Pitmaster John Lewis’s Endless Pursuit for Perfect Barbecue

“It’s not the cook that makes the barbecue, it’s the tool that you’re using,” says Lewis Barbecue pitmaster John Lewis. “You can’t turn out good barbecue without having the perfect tool.” And to get those necessary tools, Lewis often takes matters into his own hands. He’s known for building his own smokers, pits, and other tools like masa-grinding stones for fresh corn tortillas.

“When something doesn’t exist that’s available for purchase, you end up making it yourself, and that’s why I ended up making barbecue pits,” Lewis says. “It took me a lot of years of trial and error to figure out how to come up with the perfect design. I think what we got right now is my preferred barbecue pit, I wouldn’t use anything else.”

Even though Lewis Barbecue is located in South Carolina, the shop is known for its Central-Texas-style barbecue, pulling influence from Lewis’s upbringing in El Paso, Texas. The Texas influence is most notable in the roasted hatch green chiles that make their way into most dishes, as well as the restaurant’s “Juan Luis” trailer, where Lewis and his team serve tacos in corn tortillas made from scratch. Lewis Barbecue also draws lines for its version of an Arby’s beef and cheddar sandwich using thinly sliced prime rib, a juicy pastrami reuben sandwich, smoked oxtail in red and green chile sauce, and chicken tinga tacos. “In South Carolina, it seems like they’re really steeped in their traditions, their ways of cooking, but I’ve been welcomed with open arms here,” says Lewis. “It’s kind of the perfect place to do this.”

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