"Who knew Fairbanks was so fabulous! " Michelle
Where there’s smoke, there’s bar-be-cue. And if you’ve been paying attention for the past 9 months you may have noticed smoke in parking lots all over town.
Lifelong Fairbanksan Jada Humphrey and her Kansas-bred husband Robert have been playing “Where’s Waldo” with their BBQ wagon since April 16, 2011. They first popped up in the parking lot of TDS. When tire-changing season took over they moved across town to the parking lot of the old Castle restaurant (in between Fred Meyer West and the Extended Stay Hotel). By fall their wagon found a new home in front of the Gold Rush bar on Peger. Somewhere in between all that was a brief stint in front of The Big I.
By October two things were certain: 1) Ja-Rob’s (the name is a combination of Jada and Robert) had earned a rep as THE best BBQ in Fairbanks hands down, and 2) it was getting COLD!
“We learned that you can BBQ in a food wagon – because we really do BBQ our food – up to 38 below,” Jada sighed.
Come December 1st, Ja-Rob’s Kansas City Style BBQ was in its permanent location: inside the newly renovated Last Frontier Club on Old Rich off of South Cushman.
Conversations with Jada and Robert are fun and spirited. They finish each other’s sentences; are open and sincere, and like to share stories and jokes. But get too close to the truth (What’s in your rubs? What kind of local hard wood do you use to smoke your meat?) and their faces drop to deadpan.
“Ancient Alaskan secret,” is all that Jada will give up, before breaking back into a laugh.
But you don’t get to become 8th in THE WORLD at the American Royal World Series of Barbecue in Kansas City by giving up your secrets. It was in KC where Robert first did “the BBQ and the food wagon thing.” So when he found himself at a career crossroads in Fairbanks, it was a no brainer for him to leave his job as a gold mining superintendent and return to cooking.
“After the job change, we were driving down the road and we saw the food wagon and it was like STOP!!!!” recalled Jada. “We said OK God there’s a food bus on the side of the road, we’re gonna do this, we got this. We called the folks, got a good price, we bought it.”
And just like that, Robert brought his world-class, award-winning BBQ to Fairbanks.
I sat down with the couple earlier this week to talk BBQ of course and to get some tips for Superbowl entertaining:
AK: WHAT IS KANSAS CITY STYLE BBQ?
Robert: Kansas City Style BBQ is all wood cooked meat, indirect heat, cooked at different temperatures. Basically, you’re blackening your meat, except for your ribs, but your brisket, your pork and hams and stuff like that. It all comes out real dark and that’s because of the rubs and everything that’s cooked into it, but the crust on the outside comes out juicy and black. And it looks burnt. But once you slice into and you see that it’s not a burnt crisp…
Jada: The spices are caramelized into the meat and it’s actually one of the best parts because you have all of the smoke…all of the seasonings….
AK: WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST AS A DREAM MENU FOR A SUPERBOWL PARTY?
Jada: The dream menu would be hot legs with BBQ dip. I love hot links and chili. I’d go with traditional chili and white chili. To stop double dippers, I’d make sure I had all my sauces in little containers so you get all the sauce you want without giving me anything I don’t want! From here, we’ve had quite a few requests to do not traditional nachos but a brisket nacho. Then you can go ahead and do that, you can put your brisket nachos, your hot legs, BBQ sauces, your different chilis, maybe a potato, and have some sandwich material so it’s pretty much serve yourself, keep it sanitary, and get out from in front of the TV.
AK: ARE PEOPLE GOING TO FIRE UP THE GRILL IN FAIRBANKS IN 40 BELOW WEATHER?
Jada – On occasion I have seen several people out there in their snow suits saying ‘I need some bar-be-cue! People do do that. When you want BBQ around here you just gotta deal with what you gotta deal with. So I expect to see a little bit more smoke in the air.
AK: ANY ADVICE FOR ATTEMPT ING TO BBQ AT HOME?
Jada – Pick a meat that you like, that you’re comfortable with and then…
Robert – I would do grilling at this point. There’s a difference between what we do and grilling. Grilling, as cold as it is, will get it done pretty quick. But if they gotta smoke, make sure they build a wind break around it.
Jada – You can see our smoke out there now. It’s always smoking.
Robert – We don’t have snow on the top of our smoker.
Jada – No smoke? You’re grilling!
AK: SO, WHO DO YOU LIKE IN THE SUPERBOWL?
Robert: I’d like to see that Patriots win
Jada: I’d like to see all the housewives who have to put up with silly husbands on the way to the spa so they don’t have to hear “ahhhhhhhhhh!”
Ja-Rob’s Kansas City Style BBQ will be located solely at The Last Frontier club through the winter. Jada and Robert stress that the Last Frontier has undergone a complete overhaul in its clientele and is a lot more family friendly. They even have karaoke on Friday nights from 7-10PM and then set the Wii up for the kids. Come summer they’ll have the food wagon back out at the Castle with the “riblets” (niece and daughter) working at the restaurant location.
They also do off-site events and catering, and will soon be selling 3 of their sauces at the restaurant: the Jada sauce, the Hot sauce, and a middle-of-the-road version which is being formulated now.