Forty minutes before opening, the line has already started to form. Most stalls at Vancouver Farmers Markets don’t attract such substantial queues—especially before 10am. As I wait, the line grows behind me. Those at the front have even brought chairs. There’s a sense of anticipation because we all know that it’s not a matter of if Steve’s Smoked Meats sells out, but when.
Owner Steve Hoenig first fell in love with smoked meat after visiting Austin’s famed Franklin Barbecue in 2015.
“I’d never tried anything like it in my life,” he recalls. He couldn’t stop thinking about it. Two years later, he bought a smoker—but there was a slight hiccup.
“Problem was,” Hoenig explains, “my wife and I lived in a downtown condo building in Montreal.” The smoker sat in storage until 2020, when he and his wife moved into a house.
The experimentation process was long and the results were, at first, not delicious.
“I need to thank my wife and friends for taste-tasting all the terrible meats I’ve made to get to now,” Hoenig confesses.
Initially, he was just feeding his friends. Then he was feeding friends of friends, and then people wanted to pay him for his food. With a move from Montreal to Vancouver in 2021, which included his smoker, he took a space in a commissary kitchen and started selling at markets.
Hoenig’s menu changes; sometimes he has pulled pork or beef ribs or lamb shoulder, but his staples are brisket and a Montreal smoked meat sandwich.
Mindful of the two-hour-long wait, Hoenig tries to serve as many customers as he can by limiting how much BBQ each person can buy to two sandwiches and one pound of each meat. The very real scarcity creates an urge to order everything, which is exactly what I did when I reached the front of the line and saw Hoenig unwrapping and slicing beautiful brisket and smoked meat.
The brisket is so tender you can pull it apart with your fingers, which are left glistening with delicious juices. The Montreal smoked meat is flavourful and succulent. Hoenig can’t slice it quite as thin as they do in Montreal, but the seasoning has been carefully honed.
This past summer, Hoenig grappled with ever-growing crowds. To manage expectations, he even began going down the line to inform customers of increasingly limited availability as the day went on.
Given his popularity, you might assume that Hoenig is on the verge of opening a restaurant. However, he says, “it’s a passion project and there are no plans to make it a full-time job.” (His day job is in marketing, and he loves it.)
So for the time being, those looking to taste his meat will have to continue to stand in line for it. The ephemeral allure of Steve’s Smoked Meats, and all great BBQ, is that the mouthwatering fare is always worth the wait.