Smoke Box in Hamden first opened to support the smoked meat habit of its sister restaurant Ordinary in New Haven. Its owners, Jason Sobocinski of Ordinary and Caseus, and Mike Farber of Mikro in Hamden, opened their doors to the public for lunch about six months ago. The kitchen's founding mission was simple, support the partners' network of New Haven and Hamden restaurants as a commissary kitchen with barbecue, and open for lunch if there is demand.
And demand there is. Smoke Box has become a sought after lunch destination thanks to its smoky slow cooked meat forward lunch box approach to barbecue. Also, there is the fact that this is real barbecue. Getting it right requires a constellation of well-sourced materials and ritual: types of woods, cuts of meat, spices or rubs, wet (sauce) or dry, and above all things, time—all things that Smoke Box takes very seriously.
"I think barbecue is really cool because it's got really interesting terroir, depending on where you go you are going to get a different kind of bbq, cuts, sauces, etc. We try to honor that with our own style. But it is really interesting to do the research and interpret the regional styles." said Jason Sobocinski.
Smoke Box sources all its meat with an eye to quality, first and foremost. Their pork is D’Artagnan’s Berkshire pork, which Jason prefers because, "it’s the best pork for slow and low cooking." Their beef is from Creekstone Farms and chicken is Bell & Evans. The other all important element is wood, which is sourced locally, recently from a Cheshire orchard.
The Smoke Box barbecue process begins with a proprietary blend of spices for that all important initial rubdown. The meat is then left uncovered in walk-in cooler so it can dry out a bit, forming a bit of a crust which allows the smoke to adhere to the meat. The meat is then loaded into the smoker powered by apple, hickory, or cherry wood. Chicken will spend about 4.5 to 5 hours, and beef and pork spend several more hours. The final step takes place in a low and slow holding oven, often overnight, so the meat stays very tender and retains as much of its juices as possible.
The lunch menu is equal parts sandwiches and lunch "boxes." On a recent visit, a rotating list of four sandwiches included a Smoked Cheeseburger, a BoomBoxBomb, a C.S.L.T., and a Smokerrito Burrito. However intriguing, the boxes, and their DIY layers of meat, sauce, and sides, are where a barbecue lover will be most rewarded.
The menu is centered around boxes—either a half or a full box with your choice of meat: pulled pork, beef brisket, or pulled chicken. Then an abundant selection of house made sides, including: smoked tomatoes, pickled red onions, smoked jalapeños, and (drumroll, please) chopped crispy chicken skin bacon.
Finally if you like your barbecue wet, a trio of sauces pay homage to the southern barbeque strongholds. An apple cider vinegar (North Carolina), a “spicy sweet n sticky” (Texas), and a tangy mustard (Alabama) are each made in house.
Smoke Box in Hamden
Price: $9 for ½ Box, $12 for Full Box; Sandwiches
Highlights: Pulled pork boxes, housemade pickled onions
Hours: Open for lunch Monday - Saturday, 11 am to 2:30 pm
2323 Whitney Avenue, Hamden, CT 06518