My Meat Wagon
‘I think I have barbecue fatigue,’ I say, in my best Kardashian sister impression. I mean, really, could there be a more first world problem? Sitting in My Meat Wagon next door to The Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield’s Market Square, I wonder if Dublin has had enough of pulled pork served with a side of slaw.
In Michael Pollan’s brilliant Cooked: A History of Transformation, the food writer explores the rituals and politics of cooking with fire (i.e. barbecuing) in the book’s first chapter. He heads to North Carolina to learn from The Joneses at the renowned Skylight Inn and gets on the barbecue spin train with pit master and food personality Ed Mitchell. He gets an earful of endearing tales on the machismo nature of cooking over fire and gets schooled in the competitive unspoken laws of what barbecue actually is.
Friends Donal Cahill and Cian McHugh probably have similar barbecue anecdotes picked up on their own research trip that took in Chicago, Memphis, New York, New Orleans and Texas. The friends had enjoyed a three-year baptism of fire running a gourmet burger food truck previous to their barbecue road trip and had wanted to take their love of cooked meat to a deeper level. After the research trip, their own smoke joint became a reality in July of this year when they opened My Meat Wagon in Smithfield.
They’ve got pulled pork, beef brisket, beef ribs, chicken and a handmade burger on the menu. The meats are smoked in their specially made Ole Hickory smoker for up to 14 hours. The pair stripped and styled the premises themselves, building hand-crafted pieces from up-cycled wood that includes a faux food truck wall that hosts the kitchen pass. We can see Cahill and McHugh throughout the slammed Wednesday night service as we tuck in to mounds of meat. You can order things by box, in bread or on a board, the prices rising in parallel to the size of portions.
We go for a box of pulled pork that’s brilliantly smoky, boasting cheeky crispy bits throughout. Chosen sides are sweet, buttery mash and a standout spicy sausage, made for My Meat Wagon by a butcher friend. My brisket in a bun is drier than I’d like, but the barbecue sauce it’s coated in is quality. My excellent chips come in a little wire shopping basket which I find confusing. My red cabbage slaw fails to make a huge impression and is over-shadowed by the perfect pickled vegetables that appear on my tray.
Desserts rock. There’s homemade peanut butter and jelly ice-cream that comes with a chocolate bacon (chocolate bacon!) cookie sticking out of the scoop. I’m also fond of the liquorice tinge of my tarragon lemonade and there’s a decent choice of wines and craft beers on offer, too. Service is casual but friendly and they cope well with a busy wagon, though the food is a little slower getting to us than I’m guessing the team would like. Our meat comes, with drinks and desserts, set us back €37.40.
So, what makes My Meat Wagon different from Bison Bar or Pitt Brothers? To the uninitiated (i.e. me), unfamiliar with the subtle differences between a Texas and a North Carolina barbecue, the menu feels familiar. But does that matter? In his book, Pollan decides that ‘most of the rules of barbecue … are… rules for the sake of rules, with no rational purpose except to define one’s community by underscoring its differences from another.’ The success of The Big Grill festival (www.biggrillfestival.com) this summer indicates a return in 2015. I’d be interested in an exploration of the imaginary lines drawn in the sawdust of our barbecue community. What is Dublin’s barbecue identity? Is there room for an authentic Irish barbecue that uses the barbecue culture of the US as a starting point? If so, what would that barbecue look like?
What I’ve decided is that barbecue fatigue is a temporary ailment. Barbecue seems to be as old as civilization. Some, such as primatologist Richard Wrangham, argue that cooking with fire is what made us human, by giving us a reason to sit down in groups over a shared meal rather than individually foraging and eating on the go. With the perspective of thousands of years of culinary history in mind, it may be unwise to write off barbecue just yet. Besides, My Meat Wagon is an addition to Smithfield and Dublin’s casual food front that I heartily welcome. Especially when they’ve got that smoky pulled pork and chocolate bacon cookies in tow.
My Meat Wagon
Market Square, Smithfield, Dublin 7
Words: Aoife McElwain / Photography: Mark Duggan