Sauces, spices, and smokers get a lot of attention when it comes to barbecue. But the key variable no one talks much about? The wood.
In his previous gig at DCity Smokehouse, pit master Rob Sonderman stuck to usual suspects like hickory. At his new Adams Morgan ’cue joint, Federalist Pig (1654 Columbia Rd., NW; 202-827-4400), he’s experimenting with atypical tree logs such as pear, persimmon, and black walnut. “Everything has a slightly different aroma and flavor,” says Sonderman. “Wood is like a spice.”
Purists can appreciate the nuance of Sonderman’s craft with a platter of brisket or ribs, but it would be a shame to miss his jaw-stretching sandwiches, particularly the Big Cheese.
- The sandwich comes with a choice of chopped brisket or pork, but Sonderman favors the latter. Whole, bone-in pork shoulder is smoked for eight to ten hours. “The bone definitely adds something to the equation,” Sonderman says. “There’s not as much exterior meat for the smoke to hit, so it’s a little bit lighter.” The chopped meat is lightly dressed in a tangy, slightly spicy Carolina-style barbecue sauce with plenty of garlic.
- Melty cheddar-jack cheese cloaks the meat, while buttermilk-fried onions add a satisfying crunch. A dollop of sweeter Kansas City–style barbecue sauce completes the sandwich.
- Soft sesame buns, baked daily by local Gold Crust Bakery, go through a special machine that butters and toasts them. You can watch it from the cash register. “People seem to be in awe of that thing,” says Sonderman.
- Add a tasty vegetarian side such as chipotle-garlic green beans, potato salad, or smoked-cheddar mac and cheese to the $12.50 sandwich for just three bucks.
This article appears in the March 2017 issue of Washingtonian.