You had me at first whiff, Hangover BBQ.
Then I tasted the peppered turkey. I’m in love. Tender, juicy, a perfect texture. The tri-colored beans passed with flying colors, drenched in a rich, dark sauce with a slightly smokey flavor. Mmmmmm. One bite, and I was smitten
The ribs aren’t just your regular fall-off-the-bone tender — they’re so tender the bone slides out of the meat like a greased pig from a farmer’s clutch.
The mac-n-cheese is rich and cheeeeeeesy.
And that cornbread? Oh, my. Dense, buttery, moist. And I don’t even like cornbread! Or should I say, I’ve never liked cornbread before I tasted Hangover BBQ’s cornbread. It’s reminiscent of my mother’s carrot cake that she served as a holiday side dish with roast chicken.
In a nearly 1,000-square-foot building built in the 1920s, with a hand-crafted smoker straight out of Texas perched above a meandering stream, Hangover BBQ puts out pounds and pounds of pulled pork, racks and racks of ribs, links and links of jalapeno cheddar beer brats, not to mention pans and pans of mac-n-cheese, tri-colored beans and coleslaw.
They also offer a slew of creative specials — like pumpkin spice sausage with a sweet potato mash drizzled with homemade apple butter barbecue sauce. What!??? And when they have brisket, get it fast before it’s gone. It’s that good. And meatloaf — that they smoke — is served with homemade mashed potatoes, topped with tomato sauce, fresh basil and parsley. They even have ventured into the vegetarian arena with a honey-Sriracha hummus — made with smoked chickpeas.
Can I just say — deeeeeeeelicious!
Steph and Billy Litman opened their place on GC&P Road in late July and have been getting rave reviews. The proof is in the pudding — or in the ribs, brisket, pulled pork, turkey, brats — as is evidenced by their sales, return customers and Facebook comments. They are doing something right.
The name was derived from the concept of a tradition hanging on from the past, like cooking over a fire in caveman days, Steph said.
Everything is cooked long and slow over a 2,500-pound, 500-gallon, wood-fired smoker that was specially made for them by a welder in Texas. Billy uses West Virginia cherry wood and a direct-flow, offset smoking method. “Real wood, live smoke,” he said.
Billy gets the smoker going at 2 a.m. every day they are open, with some help from his brother, Noah Litman. Steph’s sister’s husband, Dale Lockridge, helps to tend the smoker throughout the day.
They are all about quality and consistency, Billy said, using only the best premium meats. “I searched high and low for the best meat.” It’s all “small batch, craft barbecue.”
The quality of the beef is particularly important with the brisket, he noted, and says he uses a very “high-end” cut. For the turkey, he handpicks the skin-on, boneless, antibiotic- and hormone-free fresh breast. No GMOs, either. He trims, seasons and smokes it daily. He uses bone-in pork shoulder for the pulled pork, which he smokes for 10 hours.
“We don’t cut any corners around here,” Billy said.
And he’s most proud of his ribs — a “labor of love” — and his favorite thing to cook at Hangover BBQ.
“It’s probably something I’ve worked the hardest on … perfecting the ribs. … You’re working on the right rub. You’re working on the right wood profile. … You’re working on the right kind of sauce. Do you want to do dry rub or a wet rack of ribs? That just something I’ve worked on a long time.”
They use dry rub — one they make, one they buy. Billy says they want their meats to be “tender and juicy without the sauce.” Although, you can fill up little containers with a variety of homemade sauces, if you wish.
“Everyone keeps saying they’re the best ribs they ever had,” Steph chimes in. (This writer, who just ran down to the refrigerator to grab a bite of leftover ribs, agrees.)
BAPTISM BY FIRE
It takes “a lot of trial and error, a lot of patience, a lot of research,” Billy said when asked how he mastered the barbecue technique. “You have to put in your due diligence.”
Someone once told Billy that, if he wanted to cook barbecue for a living, he should get a smoker and learn it for a year, and then, sell to customers who aren’t friends or family. Friends and family may not offer the honest criticism a person needs.
So, he tried his craft on the working man.
“I started going out to industrial yards, and selling (barbecue) to oil and gas workers. … Guys would show up for safety meetings every Monday, and they’d be there by 4 in the morning, so I’d be there early … I would set up a couple of hotel pans with Sternos. I’d take out a couple pork butts and eight racks of ribs, and I would sell out in 30 minutes. I did that for a little bit before I decided to go out on my own and open this place up,” he said.
His BBQ idol is award-winning chef Aaron Franklin, owner of the popular Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas. Franklin received the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2015, along with most every other “best barbecue” award out there.
Billy admits he and his crew are learning as they go, and they cook what they think they’ll sell each day. When they’re sold out, they’re sold out.
BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME
Steph was born in Maine, and lived in Florida, Georgia and Virginia when she was growing up. Her parents, however, were born and raised in the Ohio Valley. She had never lived here, so she came back in 2009 just to get a little taste of the area for maybe a year — or so she thought.
“The Friendly City sucked me in,” she said. She met Billy, a Wheeling native, on Super Bowl Sunday 2009 at River City Restaurant; they started dating a couple years later and married in 2015.
Her parents, sister and brother moved back to Wheeling around the same time, coincidentally, and for a time, all lived in a row house on Chapline Street that had four apartments in it. Her brother, Frank Warren, is also in the food business. He dishes up soup at his Centre Market restaurant, The Soup Shack.
IGNITING THE FIRE
Steph believes the entrepreneurial spirit runs deep in her family. That spirit, Billy’s cooking expertise, along with their love of barbecue, is what led to Hangover BBQ.
“We always just had the idea that we wanted to do some sort of a restaurant or something with food and make it our own. We just came up with the idea that this would be a good addition to Wheeling. It really was his idea. I always wanted to integrate southern food, so it was a perfect mesh,” she said.
“I love cooking — especially southern food,” said Steph. She brings those southern flavors to the sides, which are homemade — she makes them from scratch every day (before she heads off to her day job), mostly from family recipes or a few that Steph cooks up herself. The tri-colored beans, for example, are her creation — a combination of kidney, black and navy beans with her own special sauce. Billy took one taste and said, “‘These are our beans,’” she related.
“We do a little bit of everything,” Billy said. “We do our own kind of thing.”
NOT JUST BLOWIN’ SMOKE
Everyone loves barbecue, and no barbecue is the same — everybody does something different, Billy says. “That’s what’s great about barbecue. … I feel like barbecue has a cult following.”
“People will drive long distances to get good barbecue,” Steph said. “We did that ourselves. … We would search out places. … We literally would do little road trips just to try different barbecue and see … what other people were doing in the area.”
No long drives are necessary now for valley residents — just follow the smoke up W.Va. 88 to GC&P. A steady stream of hungry barbecue fans filtered in and out of Hangover BBQ while Steph and Billy shared their story on a recent Friday. One customer ventured in, had a sample, licked his fingers, grabbed his order and said on his way out, “I shall be back.”
I’m with him.
Hangover BBQ is located at 39 GC&P Road, Wheeling. It is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Call 304-233-8333 or message on Facebook to pre-order. Remember, when they’re sold out, they’re sold out!
• After nearly 38 years as reporter, bureau chief, lifestyles editor and managing editor at The Times Leader, and design editor at The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, Phyllis Sigal has joined Weelunk as managing editor. She lives in Wheeling with her husband Bruce Wheeler. Along with their two children, son-in-law and two grandchildren, food, wine, travel, theater and music are close to their hearts.