The first time we passed Oink Johnson’s Southern BBQ we nearly got whiplash. A simple cart sitting by the road on Route 611 in Pipersville, right in front of Jack’s Dog Farm. Not where you expect to find Southern barbecue. This we had to check out.
That was four years ago and we’ve been loyal customers ever since, becoming friends with Jack Belli, the proprietor and barbecue master. Jack serves up some of the best barbecue in Bucks County on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, spring, summer and fall – and into the winter if it’s mild and there is a good football game on to keep him company.
“What I’m doing here is ‘old school,'” Jack explains. His teacher was an elderly black man named Pappy from “down South.” “It took me 3 to 4 years to really master it,” he says. In fact, Jack had never cooked until he met his wife, Shelley. But he wanted some extra income and he loved barbecue. What started as a hobby is now full-time.
The menu is full of barbecue favorites. Ribs, St. Louis Style ribs, Baby Back ribs, pulled pork, chicken and beef brisket. But what first impressed me about Oink Johnson’s was the sides (I’ll get to the meat; don’t worry).
In many barbecue joints, the sides are an afterthought, just something to offer with the platter. But not so at Oink Johnson’s. Jack makes green beans with ham hocks, from vegetables grown on his farm across the street. The baked beans are made the real way. He starts by soaking dry navy beans and then cooks them on a “real low heat” for 12 – 14 hours. It’s his wife’s recipe.
The coleslaw is homemade – a real rarity these days — and it is delicious. It was his mother’s recipe, gleaned from the old Fountain House Hotel in Doylestown that his mother’s parents owned (now the Starbucks in the center of town). His wife bakes the cornbread, as well as the double chocolate cupcakes and carrot cake, all from scratch. Are you seeing a pattern here?
Jack gets his beef – aged 30 days – locally too. When I asked him where he sources his beef, he looked a little puzzled and then pointed across the busy highway to a pasture where I could see cattle happily grazing. It’s his family’s farm, 40 acres where 75 layers (chickens) also roam free, pecking the day away. You can even buy their eggs at the stand. Lucky chickens too. In addition to a small amount of feed, they get all natural, organic bread, and baked beans and green beans, leftovers from the barbecue business.
Jack plans on raising broilers too but for now he gets his chicken from Holly Farms in Delaware. The chickens arrive having been harvested only the night before, already split and clean. “And they are white,” adds Jack. “Not that fake yellow you see in the supermarkets.”
The barbecue sauce is, of course, also homemade. Choose from Hickory, Apple, Triple X Hot Sauce and a Kill You Dead hot relish, all available for you to take home. New this year is Jack’s beef jerky. He is also working on a “pork turkey” although I’m not entirely sure what that means.
I asked Jack to share some grilling secrets that us backyard barbecue cooks could use. He was happy to oblige. “Start with commercial grade hardwood charcoal,” he advises. Soak hickory chips overnight, and then lay them on top of the charcoal. Before putting the meat on, keep the charcoal off center, not under the meat. He strongly suggests investing in a thermometer. “You can’t go past 275° — it’s too hot.”
When it comes to ribs, he skins them first then prepares them with a (secret recipe) dry rub and let’s them sit for two days. Then it’s 5 – 6 hours in the smoker at 175° – 225°. Once again, using 100% hardwood charcoal on the grill. He likes hickory, mesquite or oak woods. He mists the meat frequently with a cider concoction to keep it from drying out. “When the meat breaks off real easy, they’re done,” he says.
The chicken also begins with a dry rub and Jack prepares a baste of beer and water. On the grill, he flips the meat every three minutes, beating it down and getting the liquid baste in. The chicken spends 1 1/2 to 2 hours at 225° – 250° in a closed grill.
The beef brisket and pulled pork get a dry rub and spend 2 to 3 hours in the smoker at 225° – 250°. After that they go in a pan, covered with aluminum foil and get put on the grill for eight hours at 175° – 300°. It’s a lot of time and hard work, and humidity and wind can affect the process too.
Oink Johnson’s is a great deal too. Platters, which include two sides and cornbread, start at $9 for the chicken, $10 for the pulled pork, and $11 for the beef brisket. There are also pulled pork and beef brisket sandwiches. And if you spend more than $25, Jack throws in half a chicken!
Don’t be put off by the sign for Jack’s Dog Farm. You won’t find any pups on the menu. The dog business was begun in 1927 by Jack’s grandfather and is now run by Jack’s brother. Look for the dog statue, though, and the small pig figure sitting on top.
Oink Johnson’s Southern BBQ is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am to 5 or 6 pm – or until Jack sells out. You’ll find the stand at 6370 Easton Road (Route 611) in Pipersville. Find them on Facebook here or call them at 215.518.2056.