Words by Josh Ong.
I don’t think there’s ever been a time since my fascination with food began that I have not been head-over-heels in love with American barbecue. The combination of subtlety smoked, buttery and soft slow cooked meats is everything I could ever wish for in this world. Yet, when it comes to outdoor cooking and our use of fire, we as a nation remain centuries behind our Atlantic neighbours in both North and South America. To those unaware of the USA’s barbecuing prowess, I know what you’re thinking. The connotations of the word ‘barbecue’ over here involve rainy summer days with cheap cuts of meat slathered onto rusty old fire buckets to the point of incineration all whilst somehow keeping the meat completely raw on the inside. It may be awhile before we are fully caught up with the rest of the world, but fortunately more and more barbecue restaurants are opening across the U.K with the country’s culinary sphere finally catching on to what is arguably, the USA’s greatest export.
In my life, I’d never once consider that on my quest to seek out the highest quality of American barbecue I would find myself in Wales, or further yet, Barry. To this day, I have continued to struggle to find somewhere that accurately reflects true American barbecue culture in conjunction with the food. Needless to say, Hangfire Southern Kitchen ticked every single box.
After a brief email conversation, I was greeted at the door by name with a literal extended hand by owner Shauna Guinn. Furthermore, she was already aware from our emails that the dinner had been for my fathers birthday and greeted him with a warm welcoming hug. Whilst this would seem totally abnormal in a regular restaurant scene, it served as a perfect insight into the level and type of service we would be receiving throughout the evening.
The ambiance of the room was as you’d expect within a local barbecue chain situated deep within the southern states. With photos of the staff and crew on the walls and homely decorations, it was clear the room was well thought out and maintained with a lot of love and care.
The menu was simple and polished. Offering southern classics of Gumbo and Chicken and Waffles, the menu aptly avoided over complication. Moreover, as every single element on the menu was made in house, the simplicity of the menu relied upon the the food speaking for itself, which it did to the highest degree. However, whilst the southern staples are remarkable, the barbecue section is where the real business lies.
Despite having to only choose two out of a possible four smoked meats, I still struggled to come to a conclusive decision. I opted for the Brisket on Texas Toast alongside the St Louis Ribs, smoked for 12 and 7 hours, respectively. Alongside the meat I chose the house ‘slaw and seasoned fries. After that, it came down to wait, the anticipation of which made it feel like forever.
A few moments later, the food arrived at our table, presented in a textbook barbecue restaurant manner. The meats and sides laid upon a thin sheet of waxy paper placed on silver tray. From first glance, I already knew I was in for a treat. The ribs, from appearance alone, were nothing short of a masterpiece. From the deeply pink smoke ring to the dark mahogany bark that encompassed all of the perfectly juicy meat, it was truly a sight to behold. The only struggle I happened to encounter was having to resist the temptation of eating them before taking pictures. It only got better once I took a bite of them. There was something ethereally beautiful about how the combination of the meat and bark came together in unison. The meat itself melted like butter and once again served to prove that a ‘dry’ rib does not have to be, in essence, dry. The brisket was equally sublime with the smokey undertones managing to act as both the main flavour at the front of your palette whilst equally allowing the quality of the meat to shine through. Taken in a bite on top of the Texas toast with some of the ‘slaw and pickles and you’re guaranteed to be a winner.
To sum up, I cannot express in words my love for this place. What Sam and Shauna have continued to achieve here is nothing short of spectacular. Whether it be street food festivals or the Southern Kitchen, the quality of food and service is consistent with the love and care which has been poured into their work. It is clear that both owners remain on a path of continued distinction and I look forward to their next step in the culinary world.
For now, catch their latest work, Sam and Shauna’s Big Cookout, on BBC iPlayer.