WHITEFISH – Country music lightly twangs in the kitchen as Ed McGrew begins to unwrap the steaming foil package containing the pork he put in the smoker the day before.
There’s not a smile under his bushy mustache, but you can hear a smile in his voice when he begins shredding the delicacy.
“And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what you want pulled pork to do,” McGrew said as the meat continued to fall apart.
Smoked with Flathead Lake cherry wood, the pulled pork is just one of McGrew’s specialties and now available at his eatery, Ed McGrew’s BBQ in Whitefish.
Located in the commercial kitchen housed behind Lakestream Fly Shop on Spokane Avenue, McGrew took over the lease from Fleur Bake Shop, now located on Central Avenue.
McGrew got the phone call in February that the lease might be up, and he purchased the remaining Fleur lease. He took control of the space in late May, and opened up shop July 11.
It didn’t take long for word to get around that McGrew had finally opened a professional kitchen, and he mostly handles bulk orders for folks with family in town or for businesses looking to kick up their meals.
But customers can still walk in and order a sandwich, he said, assuming there’s still enough pork or brisket or ribs left to sell that day. He only makes a set amount each day, and you can’t whip up a last-minute smoked brisket.
Barbecue recipes and techniques tend to be as unique as the people wielding them. For McGrew, his education in all things smoke and sizzle is the culmination of a life absorbing what he could glean about the craft.
Born in Oklahoma, McGrew started his barbecue education early with his family. His uncle worked on a large ranch, and every year at branding time, they would hold a major barbecue. This, McGrew said, was his first formative memory of barbecues, not just the family gathering aspect, but also how the cooks handled the beef and smoke and flame.
“I started watching what they were doing,” McGrew said. “I was maybe 8 or 10 at the time.”
That was the beginning of a life spent gathering tips and tricks about barbecue as he went. It was a passion, a hobby he wanted to improve and share with his friends and family, so it grew and evolved as he did.
Fifteen years ago, he was living in Virginia when his brother, Martin McGrew, needed help remodeling his home in Whitefish. What followed next is the oldest story in the book when it comes to people visiting the Flathead Valley.
“I was only going to stay for a month and help him,” McGrew said. “I decided I love Whitefish.”
When he first moved here, he did IT work, but “I just got sick of it.”
He cooked for a barbecue at Martin’s house, and people kept asking after his recipes and wanted him to cook for them. That’s how he transitioned from IT work to catering, and then from catering now to his brick-and-mortar shop on Spokane Avenue.
McGrew thinks he’s best known for his brisket, but laments that it’s getting more expensive to source and now costs his customers $19 a pound for the finished product. He also smokes St. Louis-style ribs, sourcing all of his meat from local grocery stores.
So far, the biggest surprise in his slow-smoked business has been the amount of bulk orders he’s filled, though he suspects that might slow down as the summer season wanes.
He gets to the kitchen every day at about 7 a.m. to see how his creations did overnight, then starts filling orders. McGrew makes his own sauce, which he describes as a middle-of-the-road sauce straddling both sweet and spicy, but not too much of either. (It’s also available by the pint.)
The menu changes every day, so McGrew said it’s best to call to see what’s available and what’s already sold out.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” McGrew said.
For more information on Ed McGrew’s BBQ, call (406) 407-4697 or visit the business’ Facebook page.