On The Road With RL Reeves Jr: Blue Door Smokehouse In Lexington, Kentucky

Baby back pork ribs and brisket at Blue Door Smokehouse in Lexington, Kentucky

There was an old black man with an iron smoker mounted in the bed of a Ford pickup truck who used to park on the side of the road near Sawmill Holler in Whitley County, Kentucky.

Daddy would load the family up in the Country Squire wagon once a month or so, and we’d take the 30 minute drive south near Williamsburg to pick up a few racks of ribs.

There was no barbecue restaurant open for business in the Tri-Counties, and only a handful of people had pits in their backyards.

Blue Door Smokehouse 226 Walton Ave, Lexington, Kentucky 40502

Eastern Kentucky has been slow to warm to trends for centuries.

According to Kentucky barbecue authority Wes Berry there are eight barbecue regions in the commonwealth.

Western Kentucky is the buckle of the ‘mutton belt,’ that famous U.S barbecue zone that focuses on the meat of aged sheep. As you head eastwards you’ll eventually come to Lexington in the heart of the Bluegrass, and until recently not exactly known as a smoked meat mecca.

RL Reeves Jr visits Blue Door Smokehouse in Lexington Kentucky

Blue Door Smokehouse is changing that.

The restaurant is tiny, seating perhaps 20 people, and in following the Texas smokehouse tradition prepares a finite amount of meat-sells it til it’s gone-then heads to the house before returning to repeat the process the following day.

The buzz on this joint is deafening in Lexington and with good reason, Blue Door could open in Austin and make good money.

Southern Pride gas barbecue cooker at Blue Door Smokehouse in Lexington Kentucky

But they’re cheating.

The real heavyweights of Texas barbecue wouldn’t be caught dead running a Southern Pride gas oven to cook their meats.

When you hit Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Micklethwait Craft Meats in Austin or Valentina’s Tex Mex in Manchaca walk around back and look at the massive stacks of seasoned oak wood. No propane tanks. Just big wood fires cooking stacks of briskets and ribs.

The menu at Blue Door Smokehouse in Lexington Kentucky

There would be riots in the streets if Aaron Franklin installed a brace of Southern Pride ovens at his joint in East Austin.

But does it matter that Kentucky-based Blue Door is running a big gas oven to help cook the meats?

It depends on how die hard of a traditionalist you are. I have friends who refuse to eat from gas-burners, and most of the big chain barbecue outfits in Texas run Southern Prides or Old Hickory. That can alter a crusty old Texan’s lunch plans dramatically.

A trio of sauces at Blue Door Smokehouse in Lexington, Kentucky

The romance of barbecue is strong. I fall into a reverie whilst eating brisket and pork ribs at Blue Door. I imagine a snowy-headed old man out back in the middle of the night reading Jesse Stuart books, and hitting a flask of Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond whiskey while he slowly stokes the fire that’s cooking the meats.

Dawn breaks and he boils up a an old Comet kettle of black coffee, rolls up a cigarette and sets to pulling the briskets, pork shoulders, and rib racks off the coals.

That ain’t happening at Blue Door. The young cats running the joint inherited a Southern Pride cooker when they took over the building that houses their restaurant. I would imagine there was plenty spirited debate as to whether or not they were going to keep it or haul it off to the scrap metal yard.

Blue Door Smokehouse has the best barbecue in Lexington, Kentucky

The sign out front says “Texas Barbecue.”

It is.

After all there are hundreds of Texas barbecue outfits running gas-assisted smokers. But if you want to really represent the Texas barbecue tradition y’all will have to trundle the Southern Pride off to Baker Iron and Metal, get what you can for it then get ready to start buying ricks of Kentucky hardwoods.

That’s how the battle-hardened Texas pitbosses are doing it

Telephone Blue Door Smokehouse at 859-252-4227

Blue Door Smokehouse
226 Walton Avenue
Lexington, Kentucky


Hours of operation
always call ahead

Kentucky is one of the prettiest states in the U.S

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About RL Reeves Jr

I'm a writer living and working in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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