For 16 years, pitmaster Bill Coleman has been selling smoked meats through his one-man mobile catering operation, Bill’s Backyard Barbeque. He’s fed George and Laura Bush, FBI agents, and the US women’s Olympic field hockey team (which apparently consumed 160 pounds of mac and cheese in a single sitting). But it wasn’t until Coleman got to know Civil Cigar Lounge owners Matt Krimm and John Anderson that he seriously considered opening a restaurant. The trio’s new spot, Cinder BBQ, debuts in Petworth on Saturday, April 13.
Coleman first met Krimm and Anderson as a regular at their Friendship Heights cigar lounge. The owners convinced him to start monthly barbecue events for them, and eventually, conversations about going into business together went from casual to serious. Coleman agreed to team up on strict terms: “Just let me cook shit, eat, and talk to customers.”
Cinder’s barbecue style is tough to pinpoint. With influences spanning from Texas to eastern Carolina, it’s more accurately dubbed “Bill’s style” by Krimm. The menu includes barbecue staples like the pulled pork and spare ribs, but brisket is Coleman’s specialty. The pitmaster dry rubs them the simple Texas way—with pepper and kosher salt—then smokes them at 250 degrees for 12 to 14 hours, depending on his intuition. Eat them dry or with one of Cinder BBQ’s three sauces: Carolina vinegar, apple cider, or “spicy redemption.”
“I’m buying three briskets for a day,” Coleman says. “If you miss it, you should’ve come earlier that day.”
One of Coleman’s biggest challenges has been transferring his strictly-outdoor barbecue operation into a kitchen. The restaurant has switched over to a Southern Pride smoker, which burns a secret combination of fruit and hard woods. (Coleman’s outdoor smoker is still part of the operation for catering events.) Though the smaller indoor smoker lowers cooking capacity and time, Anderson says the outcome is less smoky meat, which is more approachable for more people.
If you arrive a moment too late for one of the limited entree options, fear not. This place is, after all, a bar, so chicken wings are in no short supply. The $11 appetizer is dry rubbed, smoked for two and a half hours, flash fried, and tossed in the dry rub once more. For those who prefer their barbecue between two buns, see the $11 pulled pork sandwich or a three-patty cheddar angus burger for $15. Regionalists could reach for the $9 chili half-smoke.
Sides include brisket chunk chili, Brussels sprouts glazed in honey and sambal, collard greens cooked in pork rib fat, and peach-bourbon baked beans—all running from $4 to $6. Pickles from Petworth-based Gordy’s Pickle Jar and a vinegar-based coleslaw accompany all entrees and sandwiches.
At all times, Cinder will carry three Willett whiskeys. Occasionally, they’ll be small-batch options, but Krimm claims they’ll “always be the least expensive you can find in the city.” Important to note: they’ll also always be full 2-ounce pours. A daily happy hour will feature $5 and $7 wine pours plus lots of canned beer.
Changes to the bar and dining room were minimal—the space was already friendly, local, lowkey, according to Anderson. “We wanted it to look like a joint,” he says. “People can come hang out. There’s exposed brick and windows that open. This is a neighborhood place.”
Cinder BBQ, 800 Upshur St. NW.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Bill Coleman’s name.