Rosie’s BBQ is all about the craft of smoking meat

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      In a fenced-in parking lot on Industrial Avenue—where a good chunk of Vancouver’s food trucks snooze when they’re not zooming out to feed the masses—Karl Gregg steps up onto the trailer that holds his meat smoker, the intoxicating smell of burning wood emanating from its large, black form.

      It’s frigid out, with January’s Arctic blast maintaining its icy grips on the city, but when Gregg opens the lid, a gust of warmth hits like a wall. The smoke quickly dissipates to reveal what’s being coaxed within.

      “We’re just working on a few things,” Gregg says simply.

      Sure—if by “a few things” he means an army of chicken wings (destined for Slim’s BBQ on Main Street); a small farm’s worth of poblano peppers and onions (soon to be turned into bold-yet-approachable hot sauce); and a few experimental briskets (because once the smoker’s going, you want to fill that bad boy up).

      Gregg is the quiet mastermind behind Rosie’s BBQ & Smokehouse, a Texas-style mobile barbecue kitchen that’s part food truck, part wholesaler, and part caterer. At the heart of it all is Gregg’s careful attention to the meat—be it melt-in-your-mouth brisket (dubbed 4 AM Brisket for the time that Gregg wakes up to start it) or succulent pulled pork and smoky chicken wings.

      Meat smoking is a skill he picked up during the pandemic, when he and his wife built a makeshift bar in their backyard in order to safely and comfortably entertain their bubble. Soon, though, a social-distancing hobby turned into a full-fledged obsession.

      “It’s the craft of it,” Gregg says of his passion for smoking. “I don’t like to take shortcuts. I don’t want to pull a brisket off at 182 degrees—I want it to be 205, and I want to be able to touch it and go, ‘Yeah, it’s squishy enough. That’s gonna be a good brisket.’”

      He began researching Texas barbecue techniques, and made trips down to Austin once it was safe to do so; he fell in love with the city and its food culture so much that he even bought a house down there, and now makes trips whenever he can to eat, to learn, to explore. To commune.

      “You could be lined up at Snow’s [BBQ in Austin], and you meet the three people behind you, you meet the three in front of you,” he says. “You start talking. ‘Oh, where are you from?’ Every time I’ve been in a barbecue lineup, I’ve met people that I still talk to. So for me, that was a really big part of it. I’m a big family-values, old-school person.”

      He’s also a bit of an obsessive person, as evidenced by the house in Austin; the giant smoker (named Hank); and the bigger smoker that’s currently being built for him. Or there’s the time he went to Hatch, New Mexico in search of chili peppers.

      “I found a really cool little farm and talked with the son of the gentleman who owns it,” he recalls. “His mom was roasting peppers and peeling, so we got a ton of great information. And then I was like, ‘Can I email you and have you send me some pictures of the farm?’ And he was like, ‘You got 10 minutes?’ He drove us 10 minutes out of town and took us to his farm and showed us around.”

      Gregg ended up buying 180 pounds of their peppers. He lugged them back to his house in Texas; some were fire-roasted, others were smoked, and all were pureed, frozen, and stored until he drove back to Vancouver, his car stuffed to the gills with six pepper-filled coolers.

      A longtime staple of the Vancouver restaurant scene, Gregg has consulted with and worked for many city favourites, including Savio Volpe and La Tana. He was also a co-owner of Two Chefs and A Table, the formerly beloved and now infamous Railtown restaurant that made headlines in 2013 when one of the other partners was found to have hidden a camera in the washroom, which doubled as a staff change room. Gregg was actually the one who found the camera, and who had to make the heartbreaking decision to report it—effectively blowing up his entire business.

      “I had to,” he reflects with a shrug. “My friends worked there; my friends were guests. You couldn’t not be honest.”

      That matter-of-fact outlook seems unshakably, almost disarmingly genuine. Gregg is the walking embodiment of “them’s the breaks”—sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down, but through it all, the only thing you have to land on is who you are as a person. We can’t control what happens to us, but we can sure as hell control our reactions.

      With values rooted in bringing people together, treating people fairly, and, of course, serving people food that’s been lovingly, painstakingly prepared, Gregg is an unsung hero of our culinary scene. With all the excitement over Michelin finally declaring Vancouver “worthy” of its judges’ time, it can be easy to forget the real purpose of eating out in this city: really fucking good food. Finding the magic in something as simple as a drip of brisket juice crawling down your hand, or the look in your partner’s eyes when they take that first heavenly bite.

      For his part, Gregg’s goals are as humble as his fare.

      “My perfect world is: you come back and see me in two years, and all I do is sit here and smoke meat,” he says. “If I could sit under a big old tree and smoke meat, I’d be the happiest guy.”