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Scottie's Smokehouse in Old Towne Orange
Every order at Scottie's Smokehouse in Orange passes through owner Darren Scott's hands, whether it's a blackened slab of brisket awaiting a deft swipe of the knife or a golden-skinned chicken about to be pulled apart. It's an exacting process, but that control is crucial because Scott has barbecue in his blood.
He inherited the necessary low-and-slow genes from his grandfather Darwin Scott, who worked his barbecue joint in Santa Ana from 1935 to 1943, when the war channeled the country's meat into servicemen's rations. Hanging near the kitchen is a photo of the original Scottie's -- a square shack carved out of a forested corner of the still-nascent city -- that serves as proof of the family's slow-smoked history. And that's all Darren Scott needs. "In this family," he says, "barbecue is just something you know you're probably good at."
Get it to go
The second coming of Scottie's is in a strip mall off Glassell Street, a central location that's just as appealing to students from nearby Chapman University as it is to families from the lovingly restored residences that circle Old Towne Orange. There are only about 15 seats, so most meals at the 7-month-old restaurant are packed up and taken out. But doing so only delays the restaurant's most immediate and fundamental pleasure: meats smoked until gravity alone can almost separate flesh from bone.
Those dedicated to barbecue know that the best examples derive from processes as complex and mysterious as alchemy. And because Scott understands that good barbecue is as cherished as gold, he keeps his methods mostly under wraps. He'll tell you that the meats are cooked in a Southern Pride smoker over mesquite and hickory woods, but that's about it. You can try to divine the flavors behind Scottie's spice rub and sauce, but it's best simply to enjoy.
Scottie's Smokehouse doesn't favor a single meat, but its pork shines. The St. Louis pork ribs (served as either quarter, half or full racks) slip off the bone with ease, the meat colored a faint, smoky pink. The ribs are available either dry or wet, though they're tastiest in a slightly sauced middle ground.
Pork is also pulled and piled into a sandwich cut with Scottie's barbecue sauce and topped with a mound of coleslaw. Although the pork is pulled a little too thin, the sandwich is a success in moderation: It's neither overly stuffed nor drowning in sauce.
Don't skip chicken
Chicken is also particularly good here. The whole (or half) smoked birds are excellent, a simple preparation done exceedingly well. Like the pork, chicken is also available in a sandwich. But unlike the pulled pork, the pulled chicken is left in heftier hunks that better retain that slow-cooked flavor.
There's brisket (by the pound or in a sandwich), and andouille sausage too, but the pork and chicken preparations command the most attention.
Sides are expectedly simple. Corn bread is the standard -- light, moist blocks that are a welcome change from all those dry cubes that crumble on contact. There are also collard greens, baked beans and the like, although your money might be best spent on Brunswick stew, a chili-like bowl that's almost a meal in itself.
If you eat in, consider stopping by on Thursdays, the restaurant's vintage bike night. Consumed as he is by the smokehouse ("I'm here all the time. I sleep on the racks," he jokes), Scott decided to bring his friends and their well-polished motorcycles to him.
But whether they arrive on two wheels or four, the restaurant's devotees aren't afraid to show their dedication, donning Scottie's Smokehouse-branded hats and sweat shirts with an understanding that barbecue, like blood, is thicker than water.