“Fail to prepare; prepare to fail.”
That motto describes Up in Smoke’s food prep philosophy, and it is a quote that Jennifer learned from her dad when she was young.
Prepping is a key-part of Up in Smoke’s success. Every day everything is made fresh at Up in Smoke – and that means a lot of preparation and prep work. Failure is just not an option. Up in Smoke will not go up in smoke.
It’s a family venture too. Tom grew up with barbecue in his blood – both sides of his family had restaurants and Tom himself has owned Cajun restaurants and bars. “Our kids help here,” says Jennifer, who has a photo of Tom at age four, standing on a bucket to help wash dishes. “We love having them, they love helping and they are learning a lot about preparing for success.” The sauce is from Tom’s grandmother and only Tom and their 10-year-old daughter Madigan know the recipe.
And so their day begins….
Early, when Tom drops their 15-year-old son, Jackson, off at school and then gets to the shop by 7 am.
(Actually, their day begins the day before when Tom cooks the meat for the next day’s service.)
Meanwhile, Jennifer drops Madigan off at elementary school before she goes in to start the food prep for the day. Even though Tom and Jennifer have a staff of helpers, they do the food prep themselves. She gets the beans, slaw, mac and cheese and everything else going so that they can get to their appointed location of the day and start serving by 11 am.
“That’s the easiest part of the day,” says Jennifer. “Serving and selling the food.”
Their location for the day dictates the variety of meat they will sell. Tom usually cooks about 200 pounds a day. “If we’re going downtown, we know to plan on more ribs. But everyone loves our pork and our brisket is super tender. We also sell about 80 pounds of grilled blackened chicken each week,” says Jennifer. “Every item on our menu gets sold every day,” she says. They take as much care with their sides as they do their meat.
Once Up in Smoke has served its last customer, the truck returns to the shop for dish washing and clean up. “Hopefully we have a lot of dishes to wash because dirty dishes mean money,” Jennifer says. Then she’s off to the store to buy the meat for Tom to prep and cook and the barbeque cycle starts again.
For event days such as One Spark, Riverside Arts Market or a music event such as Rockville, Tom will cook meat on the pit non-stop exchanging and adding new meat every 14 hours. “He has it down and has a system,” says Jennifer. For such events their mornings start as early as 2 or 4 am.
“We love doing this and doing it together.”