Summer BBQing in Washington Wine Country

  • Author
    Michael Mettler
  • Published
    March 27, 2024
  • Word count

“Barbequing is one percent inspiration, and 99% perspiration.” – Thomas Edison

Summer is once again upon us, and with it is barbeque season. As the temperatures warm up, preparing your food outdoors is an annual rite across the country as friends and families gather around their fire pits, grills and outdoor kitchens to cook meaty dishes slathered in delicious sauces. Barbeque is arguably about as patriotic as American cuisine gets, with its origins tracing back to the early colonial days in the United States.

Contrary to mythology, barbeque was not an American invention, but rather one that settlers grasped a hold of and engrained into Southern culture over the centuries. Believed to have originated with Spanish settlers who landed in the Caribbean as a way to describe the natives’ cooking style of slowly roasting meats over hot coals, the term barbacoa was first recorded in the United States in the late 1600’s as the slave trade started to move through the West Indies into the Southern United States. Initially barbeque in the United States revolved around the cooking of pork, as pigs had been introduced to the Americas by the Spanish as early as the 1500’s, and quickly spread through the colonies as pigs were economical, hardy and abundant both in the wild and on family farms. Prior to the Civil War people of all walks of life in the South consumed pork as their primary source of protein.

First, lets get things straight: simply throwing meat onto a grill is not barbeque, at least not in any traditional sense. While the novice (or us Northerners!) may think that anything with char marks that is slathered in a sauce they picked up at their local grocer can be called barbeque, the real deal is cooked for extended periods of time over an indirect heat source. Many barbeque purists will argue that true barbeque needs to be cooked from anywhere between 4 and 24 hours (depending on the protein) to truly achieve perfection. The final product ideally will exhibit a luscious combination of smoke, fat and the spices rubbed into the meat that can be adorned with additional condiments as one sees fit.

Anyone who has been to the South or has studied up on barbeque may be aware of regional variances in the United States that dominate the domestic barbeque scene. There are four main styles in the barbeque scene in the United States (and no they aren’t pork, beef, chicken and road kill). The variations are named after their places of origin: Memphis, Kansas City, Carolina, and Texas. Memphis is renowned for it’s pulled pork-shoulder doused in a sweet tomato-based sauce and fragrant spices and is often served with coleslaw. In this style significant weight is given to the toppings. The Kansas City style gives preference to ribs cooked with a generous dry rub with sweet molasses and tomato-laced sauces being served tableside for diners to add at their discretion. Carolina style barbeque features two main styles, both relying heavily on their sauce program. In one the whole hog is smoked in a thin, tangy vinegar-based sauce. In the other style only the pork shoulder is used leading to a darker meat, accompanied by a vinegar and tomato-based sauce. In Texas, the meat of choice tends to be beef, although significant regional variation exists. Eastern Texas’ relative proximity to Tennessee puts it in the Southern pulled-pork camp, while on the West side of the Lone Star State, you’re likely to find that mesquite-grilled brisket and beef ribs with thin and bold sauces that are heavy with flavors of mustard, chiles, cumin, hot sauce and coffee dominate menus. Locals defend their region’s cooking style with the sort of fierce loyalty typically reserved for die-hard sports fans. Just as you’d be better off not mentioning the Yankees to Michelle Conner (a fanatical Red Sox fan), it is probably not in your best interest to share your fondness for Texas beef brisket to anyone from the greater Memphis region.

Sure Walla Walla may not be in the South, but that doesn’t mean the region isn’t experiencing a bit of a barbeque renaissance of it’s own. Over the past few years the barbeque options in the valley have steadily grown and now includes five dedicated purveyors of differing schools of thought; A Wing & A Prayer Barbecue & Catering, The Q, West of the Blues BBQ, The Smokehouse Wenches and The Bank & Grill Catering Company.

Upon entry to A Wing & A Prayer on Main Street in Walla Walla, visitors are greeted by the welcoming scent of smoldering hickory wood from their expansive pit behind the kitchen. This classic barbeque operation is the brainchild of Timm Johnson. After a long career working for Boeing as a Hardware Manager and independently as a carpenter, Johnson’s long-term interest in barbeque began to take a more serious turn about a decade ago when he attended a barbeque judging class with renowned Chef Paul Kirk. He soon found himself entering in various barbecue competitions around the Pacific Northwest and made the jump to barbeque as a full time career six years ago. Starting out with a food truck and making the rounds at local events and the Farmer’s Market, A Wing & A Prayer opened it’s bricks-and-mortar location close to 3 years ago. Open Monday through Saturday, Chef Johnson subscribes to the Kansas City and Texas schools of barbeque. He spends about 12 hours slow smoking his pork and brisket each day to ensure that the meat is the star of the show. He does have a line of signature sauces available for diners as well as for retail purchase at his location and at Super 1 Foods in Walla Walla. This writer loved the complexity of his new Syrah-based sauce with beef brisket.

A bit past the downtown core, West of the Blues BBQ’s wagon has been parked outside of Blueline Equipment on Rose Street on weekdays from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. for the past six years. Diners who belly up to the service window for lunch are experiencing just a small fraction of the work that goes into Keith Knott’s delicious creations. Utilizing a Traeger Grill for his smoking operations, Knotts pellet smokes his dry rubbed pork, brisket and chicken for 10 to 11 hours each day before pulling, slicing and shredding the meat for the masses. Considering himself a Southern Slow Smoked Barbeque artist who has been honing his southern cooking skills for over a decade, Knotts hand-crafts three signature sauces daily for his meat. The Kansas City style sauce is a very traditional tomato-based sauce, the Memphis sauce is also tomato-based, but is quite tangy and spicy, and his Carolina sauce is a spicy option with a mustard and vinegar base (a personal favorite of mine!).

Emry Kleck of The Q takes quite a different approach to his barbeque than either A Wing & A Prayer or West of the Blues. Kleck subscribes to the Santa Maria style of barbeque, which was developed in the Santa Barbara area of California in the mid-19th century by Mexican vaqueros. Rather than low and slow, this style of barbeque is all about hot and fast preparations. Instead of relying on a smoldering charcoal pit, this style of barbeque features a high temperature fire of hardwood (Emry likes to use apple wood from Warren Farms in Dayton). The grills which Kleck custom makes for his personal use as well as to sell to others feature a deep fire pit with a grill on a crank to allow cooks to adjust the height of the meat to maximize or minimize flame exposure and heat throughout the grilling process. This style also has no sauce whatsoever. The meat is seasoned simply with pepper, salt, garlic and, at times, vinegar. The high temperatures couple with the simple seasonings and the fat in the meat to create a stunning caramelized crust on the cuts. While The Q lacks a formal home at the moment, diners may experience their food every Friday night at the jimgermanbar in Waitsburg, on select Saturdays at Revelry Vintners at the airport in Walla Walla and at catered events. A typical meal Spring and early Summer meal from The Q may feature beef tri-tip, grilled artichokes, oysters, and salmon.

Dee Cusick and Karen Jacobson of The Smokehouse Wenches like to refer to their Memphis and Santa Maria inspired barbeque as “Wench Style.” The duo tends to recreate dishes they have previously enjoyed elsewhere and add their signature twist. Focusing on a spicy and sweet dry rub for her signature baby back ribs, The Wenches use sauces sparingly as they really like to focus on the meat they are slowly smoking over hardwood charcoal for their guests. Dee began barbequing for friends and family up on their ranch in the Okanogan Valley decades ago, often during the Spring and Fall branding and roundups. Upon moving to Walla Walla in 2001 the pair started hosting dinners for friends in the wine industry and eventually began to cater small events. Over the years, word-of-mouth referrals have helped turn their operations into a more permanent gig. In addition to being set up at different wineries and breweries around the valley in the Summer months, and doing numerous private events, this year their operations will be a bit more accessible to the general public as they have acquired a hot dog cart and will be stationed at the plaza on Main Street and 3rd Avenue in downtown Walla Walla Tuesday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Barbeque Tips & Tricks from Timm Johnson:

  • If your rub is going to contain brown sugar, lay the sugar out on a cookie sheet in a thin layer for several days and let it dry out. After drying, run the sugar through your food processor to break up the crystals and keep the rub from clumping which can cause uneven burning.

  • Trim excess fat off of your pork and brisket before smoking since the smoke will not penetrate the fat.

  • If you are smoking a whole chicken, considering butterflying it first to allow for a more even cooking.

  • If you are smoking meats for an extended period of time, turn them on the half turn to keep the meat properly moist (i.e. If smoking for 12 hours, turn at 6 hours in, 9 hours in, 10.5 hours in, etc.).

Teriyaki Chicken Tacos from the Smokehouse Wenches:


1 1/2 cups of Kikkoman Teriyaki marinade

1/2 cup of chopped pineapple for marinade, plus 1+ cup of pineapple for grilling (either rings or spears)

¼ cup pineapple juice

1 tablespoon red chili flakes

1 tablespoon freshly chopped garlic

1 tablespoon freshly chopped ginger

8 boneless chicken thighs

12 medium sized corn tortillas

½ head of green cabbage, chopped

2 tablespoons of Agave syrup

2 limes, sliced

Cilantro, for garnish


  1. Combine Kikkoman’s, ½ cup of chopped pineapple, pineapple juice, chili flakes, garlic and ginger. Reserve about ½ cup of the liquid and place chicken thighs in the remaining marinate. Let chicken rest overnight.

  2. Heat up your smoker grill and smoke thighs for up to an hour over medium heat with a hardwood charcoal of your choice. In the last 15 minutes of cooking, add your pineapple spears to the grill.

  3. Let chicken and pineapple rest and cool, then chop into small chunks.

  4. At a low temperature, warm the tortillas on the grill for a few minutes.

  5. Take the marinade left over from the night before and add the Agave syrup, stir until it thickens. Chop your cabbage into fine ribbons, and toss with the sauce.

  6. Assemble tacos with the chicken meat and pineapple. Top with cabbage and an additional drizzle of the sauce. Add cilantro and a wedge of lime before serving.

A Wing & A Prayer BBQ Catering:

Owner/Chef: Timm Johnson

Favorite Dish: Pulled pork parfait with beans and coleslaw

Location: 210 E. Main Street, Walla Walla, WA

Hours: Monday – Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Friday – Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Catering Available: Yes

Contact Information: (509) 525-1566 or

West of the Blues BBQ:

Owner/Chef: Keith Knotts

Favorite Dish: A classic pulled pork sandwich with Memphis sauce

Location: 902 W. Rose Street, Walla Walla, WA (in the parking lot at Blueline Equipment)

Hours: Monday – Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Catering Available: Yes

Contact Information: (509) 301-3632 or

The Q:

Owner/Chef: Emry Kleck

Favorite Dish: Salmon with morel mushrooms and asparagus

Location: 119 Main Street, Waitsburg, WA (at the jimhgermanbar on Friday nights), 720 C Street, Walla Walla, WA (at Revelry Vintners on select Saturdays)

Hours: Variable

Catering Available: Yes

Contact Information: (509) 386-2302 or

Smokehouse Wenches:

Owner/Chef: Dee Cusick and Karen Jacobson

Favorite Dish: Pork baby back ribs

Location: Corner of Main Street and 3rd Avenue in downtown Walla Walla

Hours: Tuesday – Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Saturdays throughout the Summer the Wenches will be visiting local wineries and breweries

Catering Available: Yes

Contact Information: (509) 240-4688 or [email protected]

The Bank & Grill Catering Company:

Owner/Chef: Paul Freeman

Favorite Dish: Steak!

Location: 601 N. Main Street, Milton-Freewater, OR

Hours: Tuesday – Friday Happy Hour and Tapas from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. Dinner by appointment Wednesday – Friday from 5:00 – 9:00 p.m.

Catering Available: Yes

Contact Information: (541) 429-3323 or

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