Pitmaster John Lewis brings his Central Texas-style barbecue joint to the space formerly filled by Tommy’s Ham House
John Lewis has been fired up about barbecue since he moved from El Paso to Austin, Texas, to launch his culinary career when he was eighteen. It was there he fell in love with the slow-smoked style of barbecue for which Central Texas is famous.
Being naturally inquisitive, he set out to replicate the exceptional ’cue he discovered in Austin. He honed his skills on the competition barbecue circuit before returning to Austin in 2010 to help his friend Aaron Franklin—one of the foremost pitmasters in the country—open Franklin Barbecue. Two years later, he launched his own place, La Barbecue, and it wasn’t long before he began smoking out the competition. In 2016, he brought his signature meats to Charleston at Lewis Barbecue, and recently pinpointed Greenville for his second location, owing to its burgeoning food scene.
The smoke room Lewis added to the back of the space recently vacated by Tommy’s Ham House is outfitted with six huge smokers, which the chef designed himself from 1,000-gallon repurposed propane tanks. The secret to his legendary, meltingly tender brisket? Cooking it for eighteen to twenty hours over indirect heat, created by burning hardwood in a firebox at one end of the smoker.
John’s DIY Brisket Tips
- Start with the highest-quality cut of meat you can find. You want to pick the one with the most striations of white [fat]
- Consider purchasing a PK grill, which allows for indirect cooking
- Don’t rush it; the sweet spot for cooking brisket is fifteen hours
- Remember to let the meat rest until it comes to an internal temperature of 140°F
- Serve the brisket without sauce first—don’t cover up all your hard work
Oh, and then there’s the beef. Lewis uses Certified Angus USDA Prime and brushes it with a proprietary seasoning blend. The long cooking time produces a “bark” on the outside edges of the meat, which you don’t get in the whole-hog barbecue common to South Carolina. “Texas barbecue is more bare bones,” says Lewis, who serves his smoked beef, pork, and turkey with sauce on the side because “the goal is not to need it.” That said, he does tout his green barbecue sauce—the spiciest of the three he offers—made from roasted hatch chiles grown near El Paso.
The interior takes its cue from Texas in the 1970s. Designed by Betsy Berry of Charleston, the decor incorporates handmade Mexican tile behind the food counter, rough wood wainscoting, custom brass dome light fixtures, and bronze longhorn steer heads on the walls. Between the tables inside, seats at the L-shaped bar, and picnic tables on the patio, the restaurant can seat nearly 300.
Lewis is excited to be in Greenville and hopes to maintain the long tradition of hospitality set by Tommy’s Ham House. “I’d be honored if Lewis Barbecue continued to be a gathering place for the people of Greenville,” he shares.
Now that’s something to get fired up about.
214 Rutherford St, Greenville. (864) 513-6045, lewisbarbecue.com
Photography by Andrew Cebulka.