Don’t dawdle

Find your favorites at Blue Stack Smokehouse

Blue Stack Smokehouse's Pulled Pork with green beans and potato salad. Photography by Neal Bruns

People in the know understand that when you get a taste for Blue Stack Smokehouse barbecue, it’s not wise to dawdle.

Don’t decide to wander in for a fashionably late lunch or last-minute dinner unless you’re willing to go with the flow, menu-wise. It really does happen that the place sells out of the particular item that you were just dying to enjoy, which makes owner-cook Dave McLaughlin both proud and frustrated. You’ll undoubtedly love whatever you end up ordering anyway. Where’s your sense of adventure?

If McLaughlin knew how to match supply to demand perfectly each and every day as perfectly as he matches woodsmoke, spices, time and temperature to cuts of meat, he would certainly do it.

But that’s life, especially when life centers on a big smoker that has to be tended all night, every night, with new pieces of wood to slowly burn down.

“I can’t even smell the smoke any more,” McLaughlin admits. “If our house was ever burning down, I’d probably roll over and go back to bed.”

He can taste the food like a top pit master, though, and everything on the Blue Stack menu, “except the mayonnaise, milk, butter and cream cheese,” he said, is made in-house usually from recipes he developed. He gives credit for the baked beans recipe to his wife Tara, who likes baked beans much more than he does (this is an understatement). Interestingly, none of the meats are cooked with any sauces (only spices) and none of them are served with any sauces, but all the sauces on the tables are also made in-house from recipes he’s developed.

“We don’t sauce anything,” he said. “Everything is on the table. We are not trying to hide anything.

“Personally, I don’t think any of the meats need sauce. If people think they need something, they can put it on themselves.”

On the side-dishes menu, one item began as a family recipe, but he has modified it over the years and the rest he just developed.

“Everything else is just mine, just kind of dabbling over the years. People thought it was good, and that’s why it’s still on the menu,” he said.

All the in-house cooking just seems like plain common sense to him. He can’t imagine things otherwise.

“I get to do what I want. My name means a lot to me,” he said.

Tara says his presence at the small restaurant means a lot, too. Blue Stack has inside seating for 18 and can seat 36 more outdoors on gorgeous days. Its carryout business is big. Because of its roots in the neighborhood cookouts they used to host and because it’s just how they do things, they get to know many of their customers by name. And the customers obviously feel closely connected, too.

“We have a lot of regulars who, if they don’t see his truck, they will keep moving or wonder if he’s still alive,” she said. “He’s definitely the face they see back here.”

She has even fielded worried questions when he has been gone for only an hour for a haircut, she said.

McLaughlin prefers to keep Blue Stack small and has no plans to expand. He fears expansion would lose something he treasures.

“You would lose touch with your customers once you get so big you can’t see your customers eating,” he said. “If you stay small, you can see the look on their face and you can go check it real quick. You are relying on your customers’ taste buds. You don’t want to hear about something four days later that you potentially served to 50 or 100 people that was bad and nobody told you about it.”

Selling out of an item has turned out to be the far more familiar problem.

“It’s a pro and a con,” he said. Being in the barbecue business, which requires hours of cooking before any serving can happen, he knows he can’t tell a customer “give me four hours and I can have more chicken done,” for example. Brisket would require a 12-hour wait. So people explore the rest of the menu. Happily, it’s a good bet.

On the other hand, on the days when he has prepared to his best estimate and the weather turns out to be horrible, keeping customers home, food can go to waste. That’s life.

Nevertheless, Dave McLaughlin is living his dream.

“I always hoped I’d open a restaurant,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be barbecue.”

Tara admits she actually prefers his soul food.

“That’s how my grandma taught me to cook,” he admits. “My lifelong goal would be to own something like Clem’s is. Breakfast and lunch and then cleaned up and ready to leave at 2:15.”

Blue Stack Smokehouse
3620 N. Clinton St.
(260) 755-6328
Hours: Open for lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat.
Specialties: Fruit-wood smoked sausage, ribs, chicken, pork and brisket.

Blue Stack Smokehouse
Jalapeño Poppers

Make as many as you want

Fresh jalapeño peppers, washed, halved lengthwise with seeds and ribs cleaned out
Johnsonville maple sausage links, cut in half horizontally
Cream cheese
Bacon, your choice

1.    Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. or start your grill for indirect cooking with a drip pan to catch the bacon grease.

2.    Stuff each pepper half with enough cream cheese to hold a piece of sausage. Place a half-sausage piece on the cream cheese.

3.    Wrap the stuffed pepper half with bacon, completely covering the sausage and cream cheese. Depending on which bacon you choose, you may need an entire slice, or you may need less.

4.    If you will cook them in the oven, place the wrapped peppers on a rack set in a baking tray that is rimmed to catch the bacon grease. Or stack them on a plate to take out to your grill.

5.    Bake for 20-25 minutes at 375 degrees F. or until bacon and sausage are done in the oven or grill over indirect heat until bacon and sausage are done. You can also smoke them, as Blue Stack Smokehouse does, in your own smoker using whatever timing is appropriate until the bacon and sausage are done.

First appeared in the May 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.


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