Next week, a massive barbecue truck will bring the smoky aroma of slow-cooked brisket, ribs, and pulled pork to Capitol Hill from a parking spot right outside Valor Brewpub on Barracks Row.
Big Frank’s BBQ has a 20-foot trailer equipped with a 1,500-pound smoker that can produce over 300 pounds of meat a day for dine-in, takeout, or DoorDash delivery starting Thursday, November 12.
Gaynor Jablonski, who owns Valor and the Ugly Mug, is partnering on the project with a pair of longtime friends and fellow military veterans: Mark Moore and Frank Boland. Moore owns Hello Hospitality, the group that runs local St. Arnold’s Mussel Bar (temporarily closed) and Aunt Betty & Uncle Bubba’s Chocolate Chip Cookies. Boland is the pitmaster and the “Big Frank” in the name. He founded the barbecue brand in Virginia in 2015.
Boland, who graduated with honors at the Le Cordon Bleu in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says he cooks meats for a minimum of 18 hours, and never goes above 225 degrees. All rubs are made in-house, and nothing coming out of the truck is pre-cut, pre-seasoned, or frozen. Operating hours to start will be Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
In addition to barbecue staples, Boland also cures and smokes thick slices of candied bacon. Legs of lamb and pork belly lechon are expected to run as specials. Spare ribs and chickens (half or whole chicken) cook faster, in about four hours.
“We’ll keep it tight the first month and stick with the basics,” Moore says. “This is a great opportunity to bring together two great companies.”
Big Frank’s BBQ’s new home will take up half of Valor’s reserved parklet out front. The other half will support a 10-by-20-foot tent where customers can sit and eat.
An industrial flat top in the trailer griddles a gloriously greasy “50/50” cheeseburger with half beef, half bacon patties that are smoked and cured overnight.
“You think you’re going to be overwhelmed with the bacon but you’re not,” Boland says.
Boland debuted the burger during a pop-up at Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, Virginia. After 128 orders, he says, not a single patron requested ketchup or mustard.
“It’s a gourmet Five Guys burger in how it looks but tastes like a much better version,” Jablonski says. The smash burger will appear on Valor’s regular menu in various forms.
Valor is on a residency streak as of late. This summer the beer-and-burger bar turned into a steamed crab shack on weekends.
Big Frank’s doesn’t claim to follow a particular regional style, but Boland says it’s closer to Texas’s barbecue than Memphis’s or Kansas City’s. He thinks sauces should be an afterthought but still provides three of them.
For sides, Moore says they’ll think out of the box and have “specials that maybe a Mr. Traditional doesn’t want to do.” That includes a “Liquid Cheetos” polenta Boland’s named for its bright, cheesy color. Customers will taste, but not see, rosemary and thyme because he pulls the herbs out when the heat is just right. “Rosemary’s” cole slaw borrows Boland’s mother’s recipe, dressed with gorgonzola cheese and scallions. He wrangled the recipe for his potato salad from his best friend’s mother-in-law in Tennessee during his wedding on their farm.
“I had to literally coax it out of the mom by trading recipes — I’m not allowed to tell anyone what’s in it or make it in Tennessee as long as she’s alive,” he says.
The venture marks a reunion for Jablonski and Moore, who first met working at Foggy Bottom bar McFadden’s in the early 2000s. Without COVID-19, Jablonski says, he never would have scored the parking spot out front to fit the Big Frank’s rig.
“With every tragedy something great comes out of it. People are put together in a situation they don’t want to be and something good comes from it,” Moore says. “This is our new home. Whether people say Big Frank’s BBQ or Valor, we don’t care.”
Jonathan Thompson, who worked his way up the ladder at St. Arnold’s and Red Hot & Blue, is joining Boland in the trailer. The team also includes Valor executive chef Trevor Mahoney and brewmaster Greg Maddrey.