While savoring Heart Attack Fries at Big’ Uns Grill in Topeka recently, I was thankful that Lee Atwood hadn’t asked Chef Paul Kirk what to do before opening his barbecue restaurant.
Chef Paul’s usual advice is: “First, see a psychiatrist.”
That is good advice because savvy psychiatrists can confront naive barbecue hoop dreamers with reality shocks that will make many back off, thus saving unprepared wannabes a world of pain.
The many fans of Atwood’s wood smoked and charcoal grilled meats are glad he took the leap and grappled with restaurant realities such as a business plan, capital, location, staffing, staff training, pits, equipment, utensils, dining room layout and decor, food suppliers, marketing, menu, pricing, licensing, city/county/state/federal rules and regulations, liability insurance, property insurance, credit card contracts, policies and procedures and recipes, to name a few.
Atwood, with start-up help from brother Craig, opened Big’Uns on Southwest Sixth Street, across the street from St. Francis Health Center, in 2013.
When you step inside on a hot summer day, the thin blue hickory smoke inside is reminiscent of the iconic Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas. There is no charge for the smoky aroma.
As far as I know, Big’ Uns is the only barbecue joint in Topeka that is open for breakfast. In step with North Carolina tradition, the breakfast menu features eggs, biscuits, toast, gravy, ham, bacon, sausage and hash browns. No barbecue. Since the pitmaster is there in the morning anyway, tending the meat, why not start the day with breakfast customers?
My favorites at Big’ Uns thus far are the Heart Attack Fries with pulled pork or beef, the ribs and the new Hogzilla sandwich. The Heart Attack Fries remind me of Chicago barbecue joints that smother your fries with your meat order. Big’ Uns adds melted cheddar. Yes, the meat smothering takes a crispiness toll, but the combination of fries, cheese and meat is delicious.
Big’ Uns ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender. Atwood can smoke neatly trimmed ribs that meet the gentle tug barbecue contest standard, but in the contest for customers, you smoke and serve ribs the way customers want them.
Hogzilla is a Hog Heaven combo of bacon, ham, pulled pork, sausage and sauce in a Texas toast sandwich. As with the Heart Attack Fries, you can eat half and take the remainder home to enjoy later.
Big’ Uns sides are baked beans, tater salad, macaroni and cheese, sweet tater fries, cole slaw, regular fries, cucumber salad and corn salad. Cucumber salad and corn salad, prepared by Amanda Craig from her mother’s recipes, are refreshing summertime complements to the barbecue.
What’s with the name? Big’ Uns’ focus is big barbecue, not cleavage or tall tales. Allusions to Al’s favorite reading material in TV’s “Married With Children” or to tall tales told in the Capitol, are unintended. Big’ Uns is big on quality, big on flavor and big on service — the big’ uns that attract repeat customers.
Big’ Uns Grill is at 1620 S.W. Sixth St. in Topeka, 785-286-7570, www.bigunsgrill.com.
Ardie Davis founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on food shows and writes for barbecue-related publications. His most recent release is America’s Best BBQ (Revised Edition), with chef Paul Kirk.