Going beyond the pit.

By Robert Moss
March 25, 2019
Robert Moss

At 2:42 am on March 6th, Bryan and Nikki Furman were awakened by a phone alert from their restaurant’s security company. From their bedroom window they could see flames shooting from the chimney of the pithouse down the street at B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque, their northwest Atlanta restaurant.

Bryan beat the fire trucks there, but the flames were already too fierce for his fire extinguisher. It took almost four hours for the fire department to get the blaze extinguished, and by dawn the roof had collapsed and the restaurant was in charred ruins.

It’s not the Furmans’ first experience with a disastrous fire. In June 2015, their original restaurant in Savannah burned to the ground after a faulty soda machine ignited. It was just one week after their first appearance on Southern Living’s list of the Top 50 Barbecue Joints in the South.

They bounced back from that adversity with the help of the Southern barbecue community. Harrison Sapp of Southern Soul loaned them a Lang cooker, and other pitmasters helped stage a series of fundraising events. By October, B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque had reopened in a new location close to their original restaurant, and the following year the Furmans headed west to Atlanta to open their second location. They’ve stayed on our Top 50 list every year since.

“I’m going to reopen. That’s not a question,” Bryan Furman told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the morning after this latest fire. His biggest concern has been taking care of the restaurant’s 35 employees until they can rebuild.

Once again, the barbecue community is rallying to help a pitmaster in need, and this time they are doing so from literally all across the country. On Saturday, March 30th, noted cooks from east and west will converge on Houston, Texas, where Leonard Botello of Truth BBQ is hosting Bryan Furman and four other pitmasters for Beyond the Pit, a collaborative dinner to help support B’s recovery efforts.

It’s a serious display of barbecue talent. From the West comes Matt Horn of Horn Barbecue, who stages Texas-style underground pop ups all around the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s joined by fellow Californian Burt Bakman, who cut his barbecue chops with a roving pop-up called Trudy's Underground before setting down more permanent roots with the brick-and-mortar SLAB BBQ in Los Angeles.

From the east comes Elliott Moss of Buxton Hall BBQ in Asheville, who will bring his North Carolina-style of whole hog cookery down to Houston. Rounding out lineup is Wayne Mueller of the legendary Louie Mueller Barbecue in Lockhart, a master of beef ribs and brisket and one of Botello’s long-time mentors.

Truth BBQ’s Houston location has been open just two months, but since 2015 Leonard Botello has earned long lines and rave reviews for the slow-smoked brisket he cooked at his food trailer in Brenham, an hour west of Houston. (The trailer in Brenham has been closed while Botello got his new spot up and running, but it will re-open next week.)

As for what diners can expect at the Beyond the Pit event, Botello says, “We’re trying to make it special. It’ll be something you can’t just pop into the restaurants and get.” That will include a selection of six different dishes and dessert, with beer and wine included.

Botello says he’s looking forward to getting a chance to cook with Bryan Furman. “I hate that this is the way that it finally happens,” he says. “But we are glad glad we could help.”

Tickets for the dinner are $175, with proceeds going to the fire relief effort. They can be purchased via Event Brite.

Beyond the Pit

Saturday, March 30th at 8 pm
Truth BBQ
110 South Heights Boulevard
Houston, TX 77007