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Dining review

Lip-smackingly good barbecue at Smoke in Cockeysville

The Baltimore Sun
Smoke in Cockeysville offers inventive -- and just damn good -- takes on barbecue dishes.

From seemingly out of nowhere, newcomer Josh White set up his smokers, special sauces and dry rubs at Smoke in Cockeysville, soon wowing the barbecue crowd and other diners who appreciate good, home-style cooking.

But the storefront restaurant, which opened in October in the Cranbrook Shopping Center, is not White's first go-round as a restaurateur. Smoke's chef and owner previously had a similarly named restaurant in Harrisburg, Pa., for two years before heading to Baltimore County, where he once lived.

He runs the new Smoke with longtime friends Keith Thompson and Rick Palmerino, and on a recent visit, the trio took turns ringing up meal tickets, packing up carryout orders in brown paper bags and delivering food to the 35 seats in the house.

White first got involved with smoking food as a hobby. He was working as a chef in Miami, he said, and on his days off, he would grill and experiment with dry rubs.

His cooking expertise shines at Smoke with menu items like the must-have bacon-wrapped dates, crispy pork belly with pickled veggies, smoked tofu and grilled romaine as well as the smoked offerings. He sources his meats from Roseda Farm in Monkton and the Berkshire pork from Wagon Wheel Ranch in Mount Airy.

White also makes his own bologna in house, then smokes and fries it for his "stoney bologna" sandwich and "phat bastard" entree, which includes meatloaf and a fried green tomato.

Yes, there's pulled pork, Carolina vinegar sauce and wings at Smoke. But rest assured, this isn't your granddaddy's BBQ joint.

Scene & Decor Most days, the shopping-center storefront restaurant is buzzing with activity: customers ordering at the back counter, diners enjoying their mounds of food and cooks preparing dishes behind a tall barrier that separates the dining area from the open kitchen. The room has a chic, industrial vibe with subway white tiles, pale gray walls and wood tables.

Appetizers We reveled in the warm blue cheese stuffed dates ($9) wrapped in house-cured bacon and drizzled with local honey. You can share the eight plump nuggets — or not. The smoked and grilled wings ($10) are juicy and tender. Dip them in thyme blue cheese or Smoke's mild house hot sauce. You can also drizzle on the sweet-spicy jalapeno pineapple sauce from the squeeze bottle at your table.

Entrees Smoke's pit sandwich ($12) is not your typical Baltimore version with piles of thinly sliced meat. Here, the sandwich is stacked with chunks of tender smoked beef and crispy onions on a brioche bun dotted with horseradish. The preparation is delicious.

From the meat category of the menu, we indulged in the Lazy Yardbird ($16 for half chicken, $12 for a quarter chicken), which had been brined in sweet tea before being massaged with a dry rub. The crispy skin and succulent meat were excellent. It comes with a crisp slaw that isn't overly mayonnaisey and a side dish. We chose the mac and cheese, which can also be ordered as an appetizer. It's called "righteous" for a reason. How can you go wrong with pasta tossed with a blend of aged sharp cheddar, mild cheddar and smoked Gouda?

The two slabs of smoked meatloaf ($14) were wonderfully textured with a mixture of hand-ground beef, pork and bacon. We paired it with slightly sweet smoked beans, a reminder of everyone's favorite picnic fare.

Drinks Bottled sodas, including Coke, Nehi orange and Virgil's root beer, and free ice water from a dispenser with lemon slices. The restaurant is BYOB with no corkage fee.

Service Order at the rear counter. Food is delivered to your table.

Dessert No dessert.

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Backstory: Josh White opened Smoke in October after running a similar but larger restaurant in Harrisburg, Pa. His plans include catering events like the summer Friday music festivals at Racers Cafe, a craft brew bar in Parkville.

Signature dish: Bacon-wrapped dates

TVs: None

Where: 574 Cranbrook Road, Cranbrook Shopping Center, Cockeysville

Contact: 410-891-8515,

Open: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (lunch) and 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. (dinner) Tuesday-Saturday; noon to 3 p.m. Sunday

Credit Cards: All major

Reservations: No

Bottom line: Smoke is worth the drive wherever you live. The menu is barbecue centric with inventive, updated twists to the typical BBQ joint menu.