Karl Gregg knew what his next adventure in Vancouver’s food scene was going to be. The experienced local chef just had to figure out the best way to do it, so he took a few years working that one out.
The end result was Rosie’s BBQ and Smokehouse, the latest addition to Vancouver’s food-truck (actually, food-trailer) scene, a 24-foot dispenser of traditional central-Texas barbecue specialties that will be parked at an East Vancouver brewery near you this summer and fall.
It all started a decade ago, in 2011, when Gregg travelled to Nashville to take in a Vancouver Canucks hockey game.
“That’s when it really caught me,” Gregg told the Straight in a phone interview. “We were at Jack’s Bar-B-Que in Nashville; it’s pretty famous.”
The food, though good, wasn’t the only thing that hooked the hockey lover. He had “great” barbecue-style sausages and a slice of pecan pie (“I thought that was just for Thanksgiving,” he said of the southern U.S. dessert specialty), but it was the friendly, casual atmosphere in the family eatery that really appealed to him.
“It really resonated; that’s what barbecue means to me. The southern hospitality is quite nice.”
It’s not like Gregg wasn’t busy at the time. He had just opened a downtown Vancouver butcher/sandwich shop alongside the partner with whom he already ran a restaurant. But the tastes and traditions of southern barbecue exerted a heavy pull, and about a year and a half later, he said, he started a series of trips to the U.S. south, mostly to central Texas, to taste, learn, and experience.
Texas has at least four distinct barbecue styles: east, west, south, and central. Gregg prefers the latter. “Yeah, definitely central Texas barbecue,” he said. “More smoke, more time, less sauce. More ribs, more brisket, more sausage. And they do a lot more chicken and turkey of late.”
All of those meats would make an appearance on the menu for Rosie’s BBQ, but, again, it was the people that made those trips especially memorable. “It’s always just been the people,” Gregg said. “Everybody’s pretty friendly about everything, and everyone sits together for family dinners. I quite enjoy that aspect of barbecue.”
He learned about the kinds of wood to use for the fire to smoke meats for eight to 14 hours or even more, and how to stack it.
That informal barbecue education gave him the push to purchase a trailer (“They used it for doughnuts, I believe”), but he came by his love for smoke and meats and grills honestly. “My dad caught a lot of fish and smoked a lot of fish,” Gregg said. “And I was always a fan of grilling.”
After a Salt Spring Island butcher schooled him in various aspects of that art at the age of 16, he took a Vancouver Community College chef course when he was 18, then worked at a number of Vancouver restaurants, including
Milestone’s, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Pepino’s on Commercial Drive, and “a lot of catering for movies and music venues”, as well as a “wedding barbecue once in a while”.
When his restaurant and butcher shop venture ended after four years, in 2015, he still had a few Texas trips to get under his belt. With that resultant know-how, a Terminal Avenue–area commissary complete with commercial smoker, the former doughnut palace on wheels, and a genuine love for people and good barbecue, he was ready to get started.
But only on weekends and holidays, noon to about 8 p.m., and only at select East Vancouver breweries.
“We won’t work weekdays,” he said of his barbecue philosophy. “We feel that barbecue is best done on the weekend.
“It’s really about friends and family. You get eight to 10 people together to talk about the week and eat.”
Brisket, ribs (both baby back and St. Louis–style side cut), chicken, sausages (their own spicy smoker and a beef version sourced from Nanaimo Street’s Columbus Meat Market), pork shoulder, sandwiches, and some interesting sides (cornbread, green beans, and a cold mac-and-cheese salad with crunchy onions on top) are just part of Rosie’s barbecue menu.
One side that might draw some attention are Rosie’s pickles. “We do these Kool-Aid pickles that have gotten a ton of positive feedback so far,” Gregg said. “They are a little bit similar to bread-and-butter pickles you can get but with a cherry Kool-Aid flavour. They’re excellent.”
He said he first tried the unusual cuke in Nashville, then in Texas. “No, I did not invent it, unfortunately.”