To savor the recipes in 12 Bones Smokehouse’s new cookbook, you won’t need to harvest 90 pounds of collards or ask your butcher for 400 pounds of pork butts. Leave that to the professionals who serve hundreds of hungry customers every day.
But you might ask, “What’s a kimchee recipe doing in a ‘Mountain BBQ Cookbook’”?
“I love kimchee,” says Bryan King. He and his wife, Angela, bought 12 Bones in 2011, leaving Silicon Valley, immersing themselves in all things ‘cue and adding a few of their own flavors. “My wife’s Korean,” King explains. The cookbook’s two kimchee recipes come from her mother, Maria Koh.
The baechu (Napa cabbage) and kkakdugi (radish) kimchee recipes are just one way the cookbook gives a big nod to the 12 Bones extended family, says King. Four years ago, he and Angela learned that the restaurant founders — Tom Montgomery and Sabra Kelly — had considered doing a cookbook. “A great idea — but when to find the time to do it?” King says.
He credits Asheville Citizen-Times food writer Mackensy Lunsford with coaxing the process along. Joined by 12 Bones chef Shane Heavener, the cookbook team met at night when the restaurant was closed, King recalls. They’d review recipes, share stories and ponder how to convert a recipe that measured ingredients by the gallons to one that broke it down to teaspoons and cups.
The result highlights what Southern Living author Robert Moss calls “nouveau ‘cue” in his list of top-50 Southeastern barbecue joints. King, however, says, “It’s all comfort food.”
There’s Aunt Violet’s mustard pickles and a vinegar slaw from Kelly’s great-grandma, Lilly Brightman. An early enthusiast of the restaurant, North Carolina basketball star Brad Daugherty, added Aunt Betty’s pecan pie to the selection. The ‘cue joint’s signature corn pudding, meanwhile, comes from a former chef, Ron Brannon, “who passed away before we became famous,” Montgomery explains in the introduction.
And of course, there are 12 Bones’ two classic recipes — brown sugar ribs and “nekkid” salt-and-pepper baby backs. The latter pairs perfectly with Montgomery’s blueberry-chipotle barbecue sauce. The concoction may still give “barbecue purists fits,” the authors declare. But it’s part of what put 12 Bones on the map: It won Good Morning America’s Best Bite Contest in 2007. Start with a small, home-kitchen batch of “Tom Q” — what 12 Bones staff call the restaurant’s “mother sauce.” Add blueberries (North Carolina-raised, ideally), along with honey, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and ginger. Simple. Sweet, with a chipotle finish (never mind that Moss called the flavor “odd at first bite” — it’ll grow on you, he says).
President Obama, however, went for the brown-sugar ribs on each of his visits to 12 Bones. The cookbook authors are sending him an autographed copy — and hoping he’ll autograph one and send it to Asheville, says King.
Hopefully, Obama will appreciate some of the more whimsical combinations in the cookbook, like the peanut butter pretzel bars. Allegedly, these started as Rice Krispie treats that “got a little offtrack when we decided to add the flavors of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Then, somehow, pretzels got involved.” Like all good Southern storytellers, the authors of the 12 Bones cookbook spin a few tales as they share recipes.
Besides, Shane “likes to experiment,” says King. “He reminds me of my grandmother. She never wrote a recipe down, and just knew what she wanted to do.”
That helps explain two other cookie recipes — the ginger stout, a happy accident of a creation involving Highland Brewing’s “black mocha” brew; and the blueberry-oatmeal, which started out like regular cookies but took a cue from Shane’s wife’s fruity breakfast one day. “A lot of these specials come from my mistakes,” Shane jokes.
Bacon brittle, honey cornbread, pickled okra, mac and cheese, crockpot pintos, key lime pie, fried green tomatoes … the happy experiments and the tried-and-true favorites all share a place at the 12 Bones table. They’re old-style, new-style, Asheville-style.
Says King, “Comfort food is always in style.”