After a two-year wait, the Smokin’ Pig barbecue joint on H Street NE has finally opened with accomplished D.C. pitmaster Shawn McWhirter behind the wheel.
Today marks the officially announced opening for the restaurant, which replaces Kitty’s Saloon right in time for Labor Day Weekend. McWhirter, a Hill Country Barbecue Market alum who helped open DCity Smokehouse and led that operation when Rob Sonderman left to start Federalist Pig, is introducing a giant turkey leg that gets brined and smoked before it’s stuffed with mac and cheese. Customers have the option of jazzing it up with onions and jalapenos.
“The finished product looks like it came from a Renaissance fair,” McWhirter says.
Smokin’ Pig (1208 H Street NE) welcomed its first customers last week. Another early favorite are loaded stuffed potatoes that come with options for barbecue and sides.
“I like mine with Brussels and brisket,” McWhirter says.
McWhirter gives his Brussels sprouts a little twist with cilantro. He smokes his chicken wings for two hours before dunking them in the fryer.
Smokin’ Pig is owned by Bernard Gibson of Shark Bar in Waldorf, Maryland, who’s also run several H Street bars and restaurants in the past.
Sauces at the new smokehouse include a Carolina gold honey option that has a “honey mustard feel to it” and pairs well with ribs or juicy, shaved slices of turkey. Kansas City hot and Memphis sweet sauces are also in the mix. McWhirter is also developing a Jameson barbecue glaze for ribs, although he says sauce is strictly optional at Smokin’ Pig.
“My barbecue don’t need no sauce,” he says. “It’s hot in your hands and melts in your mouth.”
A limited menu will be served over opening weekend, with an expanded lineup coming online Wednesday, September 9. The menu, which also includes burgers and nachos, will intentionally stay short. “Barbecue is the dessert,” McWhirter says.
If meats run out by 6 p.m. some nights, he says he knows he’s doing something right.
“Once we sell out, we sell out. Early bird gets the rib,” he says.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and with a midnight close on weekends. Takeout and limited seating are available across a two-level space that includes a small back patio on the second floor. Delivery on UberEats is coming soon.
He’s rotating woods through the smoker out back — hickory was the tree of choice this week — to send tempting scents out onto the street. At all of his stops, McWhirter says he gives his smoker a name because he spends so much time talking to it. At Smokin’ Pig (1208 H Street NE), the smoker goes by Fred G. Sanford — the iconic character portrayed by Redd Foxx in the 1970s sitcom Sanford and Son.
“It’s my best friend right now,” McWhirter says.
McWhirter wishes he could watch his customers inhale the barbecue smoke by the front door, but he’s stuck in the kitchen for now. “I can’t do two things at one time,” he says. “It’s just me by myself, rolling solo.”
He suggests dine-in customers limit their party sizes inside the narrow space, and bigger groups should take the beer-and-brisket party home in their backyard. City regulations during the COVID-19 crisis limit parties to six people or less per table.
Takeout orders can be placed at the bar upon entry, which features an eye-catching attraction. A pair of slushy machines swirl lemonade and strawberry slushees for kids and adults alike (they can be spiked).
“That is our 7-11 right there,” he says.
McWhirter likes mixing both, Miami Vice style.
“Then I eat BBQ and I am in heaven,” he says.
McWhirter, a D.C. native, has watched the and the city go through a lot of changes over the years. With gentrification altering the makeup of H Street, he says he hopes Smokin’ Pig can be a place for new and old residents of the neighborhood to get to know each other.
“It’s more than about cooking,” McWhirter says. “I’m bringing people together with food. If I see a Black man at the bar talking to a white man about ribs, it’s brought them together and can spark different [conversations].”