BBQ missionary Jack Timmons Scoping out the Eastside

First, he was an electrical engineering student at Texas A&M. Then, he was a computer consultant at Boeing. Next, an MBA graduate student in Brussels followed by a stint at PACCAR, and 13 years working in IT, marketing, and business development at Microsoft. Then, you guessed it, a UCLA film production student followed by the producer of his wife’s film, A Wink and A Smile — a documentary about the world of burlesque. Where else was there to go but into the smoky world of Texas barbecue?

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Jack Timmons

At 6-foot-5, Timmons’ lanky frame is preceded by his cowboy hat as he saunters through the side door of Jack’s BBQ on Airport Way in Sodo. He has an easy way about him; his charming drawl, and indeed his entire restaurant staff, immediately puts one at ease.

“We are about two pillars: authenticity and Southern hospitality,” said Timmons. Tense customers are quickly soothed into a barbecue state of mind with a friendly greeting.

As for authenticity, well, that one is as clear as the nose on your face. It smells so good from the second you open the car door in the parking lot that you actually expect to see people floating through the air nose-first on a smoky current of olfactory bliss toward the giant black magic-makers in back. Especially on beef rib Tuesday.

Aren’t sure what constitutes “good” barbecue? Pacific Northwest natives had to rely on outside experts to tell us what we should or should not like. And it can be confusing. Sauce or no sauce? Vinegar sauce or tomato-based sauce? Or how about dry rub, or maybe just salt and pepper? Beef or pig? Buried with coals or charcoal?

“Barbecue is an underserved market in the Seattle area and is usually mostly about the sauce,” said Timmons.

After producing his wife’s film, Timmons went to “Barbecue Summer Camp” and learned central Texas-style techniques — clean burning smoke (they wait until the smoke runs “clear” before loading the smokers with meat), just salt and pepper for seasoning, no sauce, and a focus on beef brisket. Of course, rules are meant to be broken. At Jack’s, they smoke tomatoes for mild and spicy sauces and also smoke pork ribs, pork shoulder (aka pulled pork), housemade sausages and the sell-out-popular beef ribs that would make a T-Rex feel slightly inadequate.

But, “Barbecue Summer Camp,” you say? Is that a thing?

“Every time I say ‘Barbecue Summer Camp,’ I feel like I’m saying, ‘Hot Tub Time Machine,’” said Timmons with a sly grin like he can’t believe his luck. “It changed my life, I’ll tell you what!”

We are about two pillars: authenticity and Southern hospitality. — Jack Timmons

After graduating from summer camp, he went on to take a Beef 101 class at Texas A&M, then spent time traveling around central Texas to taste barbecue and learn from grizzled smokehouse veterans. One barbecue joint had been around for more than 90 years, and Timmons describes what can only be called creosote stalactites hanging from the ceiling in the smoke room.

Timmons came back to Seattle and began his barbecue evangelism from a backyard smoker, catering monthly events. He is a full-service kind of guy and occasionally even brought a band along (because eating barbecue should be fun). The “Seattle Brisket Experience” project garnered media attention when an ABC News crew filmed Texas Monthly’s barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn in Timmons’ backyard talking all things smoked meat. Vaughn, author of The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue, published by Anthony Bourdain’s Ecco line of books, was visiting the area to discuss book details with Amazon at the time. Timmons then caught the eye (or perhaps, the taste buds) of “Seattle’s Chef” — Tom Douglas — and “Seattle’s Original Rapper” — Sir Mix-A-Lot. After that, everything was selling out, and Timmons began a search for a commissary kitchen or restaurant space.

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Jack’s BBQ landed a home in a former dive-bar-almost-turned-strip-joint when the older couple looking to sell was charmed by the idea of a legitimate restaurant moving in. Timmons stoked the smokers and opened for business in 2014. The restaurant does a brisk lunch business, appealing to suits and grease monkeys alike. At dinner, hoodied tech nerds rub shoulders with young families and brave guys on first dates knocking back pints of Shiner or smoked orange Old Fashioneds.

Trays lined with butcher paper deliver tender portions of brisket, ribs, and sausages to parties at communal wooden tables. But, only after patrons dunk chips into smoked jalapeño queso and slather spongy hushpuppies in honey butter or tartar sauce (or — pro tip — in aforementioned queso). House-made cucumber pickles, sliced onions, and pickled jalapeños make best friends with the brisket, according to Timmons. Sides consist of macaroni and cheese (smoked, obviously), black-eyed peas and corn salad, collard greens, coleslaw, and more. Timmons says guests are free to wander up to the slicing bar to watch the action.

“The meat is the magic. But, when you have a hammer, everything is a nail.” He will attempt to smoke anything once. Thus far, only honeydew melon failed the smoke test. Apparently, it tasted like gasoline.

Would he like to open a food truck, you ask? Absolutely not, he said. Six-foot-five does not mesh with food truck windows.

But — and I hope all you Eastsiders are paying attention here — Timmons confirmed that he has a real estate agent scouting possible locations on this side of the lake. So, dear readers, I did what I’m sure any of you would have at such exciting news: I praised his decision as utmost in wisdom and practically guaranteed him barbecue glory, adoring fans, and culinary fame were he to follow through. Feel free to make it a group project — drop him a note confessing your potentially undying devotion to authentic Texas barbecue if only there were a Jack’s BBQ on the Eastside.

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