Sunday, October 1, 2023

Smoking Monkey Junction: Popular Brunswick County BBQ spot takes over Dickey’s

Smokehouse in Monkey Junction will open Oct. 3, making it the third restaurant from Troy Knight, who opened the first in Southport in 2014, followed by Leland in 2020. (Courtesy photo)

WILMINGTON — It’s been almost a decade since Smokehouse started serving customers in Brunswick County, first in Southport and then Leland.

READ MORE: Inside Leland Smokehouse, where owners feel their hickory-smoked brisket is so good, no sauce is needed

By next month, it will be portioning out slow-cooked brisket, pork butts, wings and more to diners in Monkey Junction. If all goes according to plan with the health department and permits in place, the goal is to open Oct. 3 in the former Dickey’s BBQ space in the Walmart shopping center.

“It is a smaller footprint than we’ve ever done before,” Smokehouse owner Troy Knight said of the 1,800-square-foot eatery. It will seat around 40 diners and for the most part is move-in ready. 

“Dickey’s used the same smoker we use — it’s a little smaller than what we like, but it’s hickory-fire, and they already have the hood system, grease trap — everything that we would need, so there’s little overhead,” Knight indicated. “I really like the wood paneling they had on the walls. It’s kind of an old barnwood look and fits us.” 

Southport’s location is bigger at 2,500 square feet, while Leland is the largest at 6,000. The latter opened in the middle of the pandemic and survived due to its substantial takeout business, which Knight expects to also be popular in the Monkey Junction restaurant.

“We already see customers from Carolina Beach who often take the ferry over to Southport,” he said. “They’re always asking: Why don’t you bring one here?”

Knight calls himself an “accidental” restaurateur; the growth of the Smokehouse wasn’t necessarily a part of his career outlook. He has been a pastor for almost 20 years but has a varied job history: arena football player, stockbroker, and also was employed “in the computer world” for a bit. 

Texas-born, Knight always had a love for brisket and smoked-fired meats. 

“I’m one of those guys that, you know, visits all the top 50 brisket places in Texas, trying to find the best smoker and always smoking meats on the back porch,” he said. “It’s always been a hobby and passion.”

He had the opportunity to join a partner to open the first Smokehouse in Southport in 2014. But after a few years, Knight and his wife, Tabitha, bought out the partner, who decided the restaurant business wasn’t for him. However, Knight’s once leisure pastime grew into a full-time profession.

“I love making people happy with food,” he said.

The Smokehouse menu consists of brisket, pulled pork, smoked chicken, sausages, ribs, and wings.

For the brisket, it’s all about having a good bark — the crust around the meat that forms when heat combines with the fat and seasoning. Knight said he keeps it simple: kosher salt and coarse ground pepper, cooked for up to 14 hours, depending on outside temperatures.

“We don’t skimp on the cut of meat,” he added. “We pay extra for Prime brisket because it has the most fat. That extra fat gives you the rendering we’re looking for, which has a sweetness to it when done right.”

Everything is served dry, though Smokehouse also makes various sauces in-house to represent different regions country-wide: mustard-based from South Carolina, a sweet version indicative of Kansas City, tangy from Virginia, a white-based from Alabama and of course eastern North Carolina’s preferred vinegar option.

“New Hanover, Brunswick counties, they’re kind of a melting pot,” he said, “so not everybody likes vinegar on their pulled pork.”

The sweet sauce seems to be the most popular, Knight said. Mainly, because it’s so versatile and can go on all the meats or even vegetables.

“But we really want people to taste the smoke flavor,” Knight added. “We use all hickory wood and we’re big on living up to our name. We want it to be like a true smokehouse and want you to taste that first.”

Sometimes the restaurant runs specials, such as smoked meatloaf or bologna, but usually it’s during winter, as tourism from summer months has slowed.

All sides — slaw, collards, mac and cheese, potato salad — are homemade as well. Some recipes have been devised by Knight, others are family-curated.

“So it’s my wife’s grandmother’s potato salad recipe,” he said. “Part of our goal is to have the same consistency every day. So every time a customer comes, the potato salad tastes the same.”

He meets with managers once a month for leadership training. The three Smokehouses combined will employ roughly 75 people.

“I’ve learned whatever’s in my cup, I’m trying to pour it into other people’s cup,” Knight said. “And I love trying to teach people what I’ve learned. The whole team part is fun  — being a part of a team and doing something bigger than you can do by yourself.”

The Smokehouse in Monkey Junction will be open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., at 5120 South College Road, Ste. 104. It will be closed on Sunday.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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