Belleville News Democrat – Business Q&A: Those smokers are the jewel of his eye

Name: Dennis Keck

Job: Owner, Smokin’ K’s BBQ & More (618-476-1777)

Outlook: “There are a lot of barbecue restaurants out there, but we feel we’re better.”

Long-time metro-east jeweler Dennis Keck’s new enterprise incorporates his love for barbecue. This month, he opened Smokin’ K’s BBQ & More next door to his Keck Jewelers at Millstadt Plaza. He and his competitive barbecuing team, 4 Smokin’ Butts, have entered dozens of competitions across the country and brought home first-place honors over the past three years. So it seemed only natural that he open his own restaurant featuring his award-winning food. The restaurant is currently open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., serving breakfast and lunch, and video gambling machines are expected to be installed by October. Keck talked to business writer Will Buss about his new business:

Why did you open a restaurant?
“I really like to barbecue. For three years in a row, we were hitting 35 contests a year, so that’s over 100 contests in the last three years. We’ve been in the top 25 in the last three years. Last year, we were the No. 2 brisket in the country and No. 3 or 4 in chicken.”

What can we find on the menu? 
“We are smoking pork butts and we are going to have ribs once or twice week, probably a daily special like rib Wednesdays. We have pastrami, brisket, pulled pork and a variety of salads, sandwiches, wraps and sliders. We’re starting out with the brisket, pastrami and pulled pork, and that will be available in salads, sandwiches and in omelets. We have pastrami omelets.”

How long have you been a competitive barbecuer? 
“We went heavy into it three years ago. Before that we did one or two contests a year, then we went up to five or six and then we ended up going full scale. At one point when we first started out, we had five grand championships in six weeks. So this year, we’re cutting back. But (four) weeks ago, we went down to Marion, Ill., to the Black Diamond Harley-Davidson dealership and we took the grand championship. (Two weekends ago), we were up in Quincy, Ill., and we took first place in ribs, first place in chicken, first place in brisket and another grand championship. It was really nice to come up with two grand championships when we opened the restaurant.”

What separates your barbecue from others? 
“It’s got a totally different flavor profile. We use a high-grade brisket, we do our own marinade and we always have the juices and stuff like that going into the brisket and everything. We’re doing some catering, too. We can bring our rig out for catering events.”

Where do you buy your meat? 
“We’re using Braveheart (Black Angus) Beef, which is a good beef. A lot of the stuff we use gets shipped in because we don’t want just average meat. If we get some ribs in from somebody and they were thin and there’s not much meat on them, they’re not going to do us any good. And you don’t want any ribs that hardly have any meat on them. The chickens we get out of Georgia and we get them shipped. The ribs and the pork butts, you just have to find where you can get the best product.”

How do you cook the meat?
“We use smokers. One day for lunch we may offer a competition-style chicken. … We’ll have pork butts going on those yellow (smokers) out front. The chicken takes two hours and pork butt we put in at 5 a.m., so it takes about six to eight hours, normally.”

What barbecue sauces are you serving? 
“Right now, we’ve got one. When you do competitions, you’ll change that sauce a little bit depending where you are, what you feel and you look at your records. I’ve got a `bible’ that I use that has what we’ve done in every single contest. You go back and look at that to see how you did in that contest. There are different flavors. Not everybody likes sweet, not everybody likes hot.”

So which one are you serving at your restaurant? 
“It’s mid-grade. But occasionally we will have different specials sauces out here, too.”

Do you plan to roll out other sauces? 
“Yes. Probably a sweet sauce and a vinegar sauce. A lot of contests we go to, they have desserts, so we’ll also have a bunch of homemade desserts in here, like cream puffs and chocolate-covered strawberries.”

Article featured in the Belleville News Democrat. Contact the reporter, Will Buss, at wbuss@bnd.com or (618) 239-2526.

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