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Tell people that you’ve found good wood-smoked barbecue at the Whole Foods store in Fairfax, and they’ll no doubt ask to revoke your critic’s license. (Believe me, I know a number of you who would love to phone up some agency, if you could, and ask them to revoke my license.) But trust me (or don’t, which only means more for me), you can find some seriously smoky brisket, pork, and sausage at this sprawling Fair Lakes store.
Sarah Godfrey, City Paper‘s dual-threat writer/editor, first told me about this smokehouse hidden among the overpriced organics, and like any devout barbecue believer, I dutifully made the pilgrimage to this piece of pricey real estate, far removed from the locations usually associated with grease and burning wood. I soon learned that the WFM Smokehouse, as the operation is called, is no pretender. They smoke meats—-brisket, pork shoulder, pork ribs, sausage, whole chicken, wings—-24 hours a day.
How have I not heard about this place before?
The woman in charge of the WFM Smokehouse is Maria Mercado, a Salvadoran native who told me that she used to cook almost exclusively with wood back in her home country. She’s now smoking hundreds of pounds of beef, chicken, and pork in a massive Southern Pride machine on the premises, employing a combination of cherry, maple, and hickory wood. (See picture below.) She and her team pull out meats at all hours; the decadently blackened brisket, for example, gets yanked at around 7 each morning and is either stuffed into a display case or placed into a holding unit, which is set at around 135 degrees.
That means, of course, you can buy Mercado’s smoked meats to eat there or take home. I opted for the former and dined at the counter that curves, quite righteously, into the smoked meats display case. I ordered the $14.99 “Kitchen Sink” platter, which comes with four meats and three sides. It’s enough for two hungry people and a stray dog.
The brisket, sprinkled with a simple salt/pepper/garlic rub, was the star. A Smokehouse employee carved the brisket into these thick, intense, sweetly smoked slices with bulging layers of fat, the largest fat deposits I had ever seen before. All that fat, naturally, helped to keep the meat moist, even as the slices languished in my basket while I sampled other cuts. The bark on the brisket was too thin for me and too underseasoned, and the meat itself was poorly sliced with the grain. But these were shortcomings I could live with, and happily did.
The pulled pork (see picture at top) was so vigorously smoked and meaty that the chunks were virtually indistinguishable from the brisket. That may be a bad thing in Carolina, but I actually liked it. The sausage was oddly grainy, perhaps too dry, but still spicy, smoky, and satisfying. The pulled chicken, the weakest of the four meats, was mixed with a sauce that started sweet and left a tart, sort of spicy aftertaste; the smoke penetration on the bird meat was practically nil.
Now, let me tell you another secret about my WFM Smokehouse experience: I could walk over to the nearby craft-beer refrigeration case and pull a bomber bottle to drink with my “Kitchen Sink” platter. I selected a Gouden Carolus tripel, whose fruity sweetness and ginger notes proved potent enough to cut through all that smoke and fat. You could say I was one happy human being yesterday. I might have even been a little drunk.