Despite rumors of his disappearance, New Baptist Missionary Church famous barbecue operations still smoking in Huntsville. “A lady from Dallas called and said,‘ Y’all they are on Netflix, and they said you were locked up, ’” owner Tameka Edison tells me. It refers to an episode of the new Netflix series High on the pig, which highlights Black culinary contributions, including that of his father Clinton Edison, a pastor of the church and former pitmaster of the restaurant. At the end of the segment, the show’s narrator tells Clinton to “lock the place down for good.” Tameka says watching the episode was a bitter experience: she saw her father honor reasons, then realized how many potential customers would not plan to visit. He said: “We need to get in touch with them and make a recovery.”
The former restaurant known as BBQ Church was closed for several months as Pastor Edison cared for his sick mother, but last year, Tameka and her husband Jerry “Blue” Greathouse reopened it. The city and state treated it as a new business rather than a continuation of the old BBQ Church, so he was forced to make improvements to the building and decide on a new business name. He decided on BBQ smoke. (Motto: “Where we love Jesus, barbecue, and you.”) The restaurant’s profits continue to support the church at the door, where the couple has been members since moving from Alabama in 2006.
When Holy Smoke BBQ opened last February, it was a slow start. Once COVID restrictions close the dining room a few weeks later, it only gets worse. “We were here all day, and nobody came in,” Tameka Edison recalls. All food was given away and they were closed until May. It gives them time to make more repairs, and to plan for the restaurant’s future.
I stopped at recently to find the old steel smoker that sat dormant on the front patio back in use, while the stainless steel rotisserie that replaced it was nowhere to be found. Lawrence Pickett was stoking the pecan fire and checking on the chicken halves inside the smoker. She is a New Zion barbecue veteran, and she helps Greathouse with their cooking duties. He welcomed my daughter and I to the dining room a few minutes before the official opening at 11 am They were ready to serve.
The menu is largely changed from my last visit, Back in 2016. Edison added a simple steak with a “packed” pasta and cheese including pieces of smoked brisket. Both are welcome additions to my book. A barbecue tray came with the sauce on the side, and I happily dunked the tender pork ribs in a tangy barbecue sauce that didn’t seem as thick or sweet as it did last time. Edison says nothing new about the recipe, though he offered that “those who made it then probably tried to make it by memory.” He and Greathouse stick to the recipes left behind by founder Annie Mae Ward, who passed away in 2010. “I want to keep that old feeling of it, and stick to how we made it,” he said. of.
Edison was tempted, however, to adjust the potato salad. Ward’s version requires mustard, t-shirts, pickled relish, a little sugar, and not much else. Edison tried to add eggs and fresh onions, as he preferred at home, until he realized it didn’t last in the fridge either. Old-school fans in New Zion will always recognize the simple potato salad after all, along with tasty pinto beans, sweet tea, and pecan and pure buttermilk. They might eventually notice some of the changes in their work, such as outdoor seating and a more prominent road sign. Reverend Edison always comes often. He is not there to offer advice on running the place, but rather as a proud father who is happy to eat the fruits of his family’s work. “I have a special table on the register that says‘ dad, ’” Tameka Edison says.
David Smith is another customer who appreciates the consistency. Her picture was pasted on the living room wall because she was Ward’s first customer twice over; Smith convinced Ward to sell his barbecue to the public, was the first to buy it when he did, and then became the first customer once the restaurant was built. Smith visited Edison recently. She told him the story, and pointed to her picture. They cried together as Edison realized just how much his mission to resurrect BBQ Church meant to follow the faithful joint.
Returning customers always ask, “Does it taste like Sister Ward’s?” As hard as Edison is trying, he admits it’s hard to copy a memory. He also understands the significance of keeping fires stored in a historic place like New Zion. “It’s a landmark in the community,” he said. Huntsville is known for two things out there a lot, and one of them is a prison. Edison wants to ensure that the legacy of the other famous institution in Huntsville remains strong. “Sure, we want to make a living from it,” he said. “But we also want to make a difference.”
Hours: Thursday – Saturday 11–6
Pitmasters: Jerry Greathouse and Lawrence Pickett
Method: Pecan in a steel smoker
Year reopened: 2020