A curious log cabin on wheels, with smoke billowing from a large coal-colored smoker at the back, is the unsuspected home of great Texas BBQ in Seattle.
The “Campfire Chuck Wagon” as it is referred to, wasn’t built by owners Stefan Giles and his wife Julie who bought the wagon from a man in Idaho, “kind enough to take a shotgun as trade for the money we were short of his asking price.” The man had, “used it for his own BBQ business and he liked what he saw in ours.”
So what exactly did he see? The proper cut of meat, “packer cut trimmed ‘frickin’ correctly,” smoking the meat at a, “a low frickin’ temperature” and “PATIENCE ... nothing good comes of something rushed” explained the duo. With a well seasoned dry smoke at an hour-and-a-half per pound and time for the meat to rest, the result is brisket so tender a fork can barely pick it up.
“You could say that this brisket is reminiscent of central Texas BBQ [Stefan's father is Texan] but honestly the ribs and pulled pork are just our own take on what makes delicious BBQ and the BBQ’d salmon and Elk are pretty Northwest in nature,” they said.
Agave glazed salmon and smoked Elk are unique menu items, while more traditional sides line the menu including slaw and cornbread. But the German potato salad is the real standout. Soft yukon gold potatoes are served warm in a creamy coating but not in that “overly dressed in mayo” way. Contrasting most menu items that lean towards the sweet, the salad had a good punch of acidity.
“The potato salad that Campfire serves is indeed a family recipe that Stefan pried from his reluctant German mother, one ingredient at a time. It took him years to get the whole thing, but it was well worth it” said Julie. Much like the wait for this mom and pop business churning out limited quantities of quality product.
What started out in 2010 as the pleas of friends and family for more of Stefan’s BBQ at private parties turned into a weekly Sunday pop-up at the Judkins St. Cate commissary kitchen (later torn down to create townhomes). The pop-ups became so popular, the lines so long, and the private catering requests so numerous that, “We basically took every penny we made from Campfire and put it back in to accommodate more and more business until it finally reached the point where Stefan was forced to quit his long time job bartending to commit to Campfire BBQ full time,” as Julie put it.
The married team began making their own barbecue worthy of a line of people long enough to obstruct the entrance to Downtown Spirits where the wagon parks twice a week and the BBQ sells out only a few hours after opening at 11 a.m.
The lines are understandable, as good or “authentic” southern barbecue is often considered an elusive beast in the northwest. True to Texas tradition or not, Campfire is certainly up there for some of the best barbecue in city. The brisket was my favorite menu item. Sliced to order, a thin blackened edge lines pink meat so juicy and flavorful that while sauce was included on the side, it was not at all necessary.