rib joints. At the time, the Arkansas native was working the smoker at Barbara Ann’s, where he’d been head pitmaster for 15 years, renting the space from the namesake proprietor. After a recent rent hike, Mack packed up his recipes and spices and opened up a few blocks away as Uncle John’s, the name he’d bestowed upon his locally famous hot links, which are snatched up in 15-pound boxes by restaurateurs and the public alike. (And yes, he has an uncle named John.)
Now firmly settled in at the new digs, Mack is back to feeding his smoker with a mix of mulberry, oak, elm and hickory, rubbing down the meat with sugar, salt, sage, paprika, nutmeg (“and some extra stuff that, if I told ya, wouldn’t be my secret anymore”), and hovering over the racks like a nervous father, eyeing each slab and link through hellish heat and plumes of smoke. And the product has never been better.
The rib tips are smoky (but not too smoky), extremely juicy from a good dose of fat, meatier than elsewhere in town (Mack doesn’t trim the meat off of the tips as much as other spots do), and crisp around the edges. The hot links are not for the heatphobic, with searing bits of red chili and smoky, porky, sage-packed flavor—like a spicy breakfast sausage. The Flintstone-size beef ribs are better than the version Mack made at Barbara Ann’s, which he credits to much trial and error. They’re leaner than the decadent pork ribs (which have a nice fat-to-meat ratio) and a bit chewier, but tasty. For any of the ’cue pulled from the smoker, we recommend going with the mild sauce; the hot sauce nearly scorches the taste buds off of your tongue, ruining your ability to taste the smoky goodness of the meat itself. Better yet, ask for one of each on the side, so you can get a taste of the meat solo.
Starting up a new business in your sixties might not fit everyone’s idea of relaxing golden years, but Mack says he has another decade of cooking to do. He and Shirley work 12- to 14-hour shifts every day except “the Lord’s day,” locking up as late as 1am on weekends. “It’s a long day, but I ain’t doing anything else,” Mack says, “and if I can help it, I won’t be doing anything else.”