It's 4:30am in Lyon's Point, Louisiana. It's August and the sun will emit the overcoming heat that will result in a thickening layer of oppressive air leaving one unable to breathe and resulting in a puddle of a salty sopping mess. The gunshots are heard muffled in the distance from the farm and the lump in my throat is hard to swallow. This is my least favorite part of the day.
By 5:30am, the rig has arrived from Texas with two very large smokers and fresh beef that's been seasoned to accompany them. They've been marinating for the last 24 hours. The smokers are unloaded and ready to be filled with the wood. My uncles and cousins start early this morning for our annual August birthdays/family reunion fais do do. By that afternoon, we will feast upon the brisket, pork, and the sides made by friends and members of the family. The drinking of Miller Lite and Budweiser is essential in the cooking ritual. My Uncle Sonny, NEVER cooked without a can of Bud, for his food and for himself. It all starts very early and ends very late, but the one thing that is for sure, it is the best BBQ you will ever taste.
Texas BBQ is the only BBQ in my eyes. It takes patience and talent to prepare and cook it and when it is done right it is the most succulent morsel. It is also a food which brings people together and most everyone can remember their father at a grill or pit, beer in hand, sweating their ass off for the family picnic or neighborhood gathering. I have lived in Virginia for quite some time and have yet to have a brisket worth mentioning. I've had decent BBQ, (Pierce's, Fette Sau, Ronnie's) but never the kind that brings back memories of my family's smoked goodness. Until last year...
It has been described as "luscious", "flawless", and "heavenly" and for a decade Chris Fultz has been perfecting his craft of creating the perfect BBQ. Along with his Pitmistress and wife, Alex Graf, this delightful duo have created a sought after savory commodity untouched by the local BBQ scene. Every Friday, they can be seen hunkering down and going through the multi-step process of smoking their wares for the next day.
Alex and Chris are a lovely couple, the kind you invite over for dinner and an afternoon beer. They approach their business the same way. Every Saturday you see them doling out the goods, but always with a flow of conversation. It's like you're in their backyard and they are giving you a piece of themselves. The customers that stand in hour lines to get their BBQ are just as giving. Recently the two had to cancel one of their Saturdays due to sickness and customers were not hesitant with checking up on them to make sure all was ok. Alex even joked that she had one customer drop his nephew off at Kings Dominion just so he could come get some ZZQ.
Self-taught in the art of BBQ, Chris claims his self-education is due to a lot of reading, trial and error and participating in BBQ competitions. As he thumbs through a small notebook of intricate scribblings and drawings, It doesn't seem at all odd that his background in architecture has leant itself to his craft.
“I obsess about making the perfect brisket all the time.”
He decided that making BBQ was more fun than doing architecture, but very similar. As he explains that he documents each cook every time and pays very close attention to details, Fultz denotes the demeanor of a meticulous scientist when explaining his operation. There's a different process for each meat and as he, like most chefs, has an understanding that there is a lot of science required, whether it's the temperature, air flow, or amount of heat. He doesn't hesitate to admit there's a lot of problem solving and tweaking with each step.
Watching Alex and Chris work together is this ebb and flow of effortless machinery. He brings over the flavor soaked meats for the next step and she pulls the paper for wrapping without missing a beat. Realizing it was five years ago this month that Chris asked her out, she pleasantly recalls the date without a blink and and it's apparent the two are a match made in hog heaven. She expresses that it's not a big challenge for them to work together and she actually enjoys the time they spend on the job. How lucky was she, that her marriage to Chris brought forth an exciting venture she has grown to absolutely love.
I feel like I'm doing something I want to do. I never would have imagined that it would be this...I never would have imagined that making potato salad would be a thing I would enjoy!
Maxine does all the real work. She's the 3,500-pound smoker with a 16-foot smoking chamber they had made by Austin Smoke Works in Texas. She's impressive, smoking her sister, Mabel under the table with four times the cooking capability. As Fultz chops the wooden logs to feed her fiery chamber, he is dripping of sweat and it's hard to imagine this is pleasurable in any sense. It does however smell of campfire heaven, as people start to approach the couple with inquiries of when they can get some and will it be done soon. They are withered by the response of "tomorrow".
The symbiotic communal relationship they have with Ardent Craft Ales is no less a love affair in itself. ZZQ debuted their residency at Ardent's annual Swine and Brine and it's merged into this beautiful friendship. Ardent has made their residency not only profitable and easy, but has also given them their new apprentice, Ardent employee, Brian Dolenti. Dolenti takes over the first shift these days, making things a little less hectic. While the couple search for a brick-and-mortar and figure out how this will change the dynamic of the business, Chris and Alex are in hopes of planting themselves in the burgeoning and loved area of Scott's Addition. They recognize their customers at this point and their customers are quite aware of Maxine's abilities, standing in line for hours, as the 14+ briskets and pork shoulders along with their tasty accompaniments are diminished in a matter of hours. What's more is that they've given Vegans/Vegetarians a delicious alternative of smoked seitan which actually tastes fantastic. Now, they too can enjoy the savory flavor of ZZQ.
Little did Chris know the initial introduction to BBQ at Grandma's house would turn out to be a passionate endeavor. They are creating food that has tradition, culture, and melt-in-your-mouth flavor. As they hurdle over the challenges of time management, a search for the perfect venue, catering schedules, and the responsibility of creating the perfect brisket, Alex and Chris are some of the most easy-going people you'll ever meet. The man from Texas and his bride from Virginia, architects of both design and food, are hitting the mark with some lip-smacking grub that will have you counting down to Saturday. Beer and BBQ---the perfect Summer combo! So, gather your friends and make a pitstop, because come Monday, you'll be bragging about how you met Maxine and her most perfectly, succulent brisket.
What They are Tasting
What do you get when you ask one of Virginia's best BBQ vendors where they go for BBQ?
HogsHead Cafe, Deep Run Roadhouse (original location) and surprisingly they are partial to Mission, although a chain, they provide different styles
Must Have at ZZQ
The Brisket, hands down, the most amazing flavor and the time spent on it is evident, the Jalapeno Mac n' Cheese is divine. Get the platter for the real deal and if they have the spare ribs on your visit, you won't be disappointed by the flavor or the size of them. Their BBQ goes quite well with the IPL or the IPA.
Where to Find Them
Every Saturday from noon to when they sell out at Ardent Craft Ales in Scott's Addition - it is advised that you get there earlier and they also accept pre-orders for early pickup beginning at 11:30 AM.