The explanation as to how Luke Acker got in the barbecue business is a simple one.
“I married a Texan,” said the Mahone Bay carpenter as he tended his smoker, fumes of maple and beef wafting around the neighbourhood.
Mickie Acker grew up in south central Texas, the granddaughter, daughter and niece of men who ran barbecue pits. So, when she moved to Nova Scotia a few years ago and her new husband took her to a chain restaurant that advertised barbecue, she was appalled by what came out of the kitchen.
Then the couple went to Yarmouth for one of those travelling rib festivals, where she stood in line for Texas barbecue and then stood in line again to complain about its quality.
“She got me into brisket and showed me what it was,” Luke said.
“I did one on a Big Green Egg one time, and my friend told we should brine it. So, we brined it and I cooked it and she said, ‘Yeah, it’s not right.’”
Mickie showed him pictures of what smokers in Texas look like, and Luke decided to get serious.
“I decided I could build one of those, so I built a smoker from a 325-gallon propane tank and started cooking,” said Luke, who as a teenager worked in a machine shop, where he learned to weld.
He started cooking for friends and family, and their reaction prompted him to outfit a trailer called Fireworks Barbecue and start selling barbecue on summer weekends at a local craft brewery. He’d cook all night and sell until it was gone.
“There was one day that I sold out in two and a half hours and I had enough food for a hundred people,” Luke said of last summer.
The plan for this summer was the same. Then everything changed when the pandemic hit. No gatherings at craft breweries. No barbecue trailer.
The business has grown organically, and when people started asking for pounds of meat to take home, the couple adapted to provide that.
Now, Luke cooks into the early hours of Sunday morning, lets the meat cool and then vacuum packs it for pickup.
“We don’t have a lot of overhead, we don’t have rent, so we’re able to do this with not a ton of pressure.”
- Luke Acker
“We haven’t led it as much as it’s led us,” Mickie said of this aspect of the business, summing up their business philosophy in times of COVID.
Luke goes through two or three wheelbarrows full of maple every Saturday, and mixes in some oak if it’s available.
“It turns out good, we haven’t had one complaint,” he said of the slightly unusual wood choice that he burns at 275 degrees.
“Right now I have three briskets, two pork butts and six racks of ribs on it, and that’s kind of maximum. When the ribs come off, I put the chickens on.”
Luke makes his own sausage, all beef because that’s what Mickey grew up with, and says brisket, “the king of the game,” is the most difficult meat to smoke perfectly.
“Usually they’re 15 to 20 pounds so it takes 15 to 20 hours, roughly. Last year I had one that took almost 24 hours,” he said.
“I try to get meat locally if I can. The chicken all comes from Eden Valley.”
Customer pickups on Sundays started this year in late April, and things are going so well the couple has expansion plans for next year.
They’ve ordered another smoker, from Alberta, the same place their certified Angus briskets come from. The Ackers own a building on Main Street, where Mickie has a jewelry story and gallery. One half of the building has a commercial kitchen, and this time next year the Ackers plan to open a restaurant.
“Not a restaurant restaurant,” clarifies Luke.
“A takeout, to come in and get hot meals to go. We don’t have a lot of overhead, we don’t have rent, so we’re able to do this with not a ton of pressure.”