The first thing to notice about Sheffield’s new American barbecue joint is the aroma.
Sweet, smokey and spicy blasts from an imported wood burner hit diners almost the instant they walk in The BBQ Collective, at city centre pub The Hop.
It’s a far cry from the usual wet paint that lingers around new restaurants.
“We smoked that out pretty quickly,” laughed the American behind it all, Jeffrey Wright.
The charismatic pitmaster - or head chef - hails from Minnesota and has dedicated much of his life to the religion of barbecue.
He learned the trade from the age of 14, and smoking meat was a backyard hobby while he worked in finance.
Travels around the world, meeting his wife and front-of-house chief Mat along the way, plus a chance meeting with bosses from Ossett Brewery - who are behind The Hop - eventually led to the creation of the collective.
It’s a fascinating story which has transformed The Hop’s menu, previously based on pies, and decor.
Gone is the green frontage, replaced with a modern black and white look, and inside has been stripped back then pumped up with subtle touches of Americana.
Outside there are picnic tables to dine on, should the Yorkshire weather play ball.
It’s still visibly The Hop with many beers and live music, just a sleeker version.
Jeffrey, who is fulfilling his first solo large-scale chef position since opening in a ‘whirlwind’ mere weeks ago, prepared for the role with a Stateside barbecue tour.
He and Mat visited Wilbur’s Barbecue in north Carolina - where the same cooking fire has been burning continuously since 1962 - and 24-hour operations in New York.
They now want to mix up some of the four - yes, four - styles of American barbecue while above all keeping the experience down to earth.
Jeffrey said: “It’s not about theatre, it’s about great food, great beer and great music.
“I didn’t want to stick just to Memphis-style barbecue or anything else. I just really wanted to do the things that I love and I thought people would like so if you look at the menu all the dishes there are very close to my heart.
“You can compare Yorkshire to Minnesota – it’s very northern, green and it can be wet. The people have a similar sensibility, they have a lot of fun and don’t take themselves too seriously, and they are smart Alecs a lot of the time which resonates with Minnesota!
“We always wanted to move over here and were just waiting for the right opportunity.”
Jeffrey might not believe in menus with 90 items, but he is willing to spend time on one dish. When the collective held taster events, he spent most of the night watching over a beef brisket as it cooked for 14 hours. There are hopes of introducing brisket at weekends along with specials in future.
“Brisket is the holy grail of barbecue,” said Jeffrey.
“But for me the holy grail is all about the spare ribs – that’s what I really love.”
Like with most casual dining spots, it is order at the bar here. But we couldn’t set up a tab for a group, and card transactions under £10 - say for a first drink - incurred a 50p charge every time.
It was all down to company policy rather than the apologetic staff, but having to order separately meant our meals didn’t arrive until friends had finished.
I’m told this will now be looked into.
My pork platter (£15) came on a tray - with separate dishes for a heaped pile of pulled pork and smoked sweet potato with three hefty ribs laid alongside.
The potato was a silky mash topped with thin, crispy strips of baked skin, with a sugary maple and chilli butter melting atop it all.
The ribs were dark on top, fading in colour through the layers of meat.
I found there was no need for any of the nattily named sauces - such as Kansas City Mild or Nashville Hot - as the meat had been smoked to heavenly perfection.
There was the crispy top and melting tender meat, just bursting with flavour.
The pulled pork was juicy and mild but defeated me.
He had gone for the most expensive dish, a pork and beef rib platter priced £20 and described as perfect for sharing. That’s an understatement.
The fries were doused in paprika, hot and super salty on the tongue, while the beef ribs ‘had to be tasted to be believed.’
He would have preferred a Thai-style coleslaw to have had more spicy Asian flavours and less cream though.
All meat is sourced locally, and Beeches butchers of Walkley have created special Texas hot link sausages for the menu.
There are less expensive dishes, from £6 for buttermilk fried chicken.
We dithered over desserts but eventually chose two. ‘That’s the spirit!’ said a cheery Mat.
Apple pie was several mini empanadas in a doughnut-esque batter, with slivers of fruit and cinammon inside.
The highlight was a slice of pecan pie - warm, sticky, buttery, treacly and very naughty with honeycomb-studded ice cream.
This is ideal day session food, and we’d like to try much more of it.
We paid £51.10 including a drink each.
n The BBQ Collective is at The Hop, West One Plaza, Fitzwilliam Street, Sheffield city centre.
Tel: 0114 278 1000.