A new oasis opens in the barbecue desert

Eric Daelhousen’s South Philly Smökhaus will open permanent digs in Bok this fall.

By Sandy Smith for the Passyunk Post

A mobile oasis in the barbecue desert that is Philadelphia is about to plant roots in South Philly’s most happening former high school.

The South Philly Smökhaus, a labor of love for chef-founder Eric Daelhousen, has been making weddings, parties and the occasional East Passyunk restaurant more delicious for the last three years. Now the 34-year-old self-taught barbecue aficionado is putting the finishing touches on a restaurant he can call his own on the street level of the Bok building.

Erik Daelhousen. Photo courtesy South Philly Smökhaus/Facebook.

The restaurant, which Daelhousen hopes to have ready for business in September, will be on the street level, south side of Bok. It will share an entrance from Dudley Street with Two Persons cafe and Firth & Wilson Transport Cycles.

The ramp on the right of this photo is the Dudley Street entrance to the future home of Smökhaus, as well as Two Persons cafe and Firth & Wilson Transport Cycles.

Daelhousen grew up on the fringes of Pennsylvania Dutch country, in the Reading suburb of Sinking Spring. While one usually doesn’t hear “Pennsylvania Dutch” and “barbecue” in the same sentence, Daelhousen credits his own Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry with sparking his interest in both cooking and ‘cue.

“My mom’s side of the family is 100 percent Pennsylvania Dutch,” he says. “I grew up with that cooking style in the kitchen.”

He learned several valuable things from his mother, including the importance of real, fresh ingredients and the value of taking the time to do it right.

The Smökhaus smoker. Photo courtesy South Philly Smökhaus/Facebook.

But he learned the art of barbecue all by himself.

“I got into smoking meats about six years ago when my wife and I brought a house and I started experimenting with offset barbecue cooking,” he said. For those of you unfamiliar with barbecue, an “offset smoker” has its firebox in a separate chamber slightly below the one where the meat will be smoked. Residential offset smokers have exhaust chimneys that often make them look like small locomotives.

“Then I bought a food-grade (steel) barrel and built my own smoker.”

After about two years of doing pop-up barbecue for weddings, parties and special events, Daelhousen decided the time was right to set up a permanent location. Daelhousen says a ‘cue joint is a perfect addition to the South Philly culinary scene. “Barbecue is definitely one of those foods that crosses communities and brings different people together over the same food.”

He wasn’t alone in having these thoughts: the Smökhaus will be the second new barbecue restaurant to open in East Passyunk this year. Mike’s BBQ, another former pop-up, opened at the start of this year at 11th and Morris streets.

While there is no Pennsylvania Dutch barbecue tradition, Daelhousen says that two fundamental features of Dutch cooking helped him appreciate barbecue: everything’s made from scratch, and there are no shortcuts to save time.

“All of my dry rubs, sauces and sides are my own recipes,” he says. “Some are born from what I grew up with, but they got crafted into my own varieties.”

Like his made-from-scratch macaroni and cheese. Dalhousen never grew up eating the processed kind found in many American homes. “I didn’t know what Kraft Macaroni & Cheese was until I ate some at a friend’s house” as a young boy, he says. “And I didn’t like it. I wanted homemade mac and cheese with a homemade cheese sauce. The idea of powdered cheese in a packet was foreign to me.”

Mixed meats. Photo courtesy South Philly Smökhaus/Facebook.

Another important point about barbecue: it takes time and rewards patience. “Trimming all the meat for a large event is a full day’s work in itself,” he says. “Then, I’m up at 2 o’clock the next morning to prepare for that evening’s event.” It takes about 12 to 14 hours to smoke the pork butt, bottom round roast and chicken he will need for a catered event.

This writer’s assessment is that the Smökhaus is an outstanding addition to Philly’s still underwhelming but slowly improving ‘cue scene. Daelhousen could hold his own with pitmasters in barbecue capitals such as Memphis or his native Kansas City.

“Barbecue is definitely a labor of love,” he says. Your chance to taste the love every day of the week is coming soon.

For more information, visit Smokhaus’ websiteFacebook page, or follow them on Twitter or Instagram.