Food & Drink

Eating Out: Holy Smokes BBQ Shack offers an authentic taste of American barbecue... outside Portadown

Holy Smokes BBQ Shack, between Portadown and Armagh
Holy Smokes BBQ Shack, between Portadown and Armagh

Holy Smokes BBQ Shack,

92 Drumnasoo Road,


Co Armagh,

BT62 4EX

American barbecue is one of those cuisines whose best examples can usually be found in less than likely surroundings. A street corner in a suburb of Kansas City, down the back of a petrol station off a Texas road, in a nondescript building that doubles as a post office way off the beaten track somewhere in the Carolinas.

It’s also a cuisine that can be maddeningly difficult to find even just good examples of on this side of the Atlantic. You can get high quality, authentic – whatever that actually means – offerings of more and more food from around the world – with the United States more than well represented, whether as burgers, chicken wings, Mexican fusion or peculiarly American styles of pizza. But the barbecue that means slowly smoked treats rather than grilled sausages and burgers punches way below its weight.

Yes, the likes of pulled pork, ribs and brisket crop up regularly on menus, but it’s usually in places that don’t specialise in these things,  which becomes pretty obvious when you try it.

Part of the reason is that barbecue done properly takes a lot of effort. The huge smokers you need to chug away for days on end to produce the good stuff in any sort of volume are no small commitment.

Really you want to be fitting your smoker first then building everything else around it.

That’s what Tom Quinn has done, and he’s done it in the sort of unlikely locale that’s befitting of as good an example of American barbecue classics as you’ll find anywhere here.

To find them you need to turn off the main carriageway between Portadown and Armagh head up a country road and turn into a yard dotted with trailers, shed and a tractor parked in the corner, you’ll also find Holy Smokes, the appropriately named barbecue shack the pastor at Maranatha Church in Armagh has used to turn a back garden pastime into a thriving enterprise.

Holy Smokes BBQ Shack
Holy Smokes BBQ Shack

The shack started by serving up takeaway before adding picnic tables that then made their way inside the no frills building, with orders received and dispatched through a window before being taken home by the patient or hungrily polished off then and there. Though the portions are so generous only the true heroes among those sitting in won’t have plenty to box up and bring home anyway.

Thin smash burgers are proving popular elsewhere in the shack, while every so often glorious looking specials pop up like duck burgers or lamb kebabs or steaks bobbing around in a vat of butter.

But the heart of the menu is the cornerstones of American barbecue, and all those platters come with classic sides you’d expect as well.

The cornbread is a little sweet, a little grainy and just right, while burnt end baked beans bring more sweetness and a suggestion of smoke, and along with the cornbread would make a lovely meat-free dinner by themselves – if it weren’t for those burnt ends, the scraps of brisket that give a clue to the great treat you’re in for when you get to all that meat.

Mac and cheese, with much more of a cheesy bite to it than you usually blandly get, and dirty corn laced with coriander – a warning would have been nice given the herb’s divisiveness, but good if you like that sort of thing and thin, crisp and hot fries can all be added too as part of the extremely reasonable prices given the quality and quantity.

Holy Smokes BBQ Shack
Holy Smokes BBQ Shack

What they’re added to is great slabs and slices of meat, treated with the utmost respect. 

The beef short ribs, the brisket and pork ribs all boast the tell-tale smoke ring and surface ‘bark’ that gives way to flesh falling apart.

The brisket is the most refined. Juicy and beefy, the slices don’t need the sweet-sharp sauce they’ve been basted in but welcome it all the same. The short rib is crusted black without a hint of burnt flavour. The prehistoric bone comes away by just looking at it.

The pork ribs – the particularly meaty St Louis cut from the belly – are the size of a phonebook from the glory days of phonebooks. When all is said and done three meals come out of them.

As we leave the queue is threatening to stretch out the door. It’s a wonder it’s not all the way back to Portadown. If they knew about those ribs in St Louis there’s a chance it could start over there.


Ribs platter £14.99

Brisket platter £14.99

Beef short ribs platter £19.99

Total £49.97