By Lara Alexander
This guy is serious about his smoke. Order a beef brisket sandwich from Edmonds’ new barbecue joint, Celtic Cowboy, and you won’t find the meat hiding under globs of sauce or a ton of condiments. “Other people mask the smoke flavor when they brush sauce onto the meat,” owner Steve Freeman says. “They use a liquid smoke for flavor instead of the real flavor of wood-fired smoking.”
Freeman smokes his brisket for 14 hours, after rubbing it down with his custom blend of 15 spices. The smoked brisket is then sliced and piled high on bread for a straight-forward sandwich. His house-made BBQ sauce is served on the side, so as not to steal the show: “I want to preserve the the tradition of barbecue, tasting the meat on its own.”
Freeman and his wife Lisa will be opening the doors of the Celtic Cowboy this Tuesday, Feb. 22, on an unassuming street behind Highway 99 and 212th Street Southwest in Edmonds. They will be open Tuesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on the road with the smoker on weekends.
“Take a taste of this,” he offered on my recent visit, pouring out a sample of his house BBQ sauce. The complex flavor announces itself in layers — first sweet, then the sharpness of the vinegar and citrus, and finishing with the warmth of the chili. Next, he pulled out his secret weapon — smoked garlic. “See how the smoke mellows it out?” he asked. More than just a mellowing effect, the smokiness brings a savory elegance that is irresistible. Steve said that he will be making a smoked garlic butter to sell in his cold case and to slather on ears of corn. The promise of more smoked garlic is what will be bringing me back next week when his doors open.
Freeman picked up the barbecue habit while living in Austin, Texas. Soon, he was serving up to 150 hungry people at a time, putting on an annual charity barecue event. Before he knew it, he owned a smoker that could cook up to 1.000 pounds of meat at a time, “to help cure my pyromania affliction!” he explains with a smile. The barbecue hobby became a part-time business and he began having trouble keeping up with demand. When he found himself turning away business, he realized he was ready to make his love for wood smoke and beef brisket a full-time gig. “I wanted to bring the barbecue to the people. It was time.”
The Celtic Cowboy storefront — a name that pays homage to his Scottish parents and his American upbringing — went under a year-long conversion from old auto garage to a sparkling space full of gleaming meat cases, sparkling knives and shiny counter tops. Freeman is more than ready for opening day. “Did you get a chance to taste that smoked chicken?” he asked two vendors who stopped by to drop off an invoice. “So you know what’s coming on Tuesday!” Steve called out, inviting them back for more when his doors officially open this week.
Celtic Cowboy BBQ hopes to fill more than one niche — feeding customers a hot lunch and sending them home with ribs for the weekend. A daily soup and a daily chili will be freshly made, meat will be on the carving board for sandwiches, and baked potatoes will be in the hot case ready for meaty toppings. Vacuum-sealed packs of ribs and brisket will fill the refrigerated display case beside the register.
“I just want people to come and get it! The Texas barbecue culture is what I want to share,” Freeman said. “You don’t just buy tonight’s dinner, you buy enough food for a few meals,” he explained. “After you get home and eat, you think: Man that was good! Then, you stillI have some chicken left over to make a smoked chicken salad and you can use the rest of the meat for a soup the next day.”
Capacity is no problem for the Celtic Cowboy; his indoor smoker and his outdoor mobile smoker can smoke 1,000 pounds each. On opening day, Freeman will be ready for his lunch counter crowd, his take-away case will be stocked, and he is catering for a crowd of 200. He hopes to take his mobile smoker to local festivals and private events. He had barbecue at his own wedding, and knows other folks will like the taste of on-site barbecue for $12 a person. Says Freeman: “It’s fun and the food is better than typical wedding food that has been drying out on the buffet for three hours!”
Freeman is finding his meat from local sources, “I care about where my food comes from and I care where your food comes from.” He is ordering his beef brisket and beef ribs from Painted Hills in Oregon, using Washington grown chicken and turkey, and sausages from the local Hempler company. The oak and apple wood for feeding the smoker also come from Washington state.
He will also be smoking turkeys and hams for holiday meals. Easter is coming up next and Freeman be scoring, rubbing and smoking Kurobuta hams, finishing them off with brown sugar and butter. He gets excited just thinking about these hams. “I just love them! They are the Kobe of pork.” Rich, tender Kurobuta ham comes from Berkshire hogs and Freeman is ordering his from Snake River, a collection of farms scattered across the Midwest.
Whether you check out Edmonds’ newest addition for the catering, the lunch counter, or to take home dinner, Freeman hopes you will order extra. His parting words to me? “When you come back, don’t forget your cooler!”
Celtic Cowboy BBQ
21104 70th Ave West, Suite B
Edmonds, WA 98026
Open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Catering available on the weekends.